In Utah or elsewhere, divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody and support.
Residency and where to file
In order to file for divorce in Utah, the party filing for divorce must be a resident of Utah and the county for at least three months. The case must be filed in the District Court in the county where the residency requirement is met.
The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by filing a Complaint for Divorce, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Divorce.
Collaborative divorce. Utah offers this process where each party hires a lawyer to assist them in trying to reach an agreement on all issues. There may also be a facilitator involved, to help focus the discussion. It is similar to mediation. Both parties must agree to this process, and either may stop it at any time. Any agreement will be signed by the parties and submitted to the court to be incorporated into a judgment or decree.
Grounds for divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Utah, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds.
To get a no-fault divorce in Utah you need to state in the Complaint for Divorce that “there are irreconcilable differences in the marriage,” or the parties have been living separate and apart without cohabitation for three years under a judicial decree of separation.”
The fault-based grounds for divorce are: impotence, adultery, willful desertion for more than one year, willfully neglecting to provide the plaintiff with the common necessities of life, habitual drunkenness, conviction of a felony, cruel treatment to the extent of “bodily injury or great mental distress,” and incurable insanity. However, in most cases, there is no reason to use any of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.
A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Utah divorce law provides that all property is marital property, regardless of how or when it was acquired. Absent an agreement of the parties, the judge is directed to divide the property “equitably.”
Alimony in Utah
Absent an agreement of the parties regarding alimony, the court is directed by Utah alimony law to consider the following factors in determining alimony:
- the financial condition and needs of the party seeking alimony
- the earning capacity or ability to produce income of the party seeking alimony
- the ability of the party paying alimony to provide support,
- the length of the marriage
- whether the party seeking alimony has custody of minor children requiring support
- whether the party seeking alimony worked in a business owned by the payor
- whether the party seeking alimony directly contributed to any increase in the payor’s by paying for education, or enabling the payor to attend school during the marriage
- the parties’ standard of living, and
- the fault of either party
“Fault” means committing adultery; knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or minor children, knowing and intentionally causing the other party or minor children to reasonably fear life-threatening harm, or substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor children.
If the marriage is of short duration, and there are no children, the court may restore the parties to their condition at the time of marriage. Alimony is limited to a period of time equal to the number of years of marriage, unless the court finds extenuating circumstances. Alimony terminates upon the death or remarriage of the party receiving alimony, or upon evidence that the party receiving alimony is cohabitating with another person.
Child custody in Utah
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination, which basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on custody, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is determined not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, after considering all relevant factors, including:
- each party’s past conduct and demonstrated moral standards
- which party is most likely to act in the best interest of the child, including allowing frequent and continuing contact with the other party
- the extent of bonding between each party and the child
- whether a party has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or harmful material
- whether the physical, psychological, and emotional needs and development of the child will benefit from joint legal and physical custody
- each party’s ability to give priority to the welfare of the child, and reach shared decisions
- whether each party is capable of encouraging a relationship between the child and the other party
- whether both parties participated in raising the child before the divorce
- the geographical proximity of the parties
- the preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason
- each party’s maturity and willingness, and ability to protect the child from any conflict between the parties
- the past and present ability of the parties to cooperate and make decisions, and
- any history of, or potential for, child abuse, spouse abuse, or kidnapping
There is a presumption in favor of joint custody, unless it is shown not to be in the child’s best interest, or there is such physical distance between the parties so as to make joint decision-making impractical. In evaluating whether to award joint custody, the court is to consider.
Child support in Utah
Child support is determined by reference to the Utah Child Support Guidelines. Information about child support may be found on the Utah Courts website.
A divorce may not be granted until at least 90 days after the Complaint is filed. There is no provision for a name change in connection with a divorce.
Filing a divorce can be a complex process, but if you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce you may be able to save time. Following these steps will help you get started with your divorce.
If you and your spouse agree on the major issues, an uncontested divorce may be right for you. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney to get advice or help filing for divorce with the LegalZoom personal legal plan.
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