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Will I Get Alimony in My Divorce?

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One of the questions many people ask when facing the end of their marriage is, "Will I get alimony in my divorce?" For Utah residents, the answer is, "Quite possibly." Let's take a look at the law around alimony (also called "spousal support") in Utah, and clear up some myths about alimony along the way.

Who is Eligible for Alimony in Utah and How is Alimony Determined?

While most people tend to think of alimony as something that husbands pay to wives, any spouse who otherwise meets the criteria can receive an award of alimony. What are those criteria?

As a general rule, the court takes into account the parties' standard of living at the time they separated. The goal of alimony is to allow the parties to maintain their pre-separation standard of living. Also, according to Utah law, the duration of alimony cannot (absent exceptional circumstances) exceed the length of the marriage. Married for five years? Don't expect ten years of alimony; it won't happen.

There are factors the court must consider in deciding whether to award alimony (and how much, for how long), and other factors it may choose to take into account. According to statute, the court shall consider:

  • the financial condition and needs of the spouse requesting alimony (the "recipient spouse");
  • the recipient spouse's earning capacity, taking into account how time spent caring for a child of the payor may have affected that capacity;
  • the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • whether the recipient spouse has custody of a minor child who needs support;
  • whether the recipient spouse worked in a business that was owned or operated by the payor; and
  • whether the recipient paid for or enabled the payor to receive education during the marriage which directly contributed to an increase in the payor's skills.

The court may also take fault into account when determining an alimony award. Fault includes:

  • adultery;
  • deliberately harming or trying to harm the other spouse or minor children;
  • deliberately causing the other spouse or minor children to fear life-threatening harm; or
  • substantially undermining the other spouse's or minor children's financial stability in some way.

Remember, though, that the court does not use alimony as punishment (however much you might think your spouse deserves it!), so expect the focus to be on need and ability to pay.

As mentioned above, the court tries to allow the parties to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed just before they separated. In a very short term marriage with no children, the court might simply try to place the parties back in the positions they were in at the time of the marriage.

What if there is simply not enough money, when the parties are in separate households, to maintain the pre-separation standard of living? Rather than tell one party or the other that they're out of luck, the court will often try to equalize the shortfall; the recipient may not get as much alimony as he or she hoped for, and the payor may have to write a bigger alimony check than he or she would like.

Many of us have heard tales of devious spouses who have tried to minimize their income or pad their expenses, or time their divorces so they would have to pay less alimony. Utah courts do not look favorably on these efforts.

Let's say you and your spouse were married for 30 years. You've always been the primary breadwinner, and your spouse has taken care of the kids and household so you were free to work long hours and travel for your job. You're on the cusp of a promotion that comes with a big raise in pay. You've been thinking about divorce for a while, and you decide to separate from your spouse now, before the spike in pay kicks in and causes you to have to make a bigger alimony payment. Under the law, if a separation takes place just before an increase in pay that's due to the effort of both spouses, the court can consider that fact in determining an alimony award.

Modification and Termination of Utah Alimony

Of course, life doesn't stop changing after divorce, and some of those changes warrant a modification, or even termination, of alimony. You and your spouse may decide to specify some conditions for modifying alimony in the terms of your divorce. For instance, you might agree to reduce alimony by a certain amount when the payor reaches an agreed-upon retirement age.

Factors that may lead to modification include the payor losing a job, taking a pay cut, or retiring; serious illness on the part of the payor or recipient; or some other situation that dramatically affects the ability of the payor spouse to continue making alimony payments. The court will never force a party to pay alimony if doing so means that he or she could no longer be self-supporting.

Of course, alimony must come to an end at some point. If the recipient remarries, that is ground for immediate termination of alimony payments. The only exceptions are if the spouses agreed to continue alimony payments even if the recipient remarried, or if they settled on a lump sum payment. The payor's remarriage has no effect on alimony payments.

Similarly, if the recipient of alimony moves in with a romantic partner, alimony is terminated. Cohabitating couples, whether married or not, tend to provide each other with some financial support. Therefore it would be unfair for the payor spouse to have to provide support the recipient no longer needs.

Alimony is a complex issue, and the experience of your attorney can make a big difference in how much you receive or pay. We invite you to contact our law office with any questions you have about alimony in Utah. We look forward to working with you.

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