The Utah Constitution is not going to hurt you in your divorce proceedings. A state constitution cannot take away rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. For example, if Utah amended its constitution to state that due to the tightening of the state budget, Utah National Guard troops, when deployed, would be staying as guests at the homes of Utah residents who were selected by a lottery system, the new amendment would be pre-empted by the 3rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and even if you were picked in the lottery, you wouldn’t have to quarter soldiers.
The Utah Constitution can help you. State constitutions can give rights above those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and this can happen in two ways.
The first would be Utah specifically writing the constitution to guarantee more rights. If the Utah constitution were amended to state that no citizen could be compelled to quarter soldiers or unwanted relatives, Utah residents would enjoy an additional constitutional right (and probably a very different relationship with their children and in-laws).
The second way is the Utah Supreme Court interpreting the Utah Constitution to give greater rights than the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 14 of the Utah Constitution, for example, has almost the exact same wording as the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but the Utah Supreme Court has decided that Utah’s Constitution, even with the same words, gives more protections against searches and seizures than the U.S. Constitution.
The Utah Constitution does not have much of a visible effect on family law matters, but could (and should). This is mostly due to the fact that divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, and parentage are all controlled by specific statutory provisions in the Utah Code, so the constitution often gets ignored by attorneys and courts alike. Utah constitutional topics are addressed more in depth my book, West’s Utah Practice Series, Vol. 2, Utah Family Law, but here are a few examples of how the Utah Constitution can help you:
Article 1, Section 7 of the Utah Constitution guarantees due process to all citizens. This due process right has been confirmed to reinforce the privacy right found in the U.S. Constitution, and this can help you in a Utah divorce, for example a divorce involving children. Whether or not visitation from relatives is in the children’s best interest is left up to the parent to decide See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57. The Utah Constitution recognizes your rights to do what’s in the best interest of your children, whether you’re making this decision while the children are in your custody or negotiating what types of visitors your custody agreement should allow or prohibit.
Article 1, Section 16 of the Utah Constitution provides “There shall be no imprisonment for debt except in cases of absconding debtors.” As discussed above, the protections in the Constitution depend on the rulings and interpretations of the Utah Supreme Court, and if you’re facing a spouse who refuses to pay alimony or child support, the Utah Constitution can help you. The Court ruled in Thomas v. Thomas that even though debt couldn’t be grounds for imprisonment, when a proper court order is in place, such as an order to pay child support or alimony, a spouse violating that order willfully may be found in contempt of court, and punished for contempt with imprisonment See Thomas v. Thomas, 569 P.2d 1119 (Utah 1977).
Article 3 of the Utah Constitution specifically forbids “polygamous or plural marriages . . . forever” and this provision can, oddly enough, help you in divorce. It is easier to get a bifurcated divorce in Utah than some other states. A bifurcated divorce is one where the marriage is dissolved before all the particulars are ironed out by the court. It can give you a chance to move on with your life, while the marital property, the custody arrangements, and any support payments, whether that includes temporary alimony or child support, are controlled by temporary orders issued by the Court in your case. Since it’s not possible to get remarried while waiting on a divorce, because the second marriage would technically be polygamous, Utah is a friendly environment for bifurcated divorce.