It would be lovely if the starting point of any divorce could be deciding what we want. But more often than not, my first consultation with clients involves questions of survival. Many clients fear what their financial future will look like. They have worked hard to get where they are financially. Divorce presents a sharp reality that what one has now will not be what one has in the near future. Clients come wanting assurance. They want to know whether they will be able to stay in their home, maintain sufficient financial support for their household, and walk away with sufficient funds to maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. It can be a struggle to move the conversation beyond these basic concerns.
Abraham Maslow developed a motivational theory that consists of five levels of needs. The bottom level involves the physiological needs of food, shelter, warmth, and air. The most basic of all needs. These needs MUST be satisfied before any other issue can be explored. This explains why a stay-at-home parent who has not worked for years because they have dedicated their lives to serving the family at home may fixate upon support or on keeping the home. With Maslow’s explanation of human motivation, a person worried about their basic biological needs of food and shelter cannot think about the future.
So what type of financial support is available in Utah?
If there are minor children, meaning children under the age of 18 or not graduated from high school, whichever is later, one parent is entitled to receive child support. Child support is relatively easy to calculate using the Utah.gov Child Support Calculator. It is based on the (i) number of overnights each parent has the children each year and (ii) each parent’s gross income. Gross income includes income from any source whether earned or unearned including salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, rents, gifts from anyone, prizes, dividends, unemployment compensation, social security benefits, capital gains, alimony, etc. If one parent does not currently work, that parent has generally imputed income based upon his or her employment potential and probable earnings. A judge will look at such things as that parent’s work history, occupation qualifications, education, literacy, age, health, employment opportunities, criminal record, other employment barriers and background factors, and prevailing earnings and job availability of persons of similar backgrounds in the community. A parent who has no recent work history or if a parent’s occupation is unknown, that parent has imputed an income at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek. If one parent has the children for less than 110 overnights then child support is calculated using a sole custody worksheet. If each parent has more than 110 overnights then child support is calculated using a joint custody worksheet.
Spousal support or alimony is the second form of support. It is the second most litigated issue in a divorce next to custody. The policy behind Utah’s alimony laws is to enable the receiving spouse to maintain as nearly as possible the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and to prevent the spouse from becoming a public charge.
Unlike child support, there is no calculator to determine an appropriate amount of alimony. There are seven (7) different factors that a judge must consider when determining alimony with the three most significant ones being (i) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse, (ii) the recipient spouse’s earning capacity or ability to produce income; and (iii) the ability of the payor spouse to provide support. A recipient spouse’s need is based on the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Other factors include the length of the marriage, whether the recipient spouse has custody of a minor child requiring support, whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the other spouse; and whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to an increase in the payor spouse’s skill by paying for education received by the payor spouse or enabling the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage. A judge may consider the fault of the parties under certain circumstances (e.g. one party engaging in an extramarital affair, abuse, or a party substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the children). The length of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage and terminates upon remarriage, cohabitation as defined by Utah law, and death of either party.
Figuring out how much alimony you may be entitled to or may be expected to pay is a difficult task and one that you will likely want to seek legal advice on.
Next to the children, financial support is one of the biggest obstacles in divorce or separation. No one can reasonably be expected to focus on other issues if they are worried about how they are going to pay their bills, feed their children, or keep a roof over their head. It is critical for couples to understand and recognize that the financial needs of the other party to help move toward settlement. Not addressing these issues fairly create long-term negative effects on the family.