An introduction to Utah alimony law

The Utah alimony statute combines traditional with other aspects of spousal support law.

The law governing alimony in the Beehive State keeps considerable discretion with judges, with some constraints. Whether one spouse will pay monetary support to the other after a divorce is important in most cases because it can have a significant impact on their separate standards of living.

First, divorcing parties often negotiate a settlement agreement, usually through their respective lawyers, in which they agree on alimony issues (along with other issues in the divorce). If they do not agree, the judge in the state-court divorce proceedings must decide all alimony questions.

Relevant factors the judge must weigh

The state alimony statute is fairly detailed, requiring the judge to consider seven factors:

  • Recipient's "financial condition and needs"
  • Recipient's earning capacity, including the impact of less work experience from having cared for a child of the marriage
  • Payor's ability to pay
  • Marriage length
  • Recipient's custody of a minor child
  • Recipient's work for the payor's business
  • Recipient's payment for payor's vocational education or enablement of payor to go to school during marriage

The judge is not restricted to these factors alone, but the law mandates that they consider these seven at a minimum.

In a long marriage, if the divorce is occurring right before a major income change of one spouse because of the "collective efforts of both," the court must factor that in when dividing the marital property and setting the alimony amount. Also, if both parties' efforts during marriage enhanced one of their earning capacities, the judge may include a "compensating adjustment" in dividing property and ordering alimony.

Role of marital fault

The Utah statute says that the judge may consider "fault," which can be any of these:

  • Infidelity
  • Intentional or attempted infliction of harm on the other spouse or on a child
  • Intentional infliction of the fear of "life-threatening harm" on the other spouse or on a child
  • Infliction of substantial harm to the "financial stability" of the other spouse or of a minor child

This provision makes it more likely that a judge could order a potential at-fault payor to pay alimony or to pay a higher amount or deny alimony to a potential recipient at fault or order a lesser amount.

Standards of living

Generally, in setting the terms of alimony, the judge should look at the marital standard of living when the couple separated or, if the circumstances justify, the standards of living at the time of the divorce trial. In a short marriage with no children, the court may look to the standard of living at the time of the marriage or at each of their living conditions before marriage. If appropriate, the judge may also equalize the two parties' standards of living.

Duration of payments

The law restricts the duration of alimony payments to the length of the marriage, unless the judge finds "extenuating circumstances." This is a more modern provision as traditionally most states have allowed judges the discretion to order permanent payments.

Modification or termination

A party may return to court requesting a modification in alimony if there is an unforeseeable, substantial change in circumstances. Alimony ends upon the recipient's remarriage or death, and the payor may request termination based on the recipient's cohabitation with a new partner.

Proposed legislation about retirement and alimony modification

At the time of this writing in January 2020, a proposed bill in the Utah Senate would, if passed, designate a party's retirement a "substantial material change in circumstances" to justify the filing of a petition to modify alimony, whether the retirement was foreseeable or not. This provision is in keeping with an alimony reform movement in some other states against requiring retirees to continue to pay alimony when also facing health and financial issues that can arise during older age. It will be interesting to see how the Utah legislators respond.

If you have a question regarding alimony, or any divorce question, please call one of the skilled attorneys at Kristopher K. Greenwood & Associates today! The firm has offices located in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Park City and Lehi.