Must trial courts consider the tax consequences in divorce?

Generally: It appears that the law in Utah is that the trial court is not required to consider hypothetical and/or future tax consequences of the disposition of the marital estate. See Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1214 (Utah Ct.App. 1991).

There is no abuse of discretion if a court refuses to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences of a property division made pursuant to a divorce (Alexander v. Alexander, 737 P.2d 221, 224 (Utah 1987)). Tax consequences in this case were speculative as to whether they could be avoided or delayed, and as to amount. The court heard testimony and evidence regarding possible tax implications, but did not err in refusing to adjust property distribution because of those theoretical consequences.

And see Rothwell v. Rothwell, ¶53, 531 P.3d 225 (Utah Ct.App. 2023), 2023 UT App 50:

[T]he district court’s decision not to tax-effect the businesses is consistent with Utah law. “We do not generally expect courts to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 97, 507 P.3d 385 (quotation simplified) (rejecting the argument that a wife’s property award should be decreased based on possible transaction costs the husband would incur if he liquidated the business), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022); see also Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 690 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (explaining that courts are under “no obligation to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences” (quotation simplified)), cert. denied, 860 P.2d 943 (Utah 1993). The sale of a business has tax consequences only if the business is actually sold, which may be long in the future when tax laws have changed or may not happen at all. Cf. Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1213–14 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (rejecting an argument that the tax associated with selling real property should have been deducted from the value of the property because such taxes were speculative), cert. denied, 817 P.2d 327 (Utah 1991).

Yet there is this distinction from the case of Labon v. Labon (517 P.3d 407, 413 (Utah Ct.App. 2022) 2022 UT App 103, ¶27):

[A] court should consider the “tax consequences” associated with the division of marital property if one of the parties “will be required to liquidate assets to pay marital debts.” Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 690 (Utah Ct. App. 1990)

Even so, if the tax implications of the division and disposition of the marital are important, they should be made specific trial issues, and the parties should expressly ask that the court consider and should minimize adverse tax consequences incidental to the disposition of the marital estate. Many treatises and practice guides recommend that every argument at the motion and trial level address the tax implications of the argument in detail, backed by not only the documentary evidence but the expert explanations, analyses, and opinions of an accountant.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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