Alimony in Utah, in Simple but No Less Accurate, Easily Understood Terms

Alimony is a hotly debated subject, whether one is divorced or not. As with most controversial topics, misinformation seems to find its way into the discussion. Alimony is not nearly as complex a subject as you might think. In this article, we state what you need to know about alimony in Utah in simple—but accurate–terms.

What factors must the court consider in awarding alimony? See Utah Code § 30-3-5(10):

(a)        The court shall consider at least the following factors in determining alimony:

(i)         the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;

(ii)        the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for a child of the payor spouse;

(iii)       the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;

(iv)       the length of the marriage;

(v)        whether the recipient spouse has custody of a minor child requiring support;

(vi)       whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the payor spouse; and

(vii)      whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to any increase in the payor spouse’s skill by paying for education received by the payor spouse or enabling the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage.

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


(d)        As a general rule, the court should look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation, in determining alimony in accordance with Subsection (10)(a). However, the court shall consider all relevant facts and equitable principles and may, in the court’s discretion, base alimony on the standard of living that existed at the time of trial. In marriages of short duration, when no child has been conceived or born during the marriage, the court may consider the standard of living that existed at the time of the marriage.

(e)        The court may, under appropriate circumstances, attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.

(f)        When a marriage of long duration dissolves on the threshold of a major change in the income of one of the spouses due to the collective efforts of both, that change shall be considered in dividing the marital property and in determining the amount of alimony. If one spouse’s earning capacity has been greatly enhanced through the efforts of both spouses during the marriage, the court may make a compensating adjustment in dividing the marital property and awarding alimony.

(g)        In determining alimony when a marriage of short duration dissolves, and no child has been conceived or born during the marriage, the court may consider restoring each party to the condition which existed at the time of the marriage.

Can you state the main factors for determining alimony in a nutshell? Yes. See Hansen v. Hansen (325 P.3d 864, 2014 UT App 96, ¶ 6 (Utah Court of Appeals, 2014)):

 “In fashioning an alimony award, the trial court is required to consider the payor spouse’s ability to pay and the recipient spouse’s need and ability to produce income.” Fish v. Fish, 2010 UT App 292, ¶ 12, 242 P.3d 787 (citing Utah Code Ann. § 30–3–5(8)(a)(i)–(iii) (Supp.2010) (current version at id. (LexisNexis 2013))). “Furthermore, the award should advance, as much as possible, the purposes of alimony by assisting the parties in achieving the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, equalizing the parties’ respective standards of living, and preventing either spouse from becoming a public charge.” Id.

How is “fault” defined in the context of the alimony analysis? See Utah Code § 30-3-5(1)(b):

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

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

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

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

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

If my spouse committed “fault” as defined in Utah Code § 30-3-5(1)(b), does that mean my spouse cannot be awarded alimony? No, not necessarily. While a spouse’s fault rarely results in disqualifying that spouse from receiving any alimony, fault can result in less alimony being paid (in the form of less paid each month and/or paid for a shorter length of time).

If I committed “fault” as defined in Utah Code § 30-3-5(1)(b), does that mean I must pay alimony? No (at least not under current construction of Utah law). Alimony cannot be awarded against you as a purely punitive measure, although your fault could result in paying more alimony (in the form of more paid each month and/or paid for a longer length of time) than you would have paid in the absence of fault.

See Roberts v. Roberts (335 P.3d 378 (Utah Court of Appeals, 2014), 2014 UT App 211):

It is settled law in Utah that “[t]he purpose of alimony is to provide support” to the recipient spouse “and not to inflict punitive damages” on the payor spouse. See English v. English, 565 P.2d 409, 411 (Utah 1977) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). As early as 1946, the Utah Supreme Court overturned an alimony award that was clearly intended to “compensate [the wife] for her suffering” and “teach [the husband] a lesson.” Foreman v. Foreman, 111 Utah 72, 176 P.2d 144, 153–54 (1946). The court noted that “[n]either task is properly within the issues of a divorce case.” Id. at 153.

Does committing adultery automatically disqualify the adulterer/adulteress from receiving alimony? Does it automatically obligate the adulterer/adulteress to pay alimony? No and no. Adultery, standing alone, cannot have that effect.

What is the maximum period of time for which alimony can be awarded? See Utah Code § 30-3-5(e):

(i)         Except as provided in Subsection (11)(e)(iii), the court may not order alimony for a period of time longer than the length of the marriage.

(ii)        If a party is ordered to pay temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce action, the period of time that the party pays temporary alimony shall be counted towards the period of time for which the party is ordered to pay alimony.

(iii)       At any time before the termination of alimony, the court may find extenuating circumstances or good cause that justify the payment of alimony for a longer period of time than the length of the marriage.

What does “the length of the marriage” mean? See Utah Code § 30-3-5(1)(c):

“Length of the marriage” means, for purposes of alimony, the number of years from the day on which the parties are legally married to the day on which the petition for divorce is filed with the court.

There are other aspects of alimony that Utah Code § 30-3-5 covers, so you’ll want to read the entire code section. Here is a link to Utah Code § 30-3-5

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