Divorce Laws in Utah: A Comprehensive Guide for People

The intention behind this Summary of Utah Divorce Law is to provide precise and reliable information, as of its publication date, regarding particular inquiries related to the subject matter. It is important to note that this information does not serve as a replacement for legal advice or the expertise of an attorney. Individuals who are considering legal action or are currently engaged in a legal dispute should actively seek the comprehensive assistance and professional counsel of an attorney, tailored to their specific circumstances, to ensure their personal protection.

What are the legal reasons for seeking a divorce in Utah?

In Utah, the grounds for divorce have evolved over time. Previously, the state followed a “fault” concept, where one spouse had to assign blame or find fault with the other in order to establish grounds for divorce. However, in 1987, Utah introduced a new law that recognizes “irreconcilable differences” as a valid reason for divorce. This means that when the parties involved can no longer pursue the genuine objectives of their marriage, divorce is allowed. In such cases, one party does not have to accuse or blame the other; they can simply inform the court that the marriage is no longer functioning. This provision is commonly known as a “no-fault” divorce.

In the past, the law dictated that the spouse responsible for causing the divorce would lose rights and property during the divorce proceedings. However, as per both practical implications and statutory changes, this is no longer the case. Presently, the person who initiates the divorce process is referred to as the “Petitioner,” while the individual against whom the divorce is filed is known as the “Respondent.” These terms help to distinguish the roles of the parties involved in the divorce proceedings.

What sets apart a Decree of Separate Maintenance from a Divorce Decree in Utah?

In Utah, a key distinction exists between a Decree of Separate Maintenance and a Divorce Decree. Parties are considered “legally separated” only when a court has issued a Decree of Separate Maintenance. To obtain such a decree in Utah, the parties must go through a process similar to a divorce proceeding. 

  • The Decree of Separate Maintenance addresses various aspects like property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. 
  • However, it does so on a temporary basis and does not terminate the marriage. Alimony is often more prevalent under a Decree of Separate Maintenance compared to a Divorce Decree because the parties are still legally married, and the law requires spouses to provide support to one another.
  • The expenses associated with attorney’s fees and court costs for a separate maintenance action are identical to those of a divorce action. If, after obtaining a Decree of Separate Maintenance, the parties decide they wish to proceed with a divorce, they will incur all the costs and fees once again for the divorce proceedings.

It is worth noting that while a Decree of Separate Maintenance provides a temporary resolution for the parties’ legal separation, a Divorce Decree, on the other hand, finalizes the termination of the marital union.

What are the grounds for obtaining an annulment in Utah?

An annulment is a legal ruling that declares a marriage invalid from its inception. Unlike a divorce, which terminates a valid marriage, an annulment asserts that the marriage was never valid to begin with. There are three primary grounds for seeking an annulment: lack of capacity, fraud, and lack of disclosure.

  • “Lack of capacity” refers to a situation where an individual was legally unable to enter into marriage. This can occur if the person was underage, still legally married to a previous spouse, mentally incapacitated, or too intoxicated to comprehend their actions.
  • “Fraud” can be grounds for annulment if a significant and material falsehood played a crucial role in the decision to marry. For instance, if a woman falsely claims to be pregnant with her prospective spouse’s child, or a man deceitfully presents himself as the president of General Motors.
  • “Lack of disclosure” can serve as grounds for annulment when an essential and substantial fact is intentionally concealed before the marriage. For example, if a spouse fails to disclose multiple previous marriages or a significant criminal history. If it can be demonstrated to the court’s satisfaction that the marriage would not have occurred had this crucial information been disclosed, an annulment may be granted.

In Utah, an annulment can also be granted in cases of incestuous marriages, where the parties are blood relatives or closely related through marriage. Additionally, if the marriage ceremony was not performed by a legally authorized individual, an annulment may be sought. However, it’s important to note that Utah recognizes “common law” marriages under specific circumstances, as outlined in a statute enacted in 1987, which acknowledges the validity of marriage without a formal ceremony.

Husband and wife divorced.

Individuals under the age of 15 cannot legally marry. Those between 16 and 18 years old require written parental permission, and individuals aged 15 must not only have parental consent but also obtain court approval based on a determination that they are entering the marriage voluntarily. Once individuals reach the age of 18 in Utah, they can marry without the need for parental permission.

What is the standard procedure for obtaining an uncontested divorce?

To initiate an uncontested divorce, the petitioner, the individual initiating the divorce, must file a divorce complaint with the court clerk. This complaint outlines the grounds for divorce and the requested terms. Upon filing the complaint, a case number is assigned, and in most cases, a judge is appointed to oversee the case.

  • In cases involving military service members, a Military Service Affidavit is filed with the court clerk to inform the court that the spouse is not a member of the military and that the divorce proceedings can proceed accordingly. This affidavit ensures compliance with the Servicemembers Relief Act, which protects the rights of military service members in legal matters.
  • If the respondent, the other spouse, agrees to the terms stated in the complaint, they must sign an Acceptance & Waiver document, which acknowledges their consent to the terms of the divorce. The Acceptance & Waiver is then submitted to the court clerk.
  • The petitioner files an Affidavit in Support of Decree of Divorce with the court clerk. This affidavit, signed under oath by the petitioner, provides the grounds for the divorce. In many cases, this document eliminates the need for a court appearance, allowing the divorce to be finalized without a hearing or appearing before a judge.
  • To proceed with an uncontested divorce, a Motion to Enter Default Divorce is filed with the court clerk, requesting that the court enter the divorce and confirming that the other party does not contest the divorce.
  • A completed Notice to Submit/Checklist, indicating that all necessary documents have been prepared and filed with the court, is submitted to the court clerk. This checklist ensures that all required paperwork is in order for the court to review and sign the final divorce documents.

If all documents are properly prepared, and the correct procedures have been followed, the divorce will be granted based on the written evidence, without the petitioner needing to personally appear before the judge. However, a default hearing or in-person meeting may still be required if the judge deems it necessary to finalize the divorce.

Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law, which detail the facts related to the parties’ marriage, are filed with the court. These findings align with the contents of the initial complaint, while the conclusions of law propose the legal outcome based on the established facts. If all procedures have been correctly followed, and the grounds for divorce have been substantiated, the judge signs the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, concluding the divorce process.

Are court records in divorce cases accessible to the public?

Generally, most divorce documents remain private and are not accessible to the general public. However, the final Decree of Divorce is an exception as it is available for public viewing.

  • Unless authorized by a court order, the entirety of a divorce file can only be examined by the parties involved, their attorneys, the court, and, in certain situations, the Office of Recovery Services (O.R.S.).
  • While hearings in divorce proceedings are typically open to the public, it is rare for members of the public to attend such proceedings. If sensitive information or testimony is expected to be presented during a hearing, the judge has the authority to exclude the public from attending.
  • The Decree of Divorce represents the official court order that legally terminates the marriage. It outlines the terms and conditions requested in the initial complaint. If all requirements are satisfied, the judge signs the Decree of Divorce, finalizing the divorce process.
  • Following the signing of the Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law and the Decree of Divorce, the petitioner completes, signs, and files a Notice of Entry Decree. This notification informs the respondent that the divorce is now officially concluded.

In cases involving children from the marriage, additional paperwork must be filed. This includes a Child Support Worksheet, Required Location Information, and a Statement of Compliance, which present calculations related to child support along with documented evidence of the parties’ location and income for the court’s review.

Furthermore, Certificates of Attendance indicating that both parties have fulfilled the mandatory “Orientation” and “Divorce Education Class for Divorced Parents” requirements must be filed with the court. If the parties provide the divorce case number during the class, the instructor will directly submit their certificates to the court.

Is there a requirement to attend counseling before filing for a divorce?

According to Utah law, the court has the authority to mandate counseling before granting a divorce. The purpose of counseling serves a dual role: to explore the possibility of reconciling the marriage and, if reconciliation is not viable, to assist the parties in preparing for their new lives as individuals. In the past, Salt Lake County had a counseling prerequisite before a divorce case could be heard in court; however, this requirement no longer exists in Salt Lake County.

  • Going through a divorce is a highly emotional and challenging experience for most individuals, particularly when children are involved. Attorneys and the court can address the legal aspects of dissolving the marriage contract, but the parties involved must navigate the emotional and psychological ramifications of ending the relationship. While an attorney can offer legal guidance, it may be beneficial for an individual to seek counseling to cope with the personal, non-legal aspects of divorce.
  • It is crucial for each person to determine who can provide the best assistance in dealing with the various challenges arising from a divorce. 

When legal counsel charges an hourly rate, it is wise for individuals to utilize their attorney’s services specifically for legal matters and rely on the support of friends, family, or professional counselors for the non-legal, emotional aspects caused by the divorce.

What if the other spouse does not reside in Utah? Can a divorce still be obtained in Utah?

The determining factor for where a divorce can be granted lies in the concept of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to the court’s authority over the other spouse involved. According to Utah law, in most cases, if there is a significant connection between the parties, the marriage, and the state of Utah, and the other spouse is notified of the legal proceedings, a Utah court has the power to grant a divorce.

  • If one spouse is a resident of Utah while the other spouse has never resided in Utah, the Utah court can issue a divorce decree and make decisions regarding child custody and property within the state. However, without the out-of-state spouse’s agreement, the Utah court typically lacks the authority to mandate child support, alimony, attorney fees, or divide property located outside of Utah.
  • In cases where one spouse is a resident of Utah and the parties have lived together in Utah, or the events leading to the grounds for divorce occurred in Utah, a Utah court can usually grant a divorce and make determinations regarding property division, child support, custody, alimony, and other related matters.
  • Contested divorces involving minor children who do not reside in Utah can become complex due to jurisdictional considerations. The law includes specific and detailed standards for determining jurisdiction concerning child custody matters.
  • In the event that the other party fails to respond to the divorce papers, the outcome of the divorce proceedings will likely align with what was requested in the initial complaint, provided that the respondent spouse does not present any objections or contest the action. The judge generally does not question the content of the divorce complaint unless the respondent spouse offers a response.
  • If the respondent spouse believes there are errors or unjust demands in the divorce complaint, it is crucial for them to address and challenge those specific issues by submitting a formal legal document known as an “answer.” By doing so, they have the opportunity to voice their concerns and contest unfavorable aspects of the divorce.

Modifying the terms of a divorce decree after it has been granted can be challenging. If the respondent spouse wishes to contest any aspect of the divorce, it is advisable to do so during the initial stages of the divorce proceedings. To request changes at a later time, the respondent spouse must demonstrate a significant change in circumstances that occurred after the divorce was finalized.

Husband and wife divorced by judge
  • Although obtaining legal representation or covering the costs associated with contesting an unfair divorce complaint may pose difficulties, it can be advantageous in the long run. An attorney can provide the best protection for one’s interests while the divorce case is still ongoing, rather than after the court has already granted the divorce. As part of the divorce process, an individual has the option to restore their prior name, which could include their birth name or a previous married name, among others.
  • Alternatively, a party may choose to resume using their prior name even without it being specifically mentioned in the divorce decree. However, in such cases, additional documentation may be required to change their name on official identification documents such as driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. For instance, if someone wishes to revert to their maiden name, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) might ask for a certified copy of their divorce decree and birth certificate as proof.

Taking these steps ensures that the individual’s desired name change is recognized by relevant authorities and reflected accurately on their official records.

In accordance with the law, an individual has the right to act as their own legal representative and handle their own divorce case in court. However, it’s important to note that legal proceedings can be intricate and complex, making it challenging for a non-professional to navigate the technical procedures and requirements, especially in contested cases. Lay persons generally lack knowledge of the law and may not fully grasp the potential consequences of a legal proceeding.

To safeguard their interests, it is advisable for individuals to seek the representation of an attorney or consult extensively with a legal professional before deciding to proceed on their own. While self-representation is an option, it is crucial to understand the complexities involved and the potential risks. In cases where the divorce is simple and uncontested, individuals may consider utilizing Do-It-Yourself divorce services, which are available in Utah and can be a cost-effective solution. Utah Legal Clinic offers assistance for those who choose to pursue a Do-It-Yourself Divorce, providing guidance and support throughout the process.

What factors does the judge consider when determining child custody arrangements?

The judge exercises discretion in determining child custody and does not rely on strict, objective rules. Instead, they consider general guidelines and evaluate what is in the best interests of the child. The court has the authority to make custody decisions and arrange for the child’s future care in a manner it deems appropriate.

Various factors are taken into account during the custody determination process. These may include the past behavior and demonstrated moral standards of each parent involved. The judge assesses which parent is more likely to act in the child’s best interests, including facilitating contact with the non-custodial parent.

In exceptional cases, the court may ask the children for their preferences regarding custody or visitation time. However, it’s important to note that the expressed desires of the children are not the sole determining factor, and the court retains the authority to make custody and visitation decisions in a manner it deems suitable.

Can health insurance be obtained following a divorce?

After a divorce, the non-employee spouse is no longer considered a dependent and, therefore, typically loses eligibility for group health, accident, and other insurance coverage provided by the employee’s employer. However, there are provisions in federal law (known as “COBRA”) and Utah law that mandate the availability of health insurance coverage to the former spouse under certain circumstances, usually for a limited period of time (up to 36 months) following the divorce. The employer may require an increased premium for this extended coverage. The divorce decree may include provisions requiring one spouse to assist in obtaining COBRA or extended coverage, if available. The former spouse should contact their employer’s personnel or employee benefit department to make arrangements for such coverage.

Is it permissible for me to move to a new location?

If either parent decides to move from their current residence in Utah or more than 150 miles away, they are required to give reasonable advance written notice to the other parent. Generally, the parent with custody is allowed to relocate with the children, but the court may schedule a hearing upon request to review visitation arrangements and make any necessary changes. During the hearing, the court will consider factors such as the reason for the relocation, the impact on visitation, the financial resources of the parents, and other relevant factors. The court may also order the moving parent to cover the transportation costs for at least one visit per year with the other parent, as well as any additional visits deemed fair.

Unless the court orders otherwise, the following is the minimum visitation schedule when one parent relocates out of state:

  • In years ending in an odd number, the child will spend the Thanksgiving holiday and the Fall school break with the non-custodial parent.
  • In years ending in an even number, the child will spend the entire winter school break period and the Spring break with the non-custodial parent.
  • Additionally, the non-custodial parent has the right to extended visitation during the summer vacation or off-track time.

What factors are considered when determining the amount of child support?

When parents obtain a divorce and have children, the court is responsible for dividing the children’s expenses between them in a fair and appropriate manner. In making this determination, the court takes into account various factors that are relevant to the situation. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The living standards and circumstances of the parents.
  • The relative wealth and income of each parent.
  • The earning capacity of both parents.
  • The financial needs of the parent receiving support.
  • The age of the parties involved.
  • Any existing support or alimony obligations from previous marriages or relationships.

The court uses statutory guidelines to calculate the amount of child support based on these factors. The parties involved are responsible for determining and calculating the required amount of support based on the guidelines, while the court verifies the accuracy of the calculation.

To calculate child support awards, the Utah Legislature has established statewide guidelines that all judges in Utah must adhere to in divorce cases. These guidelines, which were most recently updated on January 1, 2008, are specific and consider factors such as the income of both parents, the number of children, and any existing support or alimony obligations from previous marriages.

  • The guidelines use the gross monthly income (income before taxes) of both parents. Gross income encompasses income from various sources, including salaries, bonuses, commissions, and more. 
  • When calculating child support, the income used is typically limited to the income from one full-time job (consistent overtime should also be included in the gross income figures). The guidelines establish a percentage-based relationship between the parents’ incomes, which determines the amount of child support.

Child support is separate from other expenses and is in addition to each parent’s responsibility to cover one-half of daycare costs, one-half of non-covered medical expenses, and one-half of the children’s portion of health insurance premiums.

These statutory support guidelines must generally be followed by the court, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. The court typically presumes that the amounts determined by these guidelines are fair and reasonable, and it adheres to them unless one of the parties can convince the court otherwise. Deviations from the guidelines are rare in court proceedings.