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No Fault Divorce? How Infidelity in Utah can Cost you

Though Utah is a no-fault divorce state, and divorces are routinely—and almost exclusively—granted for “irreconcilable differences,” infidelity in Utah can still wind up costing you in divorce.

The Utah Code provides for fault to be considered for the purposes of alimony:

(b)        The court may consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms thereof.

(c)        “Fault” means any of the following wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship:

(i)         engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party’s spouse;

(ii)        knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or minor children;

(iii)       knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or minor children to reasonably fear life-threatening harm; or

(iv)       substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor children.

Utah Code § 30-3-5(8)(b) and (c)

Evidence of infidelity may be presented publicly in court, which can be damaging enough in its own right. One of the clearest cases in which infidelity can hurt is where a spouse has spent marital assets on his/her paramour.  If your spouse was renting an apartment for a fling, you may be rewarded with a larger property judgment, money judgment award, or increased alimony.

Moral standards are also a statutory consideration in determining child custody and visitation (also known as “parent time” in the Utah Code) and may be relevant to the extent they affect the children’s best interests. See Utah Code § 30-3-10 and see Sanderson v. Tryon, 739 P.2d 623, 627 (Utah 1987).

Granted, for cheating to affect the custody determination in a divorce it would likely require a rather serious pattern of actually neglecting the needs of one’s children and/or family for the sake of the affair.  The fact that the court can consider moral standards does not mean that it must.

The real cost of infidelity in divorce arises long before trial ever begins. Most divorces tend to settle. Settling a divorce case in mediation or through private negotiation can save the parties thousands of dollars and incalculable frustration and anguish. Infidelity can complicate this process, and not just for the offending spouse. It’s no surprise that many people seek redress or compensation when a marriage is ended through the spouse’s infidelity. If a divorcing spouse puts the desire to get back at the cheating spouse above the desire to conclude a divorce, the costs of divorce can rise, and quickly.

Divorce is designed to dissolve the marriage, provide for custody of the children, divide up the marital property and debt and position the respective spouses so that they can move forward in their lives as newly single people.  Mediation and settlement negotiations can shorten the divorce process by helping couples agree on child custody (if they have children) and divide the marital estate quickly and amicably; however mediation and settlement are only possible if the parties can come to fair and reasonable middle ground, or if one of them simply gives up.  Cheating can make an even bigger enemy of the spouse who otherwise might have been fairly easy to work with.

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1 Comment

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