So, you have gotten news that your attorney has quit. Your attorney wrote you an email informing you that he or she your counsel either will soon withdraw as your counsel or has filed and served a notice of withdrawal of counsel. What does this mean? How does this work?
Did you not pay your lawyer? Were you not cooperating with your lawyer? Were you disregarding your lawyer’s advice? Actively working against your lawyer? Sabotaging your own case?
Was the case just too much for your lawyer? Did your lawyer get sick or did an emergency arise that requires all of his/her attention? Could your lawyer sense that you were disappointed in your lawyer’s performance and didn’t want to stick around?
Regardless of what the reason was, you no longer have or will soon not have legal counsel. You will need to find another lawyer to represent you.
You may believe that you could do better than your legal counsel. You wouldn’t be the first to think that way. You are likely frightfully mistaken. Unless you are a genius who can learn in weeks what it take others years to master, you will not get a good enough handle on the legal system in time. Even if you did master the law, that doesn’t mean you can succeed as well as a lawyer could.
The law on the books is not always the law handed down in court. Insiders have, and will always have, an advantage over those who aren’t legal professionals.
And the legal profession is not kind to those who “did not pay their dues” in law school and by taking the bar exam. Pro se litigants (i.e., people who represent themselves in court cases) who are the equals of lawyers in their writing and oral arguments make most lawyers feel inferior and threatened (and that includes the former lawyers who are now judges). When pro se litigants are so “presumptuous” as to think they will be taken as seriously as the lawyers, the system tends to discriminate against the pro se litigants. So even if your lawyer is nothing more than a useful prop, get one.
JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES JOHN D. LUTHY and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.
¶1 This case arises from a protracted and multi-faceted dispute among siblings and stepsiblings regarding the use and distribution of the assets in a trust created by Dean Harding. After four years of litigation and a six-day bench trial, the trial court determined that Rickie Taylor, acting as trustee of his deceased stepfather’s trust, engaged in numerous acts of self-dealing and other breaches of fiduciary duties resulting in more than $5 million in damages. After trial, the court also determined—sua sponte—that Margene Harding (Taylor’s mother and the lifetime beneficiary of the trust) had been vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions, and therefore held Margene’s estate (the Estate) jointly and severally responsible for the damages Taylor caused. The court then entered judgment against Taylor and the Estate jointly and severally, and in favor of petitioner Robert Harding, in amounts approximating $5 million. Taylor and the Estate now each separately appeal.
¶2 In his appeal, Taylor raises several challenges. First, he takes issue with the court’s order denying his motion to amend his answer to add certain additional affirmative defenses. Second, he challenges the court’s summary judgment order in which the court determined, as a matter of law, that Taylor made unlawful distributions from the trust. Next, Taylor appeals the court’s orders excluding his expert witnesses. Finally, Taylor makes several complaints about the court’s judgment against him, including the amount of damages ordered. As discussed below, we reject most of Taylor’s complaints, although we find merit in one aspect of his challenge to the court’s damages award.
¶3 In its appeal, the Estate also raises several issues for our consideration. First, it challenges the court’s sua sponte determination that it should be jointly and severally liable for the damages caused by Taylor’s wrongdoing. Second, the Estate appeals the court’s decision regarding the appropriate interest rate to be applied to a debt two of Dean’s children owed the trust. Third, it raises several issues with the form of the judgment. Finally, it takes issue with the court’s decision not to award it attorney fees. We find merit in many of the issues the Estate raises.
¶4 For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm some of the court’s rulings, but detect error in others, and therefore vacate the court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.
The Trust and Dean’s Death
¶5 During his lifetime, Dean Harding was a successful businessman who owned and operated a commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning company. With his first wife, Dean had three children: Robert G. Harding, Jill H. Kendall, and Jeana Vuksinick. In the mid-1980s, after Dean’s first wife had passed away, Dean married Margene Harding. Margene had several children from previous marriages, including Taylor. After Dean married Margene, Taylor became Dean’s stepson and the stepsibling of Robert, Jill, and Jeana.
¶6 In 1994, in an effort to manage his assets and plan his estate, Dean created the A. Dean Harding Marital and Family Trust (Trust). The beneficiaries of the Trust were Dean’s “surviving spouse”—Margene—and Dean’s three children. Under the terms of the Trust, upon Dean’s death, and if Dean’s “spouse survives” him, “all property subject to [the Trust] shall be divided into two parts known as the marital share and the family share.” Dean’s surviving spouse was to have the use of certain Trust assets during her lifetime, and then after her death the Trust assets were to be distributed to Dean’s three children “in equal shares.” Margene’s own children—including Taylor—were not direct beneficiaries of the Trust.
¶7 Any income earned by any part of the Trust was to be paid to Dean’s spouse, and any excess “undistributed” income from the marital share was, upon the spouse’s death, to pass to the “spouse’s estate.” But aside from such income, “all other properties of” the Trust, including all unused principal, were to pass to Dean’s three children upon the spouse’s death.
¶8 With regard to Trust principal, the Trust documents did not authorize any distribution of principal out of the marital share; those documents state that only the surviving spouse was empowered to receive—but not empowered “to appoint”—“any part of” the marital share’s property, but that even she was empowered to receive “income only.” With regard to the principal assets of the family share, however, the situation was different: to the extent that the Trust’s income was not sufficient to meet the surviving spouse’s ongoing “support and maintenance” needs, as viewed through the lens of “her accustomed manner of living,” the trustee was authorized, in his “discretion,” to use the family share’s principal to meet those needs. In making the determination about whether to dip into family share principal to meet the spouse’s needs, the trustee was to consider any “income or other resources” that the spouse had at her disposal, and was to “be mindful of the fact that [Dean’s] primary concern in establishing the [T]rust is [Dean’s] spouse’s welfare and that the interests of others in the [T]rust are to be subordinate to [Dean’s] spouse.”
¶9 The Trust also allowed for “the primary residence owned by” Dean at the time of his death to be “allocated to” the marital share. In that event, Dean’s surviving spouse would be allowed to “reside personally upon the said premises” during her lifetime but would be responsible for paying property taxes, maintaining “adequate insurance,” and “perform[ing] such repairs and maintenance as may be required to maintain the property in the condition it was maintained prior to [Dean’s] death.”
¶10 Dean’s will—created contemporaneously with the Trust— contained a “spendthrift clause” that all parties now agree was incorporated into the Trust. This provision mandated, in relevant part, that no “interest of any beneficiary” in the Trust “be liable . . . for the debts, contracts, liabilities, engagements, obligations or torts of such beneficiary.”
¶11 Dean passed away in January 2004. When he created the Trust, Dean had named himself as trustee, and had named an accountant (Accountant) as successor trustee. Upon Dean’s death, Accountant became the trustee of the Trust, and he estimated that the Trust contained a total of about $5.8 million in assets. Accountant further allocated some $1.5 million to the family share and about $4.3 million to the marital share. Accountant also allowed Margene to continue to reside in Dean’s residence.
¶12 When Dean died, he was the owner of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) that were valued at approximately $1.5 million. These IRAs were among the assets that Accountant allocated to the marital share of the Trust. Shortly after Dean’s death, Accountant signed certain forms clarifying that the Trust was the primary beneficiary of the IRAs. No such forms executed before Dean’s death are part of the record in this case. But even before Dean’s death, the account statements from the IRAs clearly referenced the Trust as the primary beneficiary.
The Settlement Agreement and the Note
¶13 Soon after Dean’s death, various disputes arose involving the Trust’s beneficiaries, and in June 2004, due to “growing contention,” Accountant resigned as trustee. Margene then appointed her son—Taylor—as the new trustee of the Trust. Later, Margene also gave Taylor power of attorney over her own personal finances, which power Taylor utilized to, among other things, write checks (or otherwise authorize withdrawals) from her personal bank accounts.
¶14 Robert, Jill, and Jeana questioned Taylor’s status as successor trustee, and Taylor took issue with an undocumented $1 million loan (the Loan) that two companies controlled by Robert and Jill had taken from the Trust prior to Dean’s death. Both sides filed competing petitions in court raising these and other disputes, and eventually agreed to resolve their differences in a settlement agreement (the Settlement Agreement). Among other things, the Settlement Agreement provided that Taylor would be allowed to continue as trustee of the Trust, but he would be required to “provide a full accounting . . . of the Trust assets and affairs at least annually,” provide “quarterly trust brokerage statements,” and “communicate with” Robert, Jill, and Jeana through their designated liaison—Jeana—“at least twice per month.” Ultimately, in the ensuing years, Jeana met with Taylor about four times per year to obtain information about the Trust, and neither Jeana nor her siblings, prior to 2015, ever asked for additional information from Taylor.
¶15 With regard to the Loan, Robert—both personally and on behalf of the companies—and Jill agreed to “execute a promissory note memorializing the undocumented Loan,” and agreed to pay “[a]ccrued interest” at a “variable” rate equivalent to “the margin loan rate assessed by S[a]lomon Smith Barney on Brokerage Account No. 298-02528-13 303 . . . as may fluctuate from time to time until paid in full.” The promissory note they later signed (the Note) also stated that interest payments were to be made quarterly, and that if the Note were to be in “default” that “interest shall accrue at one percent (1%) above” the variable rate specified. Interest paid on the Note was to be considered income from the marital share of the Trust and—under the terms of the Trust—paid to Margene or, if undistributed at her death, to the Estate. Robert and Jill signed the Note as personal guarantors, but each did so “only for one-half (1/2) of the remaining balance plus interest, and only to the extent of [their] inheritance.”
¶16 The Settlement Agreement also had an attorney fees clause, which provided that if any party to the agreement were “required to retain counsel to enforce any of the provisions of this Agreement,” the party “determined to be in substantial default in any subsequent action shall pay the prevailing [party] its costs and reasonable attorney fees.” The Note had such a clause too, pursuant to which Robert and Jill “promise[d] to pay all reasonable costs and expenses of collection of any amount due under this Note including reasonable attorney’s fees.”
A Decade of Taylor’s Trust Administration
¶17 Following execution of the Settlement Agreement, Taylor served as trustee of the Trust for the next thirteen years (until he was removed by court order in January 2018). During that time, he took numerous actions that were later questioned by one or more of Dean’s children.
¶18 Upon assuming the role of trustee, Taylor made little effort to familiarize himself with much of what his duties entailed. An attorney hired by the Trust provided Taylor with a document setting forth some of his duties as trustee, but he read only the pages the attorney said were important, and he was later unable to recollect any of the content of the document. Taylor also later stated that he was unaware of what fiduciary duties are. At one point, when asked whether he had read the Trust documents before beginning to authorize distributions of Trust assets, Taylor stated that he “left that . . . to the attorneys and the accountants.”
¶19 Throughout his tenure as trustee, Taylor was largely unaware whether the distributions he authorized came from the marital or family share of the Trust. He later testified that he was unaware of any written guidelines indicating when it was appropriate to distribute money from the family share. As noted above, the Trust allowed Taylor to distribute family share principal only when the trust income and Margene’s other assets were insufficient to meet Margene’s accustomed needs, but Taylor never analyzed Margene’s needs to determine whether principal distributions were appropriate. Throughout the thirteen years he served as trustee, Taylor never tracked the distributions of principal. In addition, with regard to some of the distributions Taylor made from the Trust—including several five-figure payments—Taylor was later unable to explain the destination or purpose of the payments.
¶20 Taylor was also unaware of whether the required minimum distributions (RMDs) he made from the IRAs were considered income and therefore payable to Margene, or were considered principal and therefore subject to the Trust’s restrictions on distributions of principal. During his time as trustee, Taylor simply paid 100% of the RMDs from the IRAs to Margene, as if they were entirely composed of income. He later learned, however, that pursuant to the provisions of Utah’s Uniform Principal and Income Act (UPIA), only a small portion of the RMDs could properly be classified as income. See Utah Code § 22-3-409.
¶21 During his years as trustee, Taylor used his power of attorney over Margene’s personal finances to make transfers of money from Margene’s accounts (which were largely funded by Trust assets) to accounts controlled by Taylor, and Taylor was unable to explain the reason for many of these transfers. Examples of these transactions include payment for third-row Utah Jazz season tickets in the amount of $74,945; a $123,470.59 payment to a business Taylor owned; purchase of an Arabian horse; a $93,600 payment to Taylor’s sister; and $62,700 in “[f]unds directed to Taylor personally.” Some of these transfers he characterized as “gifts” from Margene to him or his siblings.
¶22 Taylor also failed to properly maintain vehicles owned by the Trust. A motorhome owned by the Trust was used by Taylor’s siblings until, while being used by Taylor’s nephew, it was stolen. A truck and “another car,” also owned by the Trust, were gifted by Margene to Taylor’s sister. And another Trust vehicle was totaled by Taylor’s son.
¶23 While Taylor was acting as trustee, Robert’s ex-wife served a writ of garnishment on the Trust regarding money Robert allegedly owed her in their divorce case. Robert claims to have first become aware of his ex-wife’s actions when a Trust attorney informed him that his ex-wife had served the writ on the Trust. After receiving notice, Robert claims that he hired an expert “to analyze the propriety of the amount of [her] claim” and that he obtained legal counsel to potentially dispute or negotiate the money owed. However, under the threat of the writ of garnishment, Taylor authorized payment from the Trust of some $250,000 to Robert’s ex-wife. Moreover, Robert’s ex-wife had previously obtained approximately $35,000 from the proceeds of a short sale of Robert’s home. Robert took issue with Taylor’s authorization of the payment out of the Trust to his ex-wife, believing that the payment resulted in his ex-wife receiving at least $35,000 more than she was entitled to and that it “undercut any negotiation he had with [her] regarding the [total] amount owed.” However, Robert’s ex-wife did not make any further claims against Robert for the money owed, and Robert later testified that the Trust’s “distributions of funds to [his ex-wife] did extinguish his debt to her.”
¶24 In the years after the Loan was memorialized in the Note as part of the Settlement Agreement, Robert and Jill (and their companies) made only two payments on the $1 million Note. Those payments totaled about $58,000 and appeared to include interest calculated at a 2% rate. But no other payments were made, and the two companies involved eventually went out of business. No party gave the Trust any notice of the companies’ dissolution, so the Trust, perhaps understandably, never made a claim on any of the companies’ assets. A Trust attorney did send a notice of default in 2006. But the Trust never took any other steps to collect on the Note from the companies (prior to dissolution) or from Robert and Jill (as guarantors), and the Note (both principal and interest) remained unpaid until after Margene’s death.
Margene’s Death and the Ensuing Distributions
¶25 Margene passed away in February 2015, and Taylor was appointed personal representative of her estate. The terms of the Settlement Agreement required Taylor to make final distributions of Trust assets within sixty days of Margene’s death, but he did not do so within that time period. About six months after Margene’s death, Taylor made a partial distribution of $775,000 (before deductions) to each of the three beneficiaries. Robert didn’t actually receive any money, though, because Taylor deducted $524,279.25 from both Robert’s and Jill’s distributions to account for the unpaid principal (but not the unpaid interest) on the Loan, and deducted an additional $250,720.75 from Robert’s tally because of the payment made by the Trust, on Robert’s behalf, to Robert’s ex-wife. Jill received a payment of $250,720.75, and Jeana received the full $775,000. Later, in 2016, Taylor was ordered to transfer nearly all the remaining Trust assets to Dean’s three children, and he did so by making a distribution to each of them in the approximate amount of $608,000.
The Lawsuit and the Two Competing Petitions
¶26 In September 2015, Robert filed a petition seeking “full distribution” from the Trust, a “full accounting” of Trust expenditures, and “damages resulting from breach of trust.” The petition named the Trust, Taylor, the Estate, Jill, Jeana, and Robert’s ex-wife as respondents. As to Taylor, Robert alleged that Taylor had unlawfully distributed principal from the Trust, and that at least some of these unlawful distributions had been made “on Margene’s behalf.” As to his ex-wife, Robert alleged that the payment made to her from the Trust violated the spendthrift provision and “interfered with and frustrated [his] settlement negotiations with” her. And as to the Estate, Robert’s only allegation concerned the marital home; he alleged that “Margene failed to repair and maintain the [home] in the condition it was maintained prior to Dean’s death.” He made no other substantive allegations against the Estate, and did not assert that Margene or the Estate was or should be liable for Taylor’s actions.
¶27 In his prayer for relief at the end of his petition, Robert requested a full accounting, and asked that the court order Taylor to make distributions to him and his two siblings as required by that accounting. He also asked the court to order Taylor to “take immediate action to recover the funds distributed to” Robert’s ex-wife. He requested damages against “the Trust and/or Trustee” resulting from any unlawful distributions Taylor had made from the Trust. Against the Estate, he sought only damages “for the loss in value of” the marital home, as well as “a return of principal wrongfully distributed from the Trust.” Although Jill and Jeana were listed as respondents, the petition did not set forth any claims against or requests for relief from them; indeed, as noted, the petition asked the court to order distributions to all three of Dean’s children.
¶28 The Estate filed a counter-petition against the Trust, Robert, and Jill. The petition sought an order compelling Robert and Jill to pay the interest owed on the Loan to the Estate, pointing out that interest is classified as income from the marital share of the Trust and is, under the terms of the Trust, payable to the Estate (whose heirs include Taylor) upon Margene’s death. The Estate’s petition suggested that the total amount of interest owed, at the time the petition was filed, was more than $630,000. With regard to the Trust, the Estate simply asked that “any amounts still owing” to the Estate from the Trust be paid. And in this filing, the Estate included an “objection to” Robert’s petition, arguing that Robert’s prayer for relief addressing the Estate should be stricken “when no such allegations are made in the petition itself.”
¶29 Taylor filed an “objection and response” to Robert’s petition, in which he admitted certain of Robert’s allegations and denied the rest. He set forth no affirmative defenses of his own, although he did “join” in the defenses set forth in the response filed by Robert’s ex-wife. In her response, Robert’s ex-wife set forth nine separate affirmative defenses, including the allegation that Robert’s “claims are barred by the statute of limitations for objecting to and/or opposing the” writ of garnishment, “and by the doctrine of laches.”
¶30 Following the filing of the two competing petitions and the responses, the litigation entered the discovery phase. The trial court issued scheduling orders setting certain deadlines, and the parties exchanged written discovery, took several depositions, and attempted mediation.
¶31 About nine weeks prior to the end of the fact discovery period, Taylor filed a motion asking for leave to amend his response to add several specific affirmative defenses, including a claim that he “had a good faith basis for his actions” and a claim that Robert’s petition was “barred by applicable statutes of limitation, including, but not limited to” Utah Code sections 78B2-305 and -307. In the memoranda supporting his motion, Taylor never asserted that probate petitions aren’t pleadings subject to the usual rules of amendment. Robert opposed Taylor’s motion, arguing that Taylor provided no justification for the delay, that waiting to amend was a “dilatory move” made at least in part to “evade [Robert’s] discovery requests,” and that Robert would be prejudiced because of the little time left in the fact discovery period. After full briefing, the court held a hearing to consider Taylor’s motion, and at the conclusion of the arguments denied the motion from the bench. The court’s minute entry recites that the motion was denied “[f]or reasons as stated” on the record. But the record submitted to us does not include a transcript of this hearing. After the hearing, the court signed an order memorializing the ruling, therein briefly stating that it had denied Taylor’s motion because “adequate justification has not been provided” and because it considered Taylor’s delay “unreasonable.” Taylor had attempted to justify the amendment, at least in part, by asserting that he had intended his incorporation of Robert’s ex-wife’s affirmative defenses to include “all applicable statutes of limitations and laches defenses.” The court rejected this justification as “faulty,” determining that Robert’s ex-wife’s defense was “limited in scope to one specific issue,”
namely, the writ of garnishment, and that Taylor’s incorporation of that defense did not serve to indicate to Robert that Taylor was asserting any different time-based defense.
¶32 Later, Robert moved for partial summary judgment on the narrow question of whether Taylor had violated the “terms of the Trust . . . by invading the principal of the” Trust’s marital share, and had thereby breached his fiduciary duties. In particular, Robert asserted that Taylor had made more than $2.2 million worth of “improper distributions” of principal out of the Trust’s marital share—some $1 million of which involved distributions from the IRAs, and some $1.2 million of which involved distributions from other sources—all of which were contrary to the Trust documents’ command that no such distributions were authorized, and that these actions constituted breach of fiduciary duty. Robert included specific details of the alleged distributions and supported his allegations with bank statements.
¶33 In response, Taylor did not deny making distributions of principal from the marital share, and he in fact admitted to making “over distributions” of principal that “may have been improper,” but argued that the distributions were nevertheless “valid” for various reasons. For instance, he argued that the distributions were valid, at least to some extent, because he was authorized to distribute principal from the family share at his discretion. And with regard to the IRA distributions, Taylor asserted that he relied on the advice of legal and accounting professionals, and that his actions were therefore reasonable, and he asserted that it was unclear whether the Trust was even the proper owner of the IRAs. Taylor also disputed the amount of the distributions he had made from principal. In reply, Robert pointed out, among other things, that Taylor had not included an “advice-of-counsel” affirmative defense in his responsive pleading, and that the court had already rejected his attempt to add additional affirmative defenses, including specifically a defense that he “had a good faith basis for his actions.” Robert thus asserted that Taylor had waived his opportunity to plead an advice-of-counsel defense.
¶34 After full briefing on the motion, the court held oral argument, and in an oral ruling at the conclusion of the hearing granted Robert’s motion, at least in part. The record submitted to us does not include a transcript of this hearing, so the details and scope of the oral ruling are unknown to us. In an order entered about a month later that was intended to memorialize the oral ruling, the court first noted that the Trust authorized Margene to receive “income only” from the marital share, and then concluded that, “[b]ased on . . . Taylor’s admissions and the evidence before the court, . . . Taylor made unlawful distributions of principal from the [marital share] to Margene.” But that was as far as the court went; it recognized that genuine issues of material fact remained regarding, among other things, the amount and calculation of the unlawful distributions, as well as whether Robert and Jill owed money to the Trust or to the Estate related to the Note. The court reserved all of those issues for trial. And at least in its written ruling, the court made no mention of Taylor’s claimed advice-of-counsel defense.
¶35 The court’s order also implicitly rejected Taylor’s argument that the Trust was not the owner of the IRAs, stating that the marital share of the Trust “included several [IRAs]” and that “[t]he required minimum distributions of the IRAs were paid to” the marital share and transferred to Margene. The court shed additional light on this matter in another order issued the same day resolving a separate motion that Robert had filed; in that other order, the court determined that the Estate “is not the owner or beneficiary of the IRAs.” This decision was driven by the court’s determination that the Estate had “fail[ed] to provide any admissible evidence to create a genuine issue of fact” with regard to Robert’s assertion—amply supported by the record—“that the IRAs were properly transferred to and owned by the . . . Trust after Dean’s death.”
¶36 Around the same time, Robert also moved for summary judgment regarding the payment Taylor had authorized to Robert’s ex-wife. After briefing and argument, the court held that the payment violated the spendthrift provision as a matter of law, but that “[t]here are disputed facts regarding,” among other things, “the amount of damages, if any,” and concluded that those issues were reserved for trial. The court, however, noted that “equity prevents” giving Robert a “windfall of $250,000,” and that factual questions remained regarding whether Robert “suffered any interest losses that he . . . may have been entitled to if . . . the money had been kept longer or there had been a [lower amount that his ex-wife] would’ve accepted.”
¶37 There were also pretrial skirmishes regarding expert witnesses. When the time came for Taylor to designate experts, he designated three: a legal expert and two accounting experts. Robert elected to receive written reports from the accounting experts, but opted to take the deposition of Taylor’s proffered legal expert. Taylor did not ever submit expert reports from his two proffered accounting experts. On Robert’s motion, and because Taylor failed to submit reports as required, the court later excluded Taylor’s accounting experts from testifying in Taylor’s case-in-chief, although the court did allow one of them to testify at trial as a rebuttal witness.
¶38 Robert also asked the court to exclude the proffered testimony of Taylor’s legal expert, arguing that the court “should not allow a local attorney to tell [it] how to interpret” the Trust documents. The court granted this motion in an oral ruling made at a hearing; it later memorialized that ruling in a brief written order stating simply that, “[a]fter argument by counsel and review of the briefings filed by the parties, the Court grants [Robert’s] Motion in Limine excluding all legal expert testimony at trial.” The record submitted to us does not contain a transcript of the hearing at which the court rendered its oral ruling, nor does it contain any additional elucidation of the court’s reasoning in granting Robert’s motion to exclude Taylor’s legal expert.
¶39 While Jill and Jeana each hired counsel and participated in the litigation, neither Jill nor Jeana filed their own petitions or made any claims of their own against Taylor; indeed, as noted, they were included as respondents in Robert’s initial petition. But as the litigation went on, Jill and Jeana began to align themselves more and more with Robert; in its post-trial findings, the court observed that, by the time of trial, Jill’s and Jeana’s “interests were eventually aligned with Robert’s.” About two years into the litigation, and recognizing some uncertainty about whether Jill and Jeana were stating claims, Taylor filed a motion attempting to clarify matters and limit Robert’s damages “to his one-third beneficial interest or share of the Trust.” Robert, Jill, and Jeana all separately opposed this motion. In his opposition, Robert stated that, even though he was the only one of Dean’s children who had filed a petition, he was seeking damages “for the benefit of all beneficiaries—[Robert], Jill and Jeana.” After full briefing, the court held argument to consider Taylor’s motion, and denied it in an oral ruling at the conclusion of the hearing. The record submitted to us does not include a transcript of this hearing. A few weeks later, the court memorialized its oral ruling in a written order, concluding that Robert “has standing to assert claims on behalf of all of the Trust beneficiaries” and that “[a]ny damages that are ultimately found against Taylor are not limited to [Robert’s] one-third beneficial interest.”
¶40 As the time for trial grew near, Robert filed a motion to bifurcate, asking the court to separate the trial of the Estate’s claims—chiefly, for interest on the Loan—from the trial of Robert’s claims for damages relating to improper distributions of Trust principal. In this motion, Robert suggested that the claims stated in his petition against the Estate—regarding the marital home—were “likely resolved” in light of a recent ruling the court had apparently made regarding the costs to repair the home. Thus, Robert argued, “the only issue remaining” with regard to his petition “is the amount of damages to be awarded against Taylor as the Trustee of the Trust,” and therefore in Robert’s view the Estate “should not be involved in” the trial of the claims set forth in his petition. The court denied the motion, noting that the case was scheduled to be tried to the bench and stating that “the court is capable of keeping separate the testimony of the various witnesses” regarding the Estate’s petition and Robert’s petition.
¶41 Also prior to trial, on Robert’s motion, the court issued an order removing Taylor as trustee of the Trust. In that same order, the court replaced Taylor with two co-trustees: Robert and Jill.
¶42 The issues remaining in the case were tried to the bench in March and April 2019. During the course of the trial, the court heard fact testimony from Robert, Jill, Jeana, and Robert’s current wife, as well as from Taylor. The court also heard testimony from financial experts, one retained by Robert and one by the Estate, as well as rebuttal testimony from one retained by Taylor. In addition, the court heard testimony from an accountant and an attorney who had provided advice to the Trust during Taylor’s tenure as trustee. After the completion of the parties’ four-day evidentiary presentation, the court scheduled time for the parties to present extensive closing arguments, which took place over another two days the following week. At one point during closing arguments, Jeana’s attorney made an oral motion “to conform the pleadings to the evidence that [Jeana] is a one-third beneficiary of the [T]rust, who essentially has been acting as a Petitioner in this case.” Over the Estate’s objection, the court ruled that Jeana “is a Petitioner,” even though the court was not allowing her to “assert any affirmative claims,” and that Jeana had “a third interest, as a beneficiary,” in the case. After closing arguments, the court then took the matter under advisement, and asked the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law that were stipulated “on as many points as possible.”
¶43 Perhaps predictably, the parties were unable to reach agreement on any matter in the findings and conclusions, and by mid-May they had each submitted individual proposed findings instead. In Robert’s set of suggested findings, he did not propose any finding or conclusion that the Estate was (or should be) vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions, although Robert did propose that the court “impose a constructive trust on the assets of the Estate” and order that “all remaining [Estate] assets payable or distributable to Taylor be used to pay the outstanding judgments in this case.” The court reviewed the parties’ respective findings and began work on its own written ruling.
¶44 For the next six months, the court held periodic status hearings approximately every sixty days—in July, September, and November—sometimes asking for “clarification” or additional information on issues, and on one occasion stating simply that it had called the hearing to let the parties know that it “need[ed] a little additional time to finish” the ruling and offering its view that “this hearing will technically give [the court] another 60 days.” In the November 2019 status hearing, the court indicated that it was nearly finished with its written ruling, and actually announced portions of that ruling during the hearing. In the course of making those announcements, the court declared— sua sponte—that it would be “finding that the [E]state is liable,” along with Taylor, for Taylor’s actions; the court explained that Taylor “controlled the expenditures of Margene” and “had power of attorney” and “represented both” the Estate and the Trust, and that the Estate “benefited from [Taylor’s] misuse of” Trust funds.
The court indicated that it was “struggling a little bit on what the proper law is to divide up the liability between” the Estate and Taylor, and it asked the parties for supplemental briefing on that question and certain other issues.
The Court’s Initial Written Ruling
¶45 A couple of weeks later, while the supplemental briefing was still in process, the court issued a lengthy written ruling containing both findings of fact and conclusions of law. In that ruling, the court found, among other things, that Taylor did not trouble himself to “read the Trust document prior to making distributions,” that he “was ignorant and at times willfully blind of the duties he assumed as a fiduciary under Utah law,” “that he did not make reasonable efforts to inform himself of those duties,” and that he had, in various ways, breached those duties as trustee of the Trust. In particular, the court determined that Taylor had breached several different fiduciary duties, including his duty to administer the Trust in good faith and as a prudent person would, his duty of loyalty, and his duty to enforce and defend claims against the Trust. The court also found that Taylor had breached a duty to maintain the marital home, explaining that, even though the Trust documents placed that duty on Margene and not on the trustee, “Taylor as trustee can be imputed a duty to maintain the marital home for the welfare of Margene.” And the court offered its view that, at least in some respects, Taylor’s “testimony lacked any indicia of credibility.”
¶46 With regard to Taylor’s trust administration, the court found that Taylor’s conduct not only “fell short of the required standard” but “crossed over into ‘reckless indifference’ towards Trust assets, or to acts of bad faith.” In the court’s view, Taylor “acted as trustee in a dilatory, haphazard, uncaring and slipshod fashion,” at times “making use of the Trust as if it were his own personal piggy-bank.” The court found that Taylor “showed a blatant lack of care about tracking monies coming out of the Trust,” and that “Taylor frequently invaded Trust corpus principal . . . with no consideration of the limiting terms of the [T]rust agreement.” The court found “that Taylor did not make an analysis of his mother’s needs when expending trust funds,” specifically noting that “Margene had significant assets of her own . . . that [Taylor] should have . . . considered as sources to provide for her care and maintenance prior to expenditure of Trust corpus principal,” including two other properties and some $2 million in “Zions stock.”
¶47 With regard to Taylor’s duty of loyalty, the court found that Taylor had engaged in frequent acts of self-dealing, for himself, his wife, and his siblings, and that he “used his position as trustee to engage in acts of extensive, repeated, and prolonged self-dealing” by “repeatedly authoriz[ing] transactions that directly benefited himself.” The court specifically listed the Jazz tickets, the Arabian horse, and direct payments to Taylor’s family members as examples of Taylor’s self-dealing. The court also mentioned Taylor’s “fail[ure] to control [the] vehicles titled in the name of the Trust,” stating that it appeared to the court as though Taylor was unaware that the Trust even owned any vehicles. The court found that “Taylor’s treatment of the vehicles . . . is typical of his reckless treatment of other Trust assets and his ignorance of his fiduciary duties as Trustee.”
¶48 On the question of damages caused by Taylor’s mismanagement of the Trust, the court adopted the calculations offered by Robert’s damages expert, explaining that her “methods provide a reasonably certain calculation of damages” that “accounts for both excess distributions and losses incurred due to present value of money.” Based on the methods used by Robert’s expert, the court calculated that the Trust had sustained damages, as the result of Taylor’s actions, in the amount of $5,229,095.
¶49 The court also made findings about the marital home, determining that it “was in excellent repair and condition” at the time of Dean’s death, but that Margene did not continue to properly maintain the property afterwards. As noted, however, the court held Taylor responsible for this conduct, imputing Margene’s duty onto Taylor. The court determined that the total damages regarding the home were $33,500, and that this amount was “owed to Jeana,” because Jeana had purchased the home for full value and then made the repairs to the home herself. The court took the $33,500 amount from estimates provided by Jeana, even though, during a separate legal proceeding, Jeana had claimed she was owed only $29,439 for the repairs.
¶50 The court also determined that Taylor “violated his duty to enforce and defend claims against the Trust” when he authorized the $250,000 payment to Robert’s ex-wife. The court found that Taylor “failed to adequately communicate with Robert . . . regarding any merits or defenses to [Robert’s ex-wife]’s writ of garnishment . . . , or even to ascertain whether the amounts claimed were proper.” The court ruled that Taylor was “liable for the consequences of” this breach, but in its initial post-trial ruling the court made no effort to quantify that amount or identify who the damaged party was. During closing argument and his post-trial proposed findings, Robert had asked the court to award $35,000 plus interest on this issue. Nevertheless, the court later determined, after additional post-trial briefing, that Taylor was liable for the entire payment of $250,720.25.
¶51 In its initial written ruling, the court also made findings regarding the Estate’s petition. As noted, the Estate’s main issue concerned the unpaid interest on the Loan the Trust had made to Robert and Jill and their companies and, specifically, what the appropriate interest rate was. While the Note memorializing the Loan called for an interest rate tied to a particular brokerage account at Salomon Smith Barney, there were several lengthy “gap period[s],” ranging from several months to several years, during which “an interest rate was not published on the account.” The Estate’s expert used the published rate for the months it was available, but for the gap periods he employed two different methods (more fully explained below, in Part II.B) to estimate what the brokerage account interest rate would have been. Using these methods, the expert calculated the unpaid interest on the Note as $922,219.77.
¶52 The court, despite finding that the Estate’s expert’s averaging “method to cover short gap periods [was] reasonable,” declined to apply the expert’s interest rates for any of the gap periods. Instead, the court chose to apply a statutory default interest rate—one that turned out to be much lower than the rates suggested by the expert—to all the gap periods. See Utah Code § 70A-3-112 (“If an instrument provides for interest, but the amount of interest payable cannot be ascertained from the description, interest is payable at the judgment rate in effect at the place of payment of the instrument and at the time interest first accrues.”). In its initial post-trial ruling, the court asked the parties to provide supplemental calculations of the amount of interest owing, using the methods laid out in the ruling. After supplemental briefing, the court later determined that the total amount of unpaid interest owing on the Note was $565,314.97.
¶53 Finally, the court briefly considered the question of attorney fees, which had been requested by the Estate, Robert, and Taylor. The court determined that Taylor was “not entitled to any attorneys’ fees he incurred,” but that Robert was entitled to both (a) reimbursement of $187,595.71 from the Trust for fees incurred in defending the administration of the Trust, and (b) additional attorney fees from Taylor, pursuant to Utah’s bad faith statute, as the “prevailing party” in the litigation. See id. § 78B-5-825. The court specifically found that “Taylor’s defenses against the claims raised” in Robert’s petition “were brought in bad faith,” and asked Robert to submit an affidavit of fees and costs.
Joint and Several Liability of the Estate
¶54 After receiving the court’s lengthy written ruling, the parties continued working on their supplemental briefing, not only about the interest calculation but also about the joint-and-several-liability issue raised by the court, sua sponte, in the November 2019 hearing. After full briefing, the court heard argument on that issue, and at the conclusion of the hearing took the matter under advisement. A few weeks later, the court issued a written ruling, making two significant determinations. First, the court determined that the issue of Margene’s (and therefore, by extension, the Estate’s) vicarious liability for Taylor’s actions— despite not having been raised in the pleadings—had been tried by the consent of the parties. Second, the court officially found the Estate jointly and severally liable for Taylor’s actions. It specifically did not employ a constructive trust theory to render the Estate’s assets available for collection; instead, it noted that “Taylor had power of attorney over his mother’s financial affairs while exercising authority and powers as the trustee of” the Trust, and concluded that Taylor had the “intent to unlawfully pilfer the . . . Trust and preserve his mother’s estate for his own benefit and the benefit of his siblings.” The court offered its view that it “need not retreat to any equitable theory”—such as constructive trust— where there was “an express contract covering the subject matter of the litigation,” which contract was, in the court’s view, the Trust document. The court later clarified that it had not rejected Robert’s constructive trust theory, stating that the fact that it “didn’t rule on that theory . . . doesn’t mean that [the court] didn’t accept it,” and explaining that it had simply made a ruling “on an alternative ground.” Indeed, the court went so far as to say that, if a constructive trust theory was “what the parties believe is a more proper finding,” the court may be willing to “find that I’m ordering a constructive trust.”
¶55 After the trial, the court also made additional rulings regarding attorney fees. The court had already determined, in its lengthy written ruling, that Robert was entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees from Taylor. Later, Robert submitted an affidavit claiming $441,546.50 of attorney fees and $137,148.38 in costs, which the court determined were reasonable.
¶56 The Estate also requested attorney fees from Robert on the Loan/Note issue, invoking the Note’s attorney fees provision and asserting that it had been the prevailing party on the question of unpaid interest on the Loan. The Estate submitted detailed declarations—from two different attorneys—setting forth the fees incurred in that endeavor. In the motion accompanying the declarations, the Estate was careful to point out that “the fee declarations allocate between time spent on issues pertaining to the claim for interest on the Note and time spent on other matters,” directing the court’s attention to line items in the declarations that had been excluded from the request. The Estate asserted that the items remaining in its request were either directly related to its claim for unpaid interest or, alternatively, were inextricably intertwined with that claim such that they could not meaningfully be separated.
¶57 However, the court denied the Estate’s fee request in its entirety, concluding that the Estate had “fail[ed] to properly allocate claimed fees for claims upon which it prevailed.” The court acknowledged that the Estate had “made some effort to adhere to the Court’s admonition” to properly allocate attorney fees, but ultimately concluded that the Estate’s attempts in that regard were inadequate because, in the court’s view, the Estate’s fee request included fees for “legal work that sought to advance theories and arguments which the Court did not adopt and upon which the [E]state did not prevail.”
The Form of the Judgment
¶58 During this same post-trial time period, the court also addressed questions regarding the form of the judgment, including who should be ordered to pay whom and how much. Robert submitted a proposed form of judgment, listing himself as the only judgment creditor, and indicating that Taylor owed him some $5.8 million and that the Estate, through joint and several liability and after an offset for unpaid interest, owed him some $5.2 million. This proposed judgment drew initial objections from the Estate and Taylor. In response to these initial objections, the court clarified that Taylor was solely liable for the payment to Robert’s ex-wife, but that the Estate was jointly and severally liable for the marital home damages and fee payments. And it ruled that Robert and Jill were each liable for “one half of the unpaid interest,” but it did not add Jill as a judgment debtor, reasoning that “[t]he amount of interest is to mitigate damages owed by the Estate” and should be accounted for as “an offset against amounts owed.”
¶59 Just days after the court’s ruling on the initial objections to the form of the judgment, the Estate lodged another objection, pointing out that—even though the court had previously held that Robert was not limited to pursuing damages only for his one-third share, had noted that Robert has standing to bring a claim on behalf of his siblings, and had even stated in its written ruling that the damages to the marital home were “owed to Jeana”—the only judgment creditor listed in the judgment was “Robert G. Harding,” apparently in his personal capacity. The Estate argued that the proper judgment creditors should be Robert and Jill “as trustees” of the Trust, because the claims presented at trial were largely “related to claims by the Trust, not claims by Robert G. Harding personally.” Robert opposed this objection, asserting that the language of the proposed judgment “is consistent with the procedural history” of the case and with the court’s written rulings. The court made no express ruling on this final objection and instead went ahead and signed its judgment without further comment, thus implicitly overruling the objection.
¶60 The signed judgment lists “Robert G. Harding” as the only judgment creditor, and Taylor and the Estate as the only judgment debtors. The document recites that Robert is “awarded Judgment against” Taylor in the amount of $5,815,599.71, and that Robert is “awarded Judgment against” the Estate in the amount of $4,999,564.49. The difference between the two figures—the amount owed by Taylor as compared to the amount owed by the Estate—is $816,035.22, which is the sum of the offset for the unpaid interest on the Note ($565,314.97) and the amount paid to Robert’s ex-wife ($250,720.25).
¶61 Following entry of the judgment, the Estate filed a motion to amend the court’s rulings, findings, and judgment. In this motion, the Estate argued, among other things, that the court had erred by accounting for the Estate’s recovery against Robert and Jill for unpaid interest through a setoff mechanism, instead of entering a separate judgment in favor of the Estate and against Robert and Jill. The Estate pointed out that this was especially problematic with regard to Jill, who was not a judgment creditor and therefore had no positive judgment against which her interest obligation could be set off. After full briefing and argument, the court denied the Estate’s motion.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶62 Taylor and the Estate each separately appeal. In his appeal, Taylor raises four issues for our review. First, he contends that the court erred in denying his motion to amend to add additional affirmative defenses. When reviewing a trial court’s decision on a motion to amend, “we give considerable deference to the [trial] court, as it is best positioned to evaluate the motion to amend in the context of the scope and duration of the lawsuit” and we “defer to the trial court’s determination.” Daniels v. Gamma West Brachytherapy, LLC, 2009 UT 66, ¶ 60, 221 P.3d 256 (quotation simplified). Thus, “[w]e overturn a trial court’s denial of a motion to amend . . . only when we find an abuse of discretion.” Kelly v. Hard Money Funding, Inc., 2004 UT App 44, ¶ 14, 87 P.3d 734.
¶63 Second, Taylor argues that the court erred in determining, on summary judgment, that he had breached his fiduciary duties by making distributions from marital share principal. Summary judgment is appropriate “if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Utah R. Civ. P. 56(a). “We review the summary judgment decision de novo.” Salo v. Tyler, 2018 UT 7, ¶ 19, 417 P.3d 581 (quotation simplified).
¶64 Third, Taylor takes issue with the court’s exclusion of his three disclosed expert witnesses. There are “[t]wo different standards of review [that] apply to claims regarding the admissibility of evidence.” Smith v. Volkswagen SouthTowne, Inc., 2022 UT 29, ¶ 41, 513 P.3d 729. “The first standard of review, correctness, applies to the legal questions underlying the admissibility of evidence.” Id. (quotation simplified). “The second standard of review, abuse of discretion, applies to the [trial] court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence and to determinations regarding the admissibility of expert testimony.” Id. (quotation simplified).
¶65 Fourth, Taylor challenges the court’s ultimate determination of damages. “A trial court’s findings of fact will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.” Traco Steel Erectors, Inc. v. Comtrol, Inc., 2009 UT 81, ¶ 17, 222 P.3d 1164 (quotation simplified). “The award of damages is a factual determination that we review for clear error.” Saleh v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 2006 UT 20, ¶ 29, 133 P.3d 428.
¶66 In connection with its appeal, the Estate raises four issues for our consideration. First, the Estate challenges the court’s determination to hold it jointly and severally liable for Taylor’s actions, and its challenge takes two forms. As an initial matter, the Estate takes issue with the court’s conclusion that the vicarious liability issues—which were not present in Robert’s pleadings— were tried by the consent of the parties, and that Robert’s pleadings could therefore be amended post-trial pursuant to rule 15(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. “We review the [trial] court’s application of rule 15(b) for correctness. However, because the trial court’s determination of whether the issues were tried with all parties’ implied consent is highly fact intensive, we grant the trial court a fairly broad measure of discretion in making that determination under a given set of facts.” Hill v. Estate of Allred, 2009 UT 28, ¶ 44, 216 P.3d 929 (quotation simplified). And more substantively, the Estate challenges the merits of the court’s conclusion that it is vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions. In some contexts, a vicarious liability ruling involves issues of fact. See, e.g., Newman v. White Water Whirlpool, 2008 UT 79, ¶ 10, 197 P.3d 654 (stating that “[w]hether an employee is in the course and scope of his employment” for purposes of vicarious liability “presents a question of fact for the fact-finder”). In other contexts, though, such a ruling is inherently legal. See, e.g., Wardley Better Homes & Gardens v. Cannon, 2002 UT 99, ¶ 19, 61 P.3d 1009 (stating that “[w]hether a principal is vicariously liable for an agent’s acts” presents a “legal question”). While—as discussed below—the precise legal basis for the trial court’s ruling is somewhat unclear, Robert defends the ruling by pointing to principles of agency law. We agree that, under the circumstances, the trial court’s vicarious liability ruling was a legal one, not a factual one, and we therefore review it for correctness.
¶67 Second, the Estate argues that the court erred in determining the rate for the unpaid interest due on the Note. Both sides agree that, at least under the circumstances of this case, we should review this issue for correctness. See USA Power, LLC v. PacifiCorp, 2016 UT 20, ¶ 32, 372 P.3d 629 (stating that ascertaining “the appropriate interest rate” is “a question of law that we review for correctness”).
¶68 Third, the Estate raises several issues with the form of the court’s judgment. In particular, it wonders who the proper judgment creditors are, and contends that the court erred in setting off the Estate’s award of interest against the amounts the court determined it owed to Robert and Jill for vicarious liability. Challenges to offset determinations often involve mixed questions of fact and law and are “reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard for questions of fact and a correctness standard for questions of law.” Hale v. Big H Constr., Inc., 2012 UT App 283, ¶ 11, 288 P.3d 1046 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 298 P.3d 69 (Utah 2013). The issue we address here regarding offset—namely, whether offset was appropriate when one of the parties did not receive a judgment—presents a legal question reviewed for correctness. See Fisher v. Fisher, 2009 UT App 305, ¶ 7, 221 P.3d 845 (noting that whether “an offset is allowed under [a] cause of action” is a question “of law, which we review for correctness”), cert. denied, 230 P.3d 127 (Utah 2010). And in addition, the Estate challenges the court’s award of damages for repairs to the marital home. “The award of damages is a factual determination that we review for clear error.” Saleh, 2006 UT 20, ¶ 29. However, “[w]e review the court’s legal conclusions for correction of error.” Hale, 2012 UT App 283, ¶ 13.
¶69 Finally, the Estate takes issue with the court’s rejection of its claim for attorney fees incurred in furtherance of its successful claim for unpaid interest on the Note. “The award of attorney fees is a matter of law, which we review for correctness. However, a trial court has broad discretion in determining what constitutes a reasonable fee, and we will consider that determination against an abuse-of-discretion standard.” Jensen v. Sawyers, 2005 UT 81, ¶ 127, 130 P.3d 325 (quotation simplified).
I. Taylor’s Appeal
¶70 As noted, Taylor asks us to consider four issues in connection with his appeal. First, he challenges the court’s denial of his motion to amend to add additional affirmative defenses. Second, he takes issue with the trial court’s ruling, made on summary judgment, that Taylor had breached his fiduciary duties by making unlawful distributions from the Trust’s marital share principal. Third, he challenges the trial court’s decision to exclude his expert witnesses. Finally, he raises certain challenges to the court’s damages determinations. We address each of Taylor’s arguments in turn.
A. Taylor’s Motion to Amend
¶71 First, Taylor asks us to examine the court’s ruling denying his motion to amend his responsive pleading to add several additional affirmative defenses, including a more specific statute of limitations defense and a defense that he “had a good faith basis for his actions.” The court denied Taylor’s request on the basis that Taylor had engaged in “unreasonable delay” and had “failed to provide adequate justification [as to] why he did not [seek to] amend his pleading earlier.” We discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision.
¶72 In deciding a motion to amend, courts are instructed to consider several factors, including whether the movant “was aware of the facts underlying the proposed amendment long before its filing, the timeliness of the motion, the justification for the delay, and any resulting prejudice to the responding party.” Jones v. Salt Lake City Corp., 2003 UT App 355, ¶ 16, 78 P.3d 988 (quotation simplified) (affirming the denial of a motion to amend where it was filed about a year after the deadline for amending pleadings and where the movant provided no justification for the delay), cert. denied, 90 P.3d 1041 (Utah 2004). In this case, the court denied Taylor’s motion in an oral ruling from the bench, and the record submitted to us does not include a transcript of that oral ruling. But in a subsequent written order memorializing its ruling, the court focused on two of these factors: timeliness and justification. The court was of the view that Taylor had waited too long to seek amendment of his responsive pleading, despite apparent awareness of the relevant issues, and that his delay was not justified by any good reason. The court rejected as “faulty” Taylor’s excuse that he had been under the impression that his original answer—which incorporated by reference the statute of limitations defense pleaded by Robert’s ex-wife—included “all statute of limitations” defenses. The court’s written ruling made no specific mention of Taylor’s desired “good faith” defense.
¶73 In his appellate brief, Taylor does not engage with the trial court’s reasoning, and provides no specific response to the court’s conclusion that his motion was untimely and his delay was unjustified. Instead, he makes two arguments in support of his appellate challenge. First, he asserts that his unpleaded statute of limitations defense was meritorious. But this is beside the point here; if the trial court was within its discretion to deny Taylor’s motion to amend on delay and justification grounds, then the merits of Taylor’s unpleaded defenses are not directly relevant.
¶74 Second, Taylor suggests that, because this case was a probate action initiated by a “petition” rather than a “complaint,” the rules of civil procedure regarding timeliness of pleadings do not apply. But this argument is unpreserved; Taylor did not make it at the trial court level—at least not in his written filings; as noted, the record includes no transcript of the hearing—and thus did not give the trial court an opportunity to rule on it. See Gowe v. Intermountain Healthcare, Inc., 2015 UT App 105, ¶ 7, 356 P.3d 683 (stating that, “to preserve an argument for appellate review, the appellant must first present the argument to the [trial] court in such a way that the court has an opportunity to rule on it,” and observing that “we generally do not address unpreserved arguments raised for the first time on appeal” (quotation simplified)), cert. denied, 364 P.3d 48 (Utah 2015). Therefore, we decline to consider this argument for the first time on appeal.
¶75 Under these circumstances—where Taylor does not provide us with a transcript of the trial court’s oral ruling, does not directly engage with the court’s reasoning, and offers an argument that is apparently unpreserved—Taylor has not carried his burden, on appeal, of demonstrating that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his responsive pleading to add additional affirmative defenses. We therefore affirm the court’s denial of that motion.
B. The Summary Judgment Ruling
¶76 Next, Taylor challenges the trial court’s determination, made on summary judgment, that he made unlawful distributions from the Trust’s marital share principal and thereby breached his fiduciary duties. In particular, he asserts that this ruling was inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact remained to be decided in connection with these issues. But Taylor has not borne his burden, here on appeal, of demonstrating error in the court’s summary judgment ruling.
¶77 As a threshold matter, it is important to recognize that the ruling in question was brief and quite narrow. In that ruling, the court noted that, under the terms of the Trust, Taylor was not allowed to distribute principal from the marital share, and it noted that Taylor had admitted to making distributions of principal from the marital share. The court therefore determined, as a matter of law and under the plain terms of the Trust documents, that these distributions were “unlawful.” It reserved all other issues for trial, including “the amount of damages that resulted from” any such unlawful distributions.
¶78 Taylor does not challenge the court’s determination that, under the terms of the Trust documents, he was forbidden from distributing principal out of the marital share. And he does not take issue with the court’s observation that, in discovery, Taylor admitted that he had indeed made distributions of principal out of, among other sources, the IRAs that Accountant had placed in the marital share. Thus, his challenge to the court’s summary judgment ruling is limited: he takes issue only with the court’s conclusion that those admitted distributions were unlawful as a matter of law. In this regard, Taylor makes three arguments, which we consider in turn.
¶79 First, Taylor asserts that his actions were not unlawful—at least not as a matter of law—because he had merely been following advice given to him by professionals (namely accountants and attorneys) retained to advise him in his role as trustee, and that questions of fact therefore remained regarding the reasonableness of his conduct. But on the record before us, this argument cannot carry the day for Taylor.
¶80 Under Utah law, a trustee who violates a duty owed to a beneficiary has breached fiduciary duties. See Utah Code § 75-71001 (“A violation by a trustee of a duty the trustee owes to a beneficiary is a breach of trust.”); see also id. § 75-7-801 (stating that trustees must “administer the trust expeditiously and in good faith, in accordance with its terms and purposes”). And it does not matter that the trustee’s actions were merely negligent (rather than knowing or intentional). See Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 93 cmt. b (Am. L. Inst. 2012) (“A breach of trust occurs if the trustee, intentionally or negligently, fails to do what the fiduciary duties of the particular trusteeship require or does what those duties forbid . . . . [A] trustee may commit a breach of trust by conduct (action or inaction) that results from a mistake . . . , typically [one] regarding the nature or extent of a trustee’s duties or powers.”).
¶81 In this case, the plain language of the Trust documents clearly forbade Taylor from making any distributions from the principal assets of the Trust’s marital share. He therefore had a clear obligation not to authorize distributions of principal from the marital share. He violated that obligation by repeatedly authorizing such distributions, and this is true even if one assumes, for purposes of the argument, that Taylor made the distributions negligently rather than intentionally or knowingly. Unless otherwise excused, that action constitutes a breach of the fiduciary duties that Taylor, in his capacity as trustee, owed the beneficiaries of the Trust.
¶82 However, under the Restatement’s approach, in certain circumstances, a court has the authority, where equity demands it, to excuse a trustee from having to pay a liability resulting from a breach of duty. See id. § 95 cmt. d (stating that, where a court concludes that “it would be unfair or unduly harsh to require the trustee to pay . . . the liability that would normally result from a breach of trust, the court has equitable authority to excuse the trustee . . . from having to pay that liability”); see also Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 205 cmt. g (Am. L. Inst. 1959) (“In the absence of a statute it would seem that a court of equity may have power to excuse the trustee in whole or in part from liability where he has acted honestly and reasonably and ought fairly to be excused.”). For instance, where case law upon which a trustee relied is later overruled, courts might conclude that a trustee should be equitably relieved from the consequences of a breach of duty. See Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 95 cmt. d (Am. L. Inst. 2012). And as relevant here, courts may reach a similar conclusion where “a trustee has selected an adviser prudently and in good faith, has provided the adviser with relevant information, and has relied on plausible advice on a matter within the adviser’s competence.” See id. § 93 cmt. c.
¶83 In the trial court, Taylor opposed Robert’s summary judgment motion by arguing, among other things, that his actions were reasonable because he relied on professional advice; in so doing, however, Taylor did not cite the Restatement or ask the trial court to apply its approach. Robert replied by asserting that “advice of counsel” was an affirmative defense that Taylor had waived by not pleading it and by failing to obtain leave to add that defense in an amended pleading. We do not know if Taylor’s advice-of-counsel defense (or Robert’s waiver argument made in response to it) was discussed during the oral argument on Robert’s summary judgment motion, because the record submitted to us does not include a transcript of that hearing. And the court’s rather brief written order memorializing its summary judgment ruling makes no mention of the issue.
¶84 There are several plausible ways the trial court could have handled Taylor’s advice-of-counsel defense at the summary judgment stage. First, the court could have determined that Utah law does not allow an advice-of-counsel defense under the circumstances presented here. We are unaware of any Utah authority adopting the Restatement’s approach, so it is unclear whether that approach is consonant with Utah law; certainly, Taylor makes no effort to so persuade us in his appellate brief. Second, the court may have adopted Robert’s argument that Taylor waived this defense by failing to plead it in his answer and by failing to persuade the court to allow amendment of that answer. As already noted, several months before the summary judgment hearing the trial court did deny Taylor leave to amend his responsive pleading to add a “good faith” defense, ruling that any such amendment was too late and unjustified. On appeal, Taylor does not refute Robert’s assertion that he waived the defense, and he makes no effort to show that advice of counsel is not the sort of affirmative defense that must, upon penalty of waiver, be pleaded in an answer. Third, the court may have determined that resolution of Taylor’s advice-of-counsel defense was not necessary at the summary judgment stage. In fact, the written summary judgment ruling is not necessarily at odds with that defense: even if the distributions from the marital share are considered unlawful, the court could, during the damages phase of the proceedings, potentially equitably relieve Taylor from the consequences of those unlawful distributions. And here on appeal, Taylor makes no argument that he was prevented, at trial, from presenting evidence relating to his advice-of-counsel defense. Fourth, the court could have determined, at the summary judgment hearing, that the undisputed evidence regarding Taylor’s advice-of-counsel defense was insufficient to present a genuine dispute of material fact that would prevent summary judgment. Or fifth, the court could have completely ignored the issue, and simply made no ruling on it at all.
¶85 We do not know what the court did with Taylor’s advice-of-counsel argument at the summary judgment phase, because its written ruling is silent on the matter and its oral ruling is not included in the appellate record. It is certainly not obvious, from the record before us, that the trial court erred in the way it handled Taylor’s asserted advice-of-counsel defense in connection with Robert’s summary judgment motion. It is an appellant’s responsibility “to include in the record a transcript of all evidence relevant to a finding or conclusion that is being challenged on appeal.” Gines v. Edwards, 2017 UT App 47, ¶ 21, 397 P.3d 612 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 398 P.3d 52 (Utah 2017). “When an appellant fails to provide an adequate record on appeal, we presume the regularity of the proceedings below,” and “when crucial matters are not included in the record, the missing portions are presumed to support the action of the trial court.” State v. Pritchett, 2003 UT 24, ¶ 13, 69 P.3d 1278 (quotation simplified); see also Bank of Am. v. Adamson, 2017 UT 2, ¶ 11, 391 P.3d 196 (stating that an appellant’s brief must “contain the contentions and reasons of the appellant with respect to the issues presented . . . with citations to the authorities, statutes, and parts of the record relied on” (quotation simplified)).
¶86 In situations like this one, where “crucial matters are not included in the record, the missing portions are presumed to support the action of the trial court.” Pritchett, 2003 UT 24, ¶ 13 (quotation simplified). While it is perhaps not always necessary for an appellant challenging an adverse summary judgment ruling to include in the appellate record a transcript of the oral argument on the summary judgment motion, cf. Gines, 2017 UT App 47, ¶ 21 (noting that “an appellant is not required to provide the transcript from every proceeding that occurred in the case”), in our view this is necessary in cases where the court issued an oral ruling at the conclusion of the hearing and where the court’s eventual written order is silent with regard to the matter being challenged. In such cases, a transcript of the hearing is necessary for us to effectively review the challenged issue. Without the transcript, we do not know what evidence or argument the court relied on in rendering any decision. Indeed, in this case we do not know if the court even made a decision on the point Taylor challenges. Under these circumstances, Taylor “has not provided this court with the tools necessary to determine whether the [trial] court” erred, and therefore his “claim of error,” in this regard, “is merely an unsupported, unilateral allegation which we cannot resolve.” R4 Constructors LLC v. InBalance Yoga Corp., 2020 UT App 169, ¶ 12, 480 P.3d 1075 (holding that the appellant did not show an abuse of discretion where he failed to include a necessary transcript in the appellate record). Accordingly, Taylor has not carried his burden of persuasion on appeal, and the trial court’s summary judgment ruling is not now assailable on the basis that questions of fact remained to be decided regarding whether Taylor reasonably followed professional advice.
¶87 Second, Taylor asserts that the IRAs from which many of the allegedly unlawful distributions of principal were made were not part of the Trust at all, and therefore the distributions could not have been unlawful. But the trial court did not err in determining that no genuine issue of material fact existed on this point. As noted above, the court issued a separate ruling, signed on the same day and arising out of the same summary judgment hearing, determining that Robert had conclusively demonstrated that “the IRAs were properly transferred to and owned by the [Trust] after Dean’s death.” And in the summary judgment ruling at issue here, signed by the court just minutes later, the court simply noted that the marital share of the Trust “included” the IRAs. Taylor asserts that there existed questions of fact about the ownership of the IRAs, because the parties were never able to locate a “signed beneficiary designation” executed prior to Dean’s death. But Robert submitted quite a bit of evidence, including account statements from the IRAs dated prior to Dean’s death, indicating that the IRAs were in fact part of the Trust. And Accountant—the first successor trustee of the Trust—certainly saw it that way. Taylor did not meaningfully rebut this evidence; the mere absence of a signed beneficiary designation is not, under these circumstances, enough to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding ownership of the IRAs.
¶88 Finally, Taylor asserts that his distributions of principal from the marital share, including distributions from the IRAs, can be considered lawful if they are offset against distributions of principal he could have hypothetically lawfully made from the family share. As noted above, Taylor had conceptual authority to make distributions of principal from the family share for Margene’s “support and maintenance” if the Trust income and Margene’s other assets were not sufficient to address her needs. In other words, Taylor asserts that the beneficiaries would not be entitled to any damages resulting from his otherwise unlawful distributions of marital share principal if Taylor can show that those distributions could, in his discretion, have been made from the family share instead. But even if this is true, this argument serves only to reduce the damages sustained by the beneficiaries as the result of Taylor’s breaches of duty; this argument does not somehow transform Taylor’s unlawful distributions into lawful ones. As noted, the court reserved for trial, among other things, all questions regarding “[t]he total amount of damages that resulted from Taylor’s unlawful distributions of principal from the” marital share. And in addition, there is no evidence that Taylor actually engaged in the analysis required prior to making lawful distributions from the family share principal—assessing whether Margene’s reasonable needs could be met from her own assets and the income from the Trust.
¶89 In the end, we perceive no error, on this record, in the trial
court’s narrow ruling, made on summary judgment, that Taylor had made unlawful distributions of principal from the Trust’s marital share, and that he had thereby breached the fiduciary duties he owed to the beneficiaries.
C. Taylor’s Expert Witnesses
¶90 Taylor next challenges the court’s orders prohibiting his disclosed expert witnesses from testifying in his case-in-chief at trial. The court excluded two of these experts—Taylor’s financial experts—because Taylor failed to serve the required report from the experts. And the court excluded the third expert—Taylor’s legal expert—for reasons we cannot, on this record, ascertain. Under the circumstances presented here, Taylor has not persuaded us that the court’s orders regarding his expert witnesses are subject to reversal.
¶91 The court had good reason to exclude Taylor’s two financial experts. Following Taylor’s disclosure of these two experts, Robert opted to require the experts to produce a written report. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(C)(i), (ii) (stating that “the party opposing the expert may serve notice electing either a deposition of the expert . . . or a written report” from the expert). Taylor failed to timely provide those reports. The court’s order excluding those experts on that basis is therefore sound. See id. R. 26(d)(4) (“If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.”); see also Clifford P.D. Redekop Family LLC v. Utah County Real Estate LLC, 2016 UT App 121, ¶¶ 15–16, 378 P.3d 109 (upholding a trial court’s exclusion of an expert witness when the party did not timely provide a written report by the deadline or provide “good cause” for failing to do so). And on appeal, Taylor does not attempt to argue that his failure to provide reports was harmless or spurred by good cause. Instead, Taylor merely informs us of what the witnesses would have testified about and asserts that the witnesses’ testimony “would have been of great benefit to the court.” This is insufficient to establish that the court abused its discretion. See R.O.A. Gen., Inc. v. Chung Ji Dai, 2014 UT App 124, ¶ 11, 327 P.3d 1233 (“We have held that the sanction of exclusion is automatic and mandatory unless the sanctioned party can show that the violation of rule 26 . . . was either justified or harmless.” (quotation simplified)), cert. denied, 337 P.3d 295 (Utah 2014).
¶92 Taylor’s third witness, the legal expert, was dismissed after a hearing. In his motion asking the court to exclude Taylor’s legal expert, Robert argued that the court “should not allow a local attorney to tell [it] how to interpret” the Trust documents. The court granted this motion in an oral ruling made at the conclusion of the hearing; the court’s minute entry contains very little information about the basis for the ruling. A few weeks after the hearing, the court signed a written order, prepared by counsel, that was intended to memorialize the oral ruling; that order stated simply that, “[a]fter argument by counsel and review of the briefings filed by the parties, the Court grants [Robert’s] Motion in Limine excluding all legal expert testimony at trial.” And as noted, the record submitted to us does not contain a transcript of the hearing at which the court rendered its oral ruling, nor does it contain any additional elucidation of the court’s reasoning in granting Robert’s motion to exclude Taylor’s legal expert.
¶93 Under circumstances like these, an appellant fails to carry its burden of persuasion on appeal. As already noted, it is an appellant’s responsibility “to include in the record a transcript of all evidence relevant to a finding or conclusion that is being challenged on appeal.” Gines, 2017 UT App 47, ¶ 21 (quotation simplified) (affirming a trial court’s decision on a motion in limine because the appellant did not provide a transcript of the hearing); see also Pritchett, 2003 UT 24, ¶ 13 (stating that, in the absence of an adequate record, “we presume the regularity of the proceedings below,” and that “when crucial matters are not included in the record, the missing portions are presumed to support the action of the trial court” (quotation simplified)).
¶94 In this non-legal-malpractice case, we can easily envision good reason for the court to have excluded Taylor’s proffered legal expert. See Steffensen v. Smith’s Mgmt. Corp., 862 P.2d 1342, 1347 (Utah 1993) (“Even though experts can testify as to ultimate issues, their testimony must still assist the trier of fact under rule 702. Opinion testimony is not helpful to the fact finder when it is couched as a legal conclusion.” (quotation simplified)). And where, as here, material gaps in the appellate record exist, we must presume the regularity of the proceedings, and presume that the court had good reason to take the action it took. Under these circumstances, Taylor has simply not persuaded us that the court abused its discretion in excluding his legal expert witness.
¶95 Accordingly, we reject Taylor’s assertions that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the exclusion of all three of Taylor’s disclosed expert witnesses.
D. The Court’s Damages Award
¶96 Finally, Taylor raises two challenges to the court’s damages determinations. He first makes a general challenge to the court’s damages award, asserting that the court should not have used the damages calculation offered by Robert’s damages expert because that expert “made too many mistakes and relied on assumptions that are too speculative.” He next asserts that Robert did not suffer $250,000 in damages from the distribution to Robert’s ex-wife because Robert “received full credit against the judgment for the money distributed.” We reject Taylor’s first challenge, but find merit, at least to some extent, in the second.
¶97 Taylor’s general attack on Robert’s damages expert—and, by extension, on the court’s damages computation—is not well-taken. As examples of the “faulty assumptions” Robert’s expert made, Taylor points to the expert’s assumptions—held at least prior to trial, if not afterward—that three specific transactions (or sets of transactions) constituted “distributions” of Trust assets: (1) a $200,000 transfer between Trust accounts, (2) several five-figure checks of unknown purpose, and (3) a separate sale of an investment in the Trust portfolio. But as Robert points out, the expert herself—after receiving additional information at trial— backed away from the first assumption, and ended up not including the $200,000 transfer in her ultimate recommendation to the court. And most importantly, it does not appear that the trial court actually included any of the identified transactions in its damages award—at least, Robert asserts that it didn’t, and Taylor does not take issue with that assertion. So, to the extent that these identified transactions constitute “mistakes” on the part of Robert’s expert, the court appears to have accounted for those mistakes in its damages award.
¶98 As noted above, we review the court’s damages calculations for clear error. See Saleh v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 2006 UT 20, ¶ 29, 133 P.3d 428 (“The award of damages is a factual determination that we review for clear error.”). And we perceive no clear error in the court’s general adoption—with apparent adjustments—of Robert’s expert’s damages calculation. In its post-trial ruling, the court described Robert’s expert as “an experienced professional in the field of accounting and a licensed financial analyst,” and found that her methodologies “provide[d] a reasonably certain calculation of damages” that “account[ed] for both excess distributions and losses incurred due to [the] present value of money.” And as noted, the court in making its award apparently made adjustments, based on the evidence presented, to the expert’s computations. Under these circumstances, Taylor simply hasn’t carried his burden of demonstrating any clear error in the court’s general adoption of Robert’s expert’s damages methodologies, as adjusted. See id.
¶99 However, we do see clear error in the court’s award of $250,000 in damages to Robert for Taylor’s payment of Trust assets to Robert’s ex-wife. The court found that this payment was made in violation of the Trust’s spendthrift provision and was therefore unlawful. But the court also found that the payment “did extinguish [Robert]’s debt to [his ex-wife],” which debt was a non-zero amount. The court, in a previous order, correctly noted that Robert’s damages on this point should be limited to “any interest losses that he . . . may have been entitled to” and money he would have saved if he could prove that his ex-wife would have accepted a lower amount. And of course, his damages calculation would need to account for any excess amounts paid to his ex-wife from other sources, such as his allegation that she received an extra $35,000 from the sale of one of his properties; it is notable that Robert, in his proposed post-trial findings, asked the court to award him only $35,000 plus interest on this point. But the court did not engage in a comprehensive analysis here, nor did it make specific findings on these recoverable damages; instead, it simply awarded Robert the entire $250,000 amount.
¶100 The court erred by awarding Robert damages for the full $250,000, at least without making specific findings as to why that amount was appropriate. As the court itself was aware, the $250,000 distribution to Robert’s ex-wife had at least some value to Robert—the extinguishing of his debt to his ex-wife—that should have been valued and offset against the $250,000 amount. And the court should have explained why it chose to award Robert the full $250,000 instead of the $35,000 (plus interest) that he asked for in his proposed findings.
¶101 Therefore, while we reject Taylor’s general complaint about the court’s adoption of Robert’s expert’s methodologies, we find merit in Taylor’s specific complaint about the court’s calculation of Robert’s damages related to the payment to Robert’s ex-wife. We therefore vacate—and remand for reassessment—that specific portion of the damages award.
¶102 In sum, then, we reject all of Taylor’s claims on appeal, except for the second of his two damages-related assertions.
II. The Estate’s Appeal
¶103 We now turn to the Estate’s appeal. As noted, the Estate asks us to consider four issues. First, the Estate asks us to reverse the court’s determination to hold it vicariously liable for the actions Taylor took as trustee. Second, the Estate challenges the court’s conclusion regarding the appropriate rate to be applied in calculating the interest that Robert and Jill owe on the Note. Third, the Estate raises various issues with the form of the judgment. And finally, the Estate asks us to review the court’s rejection of its claim for attorney fees incurred in furtherance of its successful claim for interest on the Note. We address each of these arguments in turn.
A. Vicarious Liability
¶104 The Estate’s main challenge on appeal—the one on which it spends the bulk of its energies—concerns the court’s ruling that the Estate should be held vicariously liable for the unlawful actions Taylor took as trustee. The Estate criticizes this ruling on two specific grounds, one procedural and one substantive. The procedural challenge has to do with whether the issue was properly before the court for decision in the first place. And the substantive challenge has to do with whether the court’s decision was correct. We find merit in both of the Estate’s challenges to the court’s vicarious liability ruling.
¶105 The Estate begins its argument by pointing out, correctly, that Robert did not plead or seek vicarious liability in his petition or in any other place in his voluminous pretrial filings in this case. In his petition, Robert sought specific relief against the Estate for damages related to the marital home. Aside from that particular request, the petition sought only one other thing from the Estate: “a return of principal wrongfully distributed from the Trust.” In the petition, Robert never asked the court to hold Margene or the Estate vicariously liable for Taylor’s conduct.
¶106 Not only did Robert fail to plead a claim for vicarious liability, but as the litigation proceeded, he implicitly disavowed making any such claim. Prior to trial, Robert filed a motion to bifurcate, asking the court to separate the trial of the Estate’s claims—most notably, for interest on the Loan—from the trial of Robert’s claims relating to Taylor’s alleged breaches of fiduciary duty. In this motion, Robert suggested that the claims stated in his petition against the Estate—chiefly, regarding the marital home— had already been “likely resolved” in a recent ruling. In particular, Robert asserted that “the only issue remaining” with regard to his petition “is the amount of damages to be awarded against Taylor,” and he argued that the Estate “should not be involved in” the trial of his claims against Taylor. Had Robert been seeking a vicarious liability ruling against the Estate, he would never have taken that position.
¶107 To its credit, the trial court recognized these realities and, in announcing its ruling that the Estate should be held vicariously liable, did not attempt to assert that the issue had ever been raised prior to trial. Instead, the court held that the issue of the Estate’s vicarious liability had been tried by consent during the multi-day bench trial. See Utah R. Civ. P. 15(b)(1) (“When an issue not raised in the pleadings is tried by the parties’ express or implied consent, it must be treated in all respects as if raised in the pleadings.”). Here on appeal, the Estate asserts that the trial court incorrectly concluded that this issue was tried by consent. We agree.
¶108 Under rule 15(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, “implied consent to try an [unpleaded] issue may be found where one party raises an issue material to the other party’s case or where evidence is introduced without objection, where it appears that the parties understood the evidence is to be aimed at the unpleaded issue.” Hill v. Estate of Allred, 2009 UT 28, ¶ 48, 216 P.3d 929 (quotation simplified). In such instances, the pleadings are deemed amended after the fact, in order “to conform them to the evidence” presented at trial. See Utah R. Civ. P. 15(b)(1). “The test for determining whether pleadings should be deemed amended under Utah R. Civ. P. 15(b) is whether the opposing party had a fair opportunity to defend and whether it could offer additional evidence if the case were retried on a different theory.” Hill, 2009 UT 28, ¶ 48 (quotation simplified). “When evidence is introduced that is relevant to a pleaded issue and the party against whom the amendment is urged has no reason to believe a new issue is being injected into the case, that party cannot be said to have impliedly consented to trial of that issue.” Id. (quotation simplified); see also Archuleta v. Hughes, 969 P.2d 409, 412 (Utah 1998) (“Implied consent of the parties must be evident from the record.” (quotation simplified)).
¶109 Robert asserts that “the Estate showed awareness of its potential liability” several times during the lawsuit. For instance, it lodged an objection to the portion of the prayer for relief in Robert’s petition that requested the return of wrongfully distributed principal from the Estate, and it informed the court, at trial and in certain post-trial hearings, that one of the Estate’s goals in the litigation “was to assure that liability for Taylor’s wrongful acts did not ‘slop over’ to the Estate.” But awareness of an unpleaded issue does not necessarily constitute consent that the issue be tried, especially here where the Estate demonstrated its awareness of the issue by objecting (rather than consenting) to the issue’s presence in the case. More is required. There must be some indication that the Estate expressly or impliedly consented to the litigation of the merits of the unpleaded issue at trial. See Archuleta, 969 P.2d at 412 (“There must, of course, be either express or implied consent of the parties for the trial of issues not raised in the pleadings.”). And here, the record does not support the proposition that the Estate expressly or impliedly consented to try the issue of its vicarious liability for Taylor’s conduct.
¶110 Certainly, there is no indication that the Estate ever expressly consented to amendment of Robert’s pleadings to add the issue of its vicarious liability. Neither Robert nor the trial court directs our attention to any such evidence.
¶111 And in our view, the record cannot support the conclusion that the Estate ever impliedly consented to trial of that specific unpleaded issue. As noted, awareness of the issue is not enough. Neither Robert nor the trial court points us to evidence “introduced without objection, where it appears that the parties understood the evidence is to be aimed at the unpleaded issue.” Hill, 2009 UT 28, ¶ 48 (quotation simplified). In the court’s ruling on this point, it recited evidence that Taylor had conflicts of interest, was acting in several different capacities, and used his authority in those capacities to benefit his mother; the court concluded therefrom that “[t]hese circumstances are sufficient grounds to find that the issue of liability as to the Estate was tried by consent.” This is incorrect. All of this evidence—regarding Taylor’s conflicts of interest, breaches of duty, and actions taken to benefit Margene—is relevant to Robert’s overarching claims against Taylor. Its presence in the case would not have signaled to the Estate that the unpleaded issue of its vicarious liability for all those actions was somehow being litigated. See id. (“When evidence is introduced that is relevant to a pleaded issue and the party against whom the amendment is urged has no reason to believe a new issue is being injected into the case, that party cannot be said to have impliedly consented to trial of that issue.” (quotation simplified)). We are aware of no evidence presented at trial that clearly and exclusively went to the issue of whether the Estate should be held vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions.
¶112 But perhaps the most telling sign that the vicarious liability issue was not tried by implied consent of the parties is that even Robert didn’t appear to believe, after the trial, that the issue had been tried. In the set of proposed findings and conclusions he submitted about a month after the trial ended, Robert included no findings or conclusions regarding the Estate’s vicarious liability, and he did not ask the court to so rule. The closest he came to the issue was asking for a finding that imposed “a constructive trust on the assets of the Estate” and an order that “all remaining [Estate] assets payable or distributable to Taylor be used to pay the outstanding judgments in this case.”
¶113 Thus, the issue of the Estate’s vicarious liability was never pleaded or sought by Robert and was never tried by consent of the parties. The trial court came up with the theory all on its own, many months after the trial had concluded. This was procedurally inappropriate. We therefore reverse the court’s ruling that this unpleaded issue was tried by the consent of the parties.
¶114 Because the issue of the Estate’s vicarious liability was neither pleaded nor tried by the consent of the parties, the trial court’s ruling holding the Estate vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions is infirm and subject to reversal for that reason alone. But the court’s vicarious liability ruling was also wrong on its merits, and we opt to explain why, in order to provide certain guidance that may be useful on remand.
¶115 There appear to be three different theories, floated by the parties (or the court) at various times in the case, as to how Robert and his siblings might access the assets of the Estate to compensate them for the unlawful acts Taylor took as trustee of the Trust. First, there is the court’s own vicarious liability theory, which we refer to as the “conflict of interest” theory. As the court explained it, Taylor wore several somewhat-conflicting hats at various times throughout the case: he was trustee of the Trust, he had power of attorney over Margene’s personal finances, he was (after Margene’s death) personal representative of the Estate, and he (along with Margene’s other children) is one of the beneficiaries of the Estate. In the court’s view, Taylor was motivated to benefit himself and the Estate where he could, and he used his authority in these various roles—most notably as trustee of the Trust—to do just that. Essentially, the court ruled that, because many of the unlawful actions Taylor took as trustee of the Trust benefited Margene and the Estate, the Estate should be vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions, and should therefore answer to Robert (and his siblings) for Taylor’s conduct.
¶116 Second, there is the agency law theory upon which Robert largely relies here on appeal: that Taylor was an “agent” of Margene (and, by extension, the Estate) in carrying out his unlawful acts, and that the Estate—as principal—should be vicariously liable for its agent’s activities.
¶117 Finally, there is a constructive trust theory—expressly sought in Robert’s proposed post-trial findings—under which the Estate is not necessarily vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions as a general matter but, instead, the assets of the Estate may be used to satisfy Robert’s judgment against Taylor, at least to the extent that those assets stem from the Estate’s receipt of unlawful distributions from the Trust. Specifically, Robert’s proposed post-trial findings asked for the imposition of “a constructive trust on the assets of the Estate” and an order that “all remaining [Estate] assets payable or distributable to Taylor be used to pay the outstanding judgments in this case.”
¶118 The first two of these theories do not work. Even accepting the court’s central proposition—that Taylor had conflicting responsibilities—we cannot see how that fact leads to a legal conclusion that the Estate is generally liable for unlawful actions Taylor took in his capacity as trustee of the Trust. Under the Trust documents, only Taylor (as trustee) had any authority to make distributions. Margene (as “surviving spouse”) had no such authority, with the Trust documents stating that “[t]he surviving spouse shall have no power to appoint” Trust property to any other person. Taylor’s unlawful distributions were undertaken in his capacity as trustee of the Trust, and Margene had no authority to make any distributions of Trust assets; because she had no such authority, she couldn’t have delegated any of it to Taylor, via the power of attorney or otherwise. In other words, Taylor’s authority to take actions as trustee didn’t come from Margene, it came directly from the Trust documents themselves. We acknowledge that it certainly appears that the Estate may have benefited from Taylor’s unlawful actions. But we are aware of no authority— neither Robert nor the trial court cited any—indicating that an entity that benefits from someone else’s bad acts is thereby vicariously liable for those bad acts.
¶119 And the second theory—that Taylor was acting as Margene’s (or the Estate’s) agent when he committed the unlawful acts—fails for similar reasons. As an initial matter, there is no evidence that Taylor was acting as Margene’s agent at all when, acting as trustee of the Trust, he made distributions from the Trust to Margene. That is, there is no evidence that Margene instructed him to make any distributions, or that he was acting on Margene’s behalf when he did so. The mere fact that Margene benefited from Taylor’s actions does not mean that Taylor was acting as Margene’s agent; this is especially true where, as here, the alleged principal (Margene) possessed no authority to make the distributions in question.
¶120 But more substantively, even if we assume that Taylor was acting as Margene’s agent, a principal is liable for an agent’s actions only under certain circumstances. See Stein Eriksen Lodge Owners Ass’n Inc. v. MX Techs. Inc., 2022 UT App 30, ¶ 25, 508 P.3d 138 (“Under agency law, an agent cannot make its principal responsible for the agent’s actions unless the agent is acting pursuant to either actual or apparent authority.” (quotation simplified)). “Actual authority may either be express or implied.” Hussein v. UBS Bank USA, 2019 UT App 100, ¶ 32, 446 P.3d 96, cert. denied, 455 P.3d 1062 (Utah 2019). “Express [actual] authority exists whenever the principal directly states that its agent has the authority to perform a particular act on the principal’s behalf.” Drew v. Pacific Life Ins. Co., 2021 UT 55, ¶ 54, 496 P.3d 201 (quotation simplified). “Implied [actual] authority includes acts which are incidental to, or are necessary, usual, and proper to accomplish or perform, the main authority expressly delegated to the agent.” Id. (quotation simplified). And apparent authority exists “when a third party reasonably believes the actor has authority to act on behalf of the principal and that belief is traceable to the principal’s manifestations.” Id. ¶ 55 (quotation simplified). Robert makes no effort to persuade us that Taylor was acting pursuant to either actual or apparent authority from Margene when he committed the unlawful acts.
¶121 Robert does observe—correctly—that Margene gave Taylor power of attorney over her personal finances. But he does not explain how this narrow grant of authority led to the unlawful acts Taylor committed as trustee, or constituted the type of authority by which the Estate can be held vicariously liable for Taylor’s malfeasance. The scope of this grant of authority extended only to Margene’s own personal finances; Margene had no authority to disburse Trust funds, and therefore could not have granted, by her power of attorney, any such authority to Taylor, either expressly or impliedly. And as a practical matter, nothing Taylor did with Margene’s personal finances could have, by itself, impacted the Trust; after all, by the time Taylor took actions pursuant to his power of attorney—e.g., moving money from Margene’s personal accounts to, say, his own—he would by definition have already committed the unlawful acts in question— distributing Trust principal into Margene’s accounts in the first place. That is, the specific bad acts at issue here weren’t undertaken pursuant to any authority Margene gave Taylor; they were committed pursuant to authority Taylor already possessed, as trustee, under the Trust documents. Under these circumstances, Robert has not borne his burden of persuading us that vicarious liability exists here under principles of agency law.
¶122 Moreover, as noted, the trial court did not rely on this theory; if we were to rely on it here, we would be affirming on a different ground, something we may do only if that ground is “apparent on the record.” See Croft v. Morgan County, 2021 UT 46, ¶ 43, 496 P.3d 83 (quotation simplified). It is certainly not apparent from this record that Taylor had authority from Margene to act on her behalf in making unlawful distributions of Trust principal.
¶123 Thus, on the record before us, we see no basis in law for the Estate to be held vicariously liable, as a general matter, for acts Taylor committed as trustee of the Trust. We therefore reverse the trial court’s ruling to that effect.
¶124 Before concluding our analysis, however, we discuss the third theory by which assets of the Estate might conceivably be used to satisfy a judgment entered against Taylor in connection with his malfeasance as trustee: Robert’s apparent request that the court impose a constructive trust on the assets of the Estate, at least to the extent that those assets are derived from unlawfully distributed Trust assets. As noted, this theory is more limited than a vicarious liability theory—imposition of a constructive trust would not connote that Margene or the Estate did anything wrong and would not result in the Estate being generally liable for Taylor’s unlawful actions. But imposition of a constructive trust would enable Robert (and his siblings) to reach at least certain assets of the Estate to compensate them for Taylor’s malfeasance. See Lodges at Bear Hollow Condo. Homeowners Ass’n, Inc. v. Bear Hollow Restoration, LLC, 2015 UT App 6, ¶ 31, 344 P.3d 145 (“Constructive trusts are usually imposed where injustice would result if a party were able to keep money or property that rightfully belonged to another.” (quotation simplified)).
¶125 It is unclear to us whether Robert properly pleaded and pursued this theory or, if not, whether it was tried by consent of the parties. Robert certainly asked for this relief in his proposed post-trial findings, at least regarding Taylor’s share of the Estate’s assets. But the trial court specifically eschewed this theory during post-trial proceedings, offering its view that it “need not retreat to any equitable theory”—for instance, constructive trust—to support its determination regarding vicarious liability. However, the court expressly stopped short of rejecting a constructive trust theory, stating in a later ruling that it had not ruled on the theory, but instead had merely “ruled on an alternative ground,” and further clarifying that the fact that it “didn’t rule on that theory . . . doesn’t mean that [the court] didn’t accept it.” Indeed, the court went so far as to say that, if a constructive trust theory was “what the parties believe is a more proper finding,” the court may be willing to impose such a trust.
¶126 On remand, the court should consider whether Robert properly pleaded a claim for constructive trust and, if not, whether that claim was tried by consent of the parties. If the court determines that the claim is properly before the court, it should then consider the merits of the claim, and evaluate whether and to what extent a constructive trust should be imposed on the assets of the Estate in favor of Robert and his siblings. The merits of these questions have not been briefed in connection with this appeal, and we express no opinion on them, nor do we express any opinion regarding whether, on remand, these questions can or should be decided on the existing evidentiary record or whether additional proceedings would be appropriate.
B. Interest Rate
¶127 Second, the Estate asks us to examine the trial court’s ruling regarding the rate to be applied in calculating the amount of interest that Robert and Jill owe on the Note associated with the Loan. Despite the fact that the only expert—the Estate’s expert— to offer an interest calculation at trial calculated that interest to be $922,219.77, the court concluded that the total amount of unpaid interest owing on the Note was $565,314.97.
¶128 Under the terms of the Note, Robert and Jill agreed to pay “variable interest . . . at the margin loan rate assessed by S[a]lomon Smith Barney on Brokerage Account No. 298-02528-13 303 . . . as may fluctuate from time to time until paid in full.” But the calculation is not as straightforward as it may sound, because Robert and Jill failed to repay the Note for eleven years, and there were “some months” during that time span “where an interest rate was not published on the account” referenced in the Note.
¶129 For the months in which an interest rate on the specific account was published, the Estate’s expert used the published rate, which varied by month and ranged from 4.125% to 11%. For most of the “gap periods”—those months for which no interest rate was published on the account—the expert looked at the rate published for the month before the gap and the rate published for the month after the gap, averaged the two rates, and applied that average rate for each month during the gap period. Some of these gap periods were short, involving a gap of just a month or two, but other gap periods were quite long, involving periods up to three years without a published interest rate. But for the last gap period—a long one stretching from September 2011 through February 2015—the expert did not use an “average rate” methodology, because he could find no rate for the end month. Instead, he “made some calls and talked to a Smith Barney representative” who gave him “a range of rates”—from 4.75% to 5.5%—used “during that period of time” on various brokerage accounts. The expert then attempted to “corroborate that” range by comparing those rates to “rates published in the Wall Street Journal” and by discussing the issue “with [his] colleagues,” and eventually determined that a “reasonable rate” to use for the last gap period was 4.75%, a rate the expert considered to be “a very conservative rate . . . on the low end of the range.” The expert noted that this choice was only “an increase of 1.5% over the prime rate,” which he considered to be another sign that his chosen rate was “conservative and reasonable.” Applying this methodology, the expert calculated the total amount of interest owing, over the entire eleven-year period, as $922,219.77.
¶130 The trial court found the expert’s methodology to be “reasonable,” at least for “short gap periods,” but nevertheless did not accept the Estate’s expert’s methodology. It determined that the “Note’s repayment of interest term was ambiguous” with regard to the gap periods because the Note did not specify “what should occur if” no monthly interest rate was published for the account in question. It also found that “the intent of the parties” with regard to this ambiguity was “ascertainable sufficient to enforce it.” But even though it professed to be considering “extrinsic evidence to clarify the intent of the parties,” the court did not actually utilize any such evidence. Instead, it observed that the Note was a “negotiable instrument,” and it turned to a statute, located in Utah’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), for guidance. See Utah Code § 70A-3-112. That statute states, in relevant part, that if a negotiable “instrument provides for interest, but the amount of interest payable cannot be ascertained from the description, interest is payable at the judgment rate in effect at the place of payment of the instrument and at the time interest first accrues.” Id. § 70A-3-112(2). The court concluded that this statute “provides an adequate remedy at law to execute the intent of the parties as represented in the Note.” And it decided to apply this statutory default rate—which turned out to be 3.28%—to all gap periods, regardless of their length, noting that the statutory rate “provides a reliable method at law that relieves the Court from adopting” the expert’s methodologies for the gap periods. Notably, the court did not ever find that the Estate’s expert’s methodology was unreasonable; as noted, it found the methodology reasonable as to short gap periods and, even with regard to the longer gap periods, the court stated that it “appreciate[d]” the expert’s “efforts to determine reasonableness of his proposed rates by comparing them with the contemporaneous prime rate.” Later, using the published rate for the months in which one existed and the UCC rate for all other months, the court calculated the unpaid interest as $565,314.97.
¶131 The Estate ascribes error to the court’s approach, asserting that, after making its ambiguity determination, the court should not have jumped directly to the UCC rate but, instead, should have “determine[d] the parties’ intent from extrinsic evidence,” including the expert’s testimony. The Estate points out that the Note is far from silent on the interest-rate question, and indicates the parties’ intent to apply a rate equivalent to the brokerage rate for a particular account. And they assert that the UCC rate “applies only where the instrument is silent on how to calculate interest,” and not where the parties’ instructions in that regard are simply ambiguous. We find merit in the Estate’s argument.
¶132 As an initial matter, we note that the Estate’s argument is in line with general principles of contractual interpretation, including the bedrock proposition that, when “a contract term is ambiguous, [trial] courts should consider extrinsic evidence to resolve the ambiguity.” See Brady v. Park, 2019 UT 16, ¶ 29, 445 P.3d 395. Neither side takes issue with the court’s determination that, at least for the gap periods, the Note was ambiguous with regard to interest rate. But the Estate persuasively argues that, even for gap periods, the Note does give some indication of the parties’ intent: they wanted to apply a rate equivalent to the Salomon Smith Barney brokerage rate. And the Estate points out that its expert came up with a methodology, in keeping with the parties’ expressed desire to use brokerage rates rather than presumably lower statutory rates, for estimating the brokerage rates for the gap periods, and points out that the trial court even found that methodology to be “reasonable,” at least as applied to the shorter gap periods.
¶133 Moreover, courts that have construed the UCC interest rate statute have concluded that it should not be applied in situations where “an ascertainable interest rate is provided but the sum certain requirement fails for lack of evidence concerning a reasonable rate of interest.” See Commercial Services of Perry, Inc. v.Wooldridge, 968 S.W.2d 560, 565 (Tex. App. 1998). In particular, at least where competent extrinsic evidence exists that can be utilized to estimate a reasonable rate commensurate with the parties’ intentions, courts have declined to apply statutory default rates where the parties agreed, in their instrument, to an interest rate tied to a specific bank’s prime rate and where that bank goes out of business. See, e.g., Ginsberg 1985 Real Estate P’ship v. Cadle Co., 39 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1994) (applying “an analogous prime rate,” rather than a default statutory rate, to calculate interest after a bank failure, where the contract called for interest at that bank’s prime rate plus 1%); FDIC v. Blanton, 918 F.2d 524, 532–33 (5th Cir. 1990) (determining that a default statutory rate was “inapplicable” where the parties had agreed upon an interest rate equivalent to a specific bank’s rate plus 1% and where the bank had failed, holding that “[t]he trial judge could have applied an analogous prime rate as consistent with the intent of the parties”). We consider the failed-bank situation helpfully analogous to this one, and find the analysis applied by the courts in those cases persuasive and useful in this situation.
¶134 In those cases, courts examine extrinsic evidence to make a finding regarding a rate that would be reasonable and most in line with the parties’ intent. See Central Bank v. Colonial Romanelli Assocs., 662 A.2d 157, 158 (Conn. App. Ct. 1995) (“When a variable interest rate is based on the rate of a failed institution, the trial court must determine whether the substitute rate is reasonable by examining the documents and testimony offered by the plaintiff.”); FDIC v. Cage, 810 F. Supp. 745, 747 (S.D. Miss. 1993) (“Because the rate of interest is a term which is essential to a determination of the rights and duties of the parties and because the parties to this action understandably failed to specify the interest rate to be applied upon the failure of [an institution], it is left to the Court to determine a reasonable rate of interest.”). Importantly, “in determining reasonableness” in situations involving a failed bank, “the court need not determine the exact methodology used by the failed bank in calculating its internal interest rate; such a determination would be impossible in many circumstances. Rather, the court must determine whether the substitute rate was reasonable based on all the circumstances of the particular case.” Ninth RMA Partners, L.P. v. Krass, 746 A.2d 826, 831 (Conn. App. Ct. 2000) (quotation simplified).
¶135 In this case, the trial court did not undertake this type of analysis. Instead, without fully evaluating the reasonableness of the Estate’s proffered extrinsic evidence (chiefly, the expert’s methodology), the court jumped straight to the UCC default rate, stating that “the UCC provides an adequate remedy at law to execute the intent of the parties” and “relieves the Court from adopting” the expert’s methodology. And the court did so without making any finding that the expert’s unrebutted testimony was unreasonable or unreliable; to the contrary, the court expressly found the expert’s methodology “reasonable,” at least for use over shorter gap periods. And it made little effort to explain why it found the expert’s methodology reasonable for shorter gap periods but not necessarily for longer ones; it stated only that the expert’s gap period rates were “hypothetical and speculative,” a criticism that would seem to apply to all gap periods regardless of their length, and that will apply, at least to some extent, any time an effort is made to estimate an interest rate for a bank that, for instance, has gone out of business. Instead of explaining why it rejected the expert’s conclusions, the court simply stated that it “does not adopt” the expert’s “method as a proper means to ascertain interest,” and instead elected to apply the UCC rate. Contrary to the court’s statement, the statute did not “relieve” the court of its obligation to apply an interest rate commensurate with the intentions of the parties, nor of its obligation to grapple with, and make specific findings regarding, the credibility and reasonableness of the extrinsic evidence offered by the Estate and its expert.
¶136 Certainly, if the court had made specific and supported findings that the expert’s methodology was unconvincing and unreasonable across the board, and that therefore the Estate’s extrinsic evidence was not credible, it may have been possible for the court to default to the UCC rate. In that scenario—where the other side (Robert and Jill) did not offer any extrinsic evidence of their own and where the Estate’s evidence was deemed not credible—there would exist no competent extrinsic evidence to assist the court in ascertaining a rate reasonably equivalent to the one the parties intended, and therefore defaulting to a statutory rate may be appropriate. But absent such findings, the court should make a determination, based on the extrinsic evidence offered, as to the interest rate most reasonably equivalent to the intent of the parties as expressed in the Note.
¶137 We therefore vacate the court’s interest-rate determination, and remand the case to the trial court for reassessment of a reasonable rate of interest that best approximates the intentions of the parties. In so doing, the court should specifically assess the reasonableness of the Estate’s expert’s methodology. To the extent the court finds the expert’s methodology reasonable—as it already has with respect to short gap periods—it should apply that methodology, given the absence of other extrinsic evidence. The court should resort to the UCC statutory rate only to the extent it finds the expert’s methodology unreasonable, and not merely because the expert’s effort to estimate a rate that, by definition, does not exist is somewhat hypothetical. We imagine that this reassessment might be done by resort to the existing evidentiary record, but it will certainly be within the court’s discretion to hold additional proceedings if necessary.
C. The Form of the Judgment
¶138 Next, the Estate raises several issues with the form of the judgment the court entered in this case. First, the Estate challenges the court’s award of damages against it related to repairs to the marital home. Second, the Estate wonders who the proper judgment creditors are. Finally, and relatedly, the Estate raises setoff-related issues arising from the fact that it obtained an award against both Robert and Jill; it asks us to instruct the trial court to enter a separate judgment in favor of Robert and Jill, or to otherwise resolve the issues related to the court’s decision to set off the money owed to the Estate against the money the Estate owes to Robert. We find merit, at least to some extent, in all of the Estate’s complaints related to the form of the judgment, and we therefore vacate the court’s judgment and remand these issues to the trial court for clarification.
¶139 First, the Estate complains about the court’s award of damages to Robert, and against the Estate, for damages to the marital home. Its main complaint in this regard is that Robert did not point to any evidence that he—as opposed to Jeana—had actually been damaged. This challenge is well-taken.
¶140 The trial court found, in determinations not challenged on appeal, that the marital home “was in excellent repair and condition” at the time of Dean’s death, but that Margene did not continue to properly maintain the property afterward. After Margene’s death, Jeana purchased the home, and made significant repairs that were necessitated by Margene’s failure to properly maintain the home. The court found that Jeana purchased the home for full value—without the benefit of any discount for the condition of the home—and then made the repairs to the home out of her own pocket. In view of these apparently undisputed facts, the court determined, in its main post-trial ruling, that the damages related to the home repairs were “owed to Jeana.”
¶141 Despite determining that any damages in this regard were owed to Jeana, the court’s judgment—entered some months after its main post-trial ruling—reflected that these damages were to be paid to Robert. Robert offers no good explanation for this, asserting simply that he and Jeana, “as beneficiaries” of the Trust, “have standing and are entitled to damages” related to the repairs to the marital home. But standing is one thing; evidence of damages is another. We agree with the Estate that Robert— personally, as distinct from Jeana—offered no evidence that he sustained damages related to the repairs to the home, and that the judgment in this case should be modified to remove any obligation by the Estate to pay Robert for those damages.
¶142 The Robert-or-Jeana issue related to repairs to the marital home is just one confusing result of the court’s decision to list Robert—and only Robert—as judgment creditor. By this point in the opinion, it should be apparent that—for the most part, and with certain exceptions such as perhaps the payment to Robert’s ex-wife—the damages Taylor caused were visited upon the Trust, and all its beneficiaries, and not just upon Robert. Yet the trial court—over objection—determined to list Robert as the sole judgment creditor, even though it awarded the full amount of the Trust’s damages. This was error and requires us to vacate the judgment and remand the issue for clarification.
¶143 The court can remedy this overarching error in one of two ways. First, it could elect to enter judgment in favor of not just Robert but, instead, either (a) the Trust (or, alternatively, the trustees of the Trust in their official capacity) or (b) all three beneficiaries, each to the extent of their damage. Second, it could elect to have Robert remain as the sole judgment creditor but, in this event, it would need to reduce the damages award to reflect the fact that Robert is entitled to receive only one-third of any damages sustained by the Trust.
¶144 We offer no opinion as to which option the court should choose on remand. Each has potential procedural pitfalls; from our review of the record, the party status of Jill and Jeana is somewhat unclear. But one thing the court may not do is enter judgment in favor of Robert, personally, in the full amount of the Trust’s damages.
¶145 Next, the Estate raises the related issue of how to memorialize the judgment in its favor, and against Robert and Jill, for unpaid interest on the Note. The court’s judgment resolved this issue by way of setoff, awarding damages to Robert and against the Estate associated with the Estate’s determined vicarious liability for Taylor’s actions as trustee, and then setting off against that amount the interest Robert owed to the Estate. The Estate complains about the way the court handled this, pointing out that—even if the court correctly applied setoff principles with regard to Robert—the court awarded no money in Jill’s favor and therefore could not have applied setoff principles with regard to Jill’s obligation to pay interest to the Estate. In other words, the Estate complains that the court held that it was entitled to recover several hundred thousand dollars from Jill but gave the Estate no way to actually go about collecting on this award. Again, the Estate’s complaint is well-taken; the court erred in the way it applied setoff principles under these circumstances.
¶146 This issue may, however, be rendered moot by this court’s determination that the Estate is not vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions as trustee, see supra Part II.A, and by its determination that the Estate is not liable to Robert (as opposed to, potentially, Jeana) for the repairs to the marital home, see supra Part II.C.1. Unless the court, after reconsidering Robert’s potential claim for constructive trust, actually imposes such a trust, no judgment will be entered against the Estate in favor of Robert or Jill. In any event, and even if the court ends up entering a judgment for constructive trust against the Estate and in favor of the Trust’s beneficiaries, the court in clarifying judgment-related issues should make sure that the judgments properly account for the Estate’s award against both Robert and Jill for unpaid interest.
D. Attorney Fees
¶147 Finally, the Estate appeals the denial of its request for attorney fees incurred in support of its claim for unpaid interest on the Note. Its claim is rooted in the language of the Settlement Agreement and related Note, which both have attorney fee provisions; the one contained in the Note requires Robert and Jill “to pay all reasonable costs and expenses of collection of any amount due under this Note including reasonable attorney’s fees.” Neither Robert nor Jill contests the Estate’s claim that, at least conceptually, the Estate would be entitled to recover attorney fees incurred in obtaining its judgment for unpaid interest on the Note. After all, the Estate prevailed on that specific claim. Indeed, in its attorney fees ruling, the trial court acknowledged that Robert and Jill “as guarantors of the [N]ote would owe fees [to the Estate] pursuant to a strictly construed reading of” the Note’s attorney fees provision.
¶148 But the trial court nevertheless denied the Estate’s claim for attorney fees, for several reasons. First, and chiefly, the court denied the Estate’s claim because, in the court’s view, the Estate had failed to sufficiently allocate its incurred fees between its successful and unsuccessful claims. Under our law, a party requesting attorney fees has an obligation to allocate its fees between claims on which it is entitled to fees and claims “for which there is no entitlement to attorney fees,” and should limit its fee request to only those specific fees incurred in aid of claims on which it is entitled to fees. See Zion Village Resort LLC v. Pro Curb USA LLC, 2020 UT App 167, ¶ 62, 480 P.3d 1055 (quotation simplified). A requesting party who fails to do so “makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the trial court to award . . . fees because there is insufficient evidence to support the award.” See Jensen v. Sawyers, 2005 UT 81, ¶ 132, 130 P.3d 325. Indeed, if a requesting party makes no effort to allocate its fees, a court “may, in its discretion,” elect to “not award wholesale all attorney fees” or may “deny fees altogether for failure to allocate.” Burdick v. Horner Townsend & Kent, Inc., 2015 UT 8, ¶ 59, 345 P.3d 531 (quotation simplified). But a court’s discretion in this regard is not unlimited, and “is not an invitation to forego a reasoned analysis.” Id. ¶ 60. Indeed, in Burdick, our supreme court determined that a trial court had abused its discretion by denying a request for attorney fees, in its entirety, for failure to allocate, noting that the movant’s “affidavit clearly identifie[d] 282 hours attributable only to” the successful claim. Id. The court remanded the matter to the trial court to “conduct a reasonableness analysis and attempt to discern what fees may be divided between the” successful claims and the unsuccessful claims. Id. ¶ 61.
¶149 In this case, some of our rulings described herein (see supra Parts II.A, II.B, and II.C) have changed the landscape with regard to allocation enough to require a remand, so that the Estate can resubmit its fee request in light of our rulings and so that the trial court can, in light of those rulings, reassess the quality of the Estate’s effort to allocate its requested fees. Most notably here, the fees the Estate incurred in advocating for its expert’s methodology for calculating the rate of interest may—depending on how proceedings on remand turn out—need to be included in the award. But in any event, we have some concerns with the trial court’s original analysis, and we express those concerns here in an effort to provide guidance on remand.
¶150 First, we are not convinced that the Estate’s allocation efforts—even the first time around—were so poor as to necessitate a complete denial of its attorney fees claim. In its ruling, the trial court acknowledged that “the [E]state made some effort to” allocate fees, “as it removed or modified fees claimed for work advancing arguments or upon which it did not prevail.” The record bears this out. The Estate eliminated (wholly or partially) from its fee request some forty-eight line items totaling nearly $30,000 of fees. To be sure, the Estate requested over $174,000 in fees, even after the allocation, and one could conceivably argue, depending on the circumstances, that reducing only $30,000 from fees totaling more than $200,000 does not constitute sufficiently deep cuts. But the Estate’s allocation effort does, to our eye, appear to be detailed, targeted, and undertaken in good faith. The Estate’s main claim—and the primary reason for its presence in the litigation—was the one for unpaid interest on the Note; it does not seem to us implausible that the majority of its fees would have been incurred in aid of litigating that claim. In situations like this, where a party has taken a good-faith and detailed run at allocation, the better approach—if a trial court remains of the view that the cuts are not quite deep enough—is to make a reduced award rather than to deny the request in its entirety. Wholesale denial of a fee request on allocation grounds should be reserved for situations where a party either makes no effort to allocate at all, see Burdick, 2015 UT 8, ¶ 59 (stating that a court may “deny fees altogether for failure to allocate” (emphasis added)), or where a party makes only token or wholly inadequate attempts to allocate.
¶151 Next, the court mentioned several other factors that influenced its decision to deny the Estate’s fee request that were, in our view, not a proper basis for denial. For instance, the court noted that, for many years, “no significant steps were taken to timely collect on the [N]ote,” and appeared to hold this against the Estate in assessing its claim for fees. But it was the Trust’s responsibility for pursuing repayment of the Note, at least until Margene’s death (at which point unpaid interest became payable to the Estate); any delays in pursuing collection from 2004 through 2015 cannot be laid at the feet of the Estate and are, in any event, beside the point. After Margene’s death, and after the principal amount of the Note was effectively paid off in connection with the first distribution to the Trust beneficiaries, the Estate soon pursued this action to recover the unpaid interest. There is no basis to hold delays in enforcement against the Estate in connection with assessing its claim for fees.
¶152 Next, the court speculated that the provision of the Settlement Agreement directing that unpaid interest on the Note was to be paid to the Estate, rather than to the Trust and its three beneficiaries, “was contrary to the intent and past practice of” Dean, and the court stated that it was “troubled” by that provision. The court noted that this sentiment was “not central to its decision,” but it should go without saying that the court should not have taken this into account at all in connection with assessing the Estate’s fee request.
¶153 In short, we vacate the court’s order denying, in its entirety, the Estate’s claim for attorney fees; we do so largely because, in our view, the rulings set forth elsewhere in this opinion have changed the landscape enough to necessitate a reassessment of that claim. And we remand the matter to the trial court for reassessment of that claim consistent with this opinion.
¶154 We reject all but one of Taylor’s arguments on appeal. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Taylor’s motion to amend. Taylor has not carried his burden, on appeal, of showing error in the court’s partial summary judgment ruling, or of demonstrating abuse of discretion in its decision to exclude Taylor’s experts. We also affirm much of the court’s damages award against Taylor, but vacate the court’s award of damages against Taylor related to the payment to Robert’s ex-wife.
¶155 We find merit in most of the Estate’s arguments on appeal. The court erred in holding the Estate vicariously liable for the actions Taylor took as trustee. The court also erred in its approach to calculating the interest owed to the Estate on the Note, as well as in various aspects of its judgment. In addition, we remand the question of the Estate’s entitlement to attorney fees.
¶156 Accordingly, we vacate the judgment entered by the trial court, and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion; those proceedings should, among other things, involve evaluation of Robert’s potential claim for constructive trust against the Estate, reassessment of the amount of interest the Estate is owed, clarification of the judgment, and reassessment of the Estate’s claim for attorney fees incurred in connection with its successful claim for unpaid interest.
 Because several of the individuals involved in this case are members of the same family, we often refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.
 This fact, along with the others in this factual recitation, is presented “in a light most favorable to the trial court’s findings,” as is required of us in an “appeal from a bench trial.” See Huck v. Ken’s House LLC, 2022 UT App 64, n.1, 511 P.3d 1220 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1260 (Utah 2022).
 In 2020, our legislature amended and renamed this statute, titling it the “Uniform Fiduciary Income and Principal Act.” Utah Code § 22-3-101. No party suggests that the recent amendments are relevant to this case. In this opinion, we refer to this statute as the UPIA, the title it had during the events giving rise to this case.
 Robert’s ex-wife was eventually dismissed from the lawsuit prior to trial, and is not a party to this appeal.
 This ruling was later amended to remove all reference to any such costs.
 The record is somewhat unclear as to the identity of the person(s) or entity from whom Jeana purchased the home—that is, whether she purchased the home from the Trust or bought out her siblings’ interest in the home directly after it had been conveyed to them as tenants in common. Ultimately, this issue is immaterial to our analysis.
 Jill and Jeana also requested an award of attorney fees, but the court denied those claims for various reasons. The propriety of those rulings is not at issue in this appeal.
 The judgment also recites that the court “will award attorneys’ fees to” Robert, but it makes no effort to quantify those fees. As noted, the court did later quantify those fees in a ruling issued about four months after it signed the judgment, awarding Robert $441,546.50 in fees and $137,148.38 in costs. But the record submitted to us does not include any amended or supplemental judgment including those fees.
 In addition to the issue it raised regarding the form of the judgment, the Estate also raised objections relating to the court’s ruling that it was jointly and severally liable for Taylor’s actions.
 At one point in his appellate brief, Taylor mentions in passing that the trial court “made no finding under Utah Code § 75-7814(2) regarding whether or not a lay trustee may rely on professional counsel and accounting advice, and whether such reliance demonstrates reasonable care.” That statute provides that trustees may delegate “investment and management functions” to a professional as long as the trustee engages in certain oversight, and if trustees do so, they are “not liable to the beneficiaries or to the trust for the decisions or actions of the agent to whom the function was delegated.” Utah Code § 75-7-814(2). But Taylor did not invoke this statute in opposing Robert’s summary judgment motion, and any argument that the trial court erred by not considering the statute is therefore unpreserved. And in any event, Taylor does not argue that he delegated any specific task or function to any professional pursuant to this statute.
 Whether advice of counsel is the sort of affirmative defense that is considered waived if not pleaded in a responsive pleading is an interesting question. We are aware of Utah law stating that, at least in certain contexts, “reasonable reliance on the advice of counsel is an affirmative defense.” See Hodges v. Gibson Products Co., 811 P.2d 151, 159–60 (Utah 1991). But other courts have held that, at least in some circumstances, advice of counsel does not need to be pleaded in an answer. See, e.g., LG Philips LCD Co. v. Tatung Co., 243 F.R.D. 133, 139 (D. Del. 2007). Because the parties have not briefed this issue, and because it is only tangentially related to the question at hand, we offer no opinion on whether advice of counsel is the sort of affirmative defense that is waived if not included in a responsive pleading.
 Taylor argues that the court should not have considered much of this evidence because it was attached to Robert’s reply brief submitted in support of his summary judgment motion. He argues that Robert’s “obligation was to present all claimed relevant facts with his initial motion” and that “[n]ew materials cannot be raised in a reply memorandum.” But Robert did not raise any new issue in his reply; he merely responded to Taylor’s claims—included in his memorandum opposing Robert’s motion—regarding IRA ownership. The court did not err in considering the materials Robert submitted in connection with his reply brief in support of his motion.
 The court did, however, allow one of Taylor’s financial experts to offer rebuttal testimony at trial.
 In this same vein, Taylor makes a cursory and unsupported allegation in his brief that Robert cannot recover for “hypothetical growth in value” of Trust assets because his expert “[r]elied on [s]peculative [a]ssumptions.” But he does not suggest what these speculative assumptions were. Thus, this allegation, like some of his other damages assertions, is inadequately briefed.
 Taylor does not appeal the question of whether he—as opposed to Margene or the Estate—should be liable for the repairs to the marital home. Per the Trust, it was Margene—and not the trustee—who was responsible for “perform[ing] such repairs and maintenance as may be required to maintain the property in the condition it was maintained prior to [Dean’s] death.” Because this issue was not appealed, we do not address its merits.
 We are also aware of Taylor’s motion, filed with this court on June 30, 2023, asking us, “pending [our] imminent ruling,” to stay enforcement of the judgment. However, now that we have decided the case, the motion to stay has been rendered moot. See M.N.V. Holdings LC v. 200 South LLC, 2021 UT App 76, ¶ 17 n.10, 494 P.3d 402 (determining that a motion to stay had been mooted by the issuance of the opinion); Koyle v. Davis, 2011 UT App 196, ¶ 7, 261 P.3d 100 (per curiam) (recognizing that our resolution of a case on appeal “renders the motion to stay moot”), cert. denied, 263 P.3d 390 (Utah 2011).
 Similarly, the Estate’s failure to object to evidence that could conceivably have supported a constructive trust claim does not constitute implied consent to trial of an unpleaded vicarious liability claim. See Hill v. Estate of Allred, 2009 UT 28, ¶ 48, 216 P.3d 929. As discussed below, Robert may or may not have properly pleaded a claim that a constructive trust be imposed on Estate assets, at least to the extent that those assets consist of wrongfully distributed Trust principal; we offer no opinion on that question. But even assuming, for purposes of this discussion, that he did properly plead a claim for constructive trust, such a claim is a far cry from a claim for complete vicarious liability for all actions, and the Estate’s perceived acquiescence in admission of evidence supporting a constructive trust claim does not necessarily signal consent to trial of a vicarious liability claim.
 At oral argument before this court, Robert’s attorney hinted at a fourth theory, and suggested that the court, in ruling that the Estate was vicariously liable for Taylor’s actions as trustee, might have been applying a contract-based construct. But the court’s written rulings on this topic do not appear to rely on any such theory. In addition, we are aware of no specific contractual obligation that might be utilized for this purpose. The only obligation Margene had under the Trust documents was the duty to keep the home in good condition. She was never the trustee, never had any authority to distribute Trust assets, never signed the Trust, and did not receive Trust assets upon any condition, and therefore never had any contractual obligation regarding those assets. See, e.g., Bloom Master Inc. v. Bloom Master LLC, 2019 UT App 63, ¶ 13, 442 P.3d 1178 (“To form an enforceable contract, the parties must have a meeting of the minds on the essential terms of the contract.” (quotation simplified)). We therefore reject any contract-based argument for vicarious liability.
 And neither Robert nor Jill makes any argument that the UCC rate should apply whenever contractual ambiguity exists with regard to the interest rate. In general, “a court’s legal determination that ambiguity exists within a text leads to the conclusion that” a factfinder will need to consider extrinsic evidence. See Jessup v. Five Star Franchising LLC, 2022 UT App 86, ¶ 42, 515 P.3d 466. This general principle appears to apply here. At least, neither Robert nor Jill makes any assertion that, given the language of the UCC, this constitutes one of those “other specific areas of the law . . . where clarity between parties is itself at issue” and in which “the presence of ambiguity . . . suggests that a party may be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Id. (describing some of those exceptional situations). That is, Robert and Jill do not assert that the UCC rate should apply whenever ambiguity in the words used in the instrument prevents a court from easily ascertaining the agreed-upon interest rate. See Utah Code § 70A3-112(2). Because Robert and Jill do not make this argument, we offer no opinion as to its merits.
 The Estate also complains about the amount of this damages award, asserting that it should be for $29,439 instead of $33,500. There was evidence supporting both damages figures, and the trial court was within its discretion to select the slightly higher one. We therefore reject the Estate’s challenge to the amount of this portion of the damages award.
 The Estate also asserts that the trial court more heavily scrutinized its fee request than it did Robert’s, asserting that—like the Estate—Robert also failed to prevail on all of his claims and motions, and therefore should also have been required to allocate his requested fees between successful and unsuccessful endeavors. The propriety of the court’s fee award to Robert is not at issue in this appeal, and we therefore decline to comment on the court’s handling of Robert’s fee request, other than to state that courts should, of course, evaluate fee requests from the various parties in the case by the same standards.
I am a divorce lawyer. You may believe, consequently, that my response to your question is going to be self-serving and that I am going to tell you that you should hire an experienced family law attorney. You are wise and prudent to be skeptical.
That stated, you can ask those of your circle of friends and family members whom you trust and who are as wise as or wiser than you whether hiring an experienced family law attorney for your divorce and custody matters instead of representing yourself. They will tell you, unequivocally and without question, that the answer is “yes.”
That stated, the benefits of hiring a divorce attorney are not as great as they were a generation ago. There are still many benefits to hiring a divorce attorney these days, but much of what an attorney—and only an attorney—could do for you in the past (due to the specialized knowledge your attorney, and only your attorney or other attorneys like him/her, is now possible to obtain and enjoy through sources other than an attorney. Almost any family law question can be answered by some diligent Internet research (be warned, however: there’s infinite supplies of misinformation, myths, and mindless drivel on the Internet too, so conduct your research with a careful and discriminating eye).
If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you could become a fairly formidable pro se (meaning “self-represented”) family law litigant. Many jurisdictions are also starting to permit people other than lawyers, such as specially certified or licensed paralegals, to practice some limited scope legal services in family law cases. Candidly, when you opt to represent yourself or hire a non-lawyer, it should come as no surprise that you almost always get what you pay for. Otherwise stated, the amount of money you “save” by not hiring a skilled attorney is usually “paid” in the form of excessive amounts of time and effort you have to expend to gain the benefits equivalent to simply hiring a skilled attorney. There’s no free lunch, there are no shortcuts.
(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.
(b) The scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, except when the lawyer will charge a regularly represented client on the same basis or rate. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be communicated to the client.
(c) A fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by paragraph (d) or other law. A contingent fee agreement shall be in a writing signed by the client and shall state the method by which the fee is to be determined, including the percentage or percentages that shall accrue to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial or appeal; litigation and other expenses to be deducted from the recovery; and whether such expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is calculated. The agreement must clearly notify the client of any expenses for which the client will be liable whether or not the client is the prevailing party. Upon conclusion of a contingent fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement stating the outcome of the matter and, if there is a recovery, showing the remittance to the client and the method of its determination.
(d) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect:
(1) any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of alimony or support, or property settlement in lieu thereof; or
(2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.
(e) A licensed paralegal practitioner may not enter into a contingent fee agreement with a client.
(f) Before providing any services, a licensed paralegal practitioner must provide the client with a written agreement that:
(1) states the purpose for which the licensed paralegal practitioner has been retained;
(2) identifies the services to be performed;
(3) identifies the rate or fee for the services to be performed and whether and to what extent the client will be responsible for any costs, expenses or disbursements in the course of the representation;
(4) includes a statement printed in 12-point boldface type that the licensed paralegal practitioner is not an attorney and is limited to practice in only those areas in which the licensed paralegal practitioner is licensed;
(5) includes a provision stating that the client may report complaints relating to a licensed paralegal practitioner or the unauthorized practice of law to the Office of Professional Conduct, including a toll-free number and Internet website;
(6) describes the document to be prepared;
(7) describes the purpose of the document;
(8) describes the process to be followed in preparing the document;
(9) states whether the licensed paralegal practitioner will be filing the document on the client’s behalf; and
(10) states the approximate time necessary to complete the task.
(g) A licensed paralegal practitioner may not make an oral or written statement guaranteeing or promising an outcome, unless the licensed paralegal practitioner has some basis in fact for making the guarantee or promise.
Reasonableness of Fee and Expenses
 Paragraph (a) requires that lawyers charge fees that are reasonable under the circumstances. The factors specified in (a)(1) through (a)(8) are not exclusive. Nor will each factor be relevant in each instance. Paragraph (a) also requires that expenses for which the client will be charged must be reasonable. A lawyer may seek reimbursement for the cost of services performed in-house, such as copying, or for other expenses incurred in-house, such as telephone charges, either by charging a reasonable amount to which the client has agreed in advance or by charging an amount that reasonably reflects the cost incurred by the lawyer.
Basis or Rate of Fee
 When the lawyer has regularly represented a client, they ordinarily will have evolved an understanding concerning the basis or rate of the fee and the expenses for which the client will be responsible. In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to fees and expenses must be promptly established. Generally, it is desirable to furnish the client with at least a simple memorandum or copy of the lawyer’s customary fee arrangements that states the general nature of the legal services to be provided, the basis, rate or total amount of the fee and whether and to what extent the client will be responsible for any costs, expenses or disbursements in the course of the representation. A written statement concerning the terms of the engagement reduces the possibility of misunderstanding.
 Contingent fees, like any other fees, are subject to the reasonableness standard of paragraph (a) of this Rule. In determining whether a particular contingent fee is reasonable, or whether it is reasonable to charge any form of contingent fee, a lawyer must consider the factors that are relevant under the circumstances. Applicable law may impose limitations on contingent fees, such as a ceiling on the percentage allowable, or may require a lawyer to offer clients an alternative basis for the fee. Applicable law also may apply to situations other than a contingent fee, for example, government regulations regarding fees in certain tax matters.
Terms of Payment
 A lawyer may require advance payment of a fee but is obligated to return any unearned portion. See Rule1.16(d). A lawyer may accept property in payment for services, such as an ownership interest in an enterprise, providing this does not involve acquisition of a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of the litigation contrary to Rule 1.8(i). However, a fee paid in property instead of money may be subject to the requirements of Rule 1.8(a) because such fees often have the essential qualities of a business transaction with the client.
 An agreement may not be made whose terms might induce the lawyer improperly to curtail services for the client or perform them in a way contrary to the client’s interest. For example, a lawyer should not enter into an agreement whereby services are to be provided only up to a stated amount when it is foreseeable that more extensive services probably will be required, unless the situation is adequately explained to the client. Otherwise, the client might have to bargain for further assistance in the midst of a proceeding or transaction. However, it is proper to define the extent of services in light of the client’s ability to pay. A lawyer should not exploit a fee arrangement based primarily on hourly charges by using wasteful procedures.
Prohibited Contingent Fees
 Paragraph (d) prohibits a lawyer from charging a contingent fee in a domestic relations matter when payment is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of alimony or support or property settlement to be obtained. This provision does not preclude a contract for a contingent fee for legal representation in connection with the recovery of post-judgment balances due under support, alimony or other financial orders because such contracts do not implicate the same policy concerns.
Disputes over Fees
 If a procedure has been established for resolution of fee disputes, such as an arbitration or mediation procedure established by the Bar, the lawyer must comply with the procedure when it is mandatory, and, even when it is voluntary, the lawyer should conscientiously consider submitting to it. Law may prescribe a procedure for determining a lawyer’s fee, for example, in representation of an executor or administrator, a class or a person entitled to a reasonable fee as part of the measure of damages. The lawyer entitled to such a fee and a lawyer representing another party concerned with the fee should comply with the prescribed procedure.
 This rule differs from the ABA model rule.
[8a] This rule differs from the ABA Model Rule by including certain restrictions on licensed paralegal practitioners.
My name is Stephanie from flingorlove.com and honestly, I usually wouldn’t bother emailing about this, but I researched and gathered as much data and stats as I could about various divorce statistics and put it all together in a massive blog post (84 stats to be precise).
I am frequently asked questions about my flat fee billing.
I bill on a weekly flat fee basis. Usually $500 per week, although the weekly fee can be higher if the case is a an unusually challenging or demanding one. The most common questions I get about my flat fee billing are:
So, it will be $500 a week until the divorce is final? What if no progress or work has been done that week?
The main concern behind that question is really, “How bad is the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer going to get?” It’s a very important question. And the answer is: retaining a good lawyer’s services will be expensive. There is, unfortunately, no way around that. Hiring cheap divorce lawyers usually results in you getting what you pay for.
My flat fee structure is, however, one of the least expensive ways to get high quality legal services.
When you pay your lawyer by the hour, you’re handing the lawyer a blank check.
This is why I state my fees up front as a weekly flat fee of $500. And I subject each week’s fee to a “satisfaction or you don’t pay” guarantee for each week’s fees.
Candidly, if I billed by the hour, I would make more money. People who become a divorce lawyer’s client for the first time usually don’t have a very good idea of how much time and effort an attorney puts into the work.
A 10-page memorandum can take several days to research and write. If the attorney bills at the rate of $300 per hour and spends 3-4 hours per day for three days on the memorandum, that’s $2,700. In just three days. I bill $500 flat fee per week. Thus, it should not come as a surprise if, in a particular day or week, I do several thousand dollars’ worth of work (had the work been billed at an hourly rate) and then the next day/week I do comparatively very little work, if any work at all. The point is that the fees even out over time.
I modeled my flat fee billing on the “budget programs” that many utility companies implemented. If you’re not already a part of such a program yourself, they work like this: the utility company figures out what you spend each month for heat or electricity in a year.
Most people use more natural gas and electricity for heat in the fall and winter months than in the spring and summer months. If you paid as needed, you would pay less in the spring and summer and more in the fall and winter. That can make it hard to stick to a monthly budget when your expenses fluctuate each month.
The budget program helps make it easier to budget for your payments by taking the average of what you pay each month over a year’s time and then charging you that average amount each month. That way you know what you’re paying each month, instead of each month being a surprise, and the utility companies still get paid in full for what they provided. Budget plans, like my flat fees schedule, make it easier to budget what you’ll be paying each month because you know up front what you pay each month.
Other questions that arise when talking about my flat fee billing are:
Do I pay $500 per week until the divorce is final?
What if no progress has been made or no work has been done that week?
To answer those questions:
A client pays $500 per week, with the exception of substantial lulls in the case when there is no work to be done while we wait on someone or some event. If all the work that needs to be done is done and we’re just waiting for a week or several weeks before a hearing, for example, then the $500 weekly fee is suspended during such lulls.
Subject to the exceptions I described in response to Question 1, a client pays $500 per week until the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and proposed Decree of Divorce has been submitted to the court for signing.
And I don’t get this question enough, so I will ask and answer it myself here: Question: are there any other costs besides the $500 per week?
Answer: Yes, there can be and usually are. They include:
Fees Charged on a Full-day or Half-day Basis. Fees charged in addition to you your weekly fixed fee, in the amount of $2,400 per full day (no less than 5 hours and no more than 7 hours per day), or $1,200 per half day (up to 4 hours) include fees for: a) Mediation (you almost certainly will go to mediation); b) Evidentiary Hearings (these rarely occur in the typical divorce case); c) Depositions (it is likely you may depose the opposing party or be deposed by the opposing party in your case), the fee for a deposition is paid in advance of the date(s) set for the deposition(s).
Proffer Hearing or Pretrial Conference Fee. If you have any proffer hearings or pretrial conferences (you probably will), the fee for proffer hearings and pretrial conferences is $500 per hearing/conference. “Proffer” means an offering of proof. In a proffer hearing your attorney summarizes for the court what you and other witnesses would have said, instead of actually having you or the witness(es) testify in court.
Trial preparation fee. If the case is ready to certify as ready for trial or is actually certified as ready for trial by the opposing party, the trial preparation fee (in addition to your weekly fixed fee, any other expenses, expert witness fees, equipment fees, fees charged by third parties, and other litigation expenses) is $4,800 for every day of trial, which fee is due within seven calendar days of date the firm notifies you a) that it is ready to certify the case as ready for trial; or b) the opposing party has certified the case as ready for trial, whichever comes first. To ensure there is no confusion, understand that the preparation fee for each day of trial is $4,800. Each full day in trial is an additional $2,400, and each half day in trial is $1,200.
Fees for additional and/or unanticipated work, if any. You understand that unforeseen circumstances can arise and/or that the court, the opposing party/opposing counsel, or other people or organizations may act in ways that were not planned for, that were unforeseen, and/or that are beyond the firm’s control and that may require further time and charges not contemplated by this fixed fee agreement. Any additional fees for any additional and/or unanticipated work that you may need or want done over and above what the firm intended and anticipated the weekly $500 fixed fee to cover will be agreed upon between you and the firm and reduced to writing before any such additional work is performed and charged.
All expenses the firm may incur or advance in connection with providing legal services will be billed to you separately. All variable expenses will be billed according to the actual amount of the expense. Examples of variable expenses include, but are not limited to, filing fees, recording fees, deposition costs, expert witness fees, investigator fees, postage, photocopying, parking, etc. Court filing fees. The court itself, not the firm, charges a $333 filing fee to file a complaint for divorce, a $100 court fee to file a counterclaim for divorce. If your case requires paying a filing fee, your court filing fee is an expense that you pay.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
 That stated, it isn’t true that the more you pay a divorce lawyer the better you’ll do. You can waste money on a lawyer who charges too much just as easily as you can waste money on a lawyer who charges you too little to get the job done right. Make sure you find the best value for the money when you retain a lawyer’s services.
Each jurisdiction has different ways of providing these free and/or inexpensive legal services.
With rare, if any, exception, these free and/or inexpensive legal services are limited to those who are poor, those who can demonstrate that they are unable to afford to pay for the legal services they want or need. So you may not qualify if your income exceeds the level at which one qualifies for the free or discounted services.
To find out about such free and/or inexpensive legal services, visit or inquire with the local courthouse, the law school closest to you, the state and/or local bar association for your jurisdiction, government welfare offices, and browse the Internet.
Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) defines conflict of interest as:
A real or seeming incompatibility between the interests of two of a lawyer’s clients, such that the lawyer is disqualified from representing both clients if the dual representation adversely affects either client or if the clients do not consent. See Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.7(a) (2013).
Conflict of interest can also include, in the legal representation context, as actions of one’s attorney that exploit the attorney-client relationship for the lawyer’s personal benefit or to the client’s detriment.
So, unless one could somehow show that your attorney hugging your husband in court somehow harming your case or benefiting your attorney at your expense, I don’t see how your attorney hugging your spouse would be a conflict of interest.
It may be awkward or in bad taste from under some circumstances, but a conflict of interest? Not likely.
If the hug raises suspicions as to whether there is a relationship between your husband and your attorney that is itself a conflict of interest, that would not mean that the hug itself is itself an act constituting a conflict of interest.
Each state is different in the way it sets its code of attorney ethics, but the American Bar Association has a model code that many states either adopt or adapt. Here are the three main rules governing conflicts of interest from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:
While I cannot speak for all jurisdictions and for all situations, generally an attorney to whom you have paid a retainer or advance deposit is obligated to return the unearned portion of that retainer/deposit if you terminate that attorney’s services, especially if you terminate the attorney’s services within days of retaining the attorney.
You will need to read your contract/representation agreement that you have with your attorney and gain an understanding of the ethical rules that govern attorney compensation in your jurisdiction to determine if there are exceptions to this general principle.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE
GREGORY K. ORME and JUSTICE DIANA HAGEN concurred.
¶1 DiAnn Sheri Fox appeals several aspects of a comprehensive set of rulings issued by the trial court following a two-day divorce trial, including various findings relating to the court’s alimony award, its division of marital debts, and its determination that her ex-husband, Benjamin Davis Fox, was not voluntarily underemployed. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the court’s orders.
¶2 DiAnn and Ben were married in 1997, while Ben was in college and about to start medical school. After completing his training, Ben became a successful neurosurgeon with his practice centered in St. George, Utah. In the marriage’s final years, Ben was making more than $1 million per year, with his monthly pay sometimes as high as $110,000. Ben and DiAnn have six children together, four of whom were minors at the time of trial.
¶3 In keeping with Ben’s impressive income, the parties lived a lavish lifestyle during the marriage. To support that lifestyle, Ben spent a significant amount of time at work—as much as 80 to 100 hours per week. And even when he was not working, Ben was often “on call,” meaning that he had to stay within fifteen minutes of the hospital in case of a medical emergency. Ben took more “on call” shifts than any other physician in his practice. Part of the reason Ben worked such a taxing schedule—even for a neurosurgeon—was because he was qualified as both a neurosurgeon and as a neurointerventionalist, and his services were often in demand. Ben testified that, as a result, he was becoming burnt out and “physically and emotionally exhausted,” and that his work schedule was not sustainable. Due to his schedule, Ben spent comparatively little time with the children, leaving DiAnn largely responsible for their day-to-day care.
¶4 DiAnn has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and worked full-time as a teacher before the couple’s children were born. While Ben was still in medical school, however, Ben and DiAnn decided that DiAnn would not generally work outside the home but instead would care for their children full-time. At the time of trial, DiAnn was working part-time for the local school district, earning ten dollars per hour.
¶5 In 2018, DiAnn filed for divorce. As part of her petition, DiAnn sought primary physical custody of the children, child support, alimony, equitable division of the marital debts, and equitable division of the marital property. A few months later, the trial court entered a temporary order awarding DiAnn primary physical custody of the children, with Ben allowed parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-35.1. The court ordered Ben to pay $12,313 per month in child support, and $21,030 per month in alimony. The parties were also ordered to continue paying $2,500 ($1,250 each) per month to DiAnn’s father, to whom they owed a significant amount of debt.
¶6 After DiAnn filed for divorce, but prior to trial, Ben relocated to Florida and accepted employment there as a neurosurgeon. In his new position, Ben was paid less than he had been paid in St. George: instead of earning as much as $110,000 per month, Ben was now earning some $80,000 per month (nearly $1 million annually) in gross income. But in Florida, Ben had a less hectic work schedule, typically working 50 to 60 hours per week as opposed to the 80 to 100 hours per week he had often been working in St. George.
¶7 Also prior to trial, DiAnn filed a financial declaration with the trial court. In that declaration, she claimed $32,577.24 in monthly expenses, including—among other things—$16,132.24 for the mortgage payments on the parties’ large house; $1,880 for maintenance on the house; $2,000 for food and household supplies; $2,400 for utilities; $1,250 for half of the loan payments to her father; $855 for the children’s extracurricular activities; and $577.24 for travel, which included the costs associated with a timeshare condominium the couple owned in Hawaii.
¶8 Soon thereafter, the case proceeded to a bench trial, which was held over two days in September 2020. During the trial, the court heard testimony from DiAnn and Ben, as well as several other witnesses. DiAnn asked the court to find that Ben was voluntarily underemployed—because he was earning less in Florida than he had in St. George—and additionally asked that Ben’s higher St. George salary be imputed to him for the purposes of child support and alimony. In light of this request, and based on her expert’s testimony that the parties had established a standard of spending some $70,000 per month during the marriage, DiAnn asked the court to award her $11,050 per month in child support and some $35,000 per month in alimony.
¶9 In response to DiAnn’s argument that he was voluntarily underemployed, Ben called an expert to testify that, even with his reduced income, Ben’s earnings were above the 90th percentile of income for neurosurgeons in the United States. Ben thus requested that alimony and child support be calculated based on his Florida income and that the court reject DiAnn’s assertion that he was voluntarily underemployed.
¶10 We will discuss some of the particulars of the court’s ruling in more detail below, on an issue-by-issue basis. But in broad strokes, the court ruled in relevant part as follows: (a) the parties were awarded joint legal custody of the children; (b) DiAnn was awarded primary physical custody; (c) Ben was allowed parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-37; (d) Ben’s monthly income would be calculated based on his Florida income, not his St. George income; (e) DiAnn’s net income was initially set at $699 per month, but would increase to $2,915 per month after two years; (f) Ben was not voluntarily underemployed; (g) Ben was ordered to pay DiAnn $9,760 per month in child support, which would decrease as the children transitioned into adulthood; (h) Ben was ordered to pay DiAnn $15,039 per month in alimony for a period of two years, and then $12,995 per month for another 22 years, unless terminated earlier “upon the death of either party, the remarriage or cohabitation of [DiAnn], or for any other reason under Utah law”; and (i) DiAnn was assigned sole responsibility for the marital debt owed to her father.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶11 DiAnn now appeals various aspects of the trial court’s rulings, and presents three principal issues for our review. First, she challenges various aspects of the court’s alimony award. We review a court’s “alimony determination for an abuse of discretion and will not disturb its ruling on alimony as long as the court exercises its discretion within the bounds and under the standards our supreme court has set and so long as the trial court has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 11, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified).
¶12 Second, DiAnn argues that the court abused its discretion when it assigned her the sole responsibility for the parties’ debt owed to her father and included the full payment for that debt in its alimony calculation. “The trial court’s division of debts is reviewed for abuse of discretion.” Boggess v. Boggess, 2011 UT App 84, ¶ 2, 250 P.3d 86 (per curiam). And because trial courts are in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions, they have considerable latitude” to equitably divide marital debt “and their actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified). “Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for an appellate court to reverse on an isolated item of property or debt distribution.” Id. (quotation simplified). “Rather, we must examine the entire distribution to determine if the trial court abused its discretion.” Id. (quotation simplified).
¶13 And finally, DiAnn asserts that the court erred when it found that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. We “review the trial court’s finding of voluntary unemployment or underemployment and its calculation of imputed income for an abuse of discretion.” Christensen v. Christensen, 2017 UT App 120, ¶ 10, 400 P.3d 1219. “We will not disturb a trial court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, that is, unless they are in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence, or this court has a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Pope v. Pope, 2017 UT App 24, ¶ 4, 392 P.3d 886 (quotation simplified).
¶14 We begin with DiAnn’s challenge to the trial court’s alimony award, analyzing each aspect of that challenge in turn.
We then turn to DiAnn’s assertion that the court abused its discretion in assigning her the marital debt owed to her father. We conclude by examining DiAnn’s challenge to the court’s finding that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed.
¶15 “Under Utah law, the primary purposes of alimony are: (1) to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage; (2) to equalize the standards of living of each party; and (3) to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 14, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified). “Alimony is not limited to providing for only basic needs but should be fashioned in consideration of the recipient spouse’s station in life in light of the parties’ customary or proper status or circumstances, with the goal being an alimony award calculated to approximate the parties’ standard of living during the marriage as closely as possible.” Id. (quotation simplified).
¶16 During their marriage, DiAnn and Ben enjoyed a high standard of living, and in an attempt to approximate that standard of living, the trial court ordered Ben to pay DiAnn more than $15,000 per month in alimony for two years, and nearly $13,000 per month for 22 years thereafter. DiAnn takes issue with this alimony award.
¶17 But in so doing, DiAnn does not challenge the court’s decision about the duration or future reduction of the award, nor does she take issue with any of the specific line-item calculations the court made in arriving at the total alimony amount. Instead, DiAnn advances two other arguments. First, she asserts that the court erred by not starting its analysis by making a separate finding regarding the parties’ “marital standard of living,” and by not taking that standard of living sufficiently into account. Second, DiAnn argues that the court abused its discretion when it included the children’s extracurricular activity expenses in its alimony calculation, and then ordered that DiAnn be responsible for those expenses. We address each of these arguments, in turn.
A. Marital Standard of Living
¶18 DiAnn’s first challenge is an assertion that the trial court failed to properly take into account the parties’ marital standard of living. Specifically, relying on Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, 402 P.3d 153, DiAnn argues that the court failed to start its alimony analysis by making a separate finding specifically calculating the overall marital standard of living, and asserts that the court erroneously “moved straight to an arbitrary needs-based alimony analysis.” This, DiAnn asserts, contradicts the “roadmap” set out in Rule. In particular, DiAnn points to her own expert’s analysis—that the parties were spending, on average, more than $70,000 per month during the marriage—and asserts that the court should have concluded that she is entitled to half that amount in alimony, at least as long as Ben is able to pay it.
¶19 DiAnn misreads Rule. To be sure, in that case we noted that one of the purposes of alimony is “to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage,” and we categorized it as “inherently problematic for a trial court to attempt to design an alimony award that advances the overall goal of allowing the parties to go forward with their lives as nearly as possible at the standard of living enjoyed during marriage without first determining what that standard was in the first instance.” See id. ¶¶ 14, 18 (quotations simplified). But we clarified that a court appropriately takes that standard of living into account by “assess[ing] the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 19 (quotation simplified); see also id. ¶ 15 (noting that trial courts are required “to determine the parties’ needs and expenses . . . in light of the marital standard of living”). The ceiling on a recipient spouse’s alimony award is represented by that spouse’s needs, viewed in light of the marital standard of living. See id. ¶ 17 (“The receiving spouse’s needs ultimately set the bounds for the maximum permissible alimony award.”); see also Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 61, 402 P.3d 219 (stating that “in no case may the trial court award [the recipient spouse] more alimony than [his or] her demonstrated need”); Jensen v. Jensen, 2008 UT App 392, ¶ 13, 197 P.3d 117 (stating that, “regardless of the payor spouse’s ability to pay more, the recipient spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award” (quotation simplified)). There is usually no need for a trial court to make a separate specific finding regarding the overall “marital standard of living” as measured by the total amount of money spent each month by the couple while they were married, and we did not intend to imply otherwise in Rule.
¶20 Indeed, in that case we made clear that we were not prescribing any deviation from the “established . . . process to be followed by courts considering an award of alimony.” See Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 19; see also id. ¶ 13 (citing the statute now codified at Utah Code section 30-3-5(10)(a), and stating that “courts must consider the statutory” alimony factors, which are “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse,” “the recipient’s earning capacity,” and “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support” (quotation simplified)). The first step in that process is for the court to “assess the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 19 (quotation simplified). “This means that the court must determine the parties’ needs reasonably incurred, calculated upon the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.” Id. (quotation simplified). In the next step, the court must “determine the extent to which the receiving spouse is able to meet [his or] her own needs with [his or] her own income,” and if the receiving spouse “is able to meet all [his or] her needs with [his or] her own income, then [the court] should not award alimony.” Id. (quotation simplified). Finally, and only if the court determines that the recipient spouse cannot meet his or her own needs, the final step in the process is for the court to “assess whether the payor spouse’s income, after meeting his [or her] needs, is sufficient to make up some or all of the shortfall between the receiving spouse’s needs and income.” Id. ¶ 20 (quotation simplified).
¶21 The trial court followed this three-step process in this case. It made twenty-three separate line-item findings regarding DiAnn’s reasonable monthly expenses, using her requested amounts as a starting point, and it adjusted four of the line items downward and three of them upward. The court determined that DiAnn’s reasonable monthly needs, as adjusted, amounted to $25,424.61. And on appeal, DiAnn does not take issue with any of the twenty-three specific line-item findings. That is, she does not assert that any of those particular findings—for instance, her housing expenses, or her automobile expenses—are not in harmony with the marital standard of living.
¶22 The court also made findings regarding DiAnn’s ability to earn income, and determined that her net income (after taxes) was $699 per month for the first two years, and then would be adjusted to $2,915 per month. The court then subtracted her income and the child support payments from her needs, and determined that DiAnn would have a monthly shortfall of $15,039 per month for the first two years, which would narrow to $12,995 per month after that. On appeal, DiAnn does not specifically challenge these calculations, including the court’s findings regarding her ability to earn income.
¶23 Finally, the court assessed whether Ben had the ability to pay DiAnn’s demonstrated shortfall, and determined that he did, even using Ben’s Florida income rather than his St. George income, and even after paying child support and meeting his own reasonable monthly needs. DiAnn’s only complaint about this analysis is that the trial court erred by using Ben’s Florida income for the basis of its computation, as opposed to his St. George income. But DiAnn of course does not quibble with the court’s ultimate conclusion that Ben can meet every dollar of her demonstrated shortfall.
¶24 We perceive no error in the procedure the trial court employed in computing DiAnn’s alimony award. As noted, the court appropriately went through the three-step process required by applicable law. If DiAnn believed that the court inappropriately assessed any of her individual expenses, as measured in light of the marital standard of living, she had every opportunity to challenge any of the specific line-item calculations the court relied on in determining her monthly needs. See Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 20–63 (evaluating an appellant’s challenges to eleven separate line items in a trial court’s calculation of a recipient spouse’s needs). But she does not challenge any of them.
¶25 DiAnn has therefore not carried her appellate burden of demonstrating that the trial court failed to appropriately take into account the marital standard of living in calculating her needs. In this case, the court was not required to make any specific finding regarding how much total money the parties spent each month during the marriage, and it was certainly not required to presumptively award DiAnn half of any such amount as alimony. In short, we perceive no abuse of discretion in the manner in which the court assessed DiAnn’s needs or in which it took into account the parties’ marital standard of living, and on that basis we reject DiAnn’s first challenge to the alimony award.
B. Extracurricular Activities
¶26 DiAnn next contends that the court abused its discretion when it included the minor children’s extracurricular activity expenses in its alimony award to DiAnn. Specifically, she argues that the extracurricular expenses should have been included in an increased child support award instead of the alimony award or, alternatively, that the court should have “issued a separate award equitably dividing the expenses.” We disagree.
¶27 Presumptive monthly child support payment amounts are set by statutory schedule, depending on the incomes of the parents and the precise custody arrangement between them. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-12-205, -212, -301 (LexisNexis 2018). These presumptive monthly payments are designed to include nearly all reasonable needs of children, except for items that are statutorily excluded (such as, for instance, medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses). See Davis v. Davis, 2011 UT App 311, ¶ 17, 263 P.3d 520 (noting that medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses have been “singled out” by the legislature as something that “parents are ordered to pay in addition to their regular child support obligations”). “Child-rearing expenses” that are “not statutorily distinguished from regular child support should be considered part and parcel of the child support award.” Id. (quotation simplified).
¶28 In particular, we have held that “school fees” and “extracurricular activities” are presumed to be included in the “regular child support” payment amount, and ordinarily “must be satisfied, if at all, out of the parties’ combined child support obligations.” Id. ¶¶ 15, 17. Certainly, parties can agree “to share such additional expenses in the interest of their children,” but if they are unable to reach agreement on that score, such expenses “must generally be budgeted as part of child support.” Id. ¶ 15. Thus, in the present case, any expenses associated with the extracurricular activities in which the Fox children participate were designed to be budgeted as part of the $9,760 that DiAnn receives in child support each month.
¶29 Based on Davis, then, the trial court would have been on completely solid ground to decline DiAnn’s request to include a line item of $855 for “extracurricular activities” in her list of monthly expenses for purposes of the alimony calculation. But the court went ahead and included that line item in its computation of DiAnn’s monthly needs for alimony purposes anyway, effectively giving DiAnn an $855 monthly bump in alimony to which she may not have been entitled.
¶30 DiAnn looks this gift horse quite squarely in the mouth and complains that the court should have given her this bonus payment in a different form: by issuing a separate award— consisting of neither child support nor alimony—commanding Ben to pay the extracurricular expenses. Apparently, she is concerned that, if she remarries, Ben’s obligation to pay these expenses will evaporate along with the other alimony line items. Certainly, the trial court could—within the wide discretion afforded trial courts in such matters—have made such an award, provided it adequately explained its reasons for doing so. See id. ¶ 17 (noting that a court can deviate from the presumptive child support guidelines and order a higher amount designed to include “school fees,” but such an order “must be supported by a specific finding on the record supporting the conclusion that use of the guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of the children” (quotation simplified)). But DiAnn falls far short of persuading us that the court abused its discretion by opting not to do so, especially given that she included this line item in her financial declaration, which was the basis for her alimony request. On this basis, we reject DiAnn’s second challenge to the court’s alimony award.
II. Marital Debt
¶31 DiAnn next asserts that the trial court abused its discretion when it divided the marital debt in such a way as to give her full responsibility for the parties’ $181,000 obligation owed to DiAnn’s father, and then included a $2,500 line item for payments servicing that debt in DiAnn’s alimony award (thereby effectively requiring Ben to pay that debt as part of his alimony obligation). We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s orders regarding the marital debt owed to DiAnn’s father.
¶32 In issuing a divorce decree, a trial court must include “an order specifying which party is responsible for the payment of joint debts, obligations, or liabilities of the parties contracted or incurred during marriage.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(2)(c)(i) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). Importantly, our law requires only “a fair and equitable, not an equal, division of the marital debts.” Sinclair v. Sinclair, 718 P.2d 396, 398 (Utah 1986) (per curiam). And as already mentioned, because trial courts are in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions, they have considerable latitude” in dividing marital debt, and their actions in this regard “are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified).
¶33 In the present case, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in assigning the marital debt owed to DiAnn’s father to DiAnn. By way of counterbalance, the court assigned Ben full responsibility for his medical school debts (totaling some $145,000), and made each party responsible for the debts on their respective vehicles. This division makes practical sense, because it relieves DiAnn of any responsibility for debts associated with Ben’s medical education, and it relieves Ben of any direct responsibility (aside from alimony) for debts owed to DiAnn’s father. The court recognized, however, that this distribution of debts gave DiAnn “approximately $24,000 more in debts” than it gave Ben, but the court stated that it would “use its distribution of property to equalize this imbalance of debts.” DiAnn makes no argument that the court failed to remedy this imbalance. Indeed, the court awarded the parties’ timeshare condominium in Hawaii to DiAnn alone, and it also awarded DiAnn three of the four cars owned by the parties. Additionally, the court awarded DiAnn an offset of $10,000 “to compensate her for any dissipation of the marital estate” on the part of Ben, and also awarded her $50,000 for attorney fees from any proceeds made from the sale of the marital house prior to the parties evenly splitting any remaining proceeds. Under the circumstances presented here, DiAnn has not demonstrated any inequity or abuse of discretion in the manner in which the court divided the parties’ marital debts.
¶34 Furthermore, while DiAnn was indeed assigned responsibility for the entire debt owed to her father, a line item for the $2,500 monthly payment of that debt was included in her alimony award. Thus, while the court made DiAnn responsible for that debt, it is Ben, and not DiAnn, who is (at least indirectly) paying for it. DiAnn nevertheless complains about this seemingly favorable arrangement, again expressing concern that, if she were to remarry, Ben’s obligation to front her the money to service the debt owed to her father would evaporate along with the other alimony line items. Perhaps a trial court, within the scope of its discretion, could have done what DiAnn envisions. But under the specific facts of this case, it is not an abuse of discretion for the court to have equitably divided the debt, and then to have required Ben to pay DiAnn an alimony amount that includes the debt service payments on the obligation owed to DiAnn’s father. Given the circumstances as they existed at the time of trial, DiAnn has not demonstrated that the court’s orders regarding the parties’ debt to DiAnn’s father exceeded the court’s wide discretion in such matters.
III. Voluntary Underemployment
¶35 Finally, DiAnn argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it found, for purposes of calculating child support and alimony, that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. Specifically, DiAnn asserts that because Ben took a job in Florida that paid him less than what he had been making in St. George, the court should have concluded that Ben is voluntarily underemployed and should have calculated child support and alimony based on Ben’s previous St. George salary.
¶36 As an initial matter, we note that this entire issue is irrelevant to the alimony computation, given our determination (discussed above) that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in making its alimony award. Even using Ben’s Florida salary for purposes of computing Ben’s income, the trial court found that Ben had the financial ability to make up 100% of the difference between DiAnn’s income and her reasonable needs. See supra ¶¶ 19, 23–24. Thus, even if we were to agree with DiAnn that Ben was voluntarily underemployed and that the trial court should have used his St. George salary in computing his income, DiAnn’s alimony award would not change. But because the issue could still matter to the child support calculation, we proceed to address the merits of DiAnn’s challenge to the trial court’s findings regarding voluntary underemployment.
¶37 “A court may impute income to an underemployed spouse.” Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 7, 316 P.3d 455 (quotation simplified). In order to do so, however, the court must determine that the spouse “is voluntarily . . . underemployed.” Id. (quotation simplified). We agree with DiAnn that Ben’s employment actions—in taking a new job in Florida—were voluntary. See id. (“A spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when he or she intentionally chooses of his or her own free will to become unemployed or underemployed.” (quotation simplified)). But DiAnn has not persuasively demonstrated that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that Ben was not underemployed.
¶38 The determination as to whether a party is underemployed requires examination of all the relevant circumstances, and not just whether a party’s salary has recently dropped. Indeed, a party’s “current earnings, as compared to his [or her] historical income, is merely one element in the matrix of factual issues affecting the ultimate finding of whether [a party] is underemployed.” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1026 (Utah Ct. App. 1993); see also Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 65, 402 P.3d 219 (stating that “income imputation shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings as derived from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for persons of similar backgrounds in the community” (quotation simplified)).
¶39 In the present case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Ben was not underemployed. Certainly, Ben’s income is lower in Florida than it was in St. George. And a drop in income can be an important factor in determining that a spouse is underemployed. See, e.g., Arnold v. Arnold, 2008 UT App 17, ¶ 7, 177 P.3d 89. But the mere fact that a spouse’s income has fallen does not necessarily mandate a finding of underemployment. In the present case, the court was presented with ample evidence to support its determination that Ben— despite his lower salary—was not underemployed. Ben had not left his profession—he was employed as a neurosurgeon in St. George, and he was employed as a neurosurgeon in Florida. And even in Florida, Ben still made a lot of money; indeed, Ben’s expert testified that Ben’s Florida salary—nearly $1 million per year— was above the 90th percentile for neurosurgeons nationwide, not just for doctors. The trial court also credited Ben’s testimony that the work schedule he had been maintaining in St. George was not sustainable, and that he was “over-worked and burnt out.” And in Florida, Ben was still working 50 to 60 hours per week, up to half again as much as a typical full-time job. All of this evidence supports the court’s finding that Ben was not underemployed, voluntarily or otherwise.
¶40 Under these circumstances, we cannot say the court abused its discretion in finding that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. While the court’s determination was perhaps not the only permissible one under the circumstances, it is “entitled to a presumption of validity,” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified), was supported by competent evidence, and did not constitute an abuse of discretion.
¶41 We perceive no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in its alimony award, its division of marital debts, or its determination that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. On that basis, we reject DiAnn’s appellate challenges.
JUDGE RYAN D. TENNEY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and JILL M. POHLMAN concurred.
¶1 Under the Utah Code, there are ten “[g]rounds for divorce,” one of which is “adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-1(3)(b) (LexisNexis 2019). Interpreting this provision, our supreme court has held that evidence of adultery “subsequent to the filing of a divorce complaint is inadmissible for the purpose of establishing grounds for divorce,” though it can be “admissible as lending weight to and corroborating testimony as to prior acts” of infidelity. Vrontikis v. Vrontikis, 358 P.2d 632, 632 (Utah 1961).
¶2 When Jill Nix filed for divorce from Roland Nix Jr., she alleged “adultery committed by Roland during the marriage” as one of “the grounds for dissolution of this marriage.” During his subsequent deposition, Roland declined to answer a question from Jill’s attorney about whether he’d had extramarital sexual relations “since the marriage.” The district court later concluded that this non-response constituted an adoptive admission that Roland had committed adultery before Jill filed for divorce. Based on this conclusion, the court awarded Jill a divorce on the ground of adultery.
¶3 Roland now appeals that decision. As explained below, we agree that Roland’s non-response did not provide sufficient evidence to establish that Roland committed adultery before Jill filed her divorce petition. We accordingly reverse.
¶4 Jill filed for divorce from Roland in August 2017. In her petition, Jill asserted two “grounds for dissolution of [the] marriage,” one of which was “adultery committed by Roland during the marriage.” Jill also asserted cruelty as an alternative ground for divorce. But that alternative ground was not further litigated below, the district court never ruled on it, and neither party has raised any issue about it on appeal.
¶5 In his answer, Roland “denie[d]” Jill’s “[g]rounds.” But Roland did not want the marriage to continue, so he counter-petitioned for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences.
¶6 Roland was later deposed. During his deposition, the following exchange occurred between Jill’s counsel, Roland, and Roland’s counsel:
[Jill’s counsel:] Have you had any sexual relations with someone other than Jill since the marriage?
[Roland:] It is none of your business.
[Jill’s counsel:] Counsel I am entitled to know.
[Roland’s counsel:] I question the relevance. I don’t think that adultery or anything has been alleged in the pleadings.
. . . .
[Roland:] We are separated and that is none of their business.
. . . . [brief break taken by the parties]
[Jill’s counsel:] We left on the question of adultery. Mr. Nix what is your response?
After another objection and then more discussion between counsel, Roland made a somewhat vague reference to a woman with whom he’d apparently had some type of relationship. A short time later, Roland was asked, “And have you engaged in sexual relations with this person?” Roland answered, “Yes.”
¶7 Roland and Jill eventually settled most aspects of their divorce. But when they weren’t able to agree on the ground for divorce, Jill’s counsel requested a trial on that issue. At a scheduling conference, however, the parties and the court agreed on an alternative procedure under which the parties would submit memoranda about the ground for divorce, after which the court would hear oral argument on the matter.
¶8 In her memorandum, Jill pointed to Roland’s non-response to the deposition question of whether he’d “had any sexual relations with someone other than Jill since the marriage.” From this, Jill asked the court to draw “an adverse inference” that Roland had “committed adultery subsequent to the marriage.” In addition, Jill pointed to Roland’s express admission that he’d “engaged in sexual relations with this person.”
¶9 In his responsive memorandum, Roland asked the court to deny Jill’s request for an adultery-based divorce. Roland asserted that under Vrontikis v. Vrontikis, 358 P.2d 632 (Utah 1961), any adultery that he had committed after Jill filed for divorce could not constitute a ground for divorce. And Roland then argued that Jill had offered no evidence that he had “committed adultery prior to her filing for divorce.”
¶10 After briefing and then a hearing, the district court issued a written decision. There, the court agreed that under Vrontikis, “adulterous conduct subsequent to a divorce petition does not constitute fault,” but that “evidence of such conduct can be used to lend weight” to other evidence that the party had “committed adultery prior to the divorce petition.” (Emphases omitted.) The court then concluded that although Roland had expressly admitted to adultery in his deposition, this express admission had only been to “adultery subsequent to the divorce petition, but prior to divorce finalization.”
¶11 Given its understanding of Vrontikis, the court next considered whether there was any evidence of pre-filing adultery. The court concluded that there was. In the court’s view, Roland’s non-response to the deposition question about whether he’d had sexual relations “since the marriage” qualified as an adoptive admission under rule 801(d)(2)(B) of the Utah Rules of Evidence. Notably, the court not only regarded this as proof “that Roland did commit adultery,” but also as proof “that Roland’s adultery caused the divorce,” i.e., proof that the adultery happened pre-filing. Thus, the court concluded that even if “Roland’s express admission [was] not, stand[ing] alone, a grounds for fault, the adoptive admission satisfie[d] Jill’s burden to show that Roland’s adultery caused the divorce.” Based on this, the court later “awarded Jill a decree of divorce on the grounds of adultery.”
¶12 Roland subsequently filed a motion under rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure “for [a] new trial or for an alteration of judgment on the issue of grounds for divorce.” Roland challenged the district court’s ruling on several fronts, including procedural fairness, incorrect application of the adoptive admission standard, and insufficiency of the evidence. After Jill opposed the motion, the court denied it. Roland timely appealed.
ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶13 Roland challenges the district court’s denial of his rule 59 motion. As he did below, Roland assails this ruling for several reasons. We need address only one of them: Roland’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s determination that he committed adultery before Jill filed for divorce.
¶14 A district court ordinarily has “some discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a new trial.” Hansen v. Stewart, 761 P.2d 14, 17 (Utah 1988). But because Roland’s “challenge rests on a claim of insufficiency of the evidence, we will reverse only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict.” In re Estate of Anderson, 2016 UT App 179, ¶ 7, 381 P.3d 1179 (quotation simplified); accord Hansen, 761 P.2d at 17.
¶15 The district court determined that Roland had committed adultery before Jill filed for divorce. It based this determination on Roland’s non-response to a question about this subject in his deposition, which the court regarded as an adoptive admission of pre-filing adultery.
¶16 On appeal, Roland first argues that the district court erred in concluding that his non-response qualified as an adoptive admission. But we need not decide whether this was so. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the non-response did qualify as an adoptive admission, the court was still required to point to some evidence that Roland had committed adultery before Jill filed for divorce. See Vrontikis v. Vrontikis, 358 P.2d 632, 632 (Utah 1961) (holding that evidence of adultery “subsequent to the filing of a divorce complaint is inadmissible for the purpose of establishing grounds for divorce,” though it can be “admissible as lending weight to and corroborating testimony as to prior acts” of infidelity).
¶17 Roland argues that there was no such evidence. Of note, Roland points out that, in the deposition exchange at issue, he “was never specifically asked whether he had had sexual relations with someone other than Jill since the marriage, but prior to the filing of the petition for divorce.” Having reviewed the portion of the deposition that is in the record, we agree. While Jill’s counsel asked Roland whether he had engaged in extramarital sexual relations, Jill’s counsel never asked Roland when he had done so. As a result, with respect to the critical issue of timing, the question and non-answer that supported the court’s adoptive-admission determination were silent.
¶18 Jill nevertheless points to Roland’s express admission of adultery. But on this, the district court only found that Roland had expressly admitted to post–filing adultery, and Jill has not challenged the court’s temporal limitation of its own finding on appeal. In any event, we’ve reviewed the exchange ourselves. We see nothing in it in which Roland said that his extramarital conduct was limited to post-filing behavior, but we also see nothing in it in which he admitted to any pre-filing conduct. Instead, as with the (alleged) adoptive admission, the timing of Roland’s behavior simply never came up.
¶19 This same defect exists with respect to the small amount of other evidence that Jill provided below to inferentially support her claims about Roland’s adultery. For example, Jill provided the court with a check that Roland had given her for alimony. This check was embossed with a picture of Roland and another woman, and in the identification block in the upper corner, it identified the other woman’s last name as “Nix.” Even accepting Jill’s contention that this could inferentially show that there was a sexual relationship between Roland and the other woman, what matters here is that the check was dated September 2019—which was after Jill had filed for divorce.
¶20 This leaves us with Jill’s final argument, which is to rely heavily on the favorable standard of review. Because Roland challenges the district court’s ruling on sufficiency grounds, we’re required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court’s determination. But Roland’s argument presents us with a “no evidence” challenge—i.e., he argues that “even with the evidence in the record, nothing would demonstrate that . . . Roland committed adultery prior to the filing of the Petition for Divorce.” And to defeat such a claim, Jill “need only point to a scintilla of credible evidence from the record that supports the finding of fact in order to overcome [Roland’s] ‘no evidence’ assertion.” Wilson Supply, Inc. v. Fraden Mfg. Corp., 2002 UT 94, ¶ 22, 54 P.3d 1177.
¶21 She hasn’t. Even on such a review, there must be some evidence to support the determination in question. As we have explained in another context, a “reviewing court will stretch the evidentiary fabric as far as it will go,” but “this does not mean that the court can take a speculative leap across a remaining gap in order to sustain a verdict.” State v. Pullman, 2013 UT App 168, ¶ 14, 306 P.3d 827 (quotation simplified). Here, the evidence demonstrates that Roland engaged in sexual activity with another woman before his divorce was finalized. After all, he expressly admitted as much. But Vrontikis requires evidence of adultery at a particular time—namely, before the petitioner filed for divorce. Jill points to no evidence, and we see none, that even inferentially says anything about when Roland engaged in extramarital sexual activity. Without such evidence, the district court’s finding that Roland had engaged in pre-filing extramarital sexual relations cannot stand. We accordingly reverse for insufficient evidence.
¶22 There was insufficient evidence to support the district court’s determination that Roland committed adultery before Jill filed for divorce. We accordingly reverse that decision and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
 Because the parties share the same last name, we’ll follow our normal practice and refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality. Also, for purposes of consistency and readability, we’ll use the parties’ first names (and corresponding pronouns) when quoting references to them from the record or the briefing, and we’ll do so without using brackets to note any such alterations.
 We note that Roland did not actually draw this chronological line in the portion of the deposition in which he made his express admission. But neither party has challenged the court’s determination that the express admission was only to post-filing adulterous conduct.
 Our determination leaves a potential wrinkle about what should happen next. At the close of his brief, Roland asks us to not only reverse on insufficiency grounds, but also to “alter the Ruling” ourselves to grant him a divorce on “the grounds of irreconcilable differences.” Roland provides us with no authority that establishes our ability to modify an order in this manner, however, so this request is inadequately briefed. Moreover, Jill petitioned for divorce on an alternative ground, but neither party on appeal has competently briefed the question of whether Jill would be entitled to continue litigating that ground if we reverse the district court’s adultery-based decree. Without such briefing, we decline to decide the question in the first instance.
 Jill has asked for her attorney fees on appeal. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(9). Because she is not the prevailing party in this appeal, we deny her request.
JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN
FORSTER concurred. HAGEN, Judge:
¶1 During their thirty-four years of marriage, Dean and Janice Erickson acquired substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business. But, in anticipation of their divorce, Janice engaged in an intentional scheme to dissipate those assets and devalue the marital estate. Solely because of Janice’s misconduct, the district court appointed a receiver, ordered a valuation of the couple’s business, and sanctioned Janice with the obligation to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs.
¶2 Janice now contends that the court erred when it failed to deduct her personal goodwill when calculating the value of the couple’s business, excluded her rebuttal expert on valuation, and imposed sanctions against her that were greater than the injury her misconduct caused Dean. We affirm on the first two issues and remand on the third.
¶3 Dean filed for divorce from Janice in early 2017. The couple’s marital estate consisted of substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business, Meds for Vets, LLC (Meds). Meds “is a pharmaceutical compounding business with many employees.” The company “does the majority of its business online through its website” and sells “to customers throughout the country.” At the time of the divorce, Meds employed three pharmacists who held the necessary licenses to conduct the business. Janice was one of those pharmacists and held “the majority of the licenses.” Janice also functioned “as the sole manager and chief executive officer of Meds.”
¶4 Around the time Dean filed for divorce, Janice entered into a series of fake business contracts with a friend for the purpose of dissipating marital assets. Dean moved the court for a temporary restraining order, asking the court to appoint a receiver for Meds. The court denied the temporary restraining order but appointed a receiver for Meds in an effort “to prevent further irreparable injury/harm to the marital estate through waste/dissipation of marital assets.” At the recommendation of the receiver, Janice was allowed to continue her role in the company due to her “familiarity with the industry, regulatory environment and existing relationship with the customer base . . . so as to not disrupt [Meds’] operations and employees.”
¶5 In addition to the oversight of Meds, the receiver had authority to conduct an “investigation concerning whether and how the joint marital assets . . . were used or misused and how to effectively separate the parties and their marital estate in all business regards.” In its final report to the court, the receiver concluded that Janice had dissipated known marital assets totaling $2,247,274. Janice accomplished that feat, in part, by unilaterally entering into a fraudulent “business relationship which resulted in a substantial and ongoing dissipation of marital assets.”
¶6 The receiver was also charged with “perform[ing] a valuation of the normalized operation of Meds.” The final report included a business valuation placing Meds’ value at $1,560,000. The valuation report explained the different factors considered, including “whether or not the enterprise has goodwill or other intangible value.” Ultimately, the valuation did not include any amounts associated with goodwill.
¶7 The court scheduled a trial on December 2, 2019, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, to determine the final division of the marital estate. The pretrial disclosure deadline was set for November 4, but Janice moved to extend the deadline. The court granted her motion, extending the deadline to Tuesday, November 26 at 5:00 p.m.
¶8 Just before 5:00 p.m. on November 26, Janice filed a disclosure that identified a valuation expert she intended to call as a rebuttal witness. But she did not serve the disclosure on Dean’s attorney until after the deadline had passed. In addition, she did not provide the expert’s report to Dean’s attorney until the afternoon of Wednesday, November 27—the day before Thanksgiving and less than five days before trial.
¶9 On the first day of trial, Janice asked to call her valuation rebuttal expert as the first witness because it was the only day he was available to testify. Dean objected to the admission of the expert’s testimony because it was untimely disclosed, giving Dean insufficient time to prepare. The court allowed Janice to call the expert out of order and reserved its ruling on Dean’s objection until after the expert testified. During his testimony, the expert opined that the receiver’s valuation had overstated Meds’ value as an ongoing business by improperly considering Janice’s personal goodwill.
¶10 The court ultimately excluded the expert’s testimony based on Janice’s untimely disclosure. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4) (“If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.”) The expert had testified that it had taken him only a few weeks to prepare his report, but that Janice had not hired him until shortly before trial. Accordingly, the court found that Janice “had ample opportunity to seek an independent valuation of the marital businesses at her own expense” and noted that it had “addressed this issue with [Janice] several times.” The court further found that Dean had an “understandable inability to be able to fully address [that information] in the limited time that remained prior to trial.”
¶11 The court alternatively ruled that even if it had not excluded Janice’s valuation rebuttal expert as untimely, his testimony was unpersuasive. The court rejected the expert’s opinion, based on Janice’s own representations, that Meds’ value was dependent on Janice’s personal goodwill. The court noted that Utah case law generally associates personal goodwill with “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person” and that such businesses are not “comparable to the situation here with [Meds].” The court also found that it had “not been provided any evidence from which [it could] draw a conclusion that [Janice’s] presence at [Meds], given the point to which its grown, is essential for that business to continue, given the number of employees and the extent of the operations that it has.”
¶12 After trial, the court entered a supplemental decree regarding the division of marital assets. The court “affirm[ed] and accept[ed] all recommendations, valuations, findings, and conclusions contained” in the receiver’s reports, unless the decree stated otherwise, “and incorporate[d] them by reference” into the decree, including the receiver’s $1,560,000 valuation of Meds.
¶13 Due to Janice’s “intentional efforts to dissipate marital assets,” the court also assigned the cost of the receivership and Dean’s attorney fees to Janice as a sanction for contempt and other misconduct. The court found that Janice’s behavior was sanctionable because she “engaged in substantial dissipation of marital assets” that was, “in some cases, in direct violation of this Court’s orders.” Indeed, “the approximately $2.5 million [she] dissipated . . . was one of the largest, if not the largest, blatant dissipation of marital assets the Court ha[d] ever seen.”
¶14 With respect to Dean’s legal fees, the court found that Janice’s contemptuous conduct forced Dean to incur “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [was] required to address the dissipation issues in this case” because of Janice. The court found that it was therefore appropriate and equitable to assign all Dean’s attorney fees to Janice because “[t]he lion’s share of [Dean’s] legal costs were incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice] in this case.”
¶15 More than three months after trial, Janice filed a motion for new trial pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that there was irregularity in the trial proceedings, that there was insufficient evidence to support the valuation of Meds, and that the court erred in awarding Dean attorney fees. The court dismissed that motion as untimely without reaching the merits.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶16 Janice now appeals, raising three issues. First, she contends the district court erred in the value it assigned to Meds because it failed to exclude the value of her personal goodwill. A district court is “entitled to a presumption of validity in its assessment and evaluation of evidence, and we defer to the district court’s findings of fact related to property valuation and distribution unless they are clearly erroneous.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 10, 440 P.3d 757 (cleaned up).
¶17 Second, she contends the court erred in excluding her valuation rebuttal expert as a sanction for untimely disclosure. “We review a district court’s decision [to impose] sanctions under rule 26(d)(4) for an abuse of discretion.” Segota v. Young 180 Co., 2020 UT App 105, ¶ 10, 470 P.3d 479 (cleaned up). We will find abuse of discretion where there exists an erroneous conclusion of law or “where there is no evidentiary basis for the trial court’s ruling.” Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 15, 438 P.3d 25 (cleaned up), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.
¶18 Third, she contends that the court erred when it ordered her to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs, rather than limiting the award to the amounts caused by her sanctionable conduct. “Both the decision to award attorney fees and the amount of such fees are within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 86, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up).
I. The Valuation of Meds
¶19 In her challenge to the district court’s valuation of Meds, Janice argues that the court failed to consider the value of her personal goodwill. “When valuing a business in marriage dissolution cases, district courts must consider whether goodwill is institutional or personal to one spouse.” See Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15, 440 P.3d 757. Goodwill is personal when the business “is dependent for its existence upon the individual who conducts the enterprise and would vanish were the individual to die, retire or quit work.” Stevens v. Stevens, 754 P.2d 952, 956 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). Personal goodwill is based on an individual’s “reputation for competency.” Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15. And unlike institutional goodwill, personal goodwill is not subject to distribution in the marital estate. Id.
¶20 Janice contends that the district court erred as a matter of law by failing to consider whether the value of the business depended on goodwill that was personal to her and thus not divisible. We disagree. The district court did consider goodwill in valuing the business, but specifically found that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Unless the court clearly erred, we presume this assessment is valid and we defer to its findings. See id. ¶ 10.
¶21 In finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds, the court rejected Janice’s contention that Meds was comparable to a sole proprietorship and that her “personal goodwill, as opposed to entity or enterprise goodwill,” should have been excluded in valuing the company. The court concluded that Meds was unlike “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person”—where the value of the company rests primarily on the work and professional reputation developed by the proprietor—“given the number of [Meds] employees and the extent of its operations.”
¶22 On appeal, Janice claims that the court failed to consider the personal goodwill engendered by her own “management and licensure role” in Meds. Before the receiver’s appointment, Janice “had acted as sole manager and chief executive officer of the company,” but there was no evidence to suggest that placing someone else in that role would diminish the value of the company. Indeed, the court specifically found that it had not been “provided any evidence from which [it could] draw the conclusion that her presence at the business, given the point to which it’s grown, is essential for that business to continue given the number of employees and the extent of operations it has.” Janice has not demonstrated that those findings were clearly erroneous.
¶23 As evidence of her personal goodwill, Janice cites the receiver’s report that some Meds employees “attributed the company’s declining revenue, in part, to [Janice] being distracted by the divorce.” But the decline in Meds’ revenue during this period does not suggest that the company’s value was dependent on Janice being in a management role. To the contrary, the court found that Janice’s continued involvement was detrimental because she “continue[d] to take steps to harm and devalue” Meds, even after the appointment of the receiver. In other words, Meds’ declining revenue during that time was caused not by Janice’s inattention to her management role, but by her deliberate efforts to devalue the company.
¶24 Janice also points to the fact that the company used her licenses to operate in multiple states. The court found, however, that Meds holds the necessary pharmacy licenses among three pharmacists. And there was no evidence that Janice’s licenses could not be obtained by the other pharmacists already on staff or that Meds could not hire a replacement pharmacist with those licenses. Thus, the fact that some licenses were historically held by Janice does not undermine the court’s finding that the value of Meds as an ongoing business did not depend on Janice’s involvement.
¶25 In sum, the record shows that the court considered and rejected Janice’s contention that her personal goodwill was included in the valuation of the business, and Janice has not shown that those findings were clearly erroneous. Therefore, there is no basis on which to disturb the court’s valuation of Meds.
II. Excluding Janice’s Rebuttal Expert
¶26 Next, Janice challenges the court’s ruling excluding her valuation rebuttal expert based on her untimely disclosure. Expert disclosures are governed by rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that rule, proper disclosure of an expert witness requires the timely disclosure of “(i) the expert’s name and qualifications, . . . (ii) a brief summary of the opinions to which the witness is expected to testify, (iii) the facts, data, and other information specific to the case that will be relied upon by the witness in forming those opinions, and (iv) the compensation to be paid for the witness’s study and testimony.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(A). “If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.” Id. R. 26(d)(4). “Thus, Utah law mandates that a trial court exclude an expert witness disclosed after expiration of the established deadline unless the district court, in its discretion, determines that good cause excuses tardiness or that the failure to disclose was harmless.” Solis v. Burningham Enters. Inc., 2015 UT App 11, ¶ 21, 342 P.3d 812 (cleaned up); see alsoArreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 22, 438 P.3d 25 (“[I]f a party fails to disclose or supplement a discovery response, the evidence or testimony may not be used.”), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.
¶27 Janice does not dispute that the disclosure of her valuation expert and his report was untimely. The question is whether Janice established an exception to the otherwise mandatory sanction of exclusion under rule 26(d)(4). We conclude that the district court did not exceed its discretion in rejecting Janice’s claim that her untimely expert disclosure was either harmless or justified.
¶28 First, the record amply supports the court’s conclusion that the untimely expert disclosure was not harmless. The court enlarged Janice’s time to serve her disclosures, extending her deadline from November 4 to November 26 at 5:00 p.m.—a mere six days before trial. On November 26, “shortly before 5:00 p.m.” Janice filed her expert disclosure with the court, but she did not serve that disclosure on Dean’s counsel until after the 5:00 p.m. deadline. Moreover, she did not serve the expert report until the following afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving. The timing left only the holiday weekend for Dean’s counsel to review the expert report and prepare to meet that testimony before the trial began on Monday. On the first day of trial, Janice called her rebuttal expert witness out of order, depriving Dean of any additional time he might have had to prepare during the course of the trial. The purpose of rule 26 is to eliminate unfair surprise and provide the opposing party with a reasonable opportunity to prepare for trial. Drew v. Lee, 2011 UT 15, ¶ 28, 250 P.3d 48. Here, the late disclosure deprived Dean of a reasonable opportunity to prepare to rebut the newly disclosed expert’s testimony. Under these circumstances, the district court acted well within its discretion in concluding that the late disclosure was not harmless.
¶29 Second, the record also supports the court’s determination that Janice had no good reason to delay disclosing her expert and his report. The court found that it gave Janice “months” to “call an expert to dispute the valuation that was done by the court-appointed receiver,” yet she waited until “a couple weeks” before trial to hire her valuation rebuttal expert. Moreover, the court found that Janice’s excuse for not hiring an expert—that she was waiting because she wanted the marital estate to pay for the expert—“carrie[d] no water with [the court]” because the court had made clear, at least since the previous August, that Janice had to pay for her own rebuttal valuation expert. Under these circumstances, the district court did not exceed its discretion in finding that the delay was unjustified.
¶30 We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Janice’s untimely disclosure was neither excused for good cause nor harmless to Dean. Therefore, the district court correctly applied the automatic sanction dictated by rule 26(d)(4) and excluded the expert’s testimony.
III. Sanction of Attorney Fees and Costs
¶31 On appeal, Janice does not challenge the court’s finding that she engaged in sanctionable conduct and acknowledges that “the bulk of the court’s award of fees and allocation of costs were within the court’s authority.” Instead, she argues that the award was excessive because it included some attorney fees and costs not attributable to her sanctionable conduct. Because we cannot determine whether the attorney fees award exceeded the costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct, we remand to the district court for further proceedings.
¶32 “[W]hen a court imposes an award of fees or costs as a sanction, its award must be limited to the amount actually incurred by the other party” as a result of the sanctionable conduct. Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 36, 299 P.3d 1079. In Goggin, the district court awarded the former wife all her attorney fees and costs after finding that they were “largely due to [her former husband’s] untoward and contemptuous behavior.” See id. ¶ 38 (cleaned up). Our supreme court reasoned that “this language implies that [the former wife] may have been awarded at least some attorney fees and out-of-pocket costs that were not caused by [the former husband’s] contemptuous behavior.” Id. (cleaned up). The supreme court therefore held that the district court had exceeded its discretion by awarding costs and fees in excess of the amount attributed to the sanctionable conduct. Id.
¶33 Here, it is not clear whether the district court limited the award to the fees and costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. In assigning the entire cost of Dean’s attorney fees and expenses to Janice, the court found that Dean had incurred “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [had been] required to address the dissipation issues in this case.” Yet the court also found that Dean’s legal fees and costs “incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice]” merely constituted the “lion’s share” of Dean’s legal fees. Like the district court’s use of the term “largely” in Goggin, the use of the term “lion’s share” here suggests that a portion of Dean’s fees and costs were not the direct result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. To the extent that the attorney fees award included such additional costs, it exceeded the district court’s discretion.
¶34 Accordingly, we vacate the attorney fee award and remand for further proceedings. On remand, the district court should either make findings to support the determination that all Dean’s legal expenses were caused by Janice’s sanctionable conduct or modify the award to exclude any amounts not caused by that conduct.
¶35 Janice has not shown that the court failed to consider goodwill in valuing the business or that it clearly erred in finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Nor has she shown that the court exceeded its discretion in determining that her untimely expert disclosure was not harmless or justified. However, to the extent that the attorney fees award exceeded the costs Janice’s sanctionable conduct caused Dean to incur, the court exceeded its discretion in granting that award. Therefore, we remand for further proceedings on that issue consistent with this opinion.
 As is our practice when parties share the same last name, we refer to each by their first names, intending no disrespect to either party.
 “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard, and we present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Nakkina v. Mahanthi, 2021 UT App 111, n.2, 496 P.3d 1173 (cleaned up).
 Janice also argues that there was “[i]rregularity in the proceedings” because the receiver “hire[d] a business valuator who is . . . a partner with the receiver at the [same] firm.” But this issue was not preserved. See Brookside Mobile Home Park, Ltd. v. Peebles, 2002 UT 48, ¶ 14, 48 P.3d 968 (explaining that for an issue to be preserved “(1) the issue must be raised in a timely fashion; (2) the issue must be specifically raised; and (3) a party must introduce supporting evidence or relevant legal authority” (cleaned up)). Janice did not challenge this alleged irregularity below. It appears that Janice may have attempted to raise the issue in a motion pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, see Utah R. Civ. P. 59(a)–(a)(1) (providing that “a new trial may be granted to any party on any issue” because of “irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury or opposing party, or any order of the court, or abuse of discretion by which a party was prevented from having a fair trial”), but the district court properly refused to consider that motion as untimely, and the issue is therefore unpreserved for appeal, see Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 30, 163 P.3d 615 (holding that an issue raised in an untimely posttrial motion was not preserved for appellate review where district court “properly refused to address the” untimely motion).
 Dean argues that even if the district court awarded attorney fees and costs not attributable to Janice’s contemptuous behavior, that error was harmless because a mathematical error resulted in Janice not paying the intended award. If the district court determines that “a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission” has occurred, the court may correct the mistake on remand. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(a).
 “Although [Dean] requests attorney fees on appeal, because the trial court awarded [him] attorney fees only as a sanction for [Janice’s] conduct during litigation, we deny that request.” Liston v. Liston, 2011 UT App 433, ¶ 27, n.6, 269 P.3d 169.
v. RACHEL HINDS-HOLM,
Filed January 27, 2022
Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable James T. Blanch
Theodore R. Weckel, Attorney for Appellant
Jonathan G. Winn, Attorney for Appellee
JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN D. TENNEY concurred.
¶1 Bradley Hinds (Father) and Rachel Hinds-Holm (Mother) married and had a son (Child). After the parties divorced, the district court awarded custody of Child to Father. Mother challenges the court’s discretion in weighing the statutory custody factors and the court’s denial of her motion to continue the trial. We affirm.
¶2 Father and Mother married in May 2015. Within a few weeks of the wedding, they experienced marital difficulties, and Mother left the family home. But after discovering Mother was pregnant, the parties reconciled, and Child was born in February 2016.
¶3 Father, who was in the military, was transferred to New Mexico, where Mother and Child joined him. For a period of about fifteen months, Mother and Father shared the parental duties of raising Child. However, Father contended that Mother interfered in his relationship with Child by not including him in medical decisions, not supporting his family’s relationship with Child, and giving contact with her mother (Grandmother) priority over his involvement with Child.
¶4 In June 2017, Father reported an incident of domestic violence. Father alleged “that he was physically assaulted by [Mother] and [Grandmother] resulting in a bruise on his arm, that he called the police, that base personnel intervened, and that the incident was investigated as domestic violence perpetrated by [Mother].” Mother claimed that “she was yelled at and verbally abused by [Father] during that episode.” While the report from the military labeled Mother as the perpetrator, it determined that the incident “did not meet the criteria for physical maltreatment and entry into” the military’s database. (Cleaned up.)
¶5 Mother then left New Mexico with Child to live with Grandmother in Utah. Thereafter, Father had difficulty reaching Mother and was unable to have contact with Child until September 2017, shortly after he filed for divorce in Salt Lake City, Utah. Under a temporary custody agreement reached by the parties and approved by the court, Mother was awarded sole physical custody, and the parties shared joint legal custody. Pursuant to this arrangement, “[t]he parties were ordered to cooperate with each other in terms of making decisions about the minor child, his health care, his education, and other decisions relating to the parties’ joint exercise of legal custody.”
¶6 However, on at least two occasions, Mother “declined to follow either something she and [Father] agreed to or something she was ordered to do by” the court commissioner. In December 2017, Father filed for an order to show cause in which he raised multiple issues regarding payment of certain expenses and Mother’s failure to follow court orders about joint custody arrangements.
¶7 In early April 2018, the parties attended mediation but were unable to reach an agreement. About a week later, Mother’s first attorney withdrew “as a result of [Mother’s] conduct that appear[ed] to be in bad faith.”
¶8 Mother hired a second attorney, and the parties attended a hearing on Father’s first motion for an order to show cause in May 2018. The court commissioner ruled in Father’s favor, ordering Mother to, among other things, involve Father in daycare and medical decisions regarding Child and to follow parent-time orders.
¶9 In September 2018, the commissioner ruled in Father’s favor on a second motion for an order to show cause, which also concerned matters of parent-time and shared expenses. In that order, the commissioner warned Mother about the consequences of future violations: “The Court admonishes [Mother] that if a third Order to Show Cause is raised before the Court for her inability to facilitate [Father’s] ordered parent-time, the Court will sentence [Mother] to five days of jail for every count of contempt for parent-time which is missed.” The commissioner also ordered Mother to respond to all discovery requests.
¶10 In September 2018, Mother’s second attorney withdrew as counsel. That attorney stated that she was “incredibly frustrated” with Mother and Mother was “acting in bad faith.”
¶11 Later that month, the court ordered that a custody evaluation be conducted by a licensed clinical social worker (Evaluator). The court ordered the parties to “cooperate as reasonably requested by” Evaluator, including participating in appointments and “[s]ubmission of any documents, names of collateral contacts, and other pertinent material for review during the first month of the evaluation process.” Mother did not comply with the evaluation order. Specifically, she (1) did not timely return the completed evaluation agreement; (2) did not timely provide the initial parenting questionnaire; (3) did not fully complete the parenting questionnaire when she did return it; (4) was dismissive concerning the information requested by Evaluator; (5) provided no helpful information by merely answering “yes” or “no” to Evaluator’s questions or by telling Evaluator, “Ask [Father], this is [Father’s] responsibility not mine”; (6) was slow in providing information; and (7) failed to provide Evaluator all the information requested.
¶12 In December 2018, Mother hired a third attorney for the limited purpose of “settling and preparing the final documents.”
¶13 In May 2019, as relevant here, the commissioner certified for trial the determination of physical custody, legal custody, and parent-time. The commissioner also heard Mother’s request to reopen discovery to appoint a rebuttal expert to Evaluator, but the commissioner “declined to rule on it and reserved the issue to be raised by [Mother] before” the judge. Moreover, the commissioner ordered Mother to “complete the outstanding discovery requests,” as the commissioner had ordered in September 2018, and “provide her responses” to Father within twenty-one days. Subsequently, the parties agreed to proceed by informal trial, see Utah R. Jud. Admin. 4-904, and the matter was referred back to the commissioner. A trial was scheduled for September 4, 2019.
¶14 In August 2019, Father filed a third motion for an order to show cause, alleging that Mother was not observing ordered parent-time and had failed to include Father in medical decisions. On August 28, Mother requested that the trial be continued, which the commissioner granted, resulting in a new trial date of November 5. In early September, Mother informed the commissioner that she no longer agreed to the informal trial, and the commissioner recommended that the parties contact the district court for a trial date. Mother’s third attorney withdrew in January 2020.
¶15 After the court scheduled a trial for March 9, Mother hired a fourth attorney on February 11. But he moved for permission to withdraw just fifteen days later, stating, “This withdrawal is done at the request of [Mother], her having knowledge of pending trial date on March 9, 2020. There has been a complete breakdown of attorney-client relationship which makes it impossible for counsel to be provided. [Mother] has indicated that she is planning to represent herself Pro Se at trial.” On February 27, the court entered an order granting the motion, stating that the pending trial of March 9 would not be continued.
¶16 On the morning of trial, Mother, proceeding pro se, informed the court that she had filed a motion to continue on February 26 but that the court clerks informed her that the motion had never been received. She then made an oral motion to continue so that she could retain counsel. The judge noted that Mother’s fourth attorney “represented . . . that [Mother] wanted him to withdraw, that it was at [Mother’s] request that he was withdrawing, . . . that [Mother] understood that the trial would not be continued, and that [Mother] understood that [she] would be representing [herself] at the trial.” Mother responded that when she asked him to withdraw, she thought she would still “be able to have [someone] that would be able to advocate and be there for” her. The court denied the motion.
¶17 At trial, as a threshold matter, the parties agreed that a joint custody arrangement “was not feasible” or in Child’s best interest. Thus, Mother and Father differed only as to which of them should receive sole legal and physical custody. Because the parties lived more than 1,000 miles apart and had an acrimonious relationship, the court determined that joint custody was, indeed, not feasible.
¶18 The court heard testimony from Father, Mother, and Evaluator. Evaluator provided extensive testimony concerning the best interest of Child in light of the statutory factors. Evaluator opined it was in Child’s best interest for Father to be awarded sole legal and physical custody of Child, with Mother receiving parent-time.
¶19 The court was “persuaded” (1) that Evaluator “did a thorough and careful evaluation that included an appropriate analysis of all the pertinent factors” and (2) “by a preponderance of the evidence that [Evaluator’s] expert opinions [were] in the best interests of the minor child in this case.”
¶20 In reaching the conclusion that it was in Child’s best interest that Father be awarded sole legal and physical custody, the court noted that it had not “delegate[d] decision-making responsibility” to Evaluator but had conducted “an independent analysis on the custody factors” set forth in Utah Code section 30-3-10(2) and applied “the evidence presented at trial” to arrive at a determination of Child’s best interest. The court then proceeded to address the custody factors.
¶21 The court found the following factors weighed in favor of Father:
· Domestic violence, see Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10(2)(a) (LexisNexis 2019): Despite the evidence being in dispute, the court determined that this factor weighed in favor of Father based on Father’s resulting injury, military documents listing Mother as the perpetrator, and Evaluator’s investigation into the incident.
· Developmental needs of Child, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(b): Even though both parties unquestionably loved Child, the court reasoned that this factor weighed in favor of Father because evidence was presented that Mother was “not interested in [Child] having an emotional father-son attachment to [Father], and to [the] contrary [had] taken steps to prevent or interfere with such an attachment.” The court noted that there was no evidence that Father “would interfere” with Child’s relationship with Mother. The court concluded that it was “manifestly in [Child’s] best interests to have an emotional bond and supportive parent-child relationship with both parents” and that goal was more likely to be achieved if custody was awarded to Father than if it was awarded to Mother.
· Parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(c): Overall, this factor weighed “very strongly” in favor of Father. The court agreed with Evaluator that if Father “were awarded sole custody, he would cooperate better in terms of facilitating parent-time with [Mother] than she would in facilitating parent-time with him.” The court also found that there had “been a frustrating pattern throughout the pendency of this action of [Mother] agreeing to do things, or being ordered to do things, and then almost immediately refusing to follow through with agreements she made or Court orders she was given.”
· Wishes and concerns of Child, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(p): While Mother tried to portray in her testimony that Child did not like Father, the court expressed concern that any dislike Child had toward Father was “the product of [Mother] instilling negative feelings in the mind of [Child] against [Father].” And given the court’s impression that Mother was attempting to manipulate Child, it found that this factor militated in favor of Father.
· Any other relevant factor, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(r): This factor tilted to Father, the court concluded, because if Father was “awarded sole legal and physical custody, he [would] likely cooperate to the extent necessary to ensure that [Mother had a] bond and relationship with [Child].” “But based on [Mother’s] pattern of behavior throughout this action,” the court found it was “more likely than not that if sole legal and physical custody were to be awarded to [Mother], she would not cooperate to support the parent-child relationship and bond between [Father] and [Child].” And because it was “in [Child’s] best interest to have a bond with both parents, and since joint custody [was] not feasible,” the court found that the best way to ensure Child’s best interests were protected was “by awarding [Father] sole legal and physical custody with [Mother] to enjoy parent-time.”
¶22 The court found the following factors weighed in favor of Mother:
· Child’s interaction and relationship with extended family, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(l): This factor weighed in favor of Mother because Child had a “strong relationship” with Grandmother.
· Parent who has been the primary caretaker, see id. § 30-310(2)(m): This factor weighed in favor of Mother because she had primary custody during temporary orders.
· Child’s bond with parent, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(q): “This factor [did] not strongly militate for or against either parent” but “[t]o the extent that [Mother had] been the primary caretaker under the temporary orders, this factor would likely militate in her favor.”
¶23 The court concluded these factors favored neither party:
· Past conduct and moral character of the parent, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(d): The court noted that while evidence of Mother’s prior criminal convictions was presented, those convictions had, according to Mother, been expunged, and Father had presented no evidence to the contrary. Stating that it would not consider expunged charges, the court determined this factor weighed in neither party’s favor.
· Relinquishment of custody or parent-time, see id. § 30-310(2)(h).
· Duration and depth of desire for custody or parent-time, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(i).
· Religious compatibility with Child, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(j).
· Parent’s financial responsibility, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(k).
· Happiness of Child in previous parenting arrangements, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(n).
¶24 After weighing these factors, the court entered the divorce decree, awarding Father sole legal and physical custody and Mother parent-time as set forth by Utah Code section 30-3-37(6).
¶25 Two days after the trial, Mother’s fifth attorney entered a limited appearance to assist Mother with filing a rule 52 motion to amend the findings of fact and conclusions of law and a rule 59 motion for a new trial. The court denied both motions, ruling Mother raised nothing in them “that she could not have raised earlier” and that they were “impermissible motions to reconsider” lacking “substantive merit.” Mother appeals.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶26 Mother asserts that the district court erred in applying the statutory custody factors and Utah case law when it found that it was in the best interest of Child to award Father full custody. “We review custody determinations under an abuse of discretion standard, giving the district court broad discretion to make custody awards.” Nebeker v. Orton, 2019 UT App 23, ¶ 15, 438 P.3d 1053 (cleaned up). And “we will not disturb the district court’s judgment unless we determine the district court has exceeded the scope of permitted discretion or has acted contrary to law.” Id. (cleaned up).
¶27 Mother also alleges that she was denied the right to a fair trial when the district court denied her motion to continue the trial. “We review a trial court’s decision on a motion to continue for an abuse of discretion.” Vaughan v. Romander, 2015 UT App 244, ¶ 6, 360 P.3d 761. “Indeed, courts have substantial discretion in deciding whether to grant continuances, and their decisions will not be overturned unless that discretion has been clearly abused. Stated differently, a district court’s denial of a motion to continue is an abuse of its discretion only if its decision is clearly unreasonable and arbitrary.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2012 UT App 328, ¶ 19, 292 P.3d 76 (cleaned up).
I. Custody Determination
¶28 Mother first challenges the award of full custody to Father, arguing that the district court misapplied Utah common law in weighing the factors. We disagree with Mother.
¶29 In the context of determining custody, the court analyzes the child’s best interest through the factors found in Utah Code section 30-3-10(2) in light of the evidence. “Generally, it is within the trial court’s discretion to determine, based on the facts before it and within the confines set by the appellate courts, where a particular factor falls within the spectrum of relative importance and to accord each factor its appropriate weight.” Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. The “court’s discretion stems from the reality that in some cases the court must choose one custodian from two excellent parents, and its proximity to the evidence places it in a more advantaged position than an appellate court.” Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1214 (Utah 1996). Thus, a custody determination “may frequently and of necessity require a choice between good and better.” Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 55 (Utah 1982).
¶30 While the district court is accorded discretion in weighing these factors, “it must be guided at all times by the best interests of the child,” see Tucker, 910 P.2d at 1214, and it “must set forth written findings of fact and conclusions of law which specify the reasons for its custody decision,” see id. at 1215. And “[w]henever custody is contested, the district court must provide the necessary supporting factual findings that link the evidence presented at trial to the child’s best interest and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.” K.P.S. v. E.J.P., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 27, 414 P.3d 933.
¶31 Here, the district court clearly operated within the above framework in reaching its custody decision. The court found the evidence supported the conclusion that Father was better able to meet the developmental needs of Child. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10(2)(b) (LexisNexis 2019). Specifically, the court focused its attention on each parent’s relative ability to co-parent Child. It determined that persuasive evidence was presented to show that Mother was “not interested in [Child] having an emotional father-son attachment to [Father], and to [the] contrary [had] taken steps to prevent or interfere with such an attachment.” As evidence of this tendency, the court pointed to Mother’s testimony and closing arguments:
[Mother] went out of her way several times to tell the Court that [Child] did not like to be around [Father], and that [Child] would act up when it was time to transition to [Father]. It was clear from [Mother’s] testimony that she believed it was an appropriate response to such perceptions to interfere with [Father’s] access to [Child], including interfering with his parent time, and that she . . .
believed such interference was appropriate even in the face of court orders if her perception as [Child’s] mother was that . . . she should keep him from [Father].
¶32 The court also noted that Mother regularly referred to Father by his first name when speaking about him to Child rather than referring to him as Child’s father. The court concluded that “[i]t was evident” that Mother’s testimony “was an effort to suggest that this four-year-old child had a preference for her over [Father].” In addition, the court noted that there was “ample evidence” that Mother had “interfered significantly” in Child’s relationship with Father by “a pattern of misbehavior, violating the orders of the court, and not cooperating with the custody evaluation.” In contrast, the court found “there was no evidence” that Father “would interfere” with Child’s relationship with Mother.
¶33 The court observed that if Mother was truly “looking out for the emotional needs” of Child, she “would make efforts to ensure [Child had] a strong emotional bond and parent-child relationship with both parents.” Based on this evidence, the court concluded,
[T]here is a strong reason to believe [Child] can have an appropriate parent-child relationship with [Mother] if custody of [Child] is awarded to [Father]. But there is an equally strong reason to believe that [Mother] will prevent [Child] from having any such relationship with [Father] if custody is awarded to [Mother]. This is apparent from the pattern of intransigence and noncompliance with Court orders, particularly regarding parent time, that [Mother] has demonstrated during the pendency of this action. It is manifestly in [Child’s] best interests to have an emotional bond and supportive parent-child relationship with both parents, and that goal is more likely to be achieved if custody is awarded to [Father] than if custody is awarded to [Mother].
¶34 With regard to each parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent, see id. § 30-3-10(2)(c), the court concluded that this factor overall weighed “very strongly” in favor of Father. As evidence, the court cited the “frustrating pattern throughout the pendency of this action of [Mother] agreeing to do things, or being ordered to do things, and then almost immediately refusing to follow through with agreements she made or Court orders she was given.” This pattern led the court to not being “persuaded that [Mother] would cooperate with [Father] having a parent-child relationship with [Child].” Thus, the court concluded that it was in Child’s best interest for Father to have sole custody because “he would cooperate better in terms of facilitating parent-time with [Mother] than she would in facilitating parent-time with him.”
¶35 One overarching concern of the court in weighing the factors was that it was in the best interest of Child “to live in a situation that maximizes the probability that he will maintain a strong bond and a productive and healthy relationship with both parents.” And “[b]ased on the evidence that was presented at trial,” the court found that if Father was awarded sole legal and physical custody, he would “likely cooperate to the extent necessary to ensure” Mother would have a bond and relationship with Child. But the same could not be said if Mother was awarded sole custody. On the contrary, based on her pattern of behavior, the court found it “more likely than not” that she would not cooperate in fostering a parent-child relationship and bond between Father and Child.
¶36 The court in this case “had to choose between two good parents,” but one of those parents—Mother—had consistently
manifested behavior that suggested she would not support or nurture Child’s relationship with Father. See Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 38, 989 P.2d 491; see also Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1215 (Utah 1996) (“Often, when there are two equally suitable parents, the trial judge may be compelled to base a custody award upon observations of the parents in court, the reactions of the child to each parent, or other factors. A trial court need not find one parent inadequate before awarding custody to the other.”). So even though certain factors weighed slightly in Mother’s favor, see supra ¶ 22, “we must defer to the trial court’s broad discretion and affirm its conclusion that [Child’s] interests would best be served by awarding [Father] primary physical custody,” see Hudema, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 38. In other words, the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that it was in Child’s best interest to live with the parent who would most likely ensure that he would have a strong bond and healthy relationship with both parents and that this goal would best be achieved by awarding Father sole legal and physical custody.
II. Motion to Continue
¶37 Mother next argues that she was denied the right to a fair trial when the district court denied her motion to continue the trial.
¶38 “Courts have substantial discretion in deciding whether to grant continuances, and their decisions will not be overturned unless that discretion has been clearly abused.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2012 UT App 328, ¶ 19, 292 P.3d 76 (cleaned up). Stated another way, “we will conclude that a trial court has abused that discretion only if the decision to grant or deny a continuance is clearly unreasonable and arbitrary.” Vaughan v. Romander, 2015 UT App 244, ¶ 10, 360 P.3d 761 (cleaned up).
¶39 Mother has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying her motion to continue. In no way did the court act unreasonably or arbitrarily in coming to its decision. In Layton City v. Longcrier, 943 P.2d 655 (Utah Ct. App. 1997), this court adopted a five-prong test to determine whether a district court acted reasonably in denying a motion to continue: (1) “whether other continuances have been requested and granted”; (2) “the balanced convenience or inconvenience to the litigants, witnesses, counsel, and the court”; (3) “whether the requested delay is for legitimate reasons, or whether it is dilatory, purposeful, or contrived”; (4) “whether the [requesting party] contributed to the circumstance which gives rise to the request for a continuance”; and (5) “whether denying the continuance will result in identifiable prejudice to [the requesting party’s] case, and if so, whether this prejudice is of a material or substantial nature.” Id. at 659. We address each factor in turn.
¶40 First, Mother had already received one continuance and one extended period of time following her revocation of consent to an informal trial. While the transitory time between the second scheduled informal trial in November and the March trial date did not result from an express continuance, as a functional matter, granting this motion would have effectually resulted in a third continuance; so the first factor supports a determination that the court acted reasonably in denying the motion.
¶41 Second, granting the motion, which was made on the morning of the trial, would have resulted in significant inconvenience. Father had taken time off work and traveled from New Mexico to be present at trial. Evaluator was also present, and Father had paid her for her time. Mother had also been notified of the trial date and was present in court. So apart from her lack of counsel, she faced no inconvenience in proceeding—other than her desire not to.
¶42 Third, Mother had displayed a pattern of dilatory behavior throughout the proceedings, and the court could have reasonably concluded that her request for a continuance was yet another manifestation of this tendency.
¶43 Fourth, Mother’s action of firing her fourth attorney constituted the very circumstance that gave rise to the putative reason (namely, to hire another attorney) for requesting the third continuance.
¶44 Fifth, and most importantly, Mother was not prejudiced by the denial of the motion. Indeed, the court noted that Mother
was well prepared and represented herself quite effectively at trial, despite not ultimately convincing the court to rule in her favor. She had done research into relevant legal and factual issues. She represented herself tenaciously while still following the procedural rules set forth by the court. She cross-examined witnesses, testified, and presented arguments effectively. . . . Overall, the court’s impression of [Mother’s] performance at trial was that she had successfully deployed evidence and argument to present her strongest possible case to the court, albeit not a case that ultimately prevailed. In light of this, and considering that [Mother’s] inability to present an expert witness at trial was due to decisions by [her] prior counsel not to designate an expert and not due to the court’s refusal to grant a continuance, the court [was] hard-pressed to conclude that counsel could have secured a better result for [Mother] at trial than she secured for herself.
Thus, this final factor also supports the conclusion that the district court acted reasonably in denying the motion. See State v. Wallace, 2002 UT App 295, ¶ 37, 55 P.3d 1147 (“Unless a defendant shows that denial of the continuance had a material [e]ffect on the outcome of the trial, thereby demonstrating prejudice, the trial court’s decision would not constitute an abuse of discretion.”).
¶45 Mother had already effectively received two continuances, and granting a third would have disproportionately inconvenienced Father. Moreover, Mother had a pattern of delaying the custody proceedings and had occasioned the need for a third continuance by her own actions. Finally, there is no evidence that Mother would have received a more favorable outcome had the continuance been granted. Under these circumstances, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother’s motion on the morning of the trial.
III. Attorney Fees on Appeal
¶46 Father requests attorney fees incurred pursuant to this appeal. “Generally, when the trial court awards fees in a domestic action to the party who then substantially prevails on appeal, fees will also be awarded to that party on appeal.” Wollsieffer v. Wollsieffer, 2019 UT App 99, ¶ 11, 446 P.3d 84 (cleaned up). But that is not the case here. The court awarded attorney fees below relative to the two orders to show cause, which are not the subject of this appeal. Because Father prevails on separate issues on appeal (namely, the award of custody and the denial of Mother’s motion to continue), he is not entitled to fees incurred on appeal.
¶47 We see no abuse of discretion in the district court’s weighing of the statutory factors in reaching its decision to award custody to Father. We also conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother’s motion to continue. And we decline to award Father attorney fees incurred on appeal. Affirmed.
CANDI WADSWORTH, Appellant, v. GUY L. WADSWORTH, Appellee.
Opinion No. 20190106-CA No. 20200430-CA Filed January 13, 2022
Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Su Chon
Michael D. Zimmerman, Troy L. Booher, and Julie J. Nelson, Attorneys for Appellant
Clark W. Sessions, T. Mickell Jimenez, Marcy G. Glenn, and Kristina R. Van Bockern, Attorneys for Appellee
JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and RYAN D. TENNEYconcurred.
CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:
¶1This appeal arises from the divorce and division of the marital estate belonging to H. Candi Wadsworth and Guy L. Wadsworth. Candi1 challenges various aspects of the district court’s marital property valuation, its decision to defer the payment of her share of the marital estate, its award of alimony, and various other findings and orders. Guy cross-appeals, raising challenges relating to terms of the deferred payment and the alimony award. In a separate appeal, Candi also challenges the district court’s decision not to grant her a security interest in her portion of the marital estate, which she will not receive in full until December 31, 2024. Because that issue is intertwined with various issues raised in the first appeal, we address both appeals in this consolidated opinion.
¶2We remand for the district court to add certain notes receivable to the value of the marital estate, to adjust its alimony award to account for Candi’s tax burden, to clarify its decision on whether security is required for the alimony award, and to grant Candi a security interest in her portion of the marital estate. We otherwise affirm the district court’s decision.
¶3Candi and Guy married in 1979. Guy started Wadsworth Brothers Construction (WBC) in 1991, and over the years, it grew into a multimillion-dollar company. The parties also have interests in numerous other business entities, including two restaurants, a hotel, and various real estate holdings.
¶4In 2009, Candi filed for divorce, suspecting that Guy was involved in an extramarital affair. Guy denied the infidelity, and the couple reconciled. However, a year later, Guy confessed to an affair, and Candi again filed for divorce.
Pre-Divorce Proceedings and Temporary Orders
¶5During the period between these two divorce filings, Guy purchased two restaurants, a plane, a cabin, and a yacht. He did not discuss any of these purchases with Candi, and she learned about them from other people. The yacht cost $2,502,800, but by the time of trial, the yacht was under water—Guy still owed $1,175,399, but the yacht was worth only $790,500.
¶6Without consulting Candi, Guy also assigned fractional shares of various marital entities to the Wadsworth Children’s 2007 Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) in 2009. Although the parties had created the Trust two years before, they had originally funded it with only $10. By the time of trial in 2017, the fractional shares held by the Trust were worth approximately $4 million.
¶7While the divorce was pending, Guy maintained control of the marital estate, apart from $1 million and two interest-generating accounts that he transferred to Candi early in the proceedings. In February 2012, the district court adopted the parties’ stipulation regarding temporary orders (the Stipulation) stating that, on a temporary basis, Guy “shall pay all of the children’s expenses as he has in the past as well as all of [Candi’s] expenses as he has in the past.” Because Guy was paying these expenses, he was not ordered to pay temporary child support or alimony at that time. The Stipulation also addressed the use of marital assets during the pendency of the divorce proceedings:
Based upon the parties’ stipulation, [Guy] shall maintain, in the regular course of business, the management and control of [WBC], as he has in the past.
Based upon the parties’ stipulation, neither party shall sell, gift, transfer, dissipate, encumber, secrete or dispose of marital assets other than in the course of their normal living expenditures, ordinary and necessary business expenses and to pay divorce attorneys and expert fees and costs. [Guy] shall have the right to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.
¶8During the divorce proceedings, Candi asked the court to hold Guy in contempt based on alleged violations of the Stipulation. She asserted that he made numerous financial transactions that violated the Stipulation, including selling his home, buying a new home, selling a hotel, creating a new business entity and loaning it money, investing money in a property development company (FDFM), purchasing a jet to “flip,” and making an “undisclosed sale” of $697,448.72. The court accepted Guy’s and his estate planning attorney’s testimonies that “Guy had a history of setting up different corporate entities for liability protection purposes” and that he “did not create any entity or transfer any asset with the intention of hiding it from Candi.” The court found that “the transactions Candi complains of were consistent with Guy’s historical practice of transferring assets from one entity to another or from one form into another” and that those actions fell within the Stipulation’s condition permitting Guy “to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.” The court also found that “[t]here is no indication that these transactions were out of the ordinary or done with the intent to hide assets.”
¶9In September 2014, Guy sought to modify the Stipulation, explaining that the parties’ last child had reached majority, that he had paid off the mortgage on Candi’s house, and that he had purchased Candi a new vehicle, thereby eliminating many of her expenses. Guy asked the court to modify its order to require him to pay Candi $20,000 per month rather than all her expenses without limit. Following a hearing in January 2015, the court ordered that Guy pay Candi $20,000 per month in temporary alimony. It also ordered that Candi “keep an accounting of how the money is spent if she desires more funds.” During the first month following the order, Candi exceeded the $20,000 budget and “she had to repay Guy for amounts she had previously spent as well as cancel planned travel with the children.” In April 2015, the court issued a written order in which it clarified that Guy should “reimburse” Candi “as to any payments beyond the $20,000” unless he could show it was “an inappropriate or excessive expense.” Candi never requested additional funds from Guy after the court issued the written April 2015 order. She claims this was because she elected to curtail her spending rather than ask Guy for extra money; she maintains that she did not believe he would comply with her requests and she did not want to incur more attorney fees to collect the money. During this period, Guy was spending approximately $60,000 per month.
¶10 Guy represented that Candi continued to have access to the parties’ boats and planes, a cabin, free dining at the restaurants, and a country club and other exclusive resorts for which Guy continued to pay the membership fees. However, to use the planes and boats, Guy expected Candi to pay for the cost of the pilot, captain, and other expenses out of her $20,000 monthly funds. Candi did not do so because she understood the cost to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per trip. Candi also alleged that Guy refused a number of requests she made to use the parties’ shared assets.
Procedural History of the Divorce
¶11 The parties spent more than six years conducting discovery and other pretrial litigation before the matter finally came before the district court for an eight-day bench trial in February 2017. The court held a second four-day trial in May 2017 concerning Candi’s attempt to revoke the Trust. See infra ¶ 25.
¶12 The court issued a Memorandum Decision, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in September 2017 (the 2017 Findings). Subsequently, Candi filed a Motion to Clarify, and both parties also filed Motions to Amend. The court issued an order addressing those motions in May 2018 (the May 2018 Order). In response to that order, both parties filed additional Motions to Amend, which the district court ruled on in a Memorandum Decision and Order in October 2018 (the October 2018 Order). The court then directed Guy to prepare supplemental findings of fact to incorporate the various rulings encapsulated in the May 2018 Order and the October 2018 Order.
¶13 Following the October 2018 Order, Guy filed an Ex Parte Motion for Expedited Entry of Decree of Divorce. Guy pointed out that new federal tax law would change how alimony was taxed for any divorce decrees entered on or after January 1, 2019. Instead of alimony being taxable to the payee spouse and deductible to the payor spouse, alimony would become taxable to the payor and deductible to the payee. Since the trial had occurred and the 2017 Findings had been entered over a year before, “predicated on the application of the existing divorce laws,” Guy asserted that it would be inequitable to enter the divorce decree after December 31, 2018. Although the court indicated that it believed “both parties are to blame” for the delays in finalizing the decree, it ultimately did enter Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (the 2018 Supplemental Findings), as well as the Decree of Divorce, on December 31, 2018.
¶14 The parties then filed a third set of cross-motions to amend the findings and conclusions, and the court held a hearing on those motions in early 2019. The court entered a Memorandum Decision and Order in May 2019, which it subsequently amended in June 2019 (the 2019 Order). The court directed Candi to prepare corrected Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and a Supplemental Decree of Divorce. The court entered the Amended Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (the 2019 Supplemental Findings) and the Amended Decree of Divorce on October 30, 2019.
Expert Valuation of Marital Property
¶15 Both parties hired experts to value the various business entities. Three aspects of that valuation and the district court’s findings are relevant on appeal: notes receivable, WBC’s backlog, and WBC’s equipment.
¶16The balance sheets for three of the entities owned by Guy included in their accounting of liabilities loans that they owed to Guy—Immobiliare II, Ltd. owed Guy $252,861; Five Diamond Hospitality, Inc. owed Guy $706,605; and FDFM owed Guy $100,000. These liabilities were considered in the court’s final calculation of these entities’ value. However, the notes receivable on these loans—which belonged to Guy—were not counted as marital assets.
¶17The court made no mention of the notes receivable in its 2017 Findings. Candi raised this matter in her Motion to Clarify. Candi asked the court to add the value of the notes receivable to the value of the estate. In response, Guy did not assert that the notes had been included but nevertheless resisted their inclusion as part of the marital estate, arguing that Candi had not made the “request at trial and did not enter evidence of where the funds remain and in which entities or whether the funds are being used for business purposes.” The court found that “[t]he parties agree that the Court did not consider the three notes receivable” but observed that “[n]either party points to the record regarding this issue.” The court did not adjust its valuation of the estate based on the notes.
¶18Subsequently, Candi filed her second motion to amend, in which she again raised the matter of the notes receivable, among other things. In the October 2018 Order, the court found that Candi “does not show that those notes were not considered in the company valuations” and that it had “already addressed her argument” in the previous order. Guy was then asked to prepare supplemental findings based on the court’s order, and that version of the findings stated that “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts.”
¶19 As of June 30, 2016, WBC had a backlog of work— construction contracts that had been signed but for which the work had yet to be completed—amounting to an estimated value of approximately $75 million. Guy testified that WBC’s profit margin on such projects was typically between 5% and 7%. Candi’s expert estimated the projected net profit on the backlog to be $3,441,733. Guy’s expert estimated that the projects would realize a gross profit of $4,676,347, but he also opined that the backlog ultimately had “no value” because “the backlog in its current state” was not sufficient to sustain the company and could therefore be expected to start “absorb[ing] cash flow.” Guy also testified that WBC had struggled to make a profit since the recession and had to lay off workers and use capital to continue operating. He testified that WBC had failed to get some large contracts it was hoping for and that its backlog was less than in past years. Another witness, who advises large companies on marketing and selling their businesses, testified that “marketability” and “valuation methodologies” are “all centered around current backlog.” He explained that “in a construction company, they’re only as good as the backlog in front of them.”
¶20 The court found that “the value of the projected backlog profit is $4 million.” However, the court adopted Guy’s expert’s valuation of WBC, which had assigned the backlog no independent value. The parties addressed the inconsistency in their motions to amend. Candi asked the court to adjust the overall valuation of WBC upward by $4 million to reflect its finding that the backlog profit was worth $4 million. Guy asked the court to change its finding that the backlog was worth $4 million to conform to its adoption of his expert’s valuation of the company, which assigned the backlog no value. In its May 2018 Order, the court found that Guy’s expert had “testified the backlog had no value to a potential buyer, and the Court adopted his valuation of WBC.” It also found that the other witness had testified that “any potential purchaser would not purchase the company based on a backlog.” Finally, it found that “Candi did not provide counter-testimony to” the “statements of no value in the backlog.” Accordingly, it concluded that “[t]he evidence supports that the backlog has no value in the valuation of the company” and amended its decision to state that “the backlog has no value.” These amended findings were incorporated into the 2018 Supplemental Findings.
¶21 Both parties hired experts to assess the value of WBC’s equipment. Guy’s expert had worked in the construction industry for twenty-five years and had been an appraiser for Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers for four years. To value the equipment, the expert used “internal standards that [Ritchie Brothers] has developed over time and experience” based on “historical auctions, personal experiences of appraisers, and knowledge of the world’s economic conditions.” Guy’s expert testified that Ritchie Brothers’ “business is derived primarily from stable operators exchanging equipment and updating equipment inventories in the normal course of business,” rather than wholesalers trying to resell and make additional profit, and that “80 percent of [their] sales . . . represent fair market value.” Guy’s expert and his team “personally inspected nearly all the pieces of equipment at issue”; “[t]hey turned on the machines, checked the miles and hours and verified the [vehicle identification numbers].” They appraised 569 items and estimated that “the entire package of equipment . . . would sell at unreserved public auction in the range of $13,890,300.”
¶22 Candi’s expert is a member of the American Society of Appraisers and is an Accredited Senior Appraiser. He conducts appraisals based on the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). He testified that “he evaluated the equipment at the fair market value of a ‘going concern’ business” and that he believed using “auction values” was more appropriate for a business that was trying to liquidate its inventory. Candi’s expert received a list of approximately 400 pieces of equipment with the make, model, description, and serial number. He “did not closely inspect each piece of equipment,” “did not start any of the equipment, did not look at the mileage or hours logged, and did not consider the condition of each piece.” He “took photos of the equipment and researched the values by contacting manufacturers, contractors, and dealers; consulting other sales [online]; and considering his prior appraisals and experience.” Ultimately, Candi’s expert valued the equipment at $22,499,255.
¶23 The court found that the method used by Guy’s expert was “more accurate” and that his team was “more thorough in assessing the individual pieces of equipment.” The court rejected Candi’s assertion that selling equipment at “an auction house has the same connotation as a fire sale,” relying on the expert’s testimony that end users regularly buy heavy construction equipment at auction. It therefore adopted Guy’s expert’s $13,890,300 valuation of the equipment.
¶24Candi argued to the district court that Guy had dissipated marital assets in anticipation of divorce, including spending money on his girlfriend; purchasing the yacht, a jet, and a wine collection; paying attorney fees for the Trust; and transferring money out of the estate into the Trust. Except as to $814,000 Guy spent on his girlfriend, for which it compensated Candi out of the marital estate, the court found that “Guy did not dissipate marital assets.” Although the court found that the legal fees spent on the Trust were not dissipation, it nevertheless allocated half of that value to Candi as part of the marital estate. As to the purchase of the yacht, jet, and wine, the court reasoned that Guy did not dissipate assets by purchasing these items because the items were still in the marital estate, and Candi was awarded half their value. The court also found that “[i]t was Guy’s historical practice to buy planes and boats” and that “[s]ome depreciation of” such assets “is to be expected.” The court rejected Candi’s argument that purchasing a depreciating asset should, as a rule, be considered dissipation. However, the court assigned the negative value on the yacht entirely to Guy, reasoning that he “unilaterally purchased this boat” and limited Candi’s access.
¶25 The parties engaged in extensive litigation regarding the Trust, even going through a separate trial to address the validity of the transfers and to consider Candi’s attempt to revoke the Trust. However, the court ultimately determined that “the Trust was validly created,” that the parties intended for it to be irrevocable, that the creation and funding of the Trust was “in line with the parties’ history of gifting assets to the children as part of their wealth management and estate planning strategy,” that “there is no evidence that Guy was motivated by a desire to divest Candi of marital assets,” and that the transfers were completed before Candi filed for divorce so that the Trust property was not part of the marital estate or subject to division. Accordingly, the court rejected Candi’s argument that Guy’s transfer of assets into the Trust constituted dissipation.
¶26Candi also took issue with Guy’s investment in FDFM, an entity “created to develop land in [North] Dakota when the oil rush was booming.” Although Guy’s interest in FDFM by the time of trial was worth only $734,000, he had invested $1,129,000 into it. Candi asserted that the higher value should be used because Guy did not disclose the investment to her. The district court rejected this argument, explaining that Guy “never consulted with Candi on any business decisions that he made” throughout the marriage, so making business decisions without disclosing them to her was “well within the scope of his historical practices.”
¶27 Candi also complained that Guy had used marital funds to pay his attorney fees and that his spending on fees had not been credited to the marital estate. In examining the funds each party had already received, the court recognized that Candi had received $1,277,500 in marital funds to pay her attorney and expert fees and costs. The court also estimated, based on Guy’s testimony, that Guy had spent approximately $800,000 in attorney and expert fees and costs. The court equalized these amounts in calculating the value of the marital estate.
Division of the Estate and Equalization Payment
¶28The district court found that the total value of the marital estate was $43,886,329.85 and that each party should receive half of that value ($21,943,164.93). The court awarded Candi various liquid assets, real property, vehicles, retirement plans, investments, and other property totaling just over $4.7 million. It awarded the remainder of the marital property, including all interest in the parties’ various businesses, to Guy and ordered Guy to pay Candi $17,238,018.02 to compensate her for the value of her portion of the estate. The court explained that “because of the overlapping entities and the numerous assets placed in various entities, it would be more appropriate to award Candi a sum of money constituting her share of the marital estate.” The court found that “shared ownership of the companies” was not an option because “Candi does not have the business acumen necessary to know how to run these companies” and that it would be “a bad idea” for the parties to continue their relationship by operating the companies together, “especially given Candi’s distrust of Guy.” It also found that “[a] forced sale of marital business assets is not in the best interest of either party” because both parties benefit from “Guy’s continued work for WBC and other businesses.”
¶29Although Candi had argued to the district court that she should be given ownership of the two restaurants to help offset the portion of the estate owed to her, the court rejected that request because it found that “her limited business experience would not help her in increasing the value of the business.” In its May 2018 Order, the court further explained its refusal to award the restaurants to Candi by observing that the restaurants had only just begun to be profitable due to Guy’s careful management and that the restaurants were partially owned by a third party.
¶30 In the initial 2017 Findings, the court did not outline a method for Candi to receive her share of the marital estate. Candi proposed several options, including appointing a special master to oversee the distribution, transferring some of the assets to her directly, sharing ownership of the companies, or forcing a sale of some of the assets. The court rejected each of these proposals. Instead, in the 2018 Supplemental Findings, the court ordered Guy to pay the amount owed to Candi “in such equal monthly installments as he shall determine.” Any remaining amount was to be paid in a balloon payment five years from the date of the entry of the Decree of Divorce, which made the final payment to Candi due December 31, 2023. The court also ordered that Guy pay 10% annual interest on the amount owed to Candi. Although Guy contested the high interest rate, the court justified it because the court had given him “substantial leeway in setting the payment schedule over the next five years.” Because Guy would have “exclusive and full access to the marital assets,” the court reasoned that the high interest rate would give him a necessary incentive to make the payments more quickly.
¶31 In subsequent motions, the parties continued to dispute the court’s equalization order. Thus, in its 2019 Supplemental Findings, the court again modified the payment schedule. Guy was to pay Candi (1) $30,000 per month, to be applied first toward interest; (2) $500,000 per year, to be applied first toward interest; and (3) a balloon payment of the outstanding principal and interest by December 31, 2024.2 The court also modified the interest rate to 5% per year. The court explained that the 10% interest rate “was appropriate” when the court had “deferred to Guy to come up with an appropriate payment plan” but that it was excessive once the court “determined the payment plan.” Instead, the court set the interest rate at 5% and explained that rate was intended “to provide Guy with an incentive to pay the Equalizing Balance quickly.”
¶32 After the court issued its ruling, Candi filed a motion asking the court to secure her unpaid share of the marital estate. She explained that security was necessary to “protect her from dissipation, economic uncertainties, or Guy’s death.” She also asked for an injunction ordering Guy “not to alienate, waste, dissipate, or diminish his share, ownership interest, or the value of the entities” without “Candi’s express, prior, written permission.” Candi proposed several methods for securing her interest, including attaching a UCC-1 lien to the assets of WBC or other marital entities or imposing other “conditions and covenants” on Guy and WBC. But she also explained that “there are a lot of different ways” to give her an effective security interest, including placing a lien on the restaurants, WBC’s equipment, or Guy’s interest in the businesses.
¶33 The court refused to grant Candi any security, reasoning that it could not award a lien against the businesses because “[t]he businesses were not parties to this suit,” that the equalization payments were not subject to the Uniform Commercial Code because the division of the marital estate is not a commercial transaction, and that Guy was unable to obtain adequate life insurance to secure her interest due to his age and health. The court did not provide any further rationale for its determination that no security was warranted or explain why other options for securing Candi’s unpaid interest in the marital estate, such as a lien on Guy’s personal interest in the businesses, could not be employed.
¶34 In its 2017 Findings, the district court found that Candi testified “she had more than $20,000 in reasonable monthly expenses.” However, the court found that Candi “could not testify as to specific details” and “did not prepare a financial declaration.” Nevertheless, the court examined standard financial declaration items, Guy’s financial declaration, a standard of living analysis of the parties’ pre-separation spending prepared by one of Candi’s experts, and Guy’s record of the expenses he paid on Candi’s behalf while the divorce was pending to reach a determination regarding Candi’s monthly need. The court included numerous categories of expenses in its needs calculation and determined Candi’s reasonable monthly expenses to be $27,693.90. However, the court did not include taxes in its assessment of Candi’s needs, because Candi “failed to provide evidence of her tax liability at trial.” The court imputed minimum wage income to Candi at $1,257 per month. The court subtracted the imputed income from Candi’s reasonable monthly expenses to determine that her monthly need is $26,436.90.
¶35 The court found that Guy had a net income of $141,143 per month and reasonable monthly expenses of $50,138. Accordingly, it found that Guy easily had the ability to pay alimony in the amount of $26,436.90 per month to Candi. It ordered Guy to pay that amount of alimony for a length of time equal to the length of the marriage, effective as of the date of the 2017 Findings. Alimony was to terminate upon “the death of either party” or “remarriage or cohabitation by” Candi. The court also indicated that “Guy should provide a life insurance policy for Candi to cover alimony for a period of time sufficient to cover his obligation should he unexpectedly pass away.”
¶36 While the parties’ various motions were pending following the entry of the 2017 Findings, Guy represented that he was unable to get life insurance due to a health condition and asked the court to remove that requirement. The court denied Guy’s request and found in the May 2018 Order,
Although there was information regarding Guy’s health, there was no information whether or not he could or could not obtain a life insurance policy. The Court wants to ensure that Candi will receive the money awarded should he pass unexpectedly. The parties may also work toward a mutually agreeable solution that will protect Candi and her ability to receive said money.
However, the 2018 Supplemental Findings, drafted by Guy, stated simply that “there was no information as to whether or not Guy could or could not obtain a life insurance policy for such purpose nor the cost thereof.” Candi urged the court to be more specific by making its life insurance order mandatory and requiring Guy to provide an alternative means of security if he could not get life insurance. However, the court declined to do so, stating that “[t]he Court’s ruling in the [May 2018 Order] is sufficient.”
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶37 On appeal, Candi argues (1) that the operative dates of the Decree of Divorce should be adjusted or, alternatively, that the balloon payment should be due on December 31, 2023; (2) that she received unequal access to the marital estate while the divorce was pending and should be compensated for the inequality; (3) that the court erred in its valuation of the marital estate, namely, by failing to take into account the value of the notes receivable, undervaluing WBC’s backlog and equipment, and not crediting the estate for Guy’s alleged dissipation of assets; (4) that the court erred in setting the terms of the marital estate division and refusing to grant her a security; (5) that the court should have included her tax burden in its calculation of her need for alimony purposes and required Guy to secure his alimony obligation with life insurance or by some other means; and (6) that the court exceeded its discretion by not holding Guy in contempt for violating the Stipulation.
¶38 For his part, Guy argues, on cross-appeal, (1) that the court set too high an interest rate on the balloon payment, (2) that the court should have required Candi to share in transaction costs that may be incurred if and when Guy liquidates assets to make the balloon payment, and (3) that the court should not have awarded any alimony to Candi at all.
¶39The court’s valuation of the marital property, the manner in which it distributed that property, and its alimony determination are all subject to the same standard of review. “In divorce actions, a district court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18, 452 P.3d 1134 (quotation simplified). “We can properly find abuse [of the district court’s discretion] only if no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the [district] court.” Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 26, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified).
Accordingly, we will reverse only if (1) there was a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error; (2) the factual findings upon which the award was based are clearly erroneous; or (3) the party challenging the award shows that such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion.
Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18 (quotation simplified).
¶40The court’s decision whether to hold Guy in contempt is also entitled to deference. “The decision to hold a party in contempt of court rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal unless the trial court’s action is so unreasonable as to be classified as capricious and arbitrary, or a clear abuse of discretion.” Barton v. Barton, 2001 UT App 199, ¶ 9, 29 P.3d 13 (quotation simplified).
¶41 Candi first argues that the court should make the entire divorce decree effective on October 30, 2019, rather than December 31, 2018, since that was the date the court entered the final Amended Decree of Divorce. Alternatively, she asserts that the balloon payment should be due on December 31, 2023, consistent with the terms of the initial Decree of Divorce. However, Candi has not presented us with any substantive arguments in support of this contention. Her argument is essentially that it was unfair to put the Decree of Divorce into effect before the tax laws changed and yet delay the equalization payments until after the Amended Decree of Divorce was entered because both results “favored Guy.” But the fact that a ruling favors one party or the other does not, by itself, make that ruling an abuse of the court’s discretion. In fact, we cannot see any meaningful link between these two rulings—one concerns the effective date of the entire Decree, whereas one concerns the commencement of the payment plan.
¶42 Moreover, the district court had good reason for both decisions. As Guy pointed out in his Ex Parte Motion for Expedited Entry of Decree of Divorce, “[t]he trial of this matter, and the evidence submitted at trial and considered by the Court, were all predicated on the application of the existing divorce laws.” Thus, entering the Decree of Divorce after the first of the year would have, no doubt, spurred even more objections and additional hearings regarding alimony. Entering the Decree before the law changed was consistent with the parties’ expectations throughout the divorce proceedings.
¶43 With respect to the equalization payments, the court’s 2019 Supplemental Findings were drastically different from its 2018 Supplemental Findings. The 2018 Supplemental Findings left the equalization payment schedule in Guy’s hands, whereas the 2019 Supplemental Findings required him to pay a specified monthly amount. Leaving the effective date for those payments on December 31, 2023, as outlined in the 2018 Supplemental Findings, would have required Guy to come up with the entire first year’s payments all at once, as he was not required to make monthly or yearly payments under the 2018 Supplemental Findings. The court found it appropriate for the equalization payments to commence at the same time it issued its 2019 Supplemental Findings because it could not “determine who has delayed the payment plan” and it “believe[d] that both parties share the responsibility for the delay in this matter.” Candi has not demonstrated that this was an abuse of the district court’s discretion.
Access to Marital Estate
¶44 Candi next asserts that the district court should have compensated her for “inequities [that] resulted from Guy’s use of the marital estate” while the divorce was pending. Candi raises three arguments concerning the allegedly unequal access to the marital estate: (1) that Guy was ordered to pay her only $20,000 per month in temporary alimony while he continued to spend around $60,000 per month, (2) that she did not have equal access to the parties’ tangible assets and funds while the divorce was pending, and (3) that Guy spent more on attorney fees out of the marital estate than the $800,000 found by the district court.
¶45 First, Candi contends that it was unfair for the district court to grant her only $20,000 in temporary alimony while Guy had an income of more than $141,000 per month and was spending over $60,000 per month.
¶46 “Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, all property acquired by parties to a marriage is marital property, owned equally by each party.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126, 459 P.3d 276; accord Brown v. Brown, 2020 UT App 146, ¶ 23, 476 P.3d 554. “For this reason, it is improper to allow one spouse access to marital funds to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending, while denying the other spouse the same access.” Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126.
¶47But this principle does not require that the parties account for every dollar spent out of the marital funds and reimburse one another for any disparity. Rather, it requires that each party have equal access to use marital funds and assets “to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending.” Id. For this reason, Dahl and Brown are distinguishable from the case at hand. In Dahl, the district court had ordered the wife to repay $162,000 she had received from the husband to pay for her living expenses while the divorce was pending without requiring the husband to repay the marital funds he spent during that time. Id. ¶ 125. The supreme court held that this was an abuse of discretion because it “had the effect of allowing one spouse to use marital funds to pay for living expenses during the pendency of the divorce, while denying such use to the other spouse.” Id. ¶ 129. In Brown, the district court ordered the husband to pay for the wife’s “expenses insofar as they exceeded the income she earned plus amounts [he] advanced while the divorce was pending.” Brown, 2020 UT App 146, ¶ 24. This court found that order to be appropriate because it gave the wife “the benefit of the marital estate to help cover [her] living expenses . . . up until the divorce decree was entered.” Id. ¶¶ 27– 28.
¶48Here, the district court ordered Guy to “reimburse” Candi for reasonable monthly expenses “beyond $20,000” unless they were “inappropriate or excessive.” And although Candi indicated that she voluntarily curtailed her spending to avoid fighting for reimbursement, she did not present any evidence that she incurred expenses in excess of the $20,000 Guy provided each month. Since the court ordered Guy to pay for reasonable expenses beyond $20,000, it established a mechanism for Candi to have continued access to the marital estate to pay for her living expenses. The fact that Candi found it too burdensome to request additional funds and was skeptical about Guy honoring her request does not mean she lacked meaningful access to the marital estate.3 And the fact that Guy spent more each month than Candi does not, by itself, indicate that Candi lacked equal access to marital funds while the divorce was pending. Access is not the same as use. And we are aware of no principle requiring that district courts equalize the parties’ use of marital assets during the pendency of a divorce as opposed to reimbursing a party for expenses they incurred as a result of unequal access.
¶49 Our analysis of Candi’s challenge to the unequal use of the parties’ tangible assets is similar to our analysis of her unequal use of funds: she has not demonstrated that she had unequal access to the assets, as opposed to unequal use. It was certainly easier for Guy to use the assets, since they were in his control. And it is undisputed that Guy told Candi she would have to pay the expensive costs associated with using the planes and boats. However, Candi never attempted to use the yacht or plane due to her concerns regarding the expense. Had she done so, she could have requested that Guy reimburse her for these costs in accordance with the court’s temporary alimony award. Since Guy was using the marital assets to pay for the costs of the yacht and plane in addition to meeting his monthly needs, such a request would not have been “inappropriate or excessive.” It is unfortunate that Candi was deterred from taking advantage of this option by the conditions Guy placed on the use of these assets. However, since she did not actually incur the expenses or seek reimbursement for extra expenses from Guy, Candi does not persuade us that the district court should have ordered an increase in her alimony or awarded her more of the maritalestate under Dahl or Brown to make up for the disparity in access to the tangible assets. C.Attorney Fees
¶50 Candi next contends that the district court improperly assessed the attorney fees Guy paid out of the marital estate at only $800,000. This number was taken from Guy’s testimony at trial that he had paid between $700,000 and $800,000 in attorney fees at that point. Candi argues that this estimate was made before Guy paid for the twelve days of trial and post-trial litigation and that “[t]he court should have ordered Guy to disclose all his attorney fees and attributed the full amount to his side.”
¶51 However, although the Decree of Divorce did not go into effect until the end of 2018, the court valued the parties’ marital estate based on the information before it at trial in 2017. Because this was the “snapshot in time,” see Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 24, 440 P.3d 757, on which the valuation of the marital estate was based, spending that occurred after that date could not have reduced the overall value of the estate. This means that any funds Guy expended on attorney fees following trial were necessarily post-division expenses. Even assuming that Guy spent more than $800,000 on attorney fees in total— which he likely did, given that the $800,000 accounted only for what he had incurred as of trial—that does not necessarily mean that he paid for those fees out of the marital estate as it existed at the time of trial. He was obligated to pay Candi her share of the estate’s value calculated based on the value proven at trial, regardless of any later spending.
III. Valuation of the Marital Estate ¶52 Candi argues that the district court made several errors in assessing the overall value of the marital estate. Specifically, she asserts that it failed to account for the value of the notes receivable and that it used the wrong method to assess the value of WBC’s backlog and equipment. She also asserts that Guy dissipated assets and that the estate should have been credited for the dissipation.
¶53 The account ledgers for three of the parties’ entities included line items for loans owed to Guy, totaling $1,059,466. The district court deducted these amounts from the value of those entities in calculating the overall value of the marital estate. However, the notes receivable, owed to Guy, were not counted as an asset of the marital estate. When Candi brought the matter to the court’s attention, it found that “[t]he parties agree that the Court did not consider the three notes receivable” but rejected Candi’s argument on the ground that “[n]either party points to the record regarding this issue.” However, when the 2018 Supplemental Findings, drafted by Guy, addressed the matter, the court’s finding evolved to “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts.”
¶54 Candi asserts that the court’s findings are clearly erroneous and that the court therefore erred in refusing to include the notes receivable in the valuation of the marital estate. We agree with Candi that the trial evidence memorializing the accounts payable to Guy constituted record evidence of Guy’s notes receivable with respect to those entities. Thus, the court erred in finding that Candi had not “point[ed] to the record regarding this issue.” Moreover, its finding in the 2018 Supplemental Findings that “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts” is not supported by the evidence.4 We are aware of nothing in the record indicating that any experts added the notes receivable to the valuation of the marital estate.
¶55It was unreasonable for the court to include the accounts payable in its calculation of the other entities’ liabilities without also crediting the notes receivable to Guy as an asset. The only evidence before the court concerning the notes receivable is that contained in the owing entities’ ledgers—that Guy was entitled to receive the funds. Thus, it is necessary for the district court to adjust the value of the marital estate to include the $1,059,466 owing to Guy from the other entities.
¶56Candi next asserts that the district court erred in assessing the value of WBC’s backlog. She asserts that because WBC is a “viable business,” the court should have recognized that it “has future work lined up and future work yet to come.” Specifically, Candi takes issue with two of the court’s findings relating to the backlog: (1) that “Candi did not provide counter-testimony to” Guy’s witnesses’ “statements of no value in the backlog” and (2) that one of Guy’s witness had “testified that any potential purchaser would not purchase the company based on a backlog.”
¶57Candi points to the testimony of her own expert that the backlog would generate a net profit of $3,441,733. She further argues that Guy’s expert’s assertion that the profit would be
eaten up with administrative costs and capital expenditures relies on a misguided “assumption that WBC would obtain no new work.”5 She points out that such an assumption was faulty, as “WBC had only one negative year in the . . . five-and-a-half years” prior to trial.
¶58But Guy’s expert’s opinion that the backlog lacked value did not rely on the assumption that WBC would never get new work, as Candi asserts. Rather, it was based on his assessment that the backlog was not large enough to keep up with administrative expenses the company would need to incur, such as equipment costs, salaries, insurance, etc. Guy’s expert explained that in assessing the value of the backlog, he examined “the general and administrative expenses in the current environment that both a buyer and seller would look at when they’re examining whether or not this backlog has any value.” Based on this examination, he concluded that “the backlog in its current state would start to absorb cash flow from a negative performance during the next eleven months”—in other words, although WBC could expect to earn a gross profit from the backlog, it would have to dip into that profit to make up for its negative cash flow and would therefore not earn a net profit. This concept was further addressed by Guy in his testimony, where he explained that although WBC had a backlog, at the time of the evaluation it did not have as many contracts as it needed, had to lay off workers, and had to rely on capital to continue operating.
¶59 While Candi’s expert testified that the backlog would generate a net profit of $3,441,733, he did not address the details about anticipated administrative costs or the state of the industry that Guy and his expert addressed in their testimonies, and this seems to be the absent “counter-testimony” to which the court was referring in its finding. Indeed, the court was clearly aware of and considered Candi’s expert’s testimony and valuation, as it included that information in its findings. But it nevertheless concluded that “Candi presented no other evidence or expert testimony in that industry regarding the backlog.” Thus, the court’s finding was not in error. And in any event, it was the court’s prerogative to credit the testimony of Guy’s expert over the testimony of Candi’s expert. See Henshaw v. Henshaw, 2012 UT App 56, ¶ 11, 271 P.3d 837 (“It is within the province of the trial court, as the finder of fact, to resolve issues of credibility.”); see also Barrani v. Barrani, 2014 UT App 204, ¶ 4, 334 P.3d 994 (“Courts are not bound to accept the testimony of an expert and are free to judge the expert testimony as to its credibility and its persuasive influence in light of all of the other evidence in the case.” (quotation simplified)).
¶60 As to the court’s finding regarding Guy’s witness’s testimony about a potential buyer, while that finding could have been more precise—the witness actually testified that a buyer cares only about a “sustainable backlog” and that a buyer would rely on “the backlog in front” of the company rather than its historic backlog—the imprecision ultimately does not convince us that the court relied on an erroneous assumption. The witness did not testify specifically regarding WBC’s backlog, and his actual statement ultimately supports the district court’s finding regarding the value of the backlog. If the court applied the principle stated by the witness—that only the backlog in front of WBC was relevant—to the testimony it relied on that the backlog would not generate a net profit, the testimony was not inconsistent with the court’s finding that the backlog lacked value.
¶61Ultimately, it was within the court’s discretion to accord each party’s expert testimony the weight it deemed proper. And the testimonial evidence presented by Guy and his expert and witness supports the court’s conclusion that the backlog lacked value. Even assuming that WBC was a viable company that would continue to generate contracts, the evidence supported a determination that its current contracts were not sufficient for the company to expect to generate a net profit.
¶62 Next, Candi challenges the district court’s valuation of WBC’s equipment. Her argument rests primarily on her assertion that the court erroneously used “liquidation value” to calculate the value of the equipment rather than valuing WBC as a “going concern.”6
¶63First, we agree with Guy that Utah law does not support Candi’s contention that the court was required to evaluate WBC as a going concern. In fact, our case law is clear that courts have broad discretion in determining the proper method for calculating the value of marital property. See DeAvila v. DeAvila, 2017 UT App 146, ¶ 12, 402 P.3d 184 (“District courts generally have considerable discretion concerning property distribution and valuation in a divorce proceeding and their determinations enjoy a presumption of validity.” (quotation simplified)); cf. Griffith v. Griffith, 1999 UT 78, ¶ 19, 985 P.2d 255 (“[T]rial courts have broad discretion in selecting an appropriate method of assessing a spouse’s income and will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion.”). Moreover, courts may even reject all valuation methods presented by experts and elect to simply split the difference between multiple appraisals. See Newmeyer v. Newmeyer, 745 P.2d 1276, 1278–79 (Utah 1987) (upholding a court’s decision to fix the value of a marital home by splitting the difference between the values presented by two experts); Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶¶ 12–13, 169 P.3d 754 (upholding a district court’s decision to average the value of stock on nine different relevant dates to reach the fair value of stock in the marital estate); Barber v. Barber, No. 961783-CA, 1998 WL 1758305, at *1 & n.1 (Utah Ct. App. Oct. 8, 1998) (holding that the district court acted within its discretion when it valuated a business by averaging four appraisals provided by expert witnesses).
¶64 Generally, we will uphold a district court’s valuation of marital assets as long as the value is “within the range of values established by all the testimony,” and as long as the court’s findings are “sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 691–92 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (quotation simplified); see also Weston v. Weston, 773 P.2d 408, 410 (Utah Ct. App. 1989) (upholding a court’s election not to apply a marketability discount to the value of stock in a closely held corporation, despite several experts recommending that such a discount be applied, because the value the court found was “within the range of values established by all the testimony”).7
¶65 Thus, even assuming that Guy’s expert’s valuation was “liquidation value,” it would have been within the court’s discretion to use that valuation, which was “within the range of values established by all the testimony,” so long as the court adequately supported its decision with factual findings explaining its decision. See Morgan, 795 P.2d at 691–92. Here, not only did the court support its determination with detailed factual findings, but those factual findings make clear that it considered the auction value to represent the fair market value of the equipment, not the liquidation value.
¶66In accepting Guy’s expert’s valuation over that of Candi’s expert, the court explained that Guy’s expert was more thorough because he examined each individual piece of equipment and took into account its condition, mileage, and hours. Additionally, the court found it relevant that 80% of Ritchie Brothers’ “sales are directly to end users” and credited the expert’s testimony that their appraisal was based on fair market value, specifically rejecting Candi’s assertion that auction value was equivalent to the value in a “fire sale.” The court also pointed out that even Candi’s expert had used some sales data from auction houses to assess values. Based on this evidence, the court found that “[t]here is no indication that [Guy’s expert’s] evaluation does not reflect the actual marketplace price the parties could expect to receive upon sale” and adopted the $13,890,300 value provided by Guy’s expert. We will not disturb the court’s well-supported decision on this issue.8
¶67Candi next contends that “Guy dissipated assets at a time he understood that divorce was likely” and that the district court should have included the value of additional allegedly dissipated assets—over and above the money Guy spent on his girlfriend, which the court considered dissipation and accounted for as such—in its valuation of the marital estate.
¶68 “Where one party has dissipated an asset, hidden its value or otherwise acted obstructively, the trial court may, in the exercise of its equitable powers, value a marital asset at some time other than the time the decree is entered . . . .” Goggin v.Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 49, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified). In other words, “when a court finds that a spouse has dissipated marital assets, the court should calculate the value of the marital property as though the assets remained” and give “the other spouse . . . a credit for his or her share of the assets that were dissipated.” Id.
¶69 A number of factors may be relevant to this inquiry, including
(1) how the money was spent, including whether funds were used to pay legitimate marital expenses or individual expenses; (2) the parties’ historical practices; (3) the magnitude of any depletion; (4) the timing of the challenged actions in relation to the separation and divorce; and (5) any obstructive efforts that hinder the valuation of the assets.
Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 33, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). Candi’s dissipation argument concerns three transactions: (1) Guy’s purchase of the yacht, (2) Guy’s investment in FDFM, and (3) Guy’s transfer of assets into the Trust.
¶70 Candi first argues that the district court erred in concluding that the purchase of the yacht was not dissipation. Candi asserts that although the yacht itself remained in the estate, its rapid depreciation meant that it was “cash going out the door for no benefit.” She also argues that because Guy used the yacht and she did not, any benefit from the use of the yacht was individual to Guy rather than to the marital estate.
¶71Candi acknowledges that Utah law has not held that the purchase of a depreciating asset constitutes dissipation. But she nevertheless urges us to adopt such a rule, relying on case law from Illinois. However, even if we were inclined to find these cases persuasive, most of them appear to be distinguishable from the case at hand. For example, in In re Marriage of Thomas, 608 N.E.2d 585 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993), the court held that the devaluation of the parties’ business constituted dissipation not simply because it had decreased in value but because the husband had directly undermined the business through “inattention” and “his failure to solicit additional clients or through his outright stealing of clients for his new business.” Id. at 587. In In re Marriage of Schneeweis, 2016 IL App (2d) 140147, 55 N.E.3d 1280, the court upheld a finding of dissipation where the husband had begun making “secretive, risky and progressively more destructive” financial decisions that were “inconsistent with the parties’ prior practices.” Id. ¶ 28 (internal quotation marks omitted). And in In re Marriage of Block, 441 N.E.2d 1283 (Ill. App. Ct. 1982), where the husband had purchased a racing boat that was financially under water, the court held that it could be considered “a debt in dissipation” but clarified that “there would be no net effect on the marital estate” if “the value of the boat is approximately the same as the amount of indebtedness.” Id. at 1288–89.9
¶72Here, the court found that the purchase of the yacht was consistent with “Guy’s historical practice” of buying “planes and boats” and that there was no evidence “that Guy caused excessive diminution in value.” Additionally, the court assigned to Guy all responsibility for the outstanding debt on the yacht, so any “debt in dissipation” caused by the yacht’s purchase was resolved, see id. at 1288. While the yacht was used primarily by Guy, he did make it available to Candi, and he never transferred it out of the marital estate. We agree with Guy that the depreciated value of the yacht, alone, does not mandate a finding of dissipation, particularly where its purchase was consistent with purchases made during the marriage and there is no indication that Guy’s actions contributed to the depreciation.10
North Dakota Investment
¶73 Candi next claims that the district court should have valued FDFM based on the $1,129,000 Guy invested in it rather than its $734,000 value at the time of trial. She asserts that “had Guy not unilaterally made that poor investment, more money would have remained in the estate.” According to Candi, because Guy did not consult her regarding the investment, he “acted obstructively” and should therefore be held accountable for the diminished value of the asset. See Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 49, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified).
¶76 While we agree with Candi that the court could have compensated her for the marital assets put into the Trust had it found dissipation, we do not agree that the court exceeded its discretion in finding that the transfers did not constitute dissipation. The court found that the transfers did not amount to dissipation because Candi had participated in creating the Trust, even though it had not initially been funded; transferring assets to their children was consistent with the parties’ practices during the marriage, beginning as early as 1993; and Candi had deferred to Guy to “run the parties’ finances and estate” throughout the marriage. The court found “no evidence that Guy attempted to withhold information or cut Candi out from the estate planning process.” And while the timing of the transfers could provide circumstantial evidence of dissipation, the parties’ historical practices and the lack of additional evidence suggesting obstructive intent on Guy’s part support the court’s determination that the transfers were not dissipation.
Division of the Estate and Equalization Payments
¶77 The parties raise various challenges to the district court’s division of the estate and its order regarding the equalization payments. First, Candi asserts that the court erred by not awarding her a greater share of the marital estate directly. Second, she argues that the court erred by refusing to grant her security to help ensure that she actually receives her unpaid share of the estate. Third, both parties challenge the 5% interest rate set by the district court. Finally, Guy argues that the court should have ordered Candi to share in any transaction costs that may be incurred should he be required to liquidate assets to make the equalization payment.
¶78 Candi argues that the district court abused its discretion by—at least temporarily—awarding Guy the bulk of the estate and giving him five years to pay Candi her share. She argues that instead, the court should have done one or more of the following: (1) ordered Guy to pay Candi her share immediately;
awarded her a greater share of cash and retirement accounts;
awarded her the restaurants; (4) ordered Guy to liquidate investments, yachts, planes or spare equipment to pay Candi more cash up front; or (5) ordered larger annual payments in implementing the equalization payment schedule.
¶79 “When the district court assigns a value to an item of marital property, the court must equitably distribute it with a view toward allowing each party to go forward with his or her separate life.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 27, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). In situations where the marital estate consists primarily of a single large asset, such as a business or stock, a common acceptable approach for the court to take is to award the asset to one party and make a cash award to the other party. See Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 56, 379 P.3d 890; Argyle v. Argyle, 688 P.2d 468, 471 (Utah 1984). This avoids the necessity for the parties “to be in a close economic relationship which has every potential for further contention, friction, and litigation.” Argyle, 688 P.2d at 471 (quotation simplified).
¶80 In fashioning this type of marital property division, “a court has the ability to make equitable provisions for deferred compensation”—the keyword being “equitable.” Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 60. One way to assess the equitability of the provisions is to examine whether the award affords one party “significantly more latitude to go forward with his [or her] separate life” than the other. Id. ¶ 61 (quotation simplified). It is also relevant whether the party required to pay the deferred compensation will be able to use the property to their unfair advantage at the expense of the person to whom the compensation is owed. Id. ¶¶ 59–60.
¶81 We agree with Guy that the specific division scheme selected by the district court—Guy receiving, on a temporary basis, a larger share of the estate, but with the obligation to make equalization payments to Candi—is not inequitable, so long as adequate security for the unpaid equalization payments is included. See infra Part IV.B. While the court may have been within its discretion to employ one or more of the other methods recommended by Candi, its numerous factual findings support its ultimate determination, and the deferred payment provisions, coupled with security, are sufficiently equitable to fall within its discretion.11
¶82Candi asserts that the court’s distribution of marital assets and its use of the equalization payment plan impermissibly gives Guy disproportionate access to the estate. She compares the facts of this case to those in Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, 379 P.3d 890, in which this court determined that a deferred payment plan that gave the husband discretion to dictate the amount of monthly installments over ten years at a 2.13% interest rate was not equitable. See id. ¶¶ 59–60. Candi argues that just like in Taft, “the overall dynamics of the court’s award more readily allow [Guy], with his immediate ability to use and enjoy the property awarded to him[,] . . . significantly more latitude to go forward with his separate life than [Candi] is afforded.” See id. ¶ 61 (quotation simplified).
¶83But Taft is distinguishable from the case at hand. First, the husband in Taft was permitted to decide the amount of the monthly payments to his ex-wife over the course of ten years between the time of the divorce decree and the time the balloon payment was due. See id. ¶ 59. His discretion was so absolute that the court observed he “could conceivably make . . . equal monthly payments of $1 for nine years and eleven months before making the final balloon payment . . . , thereby forcing [his wife] to wait ten years before realizing any real benefit from her property award.” Id. Here, on the other hand, the district court set the terms of the payment plan, ultimately requiring Guy to pay Candi $30,000 per month plus an additional $500,000 per year. Although the court certainly could have ordered Guy to pay more, we are not convinced that the amount ordered was so inequitable as to fall outside the bounds of the court’s discretion. Unlike the wife in Taft, Candi will not have to wait until the balloon payment is due to realize any benefit from her property award. Rather, she will receive $860,000 each year in addition to the $4.7 million she has already received. While this leaves Guy in control of a substantial portion of Candi’s property, she is at least able to benefit from her property award in the meantime.
¶84Second, the interest applied to the property distribution in Taft was only 2.13%, an amount this court observed “provides very little incentive for [the husband] to substantially pay it prior to the expiration of the ten-year period, much less for him to pay [the wife] sizeable monthly installments.” Id. ¶ 60. In fact, the low interest rate “would almost certainly allow [the husband] to invest [the wife’s] money elsewhere and reap the benefit of any additional increment of interest—a benefit that in fairness should accrue to [the wife].” Id. In this case, on the other hand, the district court applied a 5% interest rate, which it acknowledged was higher than the statutory postjudgment interest rate, to incentivize Guy to pay Candi sooner. See supra ¶ 31; see also infra Part IV.C. By setting interest at a rate calculated to discourage any delays in paying Candi, the court avoided the type of inequitable deferred payment plan at issue in Taft.
¶85 We acknowledge that granting Guy a five-year period in which to continue using the bulk of Candi’s property award to grow his business does afford him a benefit that may, to some degree, come at Candi’s expense. But we are convinced that it is not inequitable in light of the entire landscape of the marital estate and property division. First, the size of the parties’ estate and the fact that the bulk of it is wrapped up in WBC means that gathering the liquid funds to pay Candi’s property award is not something that can be accomplished overnight, at least not without substantially decreasing the overall value of the marital estate. Thus, it was reasonable for the court to allow Guy some period of time to gather the funds necessary to pay Candi. Second, this time period may allow Guy to keep his larger businesses intact and find other ways to pay Candi. Keeping the businesses intact will ultimately benefit both parties, as it will allow Guy to maintain his income and continue paying alimony to Candi. Finally, we take Guy’s point that he may incur substantial transaction costs if he ultimately does need to liquidate assets to pay Candi. See infra Part IV.D. Thus, it seems to us that the hypothetical benefit Guy may incur by using Candi’s share of the property to increase the value of the estate will be offset by the hypothetical detriment he could incur if he has to liquidate the assets. Since the court did not order Candi to share in any of these transaction costs, the court’s decision to give Guy the use of Candi’s portion of the property during the five-year forbearance period does not strike us as inequitable, at least so long as adequate security is afforded to Candi.12
¶86 And this brings us to Candi’s next argument: that the district court abused its discretion by imposing this specific deferred-payment arrangement without requiring Guy to provide adequate security. Candi asserts that the court’s arrangement put her in the position—involuntarily—of an unsecured creditor and posits that no lender would agree to make a $15 million loan without some sort of security interest. Without any type of security, Candi argues, she stands to lose her ability to collect her share of the marital estate in the event Guy passes away before the balloon payment is due or he moves his assets into irrevocable trusts. We agree with Candi and emphasize that the district court’s chosen arrangement passes discretionary muster only if it comes accompanied by an adequate security mechanism.
¶87The court’s only justification for declining to grant Candi any type of security was its determination that it could not award a lien against the businesses, that the Uniform Commercial Code did not apply, and that life insurance was not an option due to Guy’s health. But the court did not explain why these limitations prevented it from granting Candi any type of security. Candi’s request was broad: she asserted that “there needs to be some kind of order or security or lien or whatever form it takes . . . that will ensure that those former marital assets are there at the time that . . . the balloon payment needs to be made.” “So all we’re asking for is some kind of order to ensure that there’s going to be payment down the road.”
¶88 Guy maintains that no security is necessary because he has shown himself to be reliable in making payments and does not have a history of hiding assets. But we agree with Candi that, regardless of Guy’s history, character, or intentions, she should not be required to rely solely on Guy’s continued health and goodwill to ensure her ability to collect what she is owed. Whether Candi’s mistrust of Guy is warranted or not, it was unreasonable for the court not to grant her any type of security in her half of the marital estate.
¶89 Moreover, Candi has even greater cause for concern in light of Guy’s age and poor health. In fact, Guy expressed concern that he might pass away before the divorce decree was finalized and relied on that possibility to argue that the divorce action should be bifurcated. Should Guy pass away before the balloon payment is due, Candi would no longer have even the benefit of Guy’s goodwill. Instead, she would have to further litigate with his heirs (including her own children) to fight for her share of the marital estate. It is hard to reconcile why the district court considered this to be an adequate legal remedy. Candi should not have to take her chances as an unsecured creditor should Guy pass away before she can receive her share of the marital estate. No reasonable creditor would agree to a forbearance on such terms, and it was therefore inequitable to impose such terms on Candi.
¶90Accordingly, we remand this case for the court to fashion an equitable security interest that will adequately protect Candi’s ability to collect her remaining share of the marital estate at the end of the five-year forbearance period.
¶91 Both Guy and Candi take issue with the 5% interest rate the district court imposed on the equalization payments. Guy asserts that the interest rate should have been set at the statutory postjudgment interest rate, which was 4.58% at the time the court entered the 2019 Supplemental Findings. Candi argues that the court should have imposed the 10% interest rate originally set in its 2018 Supplemental Findings. We reject both parties’ arguments and affirm the district court’s imposition of the 5% interest rate.
¶92 Guy asserts that the court was bound by the postjudgment interest rate established by section 15-1-4 of the Utah Code, which provides that “final civil . . . judgments of the district court . . . shall bear interest at the federal postjudgment interest rate as of January 1 of each year, plus 2%.” Utah Code Ann. § 15-1-4(3)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). Section 15-1-4 does apply to orders in a divorce case “in relation to the children, property and parties.” See Marchant v. Marchant, 743 P.2d 199, 207 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(1) (1984) (current version at id. (LexisNexis Supp. 2021) (stating that the district court “may include in the decree of divorce equitable orders relating to the children, property, debts or obligations, and parties”))). However, section 15-1-4 provides the “minimum interest allowable.” Id. (emphasis added). The statute “does not preclude a District Court, under [section 30-3-5] from imposing an interest rate of more than [the statutory postjudgment rate] where, under the circumstances, that award is reasonable and equitable.” Stroud v. Stroud, 738 P.2d 649, 650 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (quoting Pope v. Pope, 589 P.2d 752, 754 (Utah 1978)). And, in fact, setting equalization payments at the postjudgment interest rate, rather than a higher rate, may be an abuse of discretion if doing so is inequitable under the circumstances. See Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶¶ 56, 60, 379 P.3d 890 (finding a 2.13% interest rate, which was the rate provided by Utah Code section 15-1-4 at the time, to be insufficient where the husband was granted discretion to determine the amount of payments over the course of ten years because it incentivized the husband to invest the wife’s money elsewhere rather than paying her sooner). Thus, we find no merit to Guy’s contention that the court was bound to apply the default postjudgment interest rate to the equalization payments.
¶93 Candi argues that an interest rate higher than the 5% ordered by the court is necessary to “compensate Candi for her unwilling forbearance to Guy and incentivize Guy to pay quicker.” She argues that 10% is an appropriate interest rate because it is consistent with the Utah Code’s default interest rate for a “forbearance of any money, goods, or services.” Utah Code Ann. § 15-1-1(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). However, Candi has not provided us with any authority suggesting that the court was required to impose this specific interest rate.
¶94 The court’s decision to impose the 5% interest rate was reasoned and supported by sufficient factual findings. The court explained that it had considered the 10% interest rate to be “appropriate” when the court had “deferred to Guy to come up with an appropriate payment plan.” The court opined that had Guy been permitted to set the payment schedule, as the husband in Taft was, the 10% interest rate would have been needed to avoid giving Guy “an incentive to invest the money and reap the return instead of paying off” Candi. The court explained that once it set the payment plan, rather than leaving it to Guy’s discretion, it did not believe the 10% interest would be valid under Taft. Nevertheless, it also explained that the interest rate was not a postjudgment rate because the deferred payment was more akin to a forbearance, and it still wanted to give Guy “an incentive to pay the Equalizing Balance quickly.”
¶95 Our case law is clear that as with other aspects of property division, equitability is the standard for evaluating the appropriateness of an interest rate set by the district court for deferred payments in a divorce. See Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 25, 169 P.3d 765 (“The overriding consideration is that the ultimate division be equitable . . . .” (quotation simplified)). We are not convinced that the 5% interest rate fell outside the reasonable range of equitable interest rates the court could have selected. Moreover, the court clearly explained its reasoning. Thus, we will not disturb the 5% interest rate the court set.
¶96 Finally, Guy asserts that the district court should have required Candi to share in any transaction costs that he may incur in the event he needs to liquidate assets to pay off Candi’s share of the marital estate. He points out that taxes and other transaction costs associated with liquidating the businesses or any other large assets could be significant and that if the court does not require Candi to pay her portion of those transaction costs, it could substantially eat into his portion of the marital estate.
¶97 We do not disagree with Guy that if he is forced to liquidate assets, doing so may result in significant taxes and transaction costs to him. But it is by no means certain that such costs will be incurred. We do not generally expect courts to “speculate about hypothetical future [tax] consequences.” See Alexander v. Alexander, 737 P.2d 221, 224 (Utah 1987) (refusing to reduce the value of a “stock-price-tied profit-sharing plan to account for tax liability” because the imposition of taxes was not certain); see also Sellers v. Sellers, 2010 UT App 393, ¶ 7, 246 P.3d 173 (holding that the district court was not required to consider potential tax obligations associated with a retirement account because the tax consequences were “speculative” and assumed “massive withdrawals” from the account); Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1213–14 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (holding that the district court “did not err in refusing to adjust property distribution because of . . . theoretical [tax] consequences” of selling a second home). The valuation of marital property “is necessarily a snapshot in time,” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 24, 440 P.3d 757, and such a moment does not consider “the myriad situations in which the value of [the parties’] property might be positively or negatively affected in the future,” Sellers, 2010 UT App 393, ¶ 7.
¶98Moreover, excessive transaction costs were the very thing the equalization payments were intended to prevent. The court acknowledged that forcing the parties to immediately liquidate assets would significantly cut into the pie that would be available to divide between both parties. That is why the court awarded the bulk of the estate to Guy and gave him five years to pay Candi her portion. The court gave him unfettered discretion to determine how to gather the funds necessary to pay Candi. In doing so, it gave Guy free rein over the bulk of Candi’s share of the estate, which he may use to continue building his businesses and wealth over the next five years. The benefit he may derive from using Candi’s share of the estate may very well amount to much more than the interest Candi will receive at the 5% rate, which is all she will have access to until the balloon payment is due, yet she will not share in that benefit any more than she will share in any transaction costs Guy may incur.13 See supra ¶ 85. The entire principal of Candi’s portion will remain in Guy’s control until he makes the balloon payment at the end of 2024.
Furthermore, because the assets are in Guy’s control, Candi will have no role in deciding how to liquidate the assets or which transaction costs to incur.14
¶99 Given the speculative nature of the potential taxes and transaction costs, as well as the full discretion Guy was given to determine whether and how to liquidate assets, it was not an abuse of discretion for the court not to order that Candi share in those costs.
¶100 The next set of challenges the parties raise concerns the district court’s award of alimony to Candi. Guy asserts that the court exceeded its discretion in awarding any alimony whatsoever. Candi, on the other hand, asserts that the court should have increased the alimony award to account for her tax burden. She also argues that the court should have required Guy to either obtain life insurance or provide some other security to ensure that she would receive her alimony payments if he were to pass away.
¶101 Guy argues that the district court should not have awarded alimony to Candi because (1) she did not provide the court with sufficient evidence from which it could calculate her monthly needs and (2) Candi’s property settlement was sufficient to allow her to support herself. In support of both arguments, Guy primarily relies on our supreme court’s holding in Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, 459 P.3d 276. But Dahl neither automatically requires a court to deny a request for alimony in the absence of documentation nor prevents the court from awarding alimony to a spouse who receives a large property settlement.
¶102 With respect to documentation of need, the Dahl court held only that the district court “acted within its discretion in denying” the wife’s alimony request when she failed to provide evidence supporting her claimed need, not that the district court was required to deny her request. Id. ¶ 117. In fact, the court explicitly acknowledged that “the district court could have . . . imputed a figure to determine [the wife’s] financial need based either on [the husband’s] records of the parties’ predivorce expenses or a reasonable estimate of [the wife’s] needs.” Id. ¶ 116 (emphasis added). Furthermore, we have previously considered and rejected the “assertion that failure to file financial documentation automatically precludes an award of alimony.” Munoz-Madrid v. Carlos-Moran, 2018 UT App 95, ¶¶ 8–9, 427 P.3d 420. “[A]lthough [Candi’s] expenses may have been difficult to discern because she failed to provide supporting documentation . . . , there was not a complete lack of evidence to support their existence.” See id. ¶ 10. Indeed, the court explained that it relied on the list of items in the standard financial declaration, Guy’s financial declaration, evidence concerning the parties’ spending during the marriage, and evidence of Candi’s expenses during the pendency of the divorce to calculate Candi’s reasonable monthly needs.
¶103 Dahl also does not stand for the proposition that alimony should never be awarded to those who receive a large property settlement. Rather, Dahl merely states that receiving “a sufficiently large property award to support a comfortable standard of living” prevented “any serious inequity” from arising due to the court’s decision not to impute the wife’s need in the face of her lack of evidence. See 2015 UT 79, ¶ 116 (quotation simplified). We acknowledge that if the payee spouse has income-producing property, the income from that property “may properly be considered as eliminating or reducing the need for alimony by that spouse.” Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988); see also Batty v. Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 5, 153 P.3d 827 (holding that the evaluation of a payee spouse’s ability to meet his or her own needs “properly takes into account the result of the property division, particularly any income-generating property [the payee spouse] is awarded”); Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1170 n.3 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (explaining that courts should distribute property before fashioning an alimony award, so they can take into account income generated from property interests). Nevertheless, the court in this case did not abuse its discretion by awarding alimony despite Candi’s large property settlement.
¶104 Although Candi was entitled to receive a large settlement eventually, Guy continued to control the bulk of the parties’ marital estate and would do so for the next five years. The court noted this in its determination regarding alimony, observing that “alimony was needed” because “Guy was unable to pay Candi the full value of the marital estate at this time.” The court refused to take into account income Candi may derive from her portion of the marital assets in the future because that analysis was “too speculative for the Court to consider.”15 However, it observed that “at such time as . . . Candi . . . receives income or other assets from her share of the marital estate, or from other sources, the Court will evaluate the amount, if any, by which those amounts may reduce her unmet financial needs and thereby reduce or eliminate Guy’s alimony obligation.” Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Candi alimony, and any income she derives from the property settlement may be considered when she actually has control of that property.
¶105 On the other hand, Candi argues that the district court should have included her tax liability on alimony in its calculation of her needs. In calculating both a payor spouse’s ability to pay and a payee spouse’s needs, courts are generally expected to consider the person’s tax liability. See McPherson v. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶ 14, 265 P.3d 839; Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶¶ 17–18, 169 P.3d 754. In particular, it is plain error for a court to consider the tax consequences for one party in assessing their income and expenses but not for the other party. Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶¶ 45, 58, 402 P.3d 219.
¶106 In its findings, the court used Guy’s net income to assess his ability to pay alimony. However, because Candi did not present evidence of her tax burden on any alimony award, the court did not consider her tax burden in assessing her need. We acknowledge that the court’s ability to estimate Candi’s taxes was hampered by Candi’s failure to provide evidence of her anticipated tax liability. Nevertheless, it is certain that she will incur some tax burden, particularly in light of the fact that she will be taxed on any alimony payments she receives.16 And we agree with Candi that it was inequitable for the court to consider Guy’s tax burden when calculating his ability to pay without considering Candi’s tax burden in assessing her needs. Thus, we remand the court’s alimony award for the limited purpose of having the court make findings as to Candi’s projected tax burden and adjust the alimony award accordingly.
¶107 Next, Candi asserts that the district court should require Guy to either obtain life insurance or provide a substitute for life insurance to secure his alimony payments. She points out that the court initially stated in its 2017 Findings that “Guy should provide a life insurance policy for Candi to cover alimony for a period of time sufficient to cover his obligation should he unexpectedly pass away.” Although the court initially rejected Guy’s argument that he should be required only to “use his best efforts to obtain life insurance,” the court ultimately adopted Guy’s proposed language in its 2018 Supplemental Findings stating that “there was no information as to whether or not Guy could or could not obtain a life insurance policy for such purpose nor the cost thereof.” Candi asked the court to reconsider that finding and make the life insurance requirement mandatory. However, the court rejected that request and stated that its finding in the May 2018 Order was “sufficient.” But while that finding indicated the court’s intent “to ensure that Candi will receive the money awarded should [Guy] pass unexpectedly,” it did not definitively decide the issue of whether Guy was required to obtain life insurance to secure his alimony obligation or if he was able to demonstrate an inability to comply with the court’s direction. We are left wondering whether the court did, or did not, order Guy to obtain life insurance and are unable to ascertain the answer to this question from the court’s rulings. Accordingly, we remand this issue to the district court to clarify its order.17
¶108 Finally, Candi argues that the district court erred in declining to hold Guy in contempt for violating the Stipulation, which the parties reached early on in the proceedings, that they would not “sell, gift, transfer, dissipate, encumber, secrete or dispose of marital assets” but that Guy could continue to manage WBC and conduct business “as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.” “As a general rule, in order to prove contempt for failure to comply with a court order it must be shown that the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988). In a civil contempt proceeding, these elements must be proven “by clear and convincing evidence.” Id.
¶109 Candi asserts that the Stipulation’s language allowed Guy to engage in business transactions only insofar as those transactions related to WBC. She argues that the “business hereinabove identified” language in the Stipulation is limited to “the management and control of” WBC and that the court therefore misread the Stipulation by not holding Guy in contempt for any transactions that were not directly related to WBC. But as Guy observes, the Stipulation also allowed the parties to engage in transactions “in the course of their normal living expenditures, ordinary and necessary business expenses and to pay divorce attorneys and expert fees and costs.”
¶110 “We interpret language in judicial documents in the same way we interpret contract language,” that is, “we look to the language of the [document] to determine its meaning.” Cook Martin Poulson PC v. Smith, 2020 UT App 57, ¶ 24, 464 P.3d 541 (quotation simplified). We consider Guy’s reading of the Stipulation to be more consistent with the plain language of that document. The provision giving Guy “the right to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets,” properly refers to both the operation of WBC and normal living and business expenses.
¶111 Moreover, because contempt requires that the party knew what was required and intentionally refused to comply, see Von Hake, 759 P.2d at 1172, “for a violation of an order to justify sanctions, the order must be sufficiently specific and definite as to leave no reasonable basis for doubt regarding its meaning,” Cook, 2020 UT App 57, ¶ 26 (quotation simplified). Even were we inclined to agree with Candi’s more limited interpretation, we could not say that the language is so clearly limited to WBC that there could be “no reasonable basis for doubt regarding its meaning.” See id. (quotation simplified).
¶112 The Stipulation allowed Guy to continue conducting normal transactions as he had in the past, and the district court found that “the transactions Candi complains of were consistent with Guy’s historical practice of transferring assets from one entity to another or from one form into another” and that there was “no indication that [they] . . . were out of the ordinary.” Candi does not challenge this finding. Thus, we conclude that the court did not exceed its discretion in declining to find Guy in contempt.
¶113 We conclude that the district court erred in failing to credit the value of the notes receivable to the marital estate. We also conclude that it erred in refusing to grant Candi a security interest to protect her right to receive her unpaid share of the marital estate. However, we affirm the district court’s property valuation and distribution in all other respects.
¶114 As to the alimony award, we conclude that the district court erred in failing to account for Candi’s tax obligation in its calculation of her need and remand for clarification of whether the court intended to order Guy to obtain security on Candi’s alimony award. We affirm the alimony award in all other respects.
¶115 We also affirm the remaining orders and findings challenged on appeal, including the operative date of the Decree of Divorce, the equalization payment schedule, the court’s finding that Guy did not dissipate marital assets apart from the money he spent on his girlfriend, and its decision not to hold him in contempt.
¶116 Consistent with our discussion in this opinion, we remand to the district court to adjust the marital property valuation, to make findings regarding Candi’s tax liability and adjust the alimony award, to clarify whether Guy is must obtain security on Candi’s alimony award, and to enter orders necessary to adequately secure Candi’s interest in her unpaid share of the marital estate.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant Laja K. M. Thompson, Attorney for Appellee
JUDGE DIANA HAGEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN and SENIOR JUDGE KATE APPLEBYconcurred. 
¶1T. W. (Father) appeals the district court’s custody order awarding S. A. (Mother) primary physical custody of their son (Child). In so doing, the court rejected the custody evaluator’s recommendation that Father be awarded primary physical custody. The court also scheduled parent-time in accordance with the minimum parent-time schedule in Utah Code section 30-3-35, as opposed to the optional increased parent-time schedule in section 30-3-35.1. Father argues each of these rulings was made in error. Because the court sufficiently supported the parent-time schedule it ordered as well as its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation, we affirm.
¶2Father and Mother ended their relationship before Child’s birth. The following year, Father petitioned for custody. Father later moved to Grantsville, Utah to live with his now-wife and her children, along with Father’s other child from a prior relationship. Grantsville is approximately fifty miles from Sandy, Utah where Mother resides.
¶3Shortly after his move, Father requested a custody evaluation. The court-appointed custody evaluator initially recommended Mother be awarded primary physical custody, but at a trial on that issue, the parties stipulated to joint legal and physical custody, with each parent enjoying alternating weeks of equal parent-time. The stipulated terms were then set forth by the court in its parentage decree. At the time, the logistics of complying with an alternating week schedule were relatively easy because Child was not yet attending school.
¶4Around the time Child was to begin kindergarten, a dispute arose over whether Child would attend school near Mother’s home in Sandy or near Father’s home in Grantsville. Father moved for a temporary restraining order that would specify where Child would attend school. After a telephonic hearing, the court commissioner recommended that, for the time being, Child would attend school in Sandy pending an evidentiary hearing.
¶5Child had been attending school for several months when the evidentiary hearing was held in December. After conferring with counsel off the record, the court expressed “some concerns about the workability of [Child] residing in Grantsville and going to school in Sandy or residing in Sandy and going to . . . school in Grantsville.” The court reasoned that the alternating week schedule was unworkable, and the parties agreed that now that Child was in school “continuing the commute [was] not in [his] best interest.” The court ultimately found that “the commute from Sandy to Grantsville is approximately 50 miles and can take approximately 50 minutes, and sometimes more, in the morning” and, “[f]or various reasons, including road/weather conditions, [Child had] been late to or missed school.” Because the long commute was unworkable, the court recognized that the issue before it was “a much larger issue than just determining where [Child] goes to school”—it would require “a change in the parent-time arrangement” as well. To resolve both the parent-time arrangement and where Child would attend school in the future, the court set the matter for trial.
¶6Before trial, the custody evaluator submitted an updated report. The evaluator recommended that Father and Mother be awarded joint legal custody but that Child’s primary physical residence be with Father. The evaluator made this recommendation based on two considerations. First, he opined that Father was “in a more stable physical situation” than Mother because he owned his house and was “not likely to move,” whereas Mother “rent[ed] an apartment and ha[d] a history that raise[d] concern about her ability to maintain a consistent residence.” Second, he noted that Child had developed “positive and reciprocal relationship[s] with his [half-sibling and step-]siblings,” who resided with Father, and Child would “attend school with them as well as receive guidance and support from them academically, socially and emotionally.”
¶7During trial, Father introduced a letter from Child’s therapist explaining that Child had been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder caused by “a stressor in [his] life.” That letter further stated that Child was experiencing “significant impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.”
¶8Mother testified about Child’s emotional and social challenges as well. She explained that Child’s school counselor had been helping him to make and keep friends and to learn “what’s acceptable social behavior” and “how to control [his] emotions in school.” Mother testified that although Child was “struggling with focus and attention in school” as well as “emotional outbursts,” he had “improved.” She recounted that Child “struggled with making friends in the beginning,” but was “finally making more” and by that time had friends at the school. Because Child “knows the school now” and “knows the people,” Mother did not “feel that [it would be] right” to “rip [him] away from [the progress he had made] and have him start all over in a new school.” Given that Child was “in therapy for adjustment disorder,” she believed that “[h]aving him switch schools would just exacerbate that [condition]. He again would have to adjust to a huge change in his life.”
¶9Mother also testified about her work schedule. She described how she had started her own business so her schedule would be “flexible” for Child, that she “make[s her] own schedule,” and that the reason she did this was “to be available to [Child] and his school needs and his extracurricular needs . . . so that [she could] revolve [her] work around [her] son.” Mother testified that she and Child have a regular daily routine with a set schedule for school, homework, extracurricular activities, playtime, and sleep when Child is residing at her home in Sandy. Mother asserted that requiring Child to commute to school from Grantsville “probably has at least something to do with [Child’s] activity in school,” that “he hates [the commute],” and that he is sometimes late to school because of “the weather” or “accidents on the freeways.”
¶10 After considering the original evaluation, the updated evaluation, and the other evidence presented at trial, the court issued its custody order. It found that because of Child’s “current emotional and behavioral issues which [had] been diagnosed as an Adjustment Disorder with disturbance of conduct,” his “psychological and emotional” needs were the deciding factor and those needs would benefit from residing primarily with one parent. In support, the court found that Child “struggles in social settings” and has “behavioral issues,” “emotional outbursts,” and “difficulty making friends.” Moreover, “the commute is hard on [Child]” as he was “tired in school,” had “been late on several occasions,” and had even “missed school” because of the long commute.
¶11 Having decided that it was in Child’s best interest to reside primarily with one parent, the court ruled that it was in Child’s best interest for Mother to be the primary custodial parent because Mother’s testimony was “credible and persuasive” regarding the negative impact a change in school would have on Child. The court found changing schools would require Child to “start all over—start at a new school, make new friends and re-adjust,” negatively affecting the progress he had made establishing friends. Moreover, Mother had the ability to provide the “maximum amount of parent-time with the maximum amount of flexibility,” and Mother had “established routines in the morning, evening, and with regard to homework and playtime.”
¶12In keeping with its custody determination, the court also ruled that, “solely” because of “the 100-mile round-trip commute,” the parent-time schedule of “every other week for five days in a row, was not in [Child’s] best interest,” and that the parent-time schedule would be altered in accordance with Utah Code section 30-3-35—Utah’s minimum parent-time schedule. The court ruled that “on alternating weekends, [Father] shall have parent-time from the time [Child’s] school is regularly dismissed on Friday until Sunday at 7 p.m.” Additionally, Father was awarded a mid-week overnight during which Father “pick[s] up [Child] after school, and [Mother] pick[s] up [Child] the next morning.” The court explained, “The new parent-time schedule is in the best interest of [Child]” because “it allows [him] to maximize his time with [Father] while eliminating the constant, back-to-back days of commuting.”
¶13 After the court filed its custody order, Father filed a motion for new trial as well as a motion to amend the court’s findings. The court denied both motions. Father now appeals.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶14Father challenges the district court’s custody order on two grounds. First, he alleges the court failed to articulate sufficient reasons for rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation to award him primary physical custody and that the court based its custody determination on an erroneous fact. Second, he alleges the court failed to make sufficient findings about why it did not award increased parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 303-35.1.
¶15 On appeal, we review the district court’s custody and parent-time determination for abuse of discretion. LeFevre v. Mackelprang, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 17, 440 P.3d 874. This discretion is broad; indeed, as long as the court exercises it “within the confines of the legal standards we have set, and the facts and reasons for the decision are set forth fully in appropriate findings and conclusions, we will not disturb the resulting award.” Davis v. Davis, 749 P.2d 647, 648 (Utah 1988) (cleaned up). We review the court’s “underlying factual findings for clear error.” LeFevre, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 17. “A finding is clearly erroneous only if the finding is without adequate evidentiary support or induced by an erroneous view of the law.” Id. (cleaned up).
The Rejection of the Evaluator’s Recommendation
¶16 Father first challenges the district court’s decision to award primary physical custody to Mother. When determining custody, the court considers many statutorily defined factors, including “the parent’s demonstrated understanding of, responsiveness to, and ability to meet the developmental needs of the child, including the child’s . . . physical needs; . . . emotional needs; . . . [and] any other factor the court finds relevant.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10(2) (LexisNexis 2019).24 But the factors the court considers are “not on equal footing.” See Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. “Generally, it is within the trial court’s discretion to determine, based on the facts before it and within the confines set by the appellate courts, where a particular factor falls within the spectrum of relative importance and to accord each factor its appropriate weight.” Id.
¶17 Although the district court has broad discretion to make custody determinations, it “must set forth written findings of fact and conclusions of law which specify the reasons for its custody decision.” Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1215 (Utah 1996). The findings “must be sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” K.P.S. v. E.J.P., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 27, 414 P.3d 933 (cleaned up). The district court’s conclusions must demonstrate how the decree “follows logically from, and is supported by, the evidence,” Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶ 17, 169 P.3d 754 (cleaned up), “link[ing] the evidence presented at trial to the child’s best interest and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs” whenever “custody is contested,” K.P.S., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 27.
¶18 Father contends that the court failed to “articulate sufficient reasons as to why it rejected [the custody evaluator’s] recommendation” that Child should primarily reside with Father. “[A] district court is not bound to accept a custody evaluator’s recommendation,” but if it rejects such a “recommendation, the court is expected to articulate some reason for” doing so. R.B. v. L.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 18, 339 P.3d 137.
¶19 Here, the court sufficiently supported its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation. The custody evaluator recommended that the court award primary physical custody of Child to Father for two reasons: (1) Father was in “a more stable physical situation” and “not likely to move,” and (2) Child had a “positive and reciprocal relationship with his siblings and [would] be able to attend school with them as well as receive guidance and support from them academically, socially and emotionally.” The court found the evaluation “very helpful” but did “not agree with the ultimate recommendation.”
¶20 The court based its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation on several factors. First, the court disagreed that Mother’s rental apartment was less stable than Father’s living situation because both Mother and Father had relocated multiple times in the last few years and both testified that they intended to stay in their current homes. Second, although the court agreed that keeping the siblings together “would be beneficial” to Child, the court did not “give this factor quite the weight” that the custody evaluator did, because Child had never “lived exclusively with his siblings” and their relationship was not the same as a relationship “between siblings who have been reared together prior to the separation between the parents.”
¶21 The court also detailed how physical custody with Mother would better serve Child’s “psychological and emotional needs.” It found that Mother had “established routines” with Child “in the morning, evening, and with regard to homework and playtime.” She “lived a one[-]child-centered life” and indeed had “built her life around her son”; whereas, Father’s attention was divided among several children. Mother also enjoyed “flexible” self-employment that allowed her to personally provide care for Child, whereas Father’s work schedule was “less flexible” and would require surrogate care.
¶22 The court further determined that it was not in Child’s best interest to change schools, which would be required if Father were awarded primary physical custody. The court emphasized the need for “consistency” and “routine” for Child, as he was exhibiting signs of being “under stress,” “struggle[d] in social settings,” and had “behavioral issues,” “emotional outbursts,” and “difficulty making friends.” In light of these factors, the court determined that “making too many changes all at once” would not be in Child’s best interest. Most notably, the court found Mother’s “testimony credible and persuasive regarding the impact a change of school would have on [Child], given his current condition and the Adjustment Disorder diagnosis.” Because Child had made significant progress “adjusting” to his current school and establishing friendships, the court found that requiring Child to “start all over—start at a new school, make new friends and re-adjust”—would “impact the progress” he had made and would not be in his best interest. Consequently, granting Father primary physical custody, which in turn would require Child to transfer to a school in Grantsville, was not in Child’s best interest.
¶23 Father contends that the court erred because it rejected the custody evaluator’s “recommendation solely based on [an] ‘Adjustment Disorder with disturbance of conduct’ diagnosis” even though “at no time was there any testimony as to how [the diagnosis] affected the Child, and/or how it related to the Child’s relationship with each parent.” But the court did not rest its decision solely on the fact that Child had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Instead, it considered evidence that the disorder was caused by stress, that it manifested as behavioral and social impairments, and that introducing a change such as transferring schools would exacerbate these problems. Specifically, Father introduced a letter from Child’s therapist explaining that Child had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder caused by “a stressor in [his] life” and that he experienced “significant impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.” Mother also gave extensive testimony regarding Child’s struggles with “focus,” “emotional outbursts,” and “making friends,” and she detailed the improvements he had made in those areas. She further testified that, in light of Child’s adjustment disorder diagnosis, “having him switch schools would just exacerbate that” condition and undo the progress he had made because it would require him to “start all over.”
¶24 In sum, the evidence presented at trial sufficiently supports the court’s ruling that Child’s best interests, i.e., his “psychological, physical, and emotional” needs, were best met by Mother being awarded primary physical custody, “outweigh[ing] the factors favoring” a custody award in favor of Father. And the court’s careful evaluation of that evidence certainly “articulate[s] some reason” for rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation. See R.B. v. L.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 18, 339 P.3d 137. Thus, the court acted within its discretion in rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation and awarding Mother primary physical custody.
The Parent-Time Schedule under Utah Code Section 30-3-35
¶25 Father also contends that the district court erred because it did not adopt the optional increased parent time schedule set forth under Utah Code section 30-3-35.1 without making sufficient findings. We disagree.
¶26 “[D]istrict courts are generally afforded broad discretion to establish parent-time.” Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 16, 427 P.3d 1221 (cleaned up). When parents do not agree to a parent-time schedule, Utah Code section 30-3-35 prescribes a “default minimum amount” of “parent-time for the noncustodial parent,” unless “‘the court determines that Section 30-3-35.1 should apply’ or a parent can establish ‘that more or less parent-time should be awarded.’” Id. ¶¶ 5–6 (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 303-34(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2017)); see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-335(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021)). Under that default minimum parent-time schedule, the noncustodial parent is entitled to time with the child on “one weekday evening and on alternating weekends, which include Friday and Saturday overnights.” Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 6. Thus, the noncustodial parent, at minimum, enjoys “two overnights in a typical two-week period.” LeFevre v. Mackelprang, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 20, 440 P.3d 874.
¶27 The court “may consider” an “optional parent-time schedule” set forth in Utah Code section 30-3-35.1(1)–(2), (6), which increases parent-time from two overnights to five overnights in every two-week period “by extending weekend overnights by one night, and affording one weeknight overnight each week.” See Id. ¶ 21; see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35.1(6) (LexisNexis 2019). The court may adopt the optional parent-time schedule when either (a) “the parties agree” or (b) “the noncustodial parent can demonstrate the presence of at least four factual circumstances.” LeFevre, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 22 (cleaned up); see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35.1(2).
¶28 But even if either of these two prerequisites is satisfied, the district court is not obligated to adopt the increased parent-time schedule.25Under Utah Code section 30-3-35.1, the court “is authorized, but not required, to consider the optional increased parent-time schedule as described in the statute.”Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 13. The statute “provides legislatively established standards for the district court to apply in evaluating whether increased parent-time is warranted, and it eliminates the need for a district court to independently fashion an increased parent-time schedule by providing a detailed schedule for the court to modify or adopt.” Id. ¶ 16. But by providing “the district court with some guidance and tools for adopting increased parent-time schedules,” the legislature did not eliminate “the court’s discretion to apply those tools in the best interest of the child.” Id. To the contrary, the statutory language plainly indicates that the adoption of the increased schedule is permissive rather than mandatory. See id.
¶29 Nonetheless, Father argues that once the court “considered” section 30-3-35.1, it was obligated to make findings articulating why it rejected the increased parent-time schedule suggested by the statute. In setting the parent-time schedule, the court largely adopted the minimum schedule set forth in section 30-3-35, except that it increased the weekday evening parent-time to a mid-week overnight. As a result, the only difference between the increased parent-time schedule under section 30-3-35.1 and the schedule actually ordered is an additional weekly Sunday overnight. Father contends that “the trial court should have addressed how it was in the best interest for [Child] to be returned home on Sunday as opposed to Monday morning for school.”
¶30 But Father misunderstands the statutory scheme. When parents cannot agree to a parent-time schedule, section 30-3-35 provides a presumptive minimum, but the district court still retains discretion to award more time than the statute provides. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-34(1)–(2) (“[T]he court may . . . establish a parent-time schedule” but “the parent-time schedule as provided in Section 30-3-35 . . . shall be considered the minimum parent-time to which the noncustodial parent and the child shall be entitled.”). If the court orders more parent-time than the presumptive minimum, it may “independently fashion an increased parent-time schedule” under section 30-3-35, or it may adopt the “detailed schedule” set forth in section 30-3-35.1. See Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 16. In any event, in awarding parent-time, the court is simply required to “enter the reasons underlying [its] order.” See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-34(3). The statute does not require the court to articulate specific reasons for rejecting all other alternatives, such as an additional Sunday overnight that would necessitate another long commute to school every other Monday.
¶31 In keeping with the statutory requirements, the court entered sufficient findings to support its parent-time award under section 30-3-35. The court ordered that “[Father] shall have parent-time pursuant to the guidelines established in Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35” and articulated its reasons for customizing that schedule to allow Father an additional mid-week overnight. The court explained that it was
interested in maximizing [Father’s] time (along with his family) with [Child]. Section 30-3-35 permits a mid-week visit. It is in [Child’s] best interest to have a mid-week visit at [Father’s] home. [Child] will benefit from doing homework with [Father], [his stepmother,] and his siblings. And, because it is only one day a week, the impact of the commute will be minimized. The parties can determine which day works best for them and [Child].
The court concluded that “[t]he new parent-time schedule is in the best interest of [Child]—it allows [him] to maximize his time with [Father] while eliminating the constant, back-to-back days of commuting.” These findings adequately support the ordered parent-time schedule.
¶32Custody and parent-time determinations “may frequently and of necessity require a choice between good and better.” Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 55 (Utah 1982). The broad discretion we accord the district court “stems from the reality that in some cases the court must choose one custodian from two excellent parents.” Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1214 (Utah 1996). That is precisely the situation the district court faced here. And “where analysis reveals that the best interests of the child would be served equally well with either parent,” we cannot say the “court has abused its discretion in awarding custody to one parent over another.” See id. at 1216. Because the district court sufficiently supported its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation for primary custody and articulated the reasons for the parent-time schedule it adopted, we defer to the court’s sound judgment. Affirmed.
In my experience, yes, in most cases. Not all cases, but most cases. And there are varying degrees of greed reflected in the way people approach their divorce cases. Some people get a little greedy (a greed born of fear that they will be destitute if they don’t nail down what they can now), some people are shamelessly greedy (no bounds to an irrational, indefensible desire for as much as they can get their hands on well beyond need).
This is why it is important to understand the laws that govern who is entitled to alimony and in what amounts. Knowing these things helps you better determine the likelihood of whether alimony will be awarded and if so, how much for how long. You can research these laws online and that’s better than nothing, but I wouldn’t rely on what you’ve learned on your own. Talk to an attorney too. After you have done your research (and do the research, so that you have both 1) a baseline understanding and 2) a better ability to determine how well your attorney understands alimony law for your jurisdiction), talk to your attorney about it (if you hired an attorney), and if you don’t plan on hiring an attorney* to represent you in your divorce, schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss this (don’t schedule a free consultation, those are just sales pitches, and you likely won’t learn much or be given much of the attorney’s time either).
*Some people truly cannot afford an attorney in their divorce action. The rest of you not only can afford one, but you’d be fools not to avail yourself of the help a good attorney will be to you. If you believe that divorce law is straightforward and common-sensical, you are woefully mistaken. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to getting legal representation in your divorce action. With the exception of people who have no children and no assets and simply go their separate ways, cutting all ties to each other in the process, a DIY divorce is a terrible idea. Ask anyone who tried to go it alone in his/her divorce whether he/she thinks it was the right course of action.
So you’ve paid your divorce attorney $10,000 or so, it’s been 6 months, and essentially nothing’s getting done. What went wrong?
It could be many things. If you have a bad lawyer (and that’s highly possible) you have my sympathies. Know you’re in good company. So many people choose lawyers the wrong ways. If you realize you picked a bad lawyer, fire and replace that lawyer as soon as you reasonably can, then please share your experiences with as many people as you can, so that they don’t make the same mistakes and suffer as you have.
Most people who hire the wrong lawyer do so by:
1. hiring due to unrealistic fears and expectations which opportunistic lawyers exploit to get people to write such lawyers a blank check (or if not a blank check, a way too big check).
2. hiring too fast (without doing enough searching to find the best lawyer they can afford).
3. hiring too cheap (choosing a lawyer based upon the “lowest bidder” is a recipe for disaster because cheap lawyers are, with rare exception (“so rare it’s not worth so much as hoping for”) lawyers who are incompetent in one way or more. Usually, cheap lawyers are sloppy, lazy, stupid, and/or crooked. That stated, it is not true that the more one pays for a lawyer the better the lawyer will be. You have to find the sweet spot: best value for the money.
a. Good lawyers don’t come cheap, period.
b. A case is rarely won fast and thus rarely won on the cheap.
4. hiring based upon a recommendation. Unless the person who recommended the lawyer to you is someone you know to be so much like you, who has needs and interests, a situation, and a personality so much like you as to be practically indistinguishable from you, taking another’s recommendation on who to hire as an attorney is usually a bad move. **By all means, seek recommendations and seek opinions as to which lawyers to avoid**, **but **make up your own mind by doing your own research and by interviewing the lawyers yourself. Case in point: the lawyer who kicked your best friend’s butt may be the perfect lawyer to kick your spouse’s butt, but your best friend is not likely to tell you that because your best friend likely harbors a grudge against that lawyer.
And enough money to prove you can afford to pay the attorney to do the job well.
Enough money to make the job worthwhile for the lawyer. That’s not just the best way, it’s effectively the only way. With rare, rare exception (so rare it’s not worth so much as hoping for) lawyers practice law for a living, not for fun, not out of their love for humanity generally and not for you or your child. They can’t.
Trying to appeal to the lawyer’s sympathies or trying to guilt the attorney into helping won’t work, but go ahead and try, if you don’t believe me.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
The FIRST questions most frequently asked of me are:
“How much can I expect it to cost me in total to get a divorce?”
“What is your hourly rate?”
“What is your retainer amount?”
“If my spouse and I agree on all the terms of our divorce, how much will cost to get divorced on that basis?”
“Can I get the court to award me my attorney’s fees at the end of the divorce case?”
“How is child support calculated?”
“How is alimony calculated?”
“How can win custody of my children?”
“Does my spouse have a right to any of my retirement savings/pension?”
“Will my spouse having committed adultery/physical abuse/emotional abuse/other bad behavior work in my favor?”
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
It depends mostly upon whether your attorney has a big heart and/or no head for business.
Generally, an attorney who takes your case without being paid as he/she goes but defers payment in the hope that he/she will be paid out of what you collect from your spouse is probably not a very intelligent or competent attorney. Some attorneys (usually new ones or desperate ones—and desperate ones are often new ones) will work a case, even if a client stops paying for his/her work, long after the client stops paying. These kinds of attorneys do this in the desperate hope that the client will eventually pay or because they believe that by getting stiffed, they are heroes/martyrs. In truth, however, these kinds of attorneys are simple fools because clients who have stopped paying (not fallen behind but got caught up—those kinds of clients are fairly common, and we’ve all been a little short sometimes, so it’s good when a creditor will cut us a little slack, as long as we don’t abuse the creditor’s good will) almost never, ever resume paying or paying their past due balances.
To be sure, sometimes a client honestly runs out of money, and when that occurs, the attorney must understand that he/she cannot stay in business working for people who don’t pay for his/her services. There is a class of clients who are simply grifters; they seek out the easy marks and when they find them, they exploit them. These are people who deliberately plan on paying an attorney some money up front to get a case going (and to get the attorney mentally and emotionally invested in the case), who then stop paying but keep the attorney slaving away by telling the attorney things along the lines of, “Oh, I’ve had some hard times, but I will pay you just as soon as I can, so keep working and I’ll pay you eventually, I promise,” or “Once you win me that chunk of money, I’ll pay you out of that,” or, “Please help me! I need this so badly! Think of the children!!!,” stuff like that. Such clients are poison.
Some lawyers (I was such a lawyer once) believe that non-paying clients are better than no clients, so they keep working for non-paying clients in the pathetic (but all too human) belief/hope that the client will be so happy with the great work the attorney does that the client cannot help but finally pay the bill out of gratitude and decency. Such lawyers are chumps. Other attorneys get a sense of nobility from working without pay “to help a struggling client” and to “make my little corner of the world a better place”.
Now don’t get me wrong: attorneys will, at times, volunteer to help those who are poor, but there’s a difference between choosing to work without pay and being duped into working without pay. There’s nothing noble about being a sucker.