JUDGE RYAN D. TENNEY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and JOHN D. LUTHY concurred.
¶1 James and Blanche Cox were married for over 20 years, during which time they had 10 children and acquired a large number of marital assets. In September 2012, Blanche filed for divorce. After 4 years of pretrial litigation and then 14 days of trial, the district court issued a 35-page divorce ruling that settled various issues relating to child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of the marital estate.
¶2 James now appeals, arguing that many of the court’s rulings were not supported by adequate findings. We agree with James with respect to each challenged ruling. We accordingly vacate those rulings and remand for further proceedings.
¶3 James and Blanche Cox were married in 1990. During their marriage, they had 10 children and acquired a large number of assets. In September 2012, Blanche filed for divorce. After 4 years of litigation, the case went to trial, and that trial occurred over the course of 14 days between December 2016 and May 2017. In January 2017 (while the trial was proceeding), the court issued a bifurcated divorce decree granting Blanche’s request for a divorce and reserving other issues for further hearings and determinations.
¶4 In October 2017, the court issued a 35-page Ruling and Memorandum Decision (the Ruling) that entered findings of fact and legal determinations regarding many issues related to child custody, child support, alimony, and the valuation and division of the marital estate. This appeal implicates the court’s findings and determinations regarding essentially three groups of issues: the parties’ marital properties, alimony and child support, and marital debts.
¶5 The court found that James and Blanche “enjoyed the benefit or acquired” five properties during their marriage: (1) the Hildale Home, (2) the Henderson Home, (3) the Eagle Mountain Home, (4) the Rockville Property, and (5) the Cedar Highlands Lots. The court then entered findings and made rulings regarding how to divide the parties’ marital interest in each property.
¶6 The Hildale Home: The court found that James built this home (located, as our reference would suggest, in Hildale, Utah) before his marriage to Blanche. The court found that James, Blanche, and their children lived in this property until 2010, after which they moved to a different residence. The court heard testimony that title to the Hildale Home was held by the United Effort Plan Trust (the Trust). But the court then concluded that no evidence had been presented of the value of James’s interest in the Trust and that “establishing the value of a beneficial interest in property of the [Trust]” would be “practically and legally impossible.” The court acknowledged that Blanche had submitted an appraisal of the Hildale Home at trial (which, according to the record on appeal, estimated its value as being around $200,000), but the court concluded that the appraisal was deficient because it failed to account for costs and fees associated with the Trust ownership. From all this—and without any further explanation— the court then ruled that Blanche was “entitled to an award of $100,000” based on the home’s value.
¶7 The Henderson Home: The court found that this home was purchased by James in 2004 for $420,000. It found that after the parties fell behind on mortgage payments, at which point they still owed around $288,000, the house was “lost in a short sale in 2013 for $225,000.” The court made a finding that the fair market value of the home at the time, according to Zillow, was $323,861.
¶8 But the court also heard competing testimony from the parties about whether the loss of the home could have been avoided. From Blanche, the court heard testimony that the home “could have been rented out” but that James refused to sign papers that would have modified the loan and, theoretically, allowed the parties to avoid losing it. From James, however, the court heard testimony that maintaining or leasing the home wasn’t actually possible for several different reasons.
¶9 From this, the court found that “[t]he parties would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity to split if they had kept” the Henderson Home and “rented it as suggested by [Blanche] numerous times.” The court then ruled that James “should be responsible to, and give [Blanche] credit for, $50,000 in equity representing her share of the lost asset dissipated by him.”
¶10 The Eagle Mountain Home: The court found that James and Blanche bought this home in 2009 and made a $120,000 down payment on it, $80,000 of which was borrowed from James’s mother. The court found that they moved into the home sometime in 2010 and began using it as their primary residence. James testified that he had at one point intended to sell the Eagle Mountain Home in an effort “to cover all the debts” on the parties’ credit cards but that Blanche refused to cooperate with him on the sale. Evidence presented at trial suggested that the home was sold in 2015 by a bankruptcy trustee for $520,000, with the parties still owing $292,000 at that time. Without citing any specific piece of evidence, the court found that if the Eagle Mountain Home had “not been lost to a forced sale, [Blanche] would have been able to receive at least another $25,000 today because of the current market value of $606,000,” and the court then ruled that she was “entitled to that sum.”
¶11 The Rockville Property: The court described this as a “7.5 acre parcel of farm property” located near Rockville, Utah. In its ruling on how to divide the marital interest in this property, the court referred to evidence it had received indicating that the parties were “forced to sell” the property for $270,000 after falling behind on the mortgage payments, as well as evidence showing that the parties still owed around $190,000 on the property when it was sold.
¶12 But the court then referred to several sources of evidence it had received that suggested that this property had a higher value and could have been sold for more. For example, it referred to evidence that a realtor had listed what the court thought was a similar 11.4 acre parcel for $1,195,000 (though the court then acknowledged that it was “debatable” whether this comparison provided an accurate valuation for the Rockville Property). The court also noted testimony that a realtor had valued the property at “approximately $900,000” due to “28 [shares of] water rights [that were] attached to it.” And the court referred to an “analysis from Zillow” that suggested the property’s value was $1,195,000.
¶13 From all this, the court then found that the forced sale of the property for $270,000 was a loss that “cost the parties at least $450,000 each,” and the court awarded Blanche “damages of $450,000 offset by monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000.”
¶14 The Cedar Highlands Lots: The Cedar Highlands Lots were “two lots down by Cedar City,” one of which was around 2 acres and the other around 2.5 acres. The court found that the lots were purchased for $40,000 each sometime in 2003 but that they were later “lost” through a forced sale because of the parties’ ongoing failure to pay various taxes and fees.
¶15 At trial, there was conflicting evidence and argument about the amount of the loss suffered by the parties because of the sale of these lots. James testified that the parties lost $60,000, while Blanche claimed that they lost somewhere between $153,000 and $280,000 (with her estimate being largely based on the lots’ appreciation in value since the time that the parties had purchased them—and, thus, the parties’ loss of potential equity by virtue of the forced sale). The court ultimately found that the parties’ inability to “pay the property taxes and Homeowners Association fees . . . resulted in [an] $80,000 loss to the parties.” The court did not explain how it had arrived at the $80,000 amount, nor did it explain how this loss was to be distributed between the parties.
Alimony and Child Support
¶16 Blanche’s Income: Under an initial subheading of the Ruling that was entitled “The Parties[’] Income,” the court found that Blanche is “an experienced bookkeeper with QuickBooks who has elected to be employed by About Faceology,” but that she was currently a “self employed Uber/Lift driver and has been so since 2015.” Under a subsequent subheading entitled “Income of the Parties,” however, the court then determined that “[f]or child support purposes [Blanche’s] income cannot be imputed at more than [the] minimum wage of $1,257 per month.” Elsewhere in the Ruling, and without explanation for the discrepancy, the court found that Blanche’s imputed minimum wage income was actually $1,260 per month (rather than $1,257). The court included no explanation for its conclusion that Blanche’s income could not be imputed at more than the minimum wage.
¶17 Child Support: At the time of the Ruling, the parties had five minor children. The court initially ordered James to pay $3,781 per month in child support. Elsewhere in the Ruling, however, and again without explanation, the court stated that it was ordering James to pay $3,336 per month in child support.
¶18 Alimony: Turning to alimony, the court noted that under the controlling statute, it should consider a number of factors. One of the factors it considered was Blanche’s “financial condition and needs.” With respect to this factor, the court opined that Blanche’s “needs have been overstated in her financial declarations,” but the court made no ruling about Blanche’s financial condition and what her needs actually were. With respect to Blanche’s earning capacity, the court again noted that Blanche “claim[ed] she earns just a little better than minimum [wage] even though she is an experienced and sophisticated bookkeeper with many years of experience having run, managed, overseen and monitored millions of dollars in income and expenses that ran through the parties[’] businesses.” But the court made no further findings about her particular earning capacity as it related to a potential alimony award. The court also noted that there were “minor children in the home,” five of whom were “younger than eighteen years of age or have not yet graduated from high school with their expected class.” But the court made no findings about how (or how much) these children impacted Blanche’s earning capacity. Finally, with respect to James’s ability to pay alimony, the court found that James was a “voluntarily under employed” electrician, and it then opined that “[t]here is no question that [Blanche] claims that her needs exceed hers and [James’s] monthly incomes.” Considering these factors together, the court then ordered James to pay $8,286 per month in alimony.
¶19 Finally, the court made certain findings concerning the “business debt” that was “incurred” by the parties during the marriage. While the divorce proceedings were pending, James filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. In the Ruling, the court found that, after the bankruptcy proceedings had begun, James incurred $30,000 in debt while purchasing stock in his business and business-related property from the bankruptcy trustee. Since the court determined that Blanche was “entitled to 50% of [the] value” of the business, the court then concluded that she was entitled to an award of $15,000 as a result of this debt.
¶20 The court also noted that Blanche had “received financial compensation from the sale of assets and the conversion of assets into cash.” But the court opined that it was “difficult, if not impossible, to decipher whether each expenditure was personal, business related, or partially business-related.” From this, and without further explanation, the court awarded Blanche “judgment against [James] in the amount of $50,000.”
Motions for Clarification
¶21 James and Blanche were both dissatisfied with the Ruling, and in January 2018, they each filed a motion requesting clarification. Each motion raised a host of issues regarding alleged errors.
¶22 Of note here, in her motion, Blanche asked for clarification “as to whether or not” she was entitled to $25,000 for the Eagle Mountain Home or, instead, “another amount.” She argued that an award of $25,000 “seem[ed] incorrect mathematically” because if the fair market value of the Eagle Mountain Home was $606,000, and the home sold for $520,000, the “resulting equity would have been $86,000, which if divided equally would result in [Blanche] receiving judgment for $43,000,” as opposed to $25,000. Blanche also requested clarification as to the court’s determination “that the loss to the parties” concerning the Cedar Highlands Lots was $80,000. She argued that, based on the evidence presented at trial, the loss was $280,000. Blanche also requested clarification regarding the court’s determination of marital debts, specifically, whether the $15,000 was “to be added to the $50,000 for a total of $65,000” or whether “there [was] another number the court considered.” Finally, Blanche requested clarification of the court’s order regarding child support, given that in one portion of its Ruling the court ordered James to pay child support in the amount of $3,781 per month, and in another portion it altered that amount to $3,336 per month.
¶23 In his motion, James likewise requested clarification of various aspects of the Ruling. Among other things, he asked the court to “enter supplemental, amended, and or additional findings” regarding its ruling that Blanche was “entitled to $100,000” concerning the Hildale Home, explaining that he was “unaware of any evidence upon which the [court] could have relied in finding the $100,000 in equity the [court] awarded” Blanche. James also asked for clarification on the court’s findings concerning the Henderson Home, Eagle Mountain Home, and Rockville Property, asserting that the court had not “identified the facts upon which it relied” in making its calculations. Regarding the Henderson Home, James alleged that the court’s finding that “the parties would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity if the home had been rented” for the years 2013 through 2017 “fail[ed] to account for the costs of managing a rental property from a long distance, the likelihood of vacancies, the cost of utilities, maintenance, repairs, property taxes” and other related fees. Regarding the Eagle Mountain Home, James argued that the Ruling did not “accurately account for the additional $25,000” that Blanche received from the bankruptcy trustee “in addition to the $102,486.28 she received” from the sale. Regarding the Rockville Property, James requested clarification as to what facts the court relied upon to conclude that “the parties owned 28 shares of water,” given that the evidence “actually showed,” in his view, that they owned only 19 shares of water. Additionally, James requested clarification as to the court’s comparison of the Rockville Property to a parcel of “11.4 acre[s] of land with Virgin River frontage that was listed for $1,195,000.” Finally, with respect to the marital debts, James asked the court to “enter supplemental, amended and or additional findings” that would “identify the facts upon which [the court] relied in awarding [Blanche] $15,000 representing [the business’s] hypothetical equity or value.”
¶24 In the meantime, the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) intervened in the case based on its obligation to provide child support enforcement services. ORS filed a memo in response to Blanche’s motion for clarification in which it likewise requested clarification of the child support amount. After recounting its view of the evidence, ORS recommended that if Blanche’s income was imputed at minimum wage, and if James’s income was imputed at $18,500 per month, James should be ordered to pay $3,236 per month for the five minor children.
¶25 In August 2018, the court issued a ruling on James’s and Blanche’s motions. With respect to the child support amount, the court now ordered that James’s monthly obligation be $3,236 per month, thus apparently adopting ORS’s recommendation. With respect to the properties, the court now ruled—without explanation—that Blanche was entitled to $25,000 in relation to the Eagle Mountain Home and $40,000 for the Cedar Highland Lots. And with respect to the marital debts, the court found— again without explanation—that “[t]he $15,000 amount awarded is to be added to the $50,000 amount awarded for a total of $65,000” to be awarded to Blanche.
¶26 The court ordered Blanche’s counsel to prepare the final findings of fact and conclusions of law. In a November 2018 filing, however, Blanche alleged that she was unable to do so without “additional findings” regarding, among others, the marital debts. In May 2019, the court heard additional oral arguments. After the parties filed additional objections and motions, the case was reassigned from Judge Lynn Davis—who had heard the trial testimony and had issued both the Ruling and the rulings on the motions for clarification—to Judge Robert Lunnen. Judge Lunnen then heard oral arguments on the parties’ objections and outstanding motions.
The Supplemental Decree
¶27 In April 2021, the court (through Judge Lunnen) issued a “Supplemental Decree of Divorce” (the Supplemental Decree).
¶28 The Supplemental Decree reiterated and incorporated many of the findings and determinations from the Ruling. As in the Ruling, for example, the court awarded Blanche $100,000 for the Hildale Home, $50,000 for the Henderson Home, and the (clarified) amount of $40,000 for the Cedar Highlands Lots. But without explanation, the court altered the order regarding the Eagle Mountain Home, awarding Blanche $43,000 as opposed to the $25,000 that was previously ordered. Also without explanation, the court altered the order regarding the Rockville Property, first concluding that Blanche’s offset should be $38,000, not $42,000, and now awarding Blanche $412,000 from this property as opposed to the $408,000 that had previously been awarded.
¶29 The court also determined that Blanche’s income should be imputed at minimum wage for a total of $1,260 per month. Based on its findings about the parties’ incomes, it then ordered James to pay $3,236 per month in child support, and it again ordered him to pay $8,286 per month in alimony.
¶30 Finally, the court awarded Blanche $65,000 relating to the marital debts. The court explained that $15,000 of that amount “represent[ed] her interest” in various purchases made by James from the bankruptcy trustee and that the remaining $50,000 represented “her interest in other assets, business and otherwise.”
¶31 James timely appealed.
ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶32 James argues that the district court issued “inadequate” fact findings to explain its rulings regarding the marital properties, child support and alimony, and marital debts. “We review the legal adequacy of findings of fact for correctness as a question of law.” Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 4, 427 P.3d 1221 (quotation simplified); see also Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262 (“We review the legal sufficiency of factual findings—that is, whether the trial court’s factual findings are sufficient to support its legal conclusions—under a correction-of-error standard, according no particular deference to the trial court.” (quotation simplified)).
¶33 A district court’s “[f]indings of fact are adequate . . . only when they are sufficiently detailed to disclose the steps by which the district court reached its ultimate conclusion on each issue.” Oldroyd v. Oldroyd, 2017 UT App 45, ¶ 5, 397 P.3d 645. When assessing a challenge to the adequacy of a district court’s findings, we look to whether the court “adequately disclosed the analytic steps” it took in reaching its conclusions. Keiter v. Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 21, 235 P.3d 782. In this sense, the court’s findings of fact must show that its “judgment or decree follows logically from, and is supported by, the evidence.” Id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified). “This obligation facilitates meaningful appellate review and ensures the parties are informed of the trial court’s reasoning.” Shuman v. Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 5, 406 P.3d 258; see also Fish v. Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22, 379 P.3d 882 (explaining that findings “are adequate when they contain sufficient detail to permit appellate review to ensure that the district court’s discretionary determination was rationally based”). While “unstated findings can be implied if it is reasonable to assume that the trial court actually considered the controverted evidence and necessarily made a finding to resolve the controversy, but simply failed to record the factual determination it made,” Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22 (quotation simplified), we “will not imply any missing finding where there is a matrix of possible factual findings and we cannot ascertain the trial court’s actual findings,” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1025–26 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (quotation simplified).
¶34 James argues that a number of the court’s findings were inadequate. His arguments address three groups of findings— namely, findings regarding (I) marital properties, (II) child support and alimony, and (III) marital debts. We address each group in turn.
¶35 James first challenges the adequacy of the findings that supported the rulings about how to value and distribute the parties’ marital properties. We recognize at the outset that district courts “have considerable discretion in determining property distribution in divorce cases.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 11, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). But while a district court “does not have to accept [a party’s] proposed valuation” of an item in the marital estate, the court “does have to make findings sufficient to allow us to review and determine whether an equitable property award has been made.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 53, 379 P.3d 890. In ruling on such a claim, we will uphold a district court’s “valuation of marital assets” if “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.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 64, 507 P.3d 385 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022).
The Hildale Home
¶36 James first argues that the court’s findings regarding the Hildale Home were inadequate. In James’s view, the court “simply concluded that $100,000 was an appropriate amount of an award without providing factual findings” supporting “the appropriateness” of that award. We agree.
¶37 The court’s discussion of the Hildale Home spans roughly two pages of the Ruling. Much of the discussion concerns the ownership of the home. The court found that the home’s title is held by the Trust, that James’s interest in the home is that “of a beneficiary” to the Trust, and that Blanche, by contrast, is “not a legal beneficiary” of the Trust. But the court then found that “[n]o evidence was presented to the court of the value [of] [James’s] beneficial interest” in the Trust and that “establishing the value of a beneficial interest in property of the [Trust] is practically and legally impossible[,]” in part, because “the Trust is not receptive to, nor responsive to, legal inquiries.” The court also recognized that Blanche submitted an appraisal of the home, but it then concluded that the appraisal was not an adequate mechanism for establishing the home’s value because the appraisal failed to account for “title to the home being in the [Trust], the costs of getting the [Hildale Home] conveyed from the [Trust], or the thousands of dollars owed to the [court] appointed Trustee of the [Trust] which the Trustee is owed for administering the [Trust’s] assets.” After discounting its ability to rely on either James’s interest in the Trust or Blanche’s appraisal, the court ruled that the property was “a marital asset” to some “narrow extent.” Without further explanation, it then ruled that while it couldn’t grant title to Blanche, she was “entitled to an award of $100,000.”
¶38 We recognize the difficulties that the court faced with this trial in general—as should be clear by now, this was a very complicated divorce with a lot of things to decide and divide. And as evidenced by the preceding paragraph, the nature of parties’ apparent interest in the Hildale Home made the question of how to divide that interest particularly complicated. But even so, we see nothing in the Ruling that “adequately disclosed the analytic steps” the court took, Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 21, when deciding that Blanche was entitled to $100,000. The court clearly explained what it thought it couldn’t rely on, but it didn’t explain what it thought it could rely on or how it arrived at this particular amount. Without such an explanation, James has no meaningful way to challenge that $100,000 award, nor do we have any meaningful way to assess whether it was legally warranted in light of the “matrix of possible factual findings” on this issue that are apparent from the record. Hall, 858 P.2d at 1025 (quotation simplified). We accordingly vacate this determination.
The Henderson Home
¶39 James next argues that the court “did not provide any analysis” as to how it determined there was $100,000 in equity in the Henderson Home and that, as a result, the $50,000 award to Blanche was based on inadequate findings. We agree.
¶40 The court found that the home was purchased by James in 2004 for $420,000. It explained that by August 2012, James and Blanche were “months behind in their [mortgage] payment” and that they owed $288,000 when the home was “lost in a short sale in 2013 for $225,000.” The court made a finding that the fair market value of the home at the time—according to Zillow—was $323,861. The court found that James and Blanche “would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity to split if they had” managed to keep the home, but because James “ignored” Blanche’s suggestions to rent the home out, which in theory would have prevented them from losing it, it then ruled that James “should be responsible to, and give [Blanche] credit for, $50,000 in equity representing her share of the lost asset dissipated by him.” It appears the court thus based the $50,000 award on its finding that “the parties could likely have rented and made money as shown or just maintained [the Henderson Home] and sold it for profit presently.”
¶41 James’s initial argument here is that it’s unclear how the court arrived at the $100,000 in equity that it then divided. In response, Blanche suggests that this amount could have been derived from the court’s apparent acceptance of the home’s fair market value as being $323,861 (a value derived from Zillow— which, again, neither party has challenged on appeal as being improper), an amount that is approximately (though, we note, not precisely) $100,000 more than the parties received in the short sale. We have some concern that Blanche is asking us to do too much inferential work on our own, and we could vacate on this basis alone. But in any event, the court’s division of the apparent equity also seems to have been based on a dissipation (or, perhaps, a waste) determination stemming from James’s conduct. Assuming this was so, the court’s findings about James’s conduct, whether the home could actually have been rented out, what the parties could have received in rent, and whether this unspoken amount would actually have prevented them from losing the home were all either missing or decidedly cursory. We’ve previously held, however, held that when a court rules that a party “should be held accountable for the dissipation of marital assets,” the court must support the ruling with “sufficiently detailed findings of fact that explain the trial court’s basis” for that ruling, and we’ve also laid out a number of factors that “may be relevant to” and could support such a ruling. Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶¶ 19–21, 316 P.3d 455 (quotation simplified). While that list is not mandatory or exhaustive, we still have an inadequate findings-based foundation here from which we could review what seems to have been an implicit dissipation determination. When coupled with the lack of explanatory findings about the basis for the equity determination, we conclude that the findings about this home are, as a whole, legally inadequate to support meaningful appellate review of this ruling. We accordingly vacate them.
The Eagle Mountain Home
¶42 James argues that the court’s findings regarding the Eagle Mountain Home were legally inadequate. We agree.
¶43 In the Ruling, the court (through Judge Davis) initially awarded Blanche $25,000 for this home. But the court failed to explain the analytic steps it took to arrive at that amount. The court did enter a few findings about this home—namely, that the parties made a $120,000 down payment when they purchased the home in 2009 ($80,000 of which was borrowed from James’s mother), that they were forced to sell it in 2015 in conjunction with James’s bankruptcy, and that, as a result of that sale, Blanche received “one half” of its equity. But the court made no findings about the sale price or how much equity the parties had in the home at the time of the sale. And then, without any explanation, the court opined that “[h]ad it not been lost to a forced sale,” Blanche “would have been able to receive at least another $25,000 today” because of the home’s “current market value.” The court provided no basis for the $25,000 amount, and we see no reasonable basis in its findings for inferring one.
¶44 Of note, the court (through Judge Lunnen) then changed the awarded amount in the Supplemental Decree, now awarding Blanche $43,000 for it. But the court didn’t explain why it increased this award from the award that had previously been entered in the Ruling. And while Blanche suggests on appeal that the court had now accepted a new valuation of the home that she offered in her motion for clarification, the court never said that it was doing so, nor did it provide any other explanation for why it increased this award at all, let alone by this particular amount.
¶45 In light of this procedural history, it’s unclear to us what analytic steps led the court to first award Blanche $25,000 for this home and what caused the court to later change that award to $43,000. As a result, the findings with respect to this home are legally inadequate and are therefore vacated.
The Rockville Property
¶46 James argues that the court’s findings about the Rockville Property are legally inadequate because it’s “not clear” how the court “reached its valuation of the Rockville Property” or how it divided that value as part of its division of the marital estate. We agree.
¶47 In the Ruling, the court explained that the Rockville Property was a “7.5 acre parcel of farm property” owned by James and Blanche near Rockville, Utah. As for its value and how to determine that value, the court pointed to three options: (1) it noted that a realtor had listed a similar 11.4 acre parcel for $1,195,000, though the court opined that this valuation was “debatable”; (2) the court noted that Blanche “discussed” its value with a realtor who “indicated back then” (which, though unsaid by the court, seems from context to have been in 2013) that the “lot was worth approximately $900,000, due to the 28 water rights attached to it”; and (3) the court pointed to a “[c]urrent market value analysis from Zillow” that “estimate[d]” the property’s value at $1,195,000. The court then found that the parties were “forced to sell” the property in December 2013 for $270,000 due to financial troubles. And the court apparently faulted James for this, determining that at the time of the forced sale, the parties “only owed approximately $190,000” on the property, that it could have been refinanced, and that it was James’s fault that they did not do so. From this, the court found that the forced sale “cost the parties at least $450,000 each,” and it accordingly awarded Blanche “damages of $450,000 offset by monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000.”
¶48 From an adequacy-of-the-findings perspective, the initial problem here is that the court never stated whether it was accepting $1,195,000 or $900,000 as the property’s value. Given that the property’s value would be the numerator for any division of it as a marital asset, this omission is, of course, significant. And while Blanche invites us to engage in some loose math that would account for both possibilities and arrive at the same endpoint, the difference between the two initial valuations might matter if James wished to mount a sufficiency of the evidence challenge. Moreover, to the extent that the court’s determination about how to divide the property’s value turned on an implicit dissipation determination, we again note that the court failed to support such a determination with adequate findings. And finally, while the court offset the award to Blanche by “monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000,” an amount that it later changed to $38,000 in the Supplemental Decree, the court didn’t explain the basis for either amount in either ruling.
¶49 Given the unanswered questions about how the court valued both this property and the offset, we have no basis for conducting a meaningful review of this award. We accordingly vacate it.
The Cedar Highlands Lots
¶50 James’s final property-related challenge is to the findings regarding the Cedar Highlands Lots. In James’s view, the court improperly failed to “indicate . . . how the $80,000 was calculated.” We again agree.
¶51 In the Ruling, the court found that James and a business partner had purchased the two lots for $40,000 each, that Blanche had “controlled the book-keeping for the marital businesses,” and that the lots “were lost when the parties were unable or could not pay the property taxes and Home Owners Association fees,” thus “result[ing] in [an] $80,000 loss to the parties.” In a subsequent ruling, the court determined that this loss should now result in an award of $40,000 to Blanche, and that award was later confirmed in the Supplemental Decree.
¶52 From the court’s findings, it’s unclear why the court determined that there was an $80,000 loss. The court seems to have assumed that the lots were completely lost with no return in value, but the court never said so. And more importantly, even assuming that this was the implicit finding, the court never explained why it concluded that Blanche should receive an award of $40,000 as the result of this particular loss to the marital estate of $80,000. Without such an explanation, we have no meaningful basis for reviewing the ruling. As a result, we vacate it.
Child Support and Alimony
¶53 James challenges the adequacy of the findings relating to child support and alimony. James’s challenges here fall into two groups: first, he challenges the adequacy of the findings relating to Blanche’s income (which, as explained below, matter to both child support and alimony); and second, with respect to the alimony determination, he challenges the adequacy of the court’s findings relating to Blanche’s financial condition and needs.
¶54 James argues that the court’s findings regarding Blanche’s income were inadequate because they failed to “provide any reasoning for disregarding [Blanche’s] earning capacity.” We agree.
¶55 A party’s income matters to a determination of both child support and alimony. First, with respect to child support, a “noncustodial parent’s child support obligation is calculated using each parent’s adjusted gross income.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 34, 509 P.3d 806 (quotation simplified); see also Utah Code §§ 78B-12-202, -301 (establishing guidelines for child support awards). Importantly, the court “is required to enter detailed and specific findings on all material issues which must be considered when making a child support award.” Breinholt v. Breinholt, 905 P.2d 877, 881 (Utah Ct. App. 1995) (quotation simplified). But “so long as the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached are apparent, a trial court may make findings, credibility determinations, or other assessments without detailing its justification for finding particular evidence more credible or persuasive than other evidence supporting a different outcome.” Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 6 (quotation simplified). Second, with respect to alimony, a court must examine, among other factors, “the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified). And a court must in “all cases . . . support its alimony determinations with adequate findings . . . on all material issues,” and “failure to do so constitutes reversible error, unless pertinent facts in the record are clear, uncontroverted, and capable of supporting only a finding in favor of the judgment.” Id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified).
¶56 Of note, when “there is insufficient evidence of one of the statutory alimony factors, courts may impute figures.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 98, 452 P.3d 1134 (quotation simplified). For example, a “court may impute income to a former spouse for purposes of calculating alimony after finding that the former spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed.” Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 15. And it “is not unusual for courts to impute income to a spouse who has not worked during the marriage (or who has not worked for a number of years preceding the divorce) but who is nevertheless capable of producing income.” Petrzelka v. Goodwin, 2020 UT App 34, ¶ 26, 461 P.3d 1134 (emphasis in original). But when a court imputes income, the “imputation cannot be premised upon mere conjecture; instead, it demands a careful and precise assessment requiring detailed findings.” Christensen v. Christensen, 2017 UT App 120, ¶ 22, 400 P.3d 1219 (quotation simplified); see also Reller v. Argenziano, 2015 UT App 241, ¶ 33, 360 P.3d 768 (“Before imputing income to a parent, the trial court must enter findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” (quotation simplified)).
¶57 Income can likewise be imputed as part of a child support determination. See Utah Code § 78B-12-203(8). But, as with an alimony award, a court must support such an imputation with adequate findings. See id. § 78B-12-203(8)(a) (explaining that in contested cases, “[i]ncome may not be imputed to a parent unless,” after an evidentiary hearing on the matter, the court “enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis or the imputation”); id. § 78B-12-203(8)(b) (detailing the evidentiary bases upon which a court may impute income for child support purposes); see also Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 10 (“Imputation cannot be premised upon mere conjecture; instead, it demands a careful and precise assessment requiring detailed findings.” (quotation simplified)).
¶58 Here, the court determined that although Blanche was currently working as a “self employed Uber/Lift driver,” her “income cannot be imputed at more than minimum wage of $1,257 per month.” In a different portion of the Ruling, however, the court found that Blanche’s “gross income” should actually be imputed at “$1,260 per month.”
¶59 On appeal, James doesn’t focus on this three-dollar discrepancy. Rather, James argues that the court erred by failing to explain why Blanche’s income should be imputed at minimum wage at all. As James points out, the court elsewhere found that Blanche is “an experienced bookkeeper with QuickBooks who has elected to be employed by About Faceology,” and it further found that she was “an experienced and sophisticated bookkeeper with many years of experience having run, managed, overseen and monitored millions of dollars in income and expenses that ran through the parties[’] businesses.”
¶60 Having reviewed the Ruling, we see no explanation for the court’s determination that, although Blanche is an experienced bookkeeper with the skill set to manage millions of dollars in income for a company, her income should still be imputed at minimum wage. In an attempt to justify this on appeal, Blanche points to a passing statement from the alimony portion of the ruling in which the court noted that the parties “have ten children, five of which are younger than eighteen years of age or have not yet graduated from high school with their expected class.” But as James points out in response, the parties had even more minor children at home during the years in which Blanche was working as a bookkeeper with responsibilities for “millions of dollars in income.” And while it’s possible that the court believed that something had now changed that would prevent Blanche from still doing this work (such as her new status as a post-divorce single parent), the court never said this or entered any findings to support such a determination, it never explained why it was implicitly determining that Blanche could work as an Uber/Lyft driver but not as a bookkeeper, and it entered no findings to explain why her current employment as an Uber/Lyft driver would result in an income imputation of minimum wage.
¶61 To be clear: as with the other issues in this appeal, we express no opinion about the proper resolution of any of these questions. But without an explanation from the district court, James has no basis for properly challenging the decision about Blanche’s income, nor do we have an adequate basis for reviewing it. Given the importance of Blanche’s income to both child support and alimony, we accordingly vacate those rulings.
Blanche’s Financial Condition and Needs
¶62 As part of its alimony determination, the court was also required to consider Blanche’s “financial condition and needs.” Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified). James argues that the court failed to enter adequate findings to support this assessment. We agree.
¶63 In the Ruling, the court noted that Blanche had claimed that she had “monthly needs of $18,565,” but it then concluded that these needs were “overstated.” And while Blanche had also suggested that she needed the alimony award to account for “over $200,000 in credit card and business debts,” the court suggested that this debt was either accounted for by other portions of its ruling or had “been discharged in the bankruptcy case.”
¶64 But even so, while the court then concluded that James “simply does not make sufficient money to satisfy all of [Blanche’s] claims” about what “she reasonably needs to support herself,” the court did not make any determination about what Blanche’s needs actually are. As James correctly points out, the absence of such an explanation prevents us from conducting a meaningful review of how this factor should weigh into the court’s alimony award, a problem that is compounded by the failure discussed above to adequately explain its determination about Blanche’s income.
¶65 We accordingly vacate the alimony award to allow the court to enter more detailed findings and, “if necessary, recalculat[e] . . . appropriate alimony.” Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, 2005 UT App 67U, para. 6 (quotation simplified); see also Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶¶ 39–40, 449 P.3d 202 (faulting a district court for not “spelling out” “how much more [the petitioner] actually needs each month to pay down her debt and elevate herself to the marital standard of living,” thus leaving the appellate court “unable to discern whether the alimony award, in fact, exceeds her needs”).
III. Marital Debts
¶66 Finally, James challenges the adequacy of the court’s findings with respect to the parties’ marital debts. We agree that these findings are inadequate.
¶67 “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.” Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 32, 515 P.3d 481 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022); see also Utah Code § 30-3-5(3)(c)(i). Utah law “requires only a fair and equitable, not an equal, division of the marital debts.” Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 32 (quotation simplified). A district court is in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions”; as a result, a district court’s division of marital debts is “entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified). But, again, the district court must enter findings of fact that are “sufficiently detailed to disclose the steps by which [it] reached its ultimate conclusion on each issue.” Oldroyd, 2017 UT App 45, ¶ 5.
¶68 Here, the court found that the “parties incurred business debt while married.” James challenges the adequacy of the findings with respect to two of those debts.
¶69 First, the court found that as a result of James’s bankruptcy, James took on $30,000 in debt to finance the purchase of his business’s stock and other business-related property. In the court’s view, Blanche was “entitled to 50% of [the] value” of the business, which meant, in its view, that she was also entitled to $15,000. But the court never explained why it concluded that Blanche was entitled to this amount. While it’s possible, as Blanche now suggests, that the court thought that James had drawn the $30,000 from marital assets—and, thus, that $15,000 of it belonged to Blanche—the court didn’t say this, and its reference to this as “$30,000” in “debt” that James had incurred is somewhat at odds with this inference. In the absence of any explanation, we vacate this ruling.
¶70 Second, at the close of the “Marital Debts” section of its ruling, the court found that Blanche had “received financial compensation from the sale of assets and the conversion of assets into cash.” But it then opined that it was “difficult, if not impossible, to decipher whether each expenditure was personal, business related, or partially business-related.” Without any further explanation, the court then held that Blanche
was “awarded judgment against [James] in the amount of $50,000.”
¶71 It’s entirely unclear to us what the basis for this $50,000
award was. So far as we can tell, the court seems to have concluded that Blanche had already received some prior distributions from marital assets and that she should now receive $50,000 more. But there’s no explanation for how the court arrived at this particular amount, what the amount was linked to, or why it would be listed alongside an analysis of “Marital Debts.” Without any such explanation, we vacate this award.
¶72 We agree with James’s assertion that the challenged findings were not legally adequate and that these inadequacies impaired both his ability to challenge the court’s various rulings and our ability to review them. We accordingly vacate the above rulings and remand the case with instructions for the court to enter more detailed findings and then alter any of its rulings as may be necessary.
 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.
 In this Background, we’ll recount the main findings regarding each ruling at issue on appeal, but in some instances, additional relevant findings will be discussed in the Analysis below.
 With respect to some (though not all) of the dollar amounts included in the rulings at issue, the court added “.00” signifiers. For readability, those have been omitted throughout this opinion.
 As noted above, the court had previously entered a bifurcated divorce decree while the trial on the parties’ assets and the like was still ongoing.
 As evidenced by the passages quoted above, there’s something of a disconnect in how we’ve referred to this kind of argument in past cases. In some cases, we’ve described it as an argument about the “legal adequacy” of the district court’s findings, see, e.g., Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 20, 427 P.3d 1221, but in others, we’ve described it as an argument about the “legal sufficiency” of the findings, see, e.g., Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262. For consistency’s sake, it might be better if bench and bar alike settled on a single usage. And on reflection, we suggest that such an argument should be described in adequacy terms.
The reason for this is to reduce the potential for confusing this kind of argument with the similar sounding but substantively distinct “sufficiency of the evidence” argument. At the risk of over-simplification: a sufficiency of the evidence argument asserts that there was insufficient evidentiary support for a particular factual finding. As detailed more fully below, however, the argument at issue here—a challenge to the adequacy of the findings—asserts that the court’s findings did not adequately explain the basis for the court’s rulings, thereby impairing our ability to review those rulings (for sufficiency of the evidence or anything else).
Two notes are warranted at the outset—one about our usage patterns regarding the rulings at issue, and one about a threshold argument made by Blanche.
First, as discussed above, there are two decisions that largely drive the various arguments in this case: the Ruling and the Supplemental Decree. The Ruling was issued by Judge Davis, who heard the trial evidence, while the Supplemental Decree was issued by Judge Lunnen, who was assigned to the case after the Ruling was issued. At one of the hearings in the intervening period, Judge Lunnen responded to a party’s argument by stating that “[t]he findings, they’re set in stone. So all this is . . . a result of the findings.” As noted, however, Judge Lunnen did alter a few of the Ruling’s legal determinations in the Supplemental Decree. In consequence of how this all played out, the Supplemental Decree recites many of the findings that were issued in the Ruling, though not with the same level of detail. It instead essentially incorporates the bulk of the Ruling by implicit reference. For this reason, the parties’ arguments on appeal have largely focused on whether the findings from the Ruling were adequate, and we’ll follow suit. To avoid redundancy, we won’t repeatedly mention whether we think the findings from the Supplemental Decree were likewise inadequate (even if they were reiterated in the Supplemental Decree); instead, we’ll discuss the Supplemental Decree only in those instances where it differs in some meaningful way from the Ruling (usually because of an altered legal determination).
Second, in her opening brief, Blanche argues that James did “not comply with Utah’s marshaling requirement” in his briefing on appeal. But the marshaling requirement applies when a party “seeks to prevail in challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a factual finding or a verdict on appeal.” State v. Nielsen, 2014 UT 10, ¶ 40, 326 P.3d 645; see also State v. Wall, 2020 UT App 36, ¶ 53, 460 P.3d 1058; Wilson v. Sanders, 2019 UT App 126, ¶ 17, 447 P.3d 1240. As noted, however, James is not arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support any particular finding. Rather, James is arguing that the findings were inadequate to explain the court’s various rulings. As we’ve explained, an argument about the adequacy of the findings presents a legal question. Because of this, “marshaling is not required.” Jensen v. Jensen, 2009 UT App 1, ¶ 8 n.3, 203 P.3d 1020; see also Woodward v. Fazzio, 823 P.2d 474, 477–78 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (“There is, in effect, no need for an appellant to marshal the evidence when the findings are so inadequate that they cannot be meaningfully challenged as factual determinations. . . . Rather, appellant can simply argue the legal insufficiency of the court’s findings as framed.”).
 While a topic at oral argument, neither party raised on appeal the issue of whether the district court could appropriately rely on Zillow for its valuation of the property, as opposed to evidence submitted at trial. For this reason, we do not address the issue here.
 It seems possible (if not probable) that this offset was intended to reflect a determination that the parties received $80,000 in equity when they sold the property for $270,000 while still owing $190,000 on it. But if this was the determination, (1) the court didn’t say so, and (2) it also didn’t explain the basis for initially deviating upward by $2,000 to arrive at $42,000, nor did it explain the basis for subsequently deviating downward by $2,000 to arrive at $38,000.
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).
Julie J. Nelson and Alexandra Mareschal, Attorneys for Appellant and Cross-appellee
Thomas J. Burns and Aaron R. Harris, Attorneys for Appellee and Cross-appellant
JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME and JUSTICE DIANA HAGEN concurred.
¶1 After a lengthy marriage, Rayna and Glen Mintz divorced and have since been involved in ongoing litigation regarding the distribution of marital property. Rayna and Glen now raise various issues for review, including questions about alimony, property distribution, and dissipation awards. In response to these appeals, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district for further proceedings.
¶2 Through more than twenty years of marriage, Rayna and Glen enjoyed a relatively luxurious lifestyle. During the marriage, in addition to meeting their regular expenses, Rayna and Glen invested money essentially as savings. Before 2014, they made deposits into investment accounts “when money was left over after normal marital spending,” and after 2014, they made direct deposits into investment accounts as part of Glen’s employment. Historically, they spent money freely, traveled frequently, and treated themselves to a variety of entertainment—often with other people. For Rayna’s part, she often invited friends to join her on different jaunts across the globe or visits to the theater. For Glen’s part, as is relevant to this appeal, he invested both time and substantial money into an extramarital affair.
¶3 Rayna and Glen financed this lifestyle through substantial income generated by Glen’s employment as an investment advisor managing the assets and investments of various clients. As a salaried employee for his employer (Employer), Glen “did not sell . . . a client list to [Employer]”; instead, he expanded the clients he serviced by creating relationships with other employees and assisting other employees in managing their clients’ assets. As part of Glen’s compensation, Employer offered cash awards distributed as forgivable loans. For each loan, Employer provided the cash to Glen up front and then forgave Glen’s payback obligation each year, leaving Glen with a decreased payback obligation but an increased tax obligation. The cash awards were deposited directly into Glen and Rayna’s investment accounts.
¶4 When Rayna discovered Glen’s infidelity, the couple sought a divorce. Ultimately, the district court made several determinations relevant to this appeal. First, although Rayna would be awarded alimony, a monthly amount for investment would be excluded from the calculation because she presented insufficient evidence to show that the parties’ investments were “standard practice during the marriage” or that they “helped form the couple’s standard of living.”
¶5 Second, although an amount for entertainment was included as a historical expense in alimony calculations, the court “divided by four” the amount Rayna had proposed because the entertainment amount was calculated based on a time “when two minor children also lived in the home.”
¶6 Third, although the list of clients Glen serviced could be considered an asset, Glen did not own a “book of business,” and accordingly, whatever value his client list contained could not be divided between the parties.
¶7 Fourth, although Glen had admitted to dissipating $75,000 on his extramarital affair and although the court determined that Rayna should be entitled to “half” that amount, in an appendix to the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, designating the specific property distributions, the court provided no amount in the space for money awarded to Rayna because of Glen’s dissipation.
¶8 And fifth, although Rayna would receive what Glen argued was an investable property distribution, the court declined to include investment income in its alimony calculation because (1) the likelihood of a specific return was uncertain, (2) Rayna’s investment income should be left unencumbered as was Glen’s, and (3) the parties had traditionally reinvested investment income instead of living off it.
¶9 Following entry of the divorce decree, Rayna filed a motion to enforce, asserting that various investment accounts at issue in the divorce “were not divided immediately after trial and that they subsequently appreciated in value.” Accordingly, Rayna sought an order requiring Glen to transfer holdings “equivalent to her proportionate share of appreciation since trial.” However, before the hearing on that motion, Rayna filed a notice of appeal. At the hearing, the court determined that the enforcement order Rayna requested would require the court to not just enforce the order but to “read language into [the decree] and interpret [the decree] in a way that modifie[d] or amend[ed]” it. Because a notice of appeal had been filed in the case, the court determined it had been “divested of jurisdiction” to amend the decree and therefore could not provide the relief Rayna requested.
¶10 On these issues, Rayna and Glen both appeal.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶11 First, Rayna contends that the court abused its discretion through its award of alimony. Specifically, Rayna contends that (1) the court “misapplied Utah law” when it declined to award alimony consistent with historical investment and (2) the court entered unsupported findings of fact in reducing her entertainment expenses. “We review a district 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 we have set and has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 16, 452 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). However, misapplication of the law is a de facto abuse of discretion, and an alimony award based on a misapprehension of the law will not be upheld. See Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145. Moreover, an alimony award based on clearly erroneous findings of fact will be overturned, see Leppert v. Leppert, 2009 UT App 10, ¶ 8, 200 P.3d 223, as will be an incorrect determination that evidence is insufficient to support an award, see Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App 233, ¶ 14, 217 P.3d 733. “[U]nder our clearly erroneous standard, we will disturb a court’s factual findings only where the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from, or are not supported by, the evidence.” Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32.
¶12 Second, Rayna contends that the district court erred when it determined that the list of clients Glen managed as an investment advisor (the book of business) was not a divisible marital asset. “Determining and assigning values to marital property is a matter for the trial court,” and an appellate court “will not disturb those determinations absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion.” Talley v. Talley, 739 P.2d 83, 84 (Utah Ct. App. 1987).
¶13 Third, Rayna contends that the district court failed to award or reimburse her half of the amount that Glen dissipated. “Where the trial court’s conclusions of law do not properly follow from the findings of fact, those conclusions can be overturned on appeal.” Cowley v. Porter, 2005 UT App 518, ¶ 46, 127 P.3d 1224.
¶14 Fourth, Rayna contends that the court erred in determining, based on the divorce decree’s language, that it lacked jurisdiction to grant Rayna appreciation on investment account awards. We review for correctness the district court’s interpretation of a divorce decree, Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65, and the district court’s “determination on jurisdictional issues,” National Advert. Co. v. Murray City Corp., 2006 UT App 75, ¶ 11, 131 P.3d 872 (cleaned up).
¶15 Fifth, on cross-appeal, Glen contends that the district court abused its discretion when it did not “determine an amount of income that Rayna [would] be able to earn from her awarded investment account assets and . . . apply that income to her ability to pay for her marital standard of living.” As indicated above, we review the district court’s alimony determination for abuse of discretion. See Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 16.
¶16 Rayna contends that the district court erred in excluding from the alimony award an amount reflective of historical investment. Specifically, Rayna argues that the court misunderstood the phrases “standard practice” and “marital standard of living” as these phrases have been employed in Utah caselaw concerning the appropriateness of alimony awards that include amounts for investment or savings. Rayna argues that the parties made deposits into investment accounts as a standard practice that contributed to their marital standard of living, and she asserts that she should have received a higher alimony award to be able to continue this practice and maintain her standard of living. On appeal, we conclude that the district court erred in its application of the law on this point.
¶17 In Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, 80 P.3d 153, we indicated that “while the recipient spouse’s need to fund post-divorce savings, investment, or retirement accounts may not ordinarily be factored into an alimony determination, we cannot say that the ability to fund such post-divorce accounts may never be taken into account as part of” that analysis. Id. ¶ 16. Rather, “[t]he critical question is whether funds for post-divorce savings, investment, and retirement accounts are necessary because contributing to such accounts was standard practice during the marriage and helped to form the couple’s marital standard of living.” Id. (emphasis added); see also Knowles v. Knowles, 2022 UT App 47, ¶ 57 n.8, 509 P.3d 265; Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 58 n.8, 496 P.3d 242. Thus, the court should, as a legal matter, ensure it employs the correct legal definitions of standard practice and marital standard of living, apply the facts of a given case to those definitions, and then determine whether the facts as found meet the criteria for a savings-based alimony award.
¶18 First, the district court erred in concluding that Rayna and Glen’s undisputed course of conduct did not demonstrate a standard practice. See Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16; Kemp v. Kemp, 2001 UT App 157U, paras. 3–4, 2001 WL 522413. When the Bakanowski court provided the test for appropriate consideration of savings, investment, and retirement accounts in alimony calculations, it cited Kemp v. Kemp, in which the court reasoned that because “the parties had made regular savings deposits,” including savings in the alimony award could help “maintain the recipient spouse’s marital standard of living.” See 2001 UT App 157U, paras. 3–4 (emphasis added).
¶19 An event must certainly be recurring but need not be uniformly systematic to be considered “regular.” See id. at para. 3. Indeed, “something can be done ‘regularly’ if done whenever the opportunity arises, though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.” Youth Tennis Found. v. Tax Comm’n, 554 P.2d 220, 223 (Utah 1976); see also Allen Distrib., Inc. v. Industrial Comm’n, 604 P.2d 938, 940 (Utah 1979) (reciting the then-enacted workers’ compensation laws that provided that “regularly” could include employment “continuous throughout the year or for only a portion of the year” (cleaned up)); Holt v. Industrial Comm’n, 87 P.2d 686, 689 (Utah 1939) (defining “regularly employed” to include “all employees who are employed and engaged in the usual or regular business of the employer, regardless of whether they were regularly or only casually or occasionally employed” (cleaned up)). Thus, even though an activity may “occur at intermittent times,” it can still be a regular activity. See Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223 (cleaned up); see also B.L. Key, Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm’n, 934 P.2d 1164, 1166 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). And although “regular” could also be understood to require methodic uniformity, see Valentine v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 2006 UT App 301, ¶ 11, 141 P.3d 618 (noting that “‘regular use’ connotes use that is consistent with a recurring pattern or uniform course of conduct or dealing” and that it “embodies use that is marked by a pattern of usage or some frequency of usage”); Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223 (noting that “one of the meanings of the term ‘regular’ is: ‘Steady or uniform in course, practice or occurrence’” (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1450 (Rev. 4th Ed. 1968))), there exists no requirement that savings or investment deposits be made with uniform frequency.
¶20 Accordingly, even if savings deposits and investments do not occur on an exact timetable, such marital expenditures can be considered a standard practice, see Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16, in those infrequent and unusual circumstances where a party can produce sufficiently persuasive evidence that savings deposits and investments were a recurring marital action “whenever the opportunity ar[ose], though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.” See Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223; see also Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16.
¶21 The district court found that Rayna did not present “sufficient evidence” to show that contributing to savings and investment accounts was the standard practice during the marriage. But on appeal, neither party appears to dispute that the district court was presented with evidence that before 2014 the parties invested substantial amounts of income at least yearly and that after 2014 a substantial portion of Glen’s income was deposited directly into investment accounts at least yearly. Accordingly, for nearly a decade immediately preceding the divorce, the parties set aside substantial money for investments at least annually. This undisputed evidence established that the parties followed a regular pattern, i.e., a “standard practice,” see Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16, of investing a portion of their annual income. In other words, given these undisputed facts, we conclude the district court applied too narrow a definition of standard practice in rejecting this evidence as insufficient.
¶22 Second, to justify an alimony award that includes an amount for investment, the parties’ acts of investing must also contribute to the “marital standard of living.” Id. “Standard of living is defined as a minimum of necessities, comforts, or luxuries that is essential to maintaining a person in customary or proper status or circumstances.” Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1211 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (cleaned up) (emphasis added). In other words, in the alimony context, the marital standard of living is all that the parties enjoyed during the marriage—including luxuries and customary allocations—by virtue of their financial position. See id.; see also Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 15, 402 P.3d 153.
¶23 In Knowles v. Knowles, 2022 UT App 47, 509 P.3d 265, the trial court refused to include tithing expenditures as part of the alimony calculation because it was “not a necessary living expense.” Id. ¶ 57 (cleaned up). On appeal, we reversed that decision, explaining that it “ignored the requirement that [trial courts] assess the expense based on how the parties chose to spend and allocate their money while married.” Id. (emphasis added). “By failing to assess whether the parties’ expenditures were consistent with the marital standard of living, the court abused its discretion.” Id.
¶24 The marital standard of living analysis is not merely a question about what the parties spent their money on or whether they spent it at all. Rather, in terms of alimony, the marital standard of living analysis is about whether the parties’ proposed points of calculation are consistent with the parties’ manner of living and financial decisions (i.e., the historical allocation of their resources). Something may contribute to the marital standard of living even though it may not result in a direct benefit or detriment to the marital estate’s net worth.
¶25 Like the trial court in Knowles, the district court here did not fully consider how the parties chose to “allocate” their income. See id. The parties’ choice to devote a substantial portion of income to investment and savings—much like the parties in Knowles chose to devote a substantial portion of their income to tithing, see id.—contributed to the parties’ marital standard of living. The court should consider this evidence in determining the amount of investment and savings expenditures to include in its alimony calculations. See id.; see also, e.g., Lombardi v. Lombardi, 145 A.3d 709, 716 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2016) (“An appropriate rate of savings can, and in the appropriate case should, be considered as a living expense when considering an award of maintenance.” (cleaned up)); Bryant v. Bryant, 534 S.E.2d 230, 232 (N.C. Ct. App. 2000) (“The trial court may also consider established patterns of contributing to savings as part of the parties’ standard of living.” (cleaned up)); In re Marriage of Stenzel, 908 N.W.2d 524, 536 (Iowa Ct. App. 2018) (“[R]etirement savings in a reasonable sum may be a part of the needs analysis in fixing spousal support.”).
¶26 Below, the district court declared that “Rayna ha[d] not convinced the court that [the couple’s] savings [practices] somehow helped form the couple’s standard of living.” The court continued, “There was no evidence that the deposits into the investment accounts were used to fund future purchases or otherwise contributed to the marital standard of living.” In making this ruling, the district court apparently relied on Kemp, where the court found that “during their marriage, the parties had made regular savings deposits to fund future major purchases, rather than making those purchases on credit.” 2001 UT App 157U, para. 3. Including saved money in the “marital standard of living,” however, does not require a party to spend it, as the parties did in Kemp. Our precedent does not exclude prudent saving from the definition of the marital standard of living. Indeed, it would be a perverse state of the law if we, as a rule, always included in an alimony calculation all sums parties spent, even imprudently, but excluded sums wisely saved.
¶27 The parties presented evidence (and on appeal the parties continue to agree) that the investments were meant to facilitate future financial growth; that during the economic recession in 2008, the parties dipped into their investments to maintain their standard of living; and that they later used investments to pay tax obligations incurred because of Glen’s compensation structure. The very fact that such a substantial amount of Glen’s income went straight to investment that then served to pay off a tax obligation represents the type of allocation that constituted part of the marital standard of living. An understanding of the marital standard of living that is restricted to direct and immediate expenses is simply too limited. Instead, the use of marital funds to cover the parties’ investments and savings—provided it was standard practice during the marriage—is a proper consideration in determining the marital standard of living. See Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16.
¶28 In sum, the district court erred in concluding that insufficient evidence supported Rayna’s request to include amounts for investment in alimony calculations. The undisputed evidence established that it was both a standard practice to invest marital assets annually and that this pattern of investment contributed to the marital standard of living. We remand the case to the district court to recalculate alimony based on the amount that the couple’s historical investment contributed to the marital standard of living. See Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145 (“We will reverse if the court has not exercised its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set.” (cleaned up)).
¶29 Rayna also contends that the district court “entered a factual finding that was unsupported by the evidence regarding [her] entertainment expenses.” This is so, she argues, because testimony at trial established that the amount she originally requested for entertainment as part of her living expenses was “carved out . . . for her alone” and because the evidence, including the exhibit used to calculate her living expenses, did not otherwise suggest that the amount should have been reduced as it was by the district court. We agree that the district court’s reduction of Rayna’s entertainment expenses was based on clearly erroneous findings of fact because “the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from” and are not supported by “the evidence.” See Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32, 452 P.3d 1134.
¶30 In determining the amount for entertainment expenses to include in its alimony calculation, the district court stated that the amount “presents expenses calculated for . . . years . . . when two minor children also lived in the home. Therefore, this amount should have been divided by four.” The district court reduced the amount it considered in its alimony calculation related to entertainment accordingly. However, this does not follow from the evidence presented at trial.
¶31 As an initial matter, when asked about the entertainment line item, Rayna testified that she loved “to go to concerts,” that she went “to New York City to the ballet [and] to the theater,” and that she generally hosted a friend on those trips. And testimony from Rayna’s expert on the matter explained that the amount was for “entertainment that she would normally spend on a monthly basis” and, specifically, that the amount was “what she actually spent if . . . carved out [for] her alone.” (Emphasis added.)
¶32 Glen attempts to provide support for the district court’s apparently contrary finding by suggesting that several line items on Rayna’s living-expense exhibit included a note that the amount was for “Rayna Only,” and that based on this notation, the district court “acted within its appropriate discretion” when it determined the amount requested for entertainment should be reduced because that line item did not include that note. However, in our review of the exhibit referred to by Glen, of the thirty-nine line items listed, only three specify that the amount was for “Rayna Only.” Yet some of the unmarked items reflect amounts the parties agree were spent on Rayna alone. Therefore, the absence of the “Rayna Only” notation does not necessarily reflect that those items were not for “Rayna Only.” And further, a line item for “Money Spent on Kids” specifically notes that it includes “Entertainment” expenses for those children. If Rayna’s entertainment expenses included money spent on the children, there would be no need to include a separate line item for entertainment under “Money Spent on Kids.” Moreover, we note that the district court’s determination that the amount should be “divided by four” because “two minor children also lived in the home” does not quite add up. Rayna and two children add up to three, and whether the court also included Glen or the friends Rayna often hosted is unclear from the court’s findings of fact. Either way, the justification does not appear to support the reduction.
¶33 Accordingly, the district court’s reduction of the alimony amount requested for entertainment contradicts not only the direct testimony at trial but also the very exhibit on which the court expressly based its findings. Because the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from and are not supported by the evidence, we determine that this portion of the award is based on clearly erroneous findings of fact, and we therefore remand to the district court for clarification and correction of the matter. See Leppert v. Leppert, 2009 UT App 10, ¶ 8, 200 P.3d 223; Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32.
II. Book of Business
¶34 Rayna next opposes the district court’s determination that the book of business “was not a divisible marital asset.” However, to prevail on such a contention, Rayna would need to show that the court clearly abused its discretion, see Talley v. Talley, 739 P.2d 83, 84 (Utah Ct. App. 1987), something she has not done here.
¶35 In dealing with Rayna’s argument that Glen owned a book of business that should be a divisible marital asset, the district court first explained that the alleged book of business, comprising “a client list and the assets under management from these clients,” constituted an “asset” as a legal matter —a determination neither party appears to challenge on appeal. But the court did not stop there, determining next that this “asset” was owned not by Glen but by Employer.
¶36 The court explained its reasoning in over five pages of detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Throughout those pages, the district court explained, among other things, that although Glen had extensive experience in his field and a portion of his compensation required him to meet lofty expectations concerning the funds he managed, “[w]hen Glen began work for [Employer], he did not sell a book of business or a client list to [Employer]”; “[n]owhere within [the relevant employment documents] did [Employer] indicate that it was purchasing any client list from Glen or that Glen was selling anything at all to [Employer]”; and “Rayna ha[d] not presented any evidence that Glen sold any client list, client information, or other asset to [Employer] as a condition of his hiring.” Further, Glen “worked as an employee of [Employer]”; “ha[d] been paid a salary . . . as a W-2 employee”; and “expand[ed] the client list” by, in part, “creat[ing] relationships with other . . . employees who advise individuals that they service to place assets under Glen’s management.” The court then noted that often “Glen manages assets owned by numerous individuals and entities with whom he has no personal relationship.”
¶37 The court then described various agreements concerning Glen’s compensation and employment and highlighted portions of those agreements. One read,
All information concerning [c]lients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer], and prospective clients of [Employer] must be treated as confidential and must not be disclosed to anyone outside of [Employer.] . . . [I]n the event Employee’s employment is terminated for any reason whatsoever[,] Employee may not take any records or information referring or relating to [c]lients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer] and prospective clients of [Employer], whether originals or copies, in hard copy or computerized form.
Employee may not directly or indirectly use, maintain, take or disclose any Confidential Information, except . . . in the course of carrying out Employee’s duties for [Employer] during Employee’s employment[.] . . . “Confidential Information” . . . includes . . . client relationships and prospective client relationships, client lists and contact information, client information (including but not limited to clients’ past and present financial conditions, investment practices, preferences, activities, objectives, and plans and other client data Employee obtained while in [Employer’s] employ)[.] . . . Employee further expressly agrees that, in the event his or her employment terminates, Employee’s use of Confidential Information, including but not limited to any information referring or relating to clients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer] and prospective clients of [Employer], must immediately cease and that Employee must immediately return, destroy or delete, any Confidential Information whether in hard copy or computerized form, including in any electronic device owned by Employee.
The court then reasoned, “[i]f the clients were clients, relationships, or contracts that Glen owned, he would not be subject to any restrictions with respect to the manner in which he stored, maintained, or utilized any of the client information, either during or after his employment with [Employer]. Similarly, if the client information was owned by Glen, he would not be subject to any restrictions.” Significantly, the court noted that “individuals and entities that own the assets under management have no contractual obligation to continue to use Glen to manage their assets; they are free to select a different . . . adviser [of Employer] at any time.” These individuals had “not contracted with Glen” but instead had “contracted with” Employer. And finally, the court reasoned that “[t]he terms Glen was offered by [Employer] were not negotiated. He did not negotiate higher pay or different terms but simply accepted employment on the terms offered by [Employer]. If Glen owned the book of business[,] he would have been in a position of greater leverage and been able to negotiate with [Employer].” In short, the district court determined that because Glen’s interactions with the book of business did not demonstrate ownership, “Glen [did] not own the book of business.”
¶38 Rayna attacks this determination primarily based on the alleged existence of alternative evidence. First, she asserts that evidence that Glen had some control over the book of business and its fruits and that the book of business included the information of some clients he had obtained before joining Employer demonstrated that Glen owned the book of business. But regardless of whether such evidence was before the district court, it would not contradict the findings the court did make— findings on which it relied to determine that, on the whole, Glen did not own the book of business. And although Rayna contends that “the evidence showed that [Employer] hopes to buy Glen’s book of business when he retires or transitions out of the industry and would facilitate the transfer of all of his clients to another advisor within [Employer],” this argument fails to acknowledge that the district court specifically considered this evidence in its findings of fact and ultimately found that the evidence did not deserve “any weight” because of a “lack of any testimony or other evidence by anyone who actually knew anything about” such a buy-out program. Indeed, “if there is evidence supporting a finding, absent a legal problem—a fatal flaw—with that evidence, the finding will stand, even though there is ample record evidence that would have supported contrary findings.” See Hinds v. Hinds-Holm, 2022 UT App 13, ¶ 28 n.4, 505 P.3d 1136 (cleaned up). And here Rayna has not demonstrated that such a flaw exists.
¶39 Because none of Rayna’s arguments on appeal show that the court clearly abused its discretion in its thorough and record-supported explanation of why Glen did not own the book of business, her contention on appeal is unavailing and we affirm the district court’s determination.
¶40 Rayna also contends that the district court erred when it included in the final distribution only half of the amount it determined Glen dissipated and failed to award Rayna any of it. Indeed, the district court found that “the amount of dissipation attributable to [Glen’s affair] is $75,000” and that “[t]hese funds were marital funds, for which Glen was entitled to half and Rayna to half.” But in the next line, the court, in seeming contradiction, stated, “Through dissipation, Glen spent half of $37,500 which Rayna was entitled to and therefore should be added to Glen’s [distribution] column.”
¶41 On appeal, the parties agree that Rayna is owed $37,500 due to Glen’s dissipation of $75,000. But the parties do not agree about the meaning of the court’s order or its associated appendix distributing the marital property. Having viewed both the court’s order, as recited above, and the appendix that purports to effectuate that order, we remand this issue to the district court for clarification.
¶42 Because the parties agree that the full amount of dissipation is $75,000 and that Rayna is thus entitled to $37,500, the only matter for us on appeal is to ensure that the order of the district court reflects that agreement. And it does not appear to do so. The court’s appendix lists three columns: one for the value of a given property item, one for Rayna’s portion of the property, and one for Glen’s portion of the property. In Rayna’s and Glen’s respective columns, a number was entered without parentheses to indicate a positive sum owed to the party, and a number was entered inside parentheses to indicate a sum to be subtracted from the ultimate distribution. For the line-item entry for dissipation, instead of $75,000, the value was listed as only $37,500. More important for our present purposes, Rayna’s column for that line item is empty whereas Glen’s contains $37,500 without parentheses, indicating a positive sum. As we read this entry, it appears that the incorrect dissipation amount was entered into the value, and instead of Rayna being awarded half of that $75,000, the amount of $37,500 was given to Glen. This was error.
¶43 On remand, the district court should correct this error and the associated appendix to indicate without ambiguity that the full amount of dissipation is $75,000 and that Rayna will be awarded $37,500 as her share of that total.
IV. Property Distribution Appreciation
¶44 Rayna lastly contends that the district court “abused its discretion when it refused to award [her] a proportional share of the appreciation that accrued on the marital investment accounts” as she requested in her motion to enforce. She asserts that the court mischaracterized her motion to enforce as a motion to amend and that it accordingly erred in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to provide the relief she requested. On appeal, Rayna appears to maintain that her motion below was nothing more than a motion to enforce the decree; that the court had jurisdiction to enforce its decree; and that in determining that the order she requested would require an amendment (as opposed to mere enforcement), the court inherently “determined the decree did not already offer Rayna a proportional amount of the appreciation.” We agree with the district court that the relief Rayna sought would have required an amendment to the decree and that the court did not have jurisdiction to amend that decree once the notice of appeal had been filed.
¶45 We note that a “trial court is [generally] divested of jurisdiction upon the filing of an appeal.” Ortiz v. Crowther, 2017 UT App 133, ¶ 2, 402 P.3d 34 (per curiam). But a court may still enforce its decree even if an appeal has already been sought. See Cheves v. Williams, 1999 UT 86, ¶ 48, 993 P.2d 191. Accordingly, because “Rayna filed a motion to enforce the decree,” she asserts that the court should have reached the merits of the issue she presented to it. But “[t]he substance of a motion, not its caption, is controlling.” DeBry v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co., 828 P.2d 520, 523 (Utah Ct. App. 1992). And here, although Rayna titled her motion as one “to enforce,” the requested relief does not match that title. Cf. CBS Enters. LLC v. Sorenson, 2018 UT App 2, ¶¶ 11–12, 414 P.3d 925.
¶46 The decree instructed Glen “to ‘transfer’ equities valued at the exact amounts set forth.” (Emphasis added.) But in her motion, Rayna requested not only those exact amounts but also “post-trial appreciation over and above the exact figures set forth.” On appeal, Rayna concedes that “the decree said nothing about who should receive the appreciation that accrued” post-trial. Accordingly, we agree with the district court that to award the relief that Rayna sought would require the district court to “read language into” the decree “in a way that modifie[d] or amend[ed]” it. See Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65 (“We interpret a divorce decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” (cleaned up)); see also Brady v.Park, 2019 UT 16, ¶ 53, 445 P.3d 395 (“If the language within the four corners of the contract is unambiguous, the parties’ intentions are determined from the plain meaning of the contractual language . . . .” (cleaned up)).
¶47 Because Rayna filed her notice of appeal before the district court ruled on her request for post-trial appreciation of the investment distribution, the district court had been divested of jurisdiction to alter the divorce decree in the way Rayna requested. See Ortiz, 2017 UT App 133, ¶ 2. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s determination.
V. Investment Income
¶48 On cross-appeal, Glen contends that the district court abused its discretion when it did not include in its alimony calculation an amount reflecting Rayna’s ability to earn income from awarded investment accounts and apply that amount toward Rayna’s unmet needs. Initially, Glen asserts that the district court “fail[ed] to consider Rayna’s ability to earn” income from these sources, but in the remainder of his argument, he proceeds to explain why the court’s actual consideration of her ability to earn income from investment accounts is based on unsupported findings or is otherwise unjustified.
¶49 For its part, the district court acknowledged Glen’s argument that Rayna would receive an investable property distribution that could provide “at least” a six percent return. While Utah “caselaw directs district courts to consider all sources of income when determining alimony, it does not dictate that all sources of income be counted as income received”—instead district courts have “broad discretion to treat sources of income as the court sees fit under the circumstances.” Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶ 21, 449 P.3d 202. The court then provided three justifications for its determination that “it would be inequitable to include interest, dividend or other unearned income potentially generated from investment assets received in the marital property award.”
¶50 First, the court explained that the “ability to obtain a 6% return is not sufficiently certain for the court to rely on.” It noted the inconsistency of historical returns, Rayna’s discretion to use her distribution for purposes other than investment, and the difficulty of projecting future investment income. Second, the court explained that “[i]t would be inequitable for Glen to be able to keep his share of the investments and retain their income stream to reinvest as he continues to generate professional income, while Rayna would retain only the investments after being compelled to expend her investment income to pay her living expenses.” The court felt that such an order would “wrongly deprive Rayna of the full benefit and value of” her distribution and that she should be able to “grow” any investments she would make without the obligation to use that money for providing for her own standard of living. Third, the district court explained that “[i]t was the parties’ regular practice not to spend or live off investment income, but rather to entirely reinvest that income.” Accordingly, the court refrained from applying any amount of potential investment income toward Rayna’s projected earning capacity.
¶51 In determining whether a spouse should receive alimony, the general rule is that a court should first take care of property distribution. See Batty v. Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 5, 153 P.3d 827 (“[An alimony] evaluation properly takes into account the result of the property division, particularly any income-generating property [the receiving spouse] is awarded, but alimony is not meant to offset an uneven property award. Rather, as a matter of routine, an equitable property division must be accomplished prior to undertaking the alimony determination.”). Then, depending on how the property distribution works out— especially considering income-generating property—the court considers whether alimony will be necessary for a spouse to meet demonstrated needs. See Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1170 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (“Alimony is appropriate to enable the receiving spouse to maintain as nearly as possible the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and to prevent the spouse from becoming a public charge.” (cleaned up)); see also Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 4 (“In determining alimony, the trial court must consider three important factors: (1) the financial condition and needs of the spouse claiming support, (2) the ability of that spouse to provide sufficient income for him or herself, and (3) the ability of the responding spouse to provide the support. Although a trial court is given considerable discretion in determining an alimony award, failure to consider these factors constitutes an abuse of discretion.” (cleaned up)). And as we held in Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, 449 P.3d 202, while the district court must consider all potential sources of income, it is not required to count those sources of income. Id. ¶ 21. This is nothing more than an expression of the rule that a district court has “broad discretion to treat sources of income as the court sees fit under the circumstances.” Id.
¶52 Here, contrary to Glen’s assertion, the district court did, in fact, consider Rayna’s ability to earn income from her distributed investment assets in reaching its determination that she would still require additional alimony to support herself to the level of the marital standard of living. See Dobson v. Dobson, 2012 UT App 373, ¶ 21, 294 P.3d 591 (stating that for the purposes of determining alimony, “the needs of the spouses are assessed in light of the standard of living they had during marriage” (cleaned up)). Given that the district court considered Rayna’s ability to earn income in reaching its determination that she was entitled to alimony, the question before us is whether the circumstances allowed the district court to refrain from counting any future investment income Rayna may receive in its calculation. None of Glen’s arguments attacking the court’s determination persuade us that the court exceeded its discretion here.
¶53 First, Glen argues that the court’s determination that the “ability to obtain a 6% return is not sufficiently certain for the court to rely on” contradicts its other findings. Specifically, he cites a finding that states “Glen’s income has consistently increased” and “[o]ther than general economic uncertainty, there was no evidence at trial that this trend would not continue.” He then claims that this statement contradicts the court’s determination that Rayna would not obtain a return on her investments.
¶54 However, the two findings are not comparable at their roots. Regarding Rayna’s potential income, the court was specifically discussing income resulting from a return on investments; but regarding Glen’s income, the court was noting an increase in his income as a whole, including that income derived from gainful employment and not exclusively income derived from any returns on Glen’s ongoing investments. A projection that Glen’s income as a whole, salary and all, will continue to increase is not incompatible with a determination that a return on investment income is insufficiently certain to rely on.
¶55 As part of this argument, Glen also characterizes an unrelated finding from the court’s ruling as a determination that Rayna’s relevant accounts were “not easily liquidated” and asserts that the court’s statement that Rayna may choose to liquidate a portion of these investments contradicts that finding. But this description of the court’s finding is simply inaccurate— the court noted that the “accounts [were] not liquid,” and it made no statement about whether there would be difficulty in liquidating them. And even if the accounts were difficult to liquidate, it would, again, not be incongruous with the court’s other findings, specifically that Rayna could choose to liquidate, any difficulty notwithstanding.
¶56 Further, Glen asserts that the court unjustifiably determined that both parties should “grow” their investments but that growth on Rayna’s accounts was uncertain. Again, these findings are not incongruous—the district court could reasonably find that a return was uncertain, that requiring Rayna to use any return to provide for her needs would prevent her from increasing the amount invested, and that Rayna deserved the opportunity to have her investment returns be reinvested for potential future growth.
¶57 Second, Glen asserts that the court gave Rayna freedom to reinvest her investment returns while it restricted Glen to using his investment returns to pay for both the taxes owed on his forgiven loans and Rayna’s alimony award. As to the alimony award, we note that Glen has not directed us to anywhere in the record where the district court explained that he must pay for Rayna’s alimony using investment income, and as such, Glen is free to provide for Rayna’s alimony using whatever resources he desires, whether it be his salary, proceeds from a mortgage or other loan, or, indeed, his investment income.
¶58 Third, Glen asserts that the court’s finding that “Lilt was the parties’ regular practice not to spend or live off investment income, but rather to entirely reinvest that income” contradicts its acknowledgment that Glen incurred a tax obligation from the forgiven loans. However, we note that although Glen maintains on appeal that he used the forgivable-loan investment returns to pay tax obligations, Glen has not pointed to the court ever making a finding to that effect, and thus the findings are not inconsistent. Further, although such evidence was before the court, the court also stated that “Glen did not include his own investment income in his Financial Declaration as income available to pay alimony or to otherwise meet his own need.” That fact, the court stated, “demonstrate[d] that neither party considered investment income as income to be spent or expended, but rather as a vehicle to increase savings and net worth.” While a pattern of using investment returns to pay tax obligations may not be completely compatible with a pattern of using returns to “increase savings and net worth,” we do not view this apparent inconsistency as enough to persuade us that the court abused its discretion.
¶59 In sum, Glen has not demonstrated that the court abused its discretion in refusing to count Rayna’s potential investment returns as income toward her ability to meet her living expenses. Accordingly, we affirm the district court on this point.
¶60 First, we remand to the district court to apply the correct standard to the evidence regarding investments and savings and to adjust the alimony award based on calculations that account for Rayna’s historical spending on future investments; we also remand to the district court to adjust the alimony award based on calculations that account for Rayna’s historical spending on entertainment. Second, we affirm the district court’s determination that Glen did not own the book of business. Third, we remand to the district court to ensure that Rayna is awarded the $37,500 owed to her due to Glen’s dissipation. Fourth, we affirm the district court’s determination that the relief Rayna requested in her motion to enforce would have required it to amend the decree and that it lacked jurisdiction to do so. And fifth, we affirm the district court’s decision not to include potential investment income in calculating Rayna’s actual income. On remand, we instruct the district court to engage in further proceedings as necessary to effectuate the holdings provided in this opinion.
 Justice Diana Hagen began her work on this case as a judge of the Utah Court of Appeals. She became a member of the Utah Supreme Court thereafter and completed her work on the case sitting by special assignment as authorized by law. See generally Utah R. Jud. Admin. 3‑108(4).
 Due to the parties’ shared surname, we employ their given names.
 The parties are appealing an order 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. However, we present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, n.1, 321 P.3d 200 (cleaned up).
 The district court’s view, which we endorse, is that Glen spent $75,000 in marital funds on his affair—not a proper marital purpose. Half of that amount was essentially his, but the half belonging to Rayna should properly be restored to her by Glen.
 Notwithstanding this general rule, the lower court may, in addition to dealing with motions to enforce the decree address clerical errors and other mistakes “arising from oversight or omission” that the appellate court asks it to address even after an appeal has been filed. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(a); see also Cheves v. Williams, 1999 UT 86, ¶ 45, 993 P.2d 191 (“We have also recognized exceptions to [the general] rule, in the interest of preventing unnecessary delay, where any action by the trial court is not likely to modify a party’s rights with respect to the issues raised on appeal, or where the action by the trial court is authorized by rule or statute.” (cleaned up)).
 Although the district court did not impute income to Rayna based on investment earnings, it did impute to her some income based on an undisputed amount of earning capacity.
How do I file a response in a divorce if missing the court’s address for filing invalidates the summons?
Be very careful getting cute with procedural technicalities. If you were served with a summons that is defective only because it does not include the address of the courthouse where the underlying action was filed, you may or may not have an argument for defective service of process. But to test that theory you may have to take the risk of being defaulted and then moving to set aside the default and default judgment and hoping you prevail on that motion. That is not a risk I would be willing to take myself.
What you need to do immediately is consult a good attorney (i.e., a knowledgeable, skilled one) and fast, i.e., before the time in which to file a responsive pleading has expired, so that if you, after conferring with at least one good attorney, determine you need to file something with the court before the responsive pleading time expires you can.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
What people don’t understand is that finding a spouse is a jerk usually doesn’t amount to much in the divorce action.
Most people believe—falsely—that if they can show the court that their spouses are narcissists (or some other type of insufferable personality) that this will result in the court bringing the wrath of God down on the narcissist and showering the other spouse with sympathy and riches for his/her trouble. Not so.
Literally hundreds of thousands of people going through a divorce whose spouses suffer from (or who are suspected of suffering from) personality disorders believe that “if I can prove to the court that my spouse suffers from [antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder], I’ll win everything my heart desires in the divorce case.” No, you won’t.
It’s not narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder that matters, but actions (or a failure to act) that matters, first and foremost. If your spouse is physically or emotionally abusing you or the kids (and please accept that your when your spouse occasionally disagrees with or criticizes you or your children that does not make him or her emotionally abusive), it doesn’t matter why. If your spouse has a drug or alcohol problem, or a gambling habit, or your able-bodied spouse is lazy and won’t earn a living, it doesn’t matter why. There’s no excuse. An abusive or grossly irresponsible spouse is bad regardless of whether he or she has a personality disorder. See?
*Now that does not mean that a judge necessarily makes the specific finding of “Husband/Wife is a narcissist who abused his/her spouse,” but many divorce courts find, in making or denying awards of marital property and assets, alimony, child custody, and parent-time, and protective or restraining orders that a spouse and/or parent engaged in lying, cheating, manipulative, exploitative, abusive, neglectful, irresponsible, and/or parental alienating behavior.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
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.
In the age of no-fault divorce, you don’t really need to have a good reason (or any reason at all) to get a divorce. So if your spouse is hiding money from you and you want to divorce your spouse because of it, you can seek a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. If you don’t like the way your spouse choose his or her food, you can divorce your spouse and claim irreconcilable differences. Get the picture? No-fault divorce has become essentially divorce on demand.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Erring on the side of caution is not merely cowardly, not merely corrupt, it is evil.
We are to look upon it as more beneficial, that many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it’s of more importance to community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world, that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner, that it is not of much consequence to the public, whether they are punished or not.
But when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me, whether I behave well or ill; for virtue itself, is no security. And if such a sentiment as this, should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security what so ever.
— John Adams
Erring on the side of caution when it comes to allegations of spousal and/or child abuse is a blatant violation of the preponderance of evidence standard. When courts err on the side of caution, when they take a better safe than sorry approach to allegations of spousal or child abuse, they aren’t doing anything virtuous, but the polar opposite. The guilty until proven innocent approach is a violation of the other spouse’s/parent’s civil rights. Any judge who issues a restraining order or protective order or supervised parent time order on the basis of erring on the side of caution has committed misconduct. Such is clear error and grounds for appeal from “correctness” (the appellate court decides the matter for itself and does not defer in any degree to the trial judge’s determination of law ) to “abuse of discretion” (when a serious inequity has resulted , when a judge acts outside the law , when a ruling is beyond the limits of reasonability , is inherently unfair , fails to consider all the legally relevant factors ) and all the way up to “clearly erroneous” (findings made by the trial court are not adequately supported by the record, resolving all disputes in the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court’s determination  and findings are clearly erroneous if they are against the clear weight of the evidence or if the appellate court reaches a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. ). 
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
STATE OF UTAH, IN THE INTEREST OF A.B., A PERSON UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE.
K.T., Appellant, v.. S.T. AND T.T., Appellees.
Filed August 26, 2021
Third District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Julie V. Lund
Steve S. Christensen and Clinton Brimhall, Attorneys for Appellant
Sheleigh A. Harding, Attorney for Appellee Martha Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and RYAN M. HARRISconcurred.
¶1Each summer for nearly a decade, Annabelle1—with the permission of her mother, K.T. (Mother)—went to visit and stay with welcoming relatives. Eventually, and on agreement, summer turned into a whole year. When the hosting family then sought custody, the juvenile court characterized the situation as “neglect” and granted the request. Mother now appeals, and we reverse.
¶2Like many parents returning to work, Mother utilized the assistance of family and friends to help care for Annabelle after giving birth to her in 2008. But as the years went by, Mother’s use of family and friends to help with childcare went beyond mere “babysitting.” As Annabelle grew older, Mother established a pattern of leaving Annabelle with a welcoming relative every summer; often, Annabelle spent the summer at the home of Mother’s aunt, S.T. (Aunt), and uncle, T.T. (Uncle). Finally, in 2018, Mother—who at the time was struggling with parenting Annabelle—agreed to allow Annabelle to spend not just the summer but the entire 2018–2019 school year with Aunt and Uncle in Utah.
¶3In the years leading up to Annabelle’s yearlong residence with Aunt and Uncle, Mother and Annabelle had moved to New Mexico. There, Annabelle demonstrated behavioral problems including throwing chairs, hitting, screaming, kicking, “‘thrashing out,’ and expressing rage and hatred toward Mother.” Annabelle even “claimed to want to die,” a sentiment that, purportedly based on the advice of Annabelle’s counselor, Mother thought “was not abnormal” for a person of Annabelle’s age. Eventually, this crisis led Mother to reach out to Aunt and tell her, “I’m depressed, my daughter is depressed. All we do is cry some days.” Not long after, Mother asked Aunt to meet with her and take Annabelle because “[s]he’s out of control, grumpy, [and] thrashing out.” Aunt and Uncle agreed. So, Annabelle’s annual summer migration to Utah started early that year when Mother left Annabelle with Aunt and Uncle in May 2018 and moved to North Carolina with her boyfriend.
¶4About Annabelle’s year with Aunt and Uncle, the juvenile court heard conflicting testimony. On the one hand, the juvenile court heard that Mother monitored Annabelle’s progress in school, that Mother purchased clothes for Annabelle even though Aunt and Uncle “never asked [her] for financial support,” that Mother engaged in “several” phone calls with Annabelle over that time period, and that Mother gave Aunt and Uncle specific requests, including that they “put [Annabelle] into counseling.” On the other hand, Mother admitted that she did not visit Annabelle for over six months from October 2018 to May 2019, and the court heard testimony that Mother declined to participate when offered “extra opportunities . . . to contact [Annabelle] on the phone more frequently, extra opportunities to participate with [Annabelle] in activities, and the opportunity to attend an eye doctor appointment.” Aunt and Uncle also testified that Mother provided no financial support for Annabelle’s needs and refused to assist Aunt and Uncle with costs associated with medical co-pays, fixing Annabelle’s eyeglasses, or purchasing school clothes and supplies. Aunt and Uncle claimed that Mother told them, “She’s your responsibility. I don’t need to take care of anything, it’s your responsibility.” Aunt and Uncle further maintained that, at their home, Annabelle transformed from “reserved,” “quiet,” and fearful, to “thriving and happy.”
¶5A week before that school year’s end, in May 2019, Mother unexpectedly checked Annabelle out of school, planning to drive her back to North Carolina. Aunt and Uncle “retrieved [Annabelle] by way of an ex parte protective order” and filed a petition requesting custody, which the juvenile court granted temporarily. In addition to the testimony about the time at Aunt and Uncle’s home, the court heard testimony that Mother’s “parenting style lack[ed] affection,” “nurturing,” and “comforting behavior”—for example there was “no hugging”— and that Mother often peppered Annabelle with various insults. Aunt and Uncle also described that during one of Annabelle’s unsupervised visits with Mother, they received an accidental dial from Annabelle and, after answering the call, overheard Mother “yelling at [Annabelle] that she ‘needed to go . . . tell [Aunt and Uncle] that she needed to come home right now’” and to tell Aunt and Uncle to call Annabelle’s guardian ad litem to relay the same message. If she did not, Mother said, “a lot of people [would] get hurt.” Aunt and Uncle terminated this visit, but in their view more generally, Annabelle “was very depressed and sad after visits with” Mother, and only “[a]fter lots of support and kindness from [Aunt and Uncle]” would Annabelle “return to her normal, happy self.” And Mother did testify “that if custody were returned to her, she would cut off all contact between [Annabelle] and [Aunt and Uncle].”
¶6Ultimately, the juvenile court determined that although “[M]other loves [Annabelle],” “love alone is not enough for a child,” and that Mother’s conduct “demonstrates a complete disregard for the best interests of [Annabelle] and further demonstrates a pattern of [Mother] consistently placing her own best interests before those of [Annabelle].” Further, the court determined that Mother had “been unwilling or unable to provide [necessary] stability, and ha[d] therefore asked other family members to care for [Annabelle] for protracted lengths of time.” The court made findings and concluded that Mother “neglected” Annabelle and therefore granted Aunt and Uncle permanent custody and guardianship.
¶7Specifically, the court entered conclusions of law that:
[Annabelle] has been neglected by [Mother] in the form of emotional maltreatment, which has caused [Annabelle] to be insecure, afraid and emotionally disturbed.
[Annabelle] has been neglected by [Mother] by being placed with relatives for extended and regular periods of time without support from [Mother].
. . . .
[Mother] has neglected [Annabelle] in not assisting in paying for her support or providing items for [Annabelle’s] care. . . .
It is in [Annabelle’s] best interests to be placed in the permanent custody and guardianship of [Aunt and Uncle].
¶8Mother appeals the juvenile court’s neglect determination.
ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶9Mother raises one issue we address here: whether the juvenile court improperly determined that Mother’s conduct amounted to “neglect.” “We apply differing standards of review to findings of fact, conclusions of law, and determinations of mixed questions of law and fact.” In re E.R., 2021 UT 36, ¶ 14. Here, Mother does not dispute the juvenile court’s relevant findings of fact but instead contends that the juvenile court improperly applied the governing law. “This is a mixed determination of law and fact—in which the abstract law is applied to a given set of facts.” Id. ¶ 17. And,
the standard of review for mixed questions depends on the nature of the issue. Law-like mixed questions are reviewed de novo, while fact-like mixed questions are reviewed deferentially. To determine whether a mixed question should be deemed law-like or fact-like, we evaluate the marginal costs and benefits of conducting either a searching de novo review or a deferential review of a lower tribunal’s resolution of the mixed question.
De novo review of mixed questions is appropriate where a fresh appellate reconsideration of the issues presents little downside and significant upside. Issues that are law-like are matters that lend themselves to consistent resolution by uniform precedent. Appellate courts are in a preferred position on such issues. They can establish a uniform body of precedent establishing consistent rules that litigants and lower courts can rely on. And a need to establish such rules cuts against a standard of deference to lower courts.
Id. ¶¶ 18–19 (cleaned up). We distinguish law-like questions from fact-like questions based on
(1) the degree of variety and complexity in the facts to which the legal rule is to be applied; (2) the degree to which a trial court’s application of the legal rule relies on facts observed by the trial judge, such as a witness’s appearance and demeanor, relevant to the application of the law that cannot be adequately reflected in the record available to appellate courts; and (3) other policy reasons that weigh for or against granting discretion to trial courts.
Id. ¶ 21 (cleaned up).
¶10As to the first two factors, where Mother does not dispute the relevant facts as found by the juvenile court, the facts before us are set and clear, and, having been entered by the juvenile court, are not dependent on disputed subjective factors observed by the juvenile court. As to the third factor, where the application of a statute to the facts lies in the vein of statutory interpretation—which is reviewed for correctness, see State v. Soules, 2012 UT App 238, ¶ 2, 286 P.3d 25—sound policy dictates that application of statute be reviewed de novo, giving no deference to the juvenile court. We view the question presented here as law-like because it concerns whether the facts as constituted meet the legal standard of the statute. De novo review here presents little downside and allows this court to establish precedent on which future litigants and lower courts can rely. Accordingly, we review the issue presented here giving no deference to the juvenile court.
¶11 In contending that the juvenile court misapplied the statutory definition of “neglect,” Mother argues that “the juvenile court’s reasons for determining that [Annabelle] is a neglected child do not fall under the neglect statute or relate to that statute” or, at most, “bear only a passing relation.” Upon reviewing the juvenile court’s conclusions of law alongside the relevant statute, we conclude that the juvenile court failed to properly link its findings of fact and conclusions of law to the statute defining “neglect” in these situations.
¶12 Initially, while we are sensitive to the challenging circumstances Annabelle has experienced in this case, we nevertheless must acknowledge the presumption in the law that generally parents have a right to the custody of their children. See In re C.Z., 2021 UT App 28, ¶ 16, 484 P.3d 431. Speaking about a related area of law, termination of parental rights, our supreme court has said that “[n]o parent could be deprived of his or her parental rights without a prior showing of unfitness, abandonment, or substantial neglect,” and that “[s]o long as a parent’s conduct remain[s] within those broad bounds, the state [is] not empowered to terminate the parent-child relationship.”See In re J.P., 648 P.2d 1364, 1367 (Utah 1982). Our supreme court has further stated,
It is rooted in the common experience of [humankind], which teaches that parent and child normally share a strong attachment or bond for each other, that a natural parent will normally sacrifice personal interest and welfare for the child’s benefit, and that a natural parent is normally more sympathetic and understanding and better able to win the confidence and love of the child than anyone else.
The parental presumption is not conclusive, but it cannot be rebutted merely by demonstrating that the opposing party possesses superior qualifications, has established a deeper bond with the child, or is able to provide more desirable circumstances. If the presumption could be rebutted merely by evidence that a nonparent would be a superior custodian, the parent’s natural right to custody could be rendered illusory and with it the child’s natural right to be reared, where possible, by his or her natural parent.
Hutchison v. Hutchison, 649 P.2d 38, 40–41 (Utah 1982) (cleaned up). We recognize that this is not a termination of parental rights case, and we do not apply the presumption here, but this is all to emphasize the importance of the natural parent-child relationship and clarify that before a juvenile court removes a child from a natural parent based on the presence of “neglect,” that court must find facts that meet the statutory definition of neglect, which definition the legislature has deemed substantial enough to warrant the drastic consequence of removing a child from that child’s natural parent.
¶13 Utah law provides six bases on which a juvenile court may determine that a situation amounts to “neglect.” Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-105(40)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2020).2 Specifically,
“Neglect” means action or inaction causing:
abandonment of a child . . . ;
lack of proper parental care of a child by reason of the fault or habits of the parent, guardian, or custodian;
failure or refusal of a parent, guardian, or custodian to provide proper or necessary subsistence or medical care, or any other care necessary for the child’s health, safety, morals, or well-being;
a child to be at risk of being neglected or abused because another child in the same home is neglected or abused;
abandonment of a child through an unregulated custody transfer; or
Id. However, as far as we can tell, the court did not base its ruling on any of these statutory grounds. Instead, the court found that Annabelle had “been neglected by [Mother] in the form of emotional maltreatment,” that Anabelle had “been neglected by [Mother] by being placed with relatives forextended periods of time,” and that “Mother ha[d] neglected [Annabelle] in not assisting in paying for her support or providing items for [Annabelle’s] care.”
¶14 We do not see the required relation between these explanations—as expressed in the court’s conclusions of law— and the statutory text. As to the conclusion that Annabelle had “been neglected by [Mother] in the form of emotional maltreatment,” Aunt and Uncle concede that “emotional maltreatment is . . . not neglect”; and, indeed, this concession aligns with our own caselaw as provided in K.Y. v. Division of Child & Family Services, 2010 UT App 335, 244 P.3d 399, which clarified that “the statutory definition of neglect cannot be construed to include emotional maltreatment.”3 See id. ¶ 20.
Similarly, the court’s statements that Annabelle has “been neglected by [Mother] by being placed with relatives for extended periods of time” and that “Mother has neglected [Annabelle] in not assisting in paying for her support or providing items for [Annabelle’s] care” do not clearly fall within the statute’s language. See infra ¶¶ 15–21.
¶15 After reviewing the actual statutory grounds found in Utah Code section 78A-6-105(40)(a), we come no closer to seeing a connection between the court’s findings and conclusions and the statutory language. Of the statute’s six grounds for neglect, none apply to this case under the facts as found by the juvenile court.
¶16First, Annabelle cannot have been subject to “educational neglect,” Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(vi), because “educational neglect” occurs only when a parent “fails to make a good faith effort to ensure that the child receives an appropriate education” after “receiving a notice of [a] compulsory education violation,” id. § 78A-6-105(20). The juvenile court made no findings in this regard.
¶17Second, Annabelle cannot have been abandoned through an “unregulated custody transfer,” id. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(v), because an “[u]nregulated custody transfer” occurs only when the child is left with someone other than statutorily specified family members or an adult friend of the family—and no party challenges whether Aunt and Uncle fit in this category, id. § 78A6-105(64)(a).
¶18 Third, Annabelle cannot have been “at risk of being neglected . . . because another child in the same home is neglected,” as no other child is identified in the juvenile court’s findings of fact. Id. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(iv).
¶19Fourth, although appearing closer to the mark, Annabelle cannot have been subject to the “failure or refusal of a parent, guardian, or custodian to provide proper or necessary subsistence or medical care, or any other care necessary for the child’s health, safety, morals, or well-being.” Id. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(iii). To be sure, Mother did refuse to pay Aunt and Uncle for various aspects of Annabelle’s care. However, in interpreting a statute, “we look first to the statute’s plain language and presume that the legislature used each word advisedly and read each term according to its ordinary and accepted meaning.” In re J.M.S., 2011 UT 75, ¶ 13, 280 P.3d 410 (cleaned up). And here, the statute’s plain language relates only to a parent’s refusal to provide care—it says nothing about a parent’s refusal to reimburse another caretaker for providing the care. If a non-parent party, retaining custody of a child, contends that a parent should pay for that child’s care, the non-parent party’s remedy is to return the child to the parent’s custody, where the parent would bear the monetary burden of providing for the child’s necessary care. On the facts before us, Mother never refused to provide care but refused only to reimburse Aunt and Uncle for providing that care. Thus, because the statute does not discuss money at all, the fact that Mother refused to repay Aunt and Uncle is neither here nor there for purposes of applying the statute to this situation and does not support a finding of neglect.
¶20 Fifth, again, although apparently more applicable than other alternatives, Annabelle cannot have been subject to a “lack of proper parental care . . . by reason of the fault or habits of the parent, guardian, or custodian.” Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(ii). While it would be inaccurate and insensitive to suggest that the interactions between Mother and Annabelle approached ideal, the record before us suggests that Annabelle received proper parental care, even if not always at Mother’s hand. And while Aunt and Uncle identify certain facts that they allege suggest a lack of proper parental care, the juvenile court did not rely on these facts in identifying the situation as neglect, and we are skeptical that such facts could have amounted to neglect in any event.
¶21Sixth, under the facts as applied by the juvenile court, we cannot determine whether Annabelle faced “abandonment.” Id. § 78A-6-105(40)(a)(i). The juvenile court did not analyze whether a parent who leaves a child temporarily with relatives could be considered to have abandoned the child; indeed, the juvenile court made no findings that it connected to abandonment, and its conclusions of law contain no language that suggests to us that the neglect determination rested on a finding of abandonment under section 78A-6-105(40)(a)(i). In short, the findings of fact and conclusions of law set forth by the juvenile court do not bear a connection to the governing statute sufficient to remove Annabelle from the custody of her natural parent on the basis of “neglect.”
¶22In declaring that Mother neglected Annabelle, the juvenile court made insufficient connection between its findings of fact and conclusions of law and the actual statutory grounds governing findings of “neglect.” The facts as found by the juvenile court do not meet the statutory definition of “neglect.” Therefore, we reverse the court’s order of permanent custody and guardianship issued in favor of Aunt and Uncle.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Do courts make awards in divorce to “punish” adultery? Great question.
Adultery is considered a fault-based ground for divorce and a factor that can be considered when the trial court decides matters of alimony, property division, and child custody.
I will answer this question according to what Utah statutory and case law provides.
Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(b) provides, “The court may consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.”
Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(c) states that “‘Fault’ includes engaging in sexual relations with an individual other than the party’s spouse, if such wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship.
Most recently, the Utah Supreme Court discussed this very question in the divorce case of Gardner v. Gardner (Volume 425 Pacific Reporter 3rd, page 1134, decided in 2019. In that decision the Supreme Court stated:
[C]ourts should keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of any property division or alimony award is to “achieve a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties.” For this reason, courts should consider fault only in an attempt to balance the equities between the parties. In other words, where one party’s fault has harmed the other party, the court may attempt to re-balance the equities by adjusting the alimony award in favor of the party who was harmed by that fault.[footnote 56]
Footnote 56 states:
We note that some Utah courts have struggled to articulate an appropriate role of fault in alimony determinations in light of our case law suggesting that the purpose of alimony is not to punish. See Mark v. Mark, 2009 UT App 374, ¶ 17, 223 P.3d 476 (“[I]f a trial court uses its broad statutory discretion to consider fault in fashioning an alimony award and then, taking that fault into consideration, adjusts the alimony award upward or downward, it simply cannot be said that fault was not used to punish or reward either spouse by altering the award as a consequence of fault.”). But other Utah courts have concluded that fault may be considered without constituting punishment if it is used only to rectify the inequity caused by the fault. See Christiansen v. Christiansen, 2003 UT App 348, 2003 WL 22361312 at *2 (“Fault may correctly be considered by the trial court without penalizing the party found to be at fault.”); see also [Wilson v. Wilson, 5 Utah 2d 79, 296 P.2d 977, 979 (1956)], 296 P.2d at 980 (explaining that equitable factors often cause courts to impose permanent alimony on “erring” spouses); [Riley v. Riley, 138 P.3d 84 (Utah Ct. App. 2006)], 2006 UT App 214, ¶ 24, 138 P.3d 84 (affirming the district court’s consideration of a husband’s fault as an important “factor in fairness to [Wife]” (alteration in original)). As this latter line of cases suggests, fault may be considered as long as it is used as a basis to prevent or rectify an inequity to the not-at-fault spouse. So in reviewing an alimony determination involving fault, Utah appellate courts should focus on whether a fault-based modification of an alimony award helped “achieve a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties” rather than on whether it was punitive in nature. [Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 168, ––– P.3d ––––], 2015 UT 79, ¶ 25, ––– P.3d –––– (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
With this in mind, could a court (a court, not all courts) award more alimony, divide marital property unevenly, or restrict custody or parent-time due to one of the spouse’s adultery to punish adultery? Yes, of course, even if the court went to great pains (sincerely or not) to articulate the alimony decision as not being punitive in nature.
Some judges (some, not all) allow their personal antipathy for an adulterous spouse their impartiality and justify disregarding the law in favor of doing what the judge “feels is right” instead. And yes, it can happen to you.
Bottom line: If you are in adulterer, and a serial and/or un repentant adulterer at that, it should come as no surprise to you that your adultery will do you no favors when it comes to the way the court can and may treat you in a divorce action. Fair or not, that is the nature of the way many people (and judges are people) view and treat adulterers. Does this mean that if you are in adulterer you should expect to be treated unfairly by a court? I think your odds are about 50-50, in my professional opinion. Do those odds mean that you should lie about adultery, if you believe you can get away with it? No, and for two reasons: 1) it is wrong to lie; and 2) if you commit adultery, then compound the problem by lying about it and get caught, you only increase your odds of being mistreated by the court. And odds are that if you lie about adultery you will be caught.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
This is an interesting question because if you have been financially independent of your spouse during your five year separation that implies that you don’t need financial support from your spouse.
Contrastingly, if for the past five years you have been destitute, have made requests of your spouse for financial support that your spouse has rejected, and have run up debts and other liabilities to meet your reasonable living expenses, then you would likely have a very strong basis for seeking alimony.
If, however, you have been separated from your spouse for five years and counting without having to rely for your financial support on a source other than your own income or other earnings in all that time, it is hard to imagine how you could make a compelling argument for deserving and alimony award.
One exceptional situation needs to be mentioned: if you have been self-supporting, but at a greatly reduced/lesser lifestyle, (i.e., you went from living at a certain level with your spouse because of your spouse’s affluence and ability to afford such a lifestyle to living more modestly on a modest income), then it may be possible for you to argue that you are entitled to alimony so that you can reach, or at least get as close as reasonably possible to, the lifestyle to which he became accustomed while married. One counter argument you could encounter (and I believe this argument would have merit) is that you have been self-supporting for so long — albeit at a lower level of income than you enjoyed before separation — that one can reasonably conclude that your change in lifestyle is no longer involuntary imposed upon you but a matter of your own personal choice.
And let’s and on a note of adding insult to injury: imagine that you had no choice but to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps after separation because your spouse refused to provide any financial support for you. Could you make some kind of argument that but for your spouse’s greedy neglect, you would have never needed to become self-supporting? In my legal opinion, the answer is: probably not. The court would not be looking to how or why you became self-supporting, and whether the circumstances under which you became self-supporting were “fair,” but only that you are now currently self-supporting.
Bottom line: if you have been living financially independent of your spouse for the past five years and counting, and if you are not living hand to mouth, it is unlikely that you will succeed in seeking and alimony award.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Allow me to start this answer by clearing the air a bit:
First, there are many fathers who are clearly unfit fathers but who nonetheless believe the only or the “real” reason they are denied sole or even joint custody is because of unchecked corruption and/or sexual discrimination in the legal system. Such fathers are deluded but get a lot of attention, compensating for their lack of credibility by being extraordinarily vocal.
That stated, no intellectually honest legal professional can deny that there is a bias against fathers when it comes to the child custody and parent time award. The evidence is overwhelming.
That stated, the discrimination against fathers in child custody award cases is slowly but surely being remedied. That, however, is cold comfort to fathers who are suffering current bias and discrimination.
I exaggerate only slightly when I state that in child custody disputes mothers are more or less presumes to be not only fit parents, but superior parents to fathers. The child custody fight is the mother’s fight to lose. Fathers, on the other hand, are often presumed to be uncaring, unprincipled, and thus unfit to exercise custody of their children, pegged as seeking sole or joint custody only for the purpose of avoiding or reducing their child support obligations.
Like the proverbial minority (whether that be a racial or sexual minority) who has to be 10 times better than the majority candidates just to get a seat at the table (whether that be in business or athletics or politics or any other worldly endeavor), fathers confront a lopsided double standard in child custody disputes.
SOP (standard operating procedure) in a child custody dispute consists of a mother asserting herself to be that only fit to exercise custody of the children, but the only parent fit to exercise custody, followed by the court accepting that assertion and then burdening the father with rebutting it if he is to have any chance at obtaining sole or even joint custody of his children. It simply not enough for the father to demonstrate that he is and always has been a law-abiding and otherwise responsible person (and parent) of good character.
Perversely, fathers must demonstrate that they are super parents (that anything Mom can do I can do just as well or better) before they will be treated as worthy of the custody of their children. But even if a father meets this impossible standard, he’s written off as a liar, and egotist, or both.
Never mind that the social science overwhelmingly proves that children do best when reared by a mother and a father, and that exposure to and experience with the differences between one’s mother and a father are one of the material reasons why a child develops to his or her fullest potential.
No, in the family law realm fathers are second-class parents. Like a limited use spare tire. Better
than nothing, but clearly not on par with mothers when it comes to parental value and importance. This is why so many court still inexplicably believe (or say they believe) that children need to be reared primarily by their mothers and that fathers can fulfill their parental obligation sufficiently by visiting with their children a few hours a week, every other weekend, and every other major holiday.
Consequently, fathers are marginalized in their children’s lives. Children—having no understanding of why they see so little of Dad now—feel rejected. Both fathers and children drift apart both physically and emotionally as a consequence. It is as pointless as it is heartbreaking.
So how hard do fathers have to fight for solar physical custody of their children? For far too many fathers, it’s a trick question. In many jurisdictions, it doesn’t matter how hard a father fights and how much proof he presents. He can’t win. More accurately, the culture of the legal system predestines him to lose.
If you are a father and you don’t want to be marginalized or erased by your child custody court proceedings, you may very well have to spend every last penny you have hiring the best lawyer(s) (yes, you may need more than one) and experts in an effort to build and present a case so strong that it is impossible to refute. I am not exaggerating. Even then, that may not be enough.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
My spouse opens accounts in my name, steals checks, forges my signature. How do I get my spouse to stop?
Without telling me, my spouse opens store accounts in my name, steals my checks, forges my name on my checks and accounts. In our state, assets are divided 50/50 in a divorce, and that would be catastrophic financially for me. How do I get my spouse to stop?
This is a great question. The answer is not going to be very comforting.
Unless you are somehow able to prove to the court’s satisfaction that, in fact, your spouse opened accounts in your name without your knowledge or consent, if you cannot prove that your spouse forged your name on contracts or checks, then the poor judge can’t be expected to ignore the documents that show you—albeit falsely—have those accounts and debts and obligations. From the judge’s perspective, your spouse has very compelling evidence (even though but only you know it’s false and fraudulent). The judge needs proof that this evidence is fake before it can disregard that fake evidence.
Fortunately, it has been my experience that frequently a person in your position can often find the proverbial smoking gun that exposes your spouse’s fraud to the court’s knowledge. But if you believe you can prevail in a contest of “your word against mine,” you’re in for disappointment. Don’t leave it to chance.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Your question assumes a false fact. Lawyers are not always paid no matter the results.
One example is a contingency fee case. A contingency fee case is one in which the lawyer’s fee is contingent, i.e., conditioned, upon a particular outcome, usually the recovery of money damages, with the attorney receiving a portion of the damages awarded to the client), if the client does not win or settle, and thus if no money is recovered, then the lawyer does not get paid).
Another example is when a lawyer voluntarily works without getting paid. Lawyers who provide legal services free of charge usually do so when a client needs help but cannot pay, or if the lawyer wants to support a cause he/she cares about by donating his/her services without charge. This is known as pro bono publico (“for the public good”) or just “pro bono” service.
Another good old-fashioned example of a situation in which the lawyer is not paid, no matter the results, is when the lawyer does work for the client first, then bills the client for the work performed, but the client refuses to pay. When I was young and stupid, I encountered this problem on occasion. After a while (too long a while), I got tired of getting stiffed and I changed the way I billed and collected.
2020 UT App 171 – Miller v. Miller
THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS
RYAN MILLER, Appellant,
BRENDA MILLER, Appellee.
Filed December 24, 2020
Second District Court, Farmington Department
The Honorable Michael Edwards
Jonathan Hibshman, Marco Brown, and Rodney R. Parker, Attorneys for Appellant
Dustin D. Gibb, Attorney for Appellee
JUDGE KATE APPLEBY authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES JILL M. POHLMAN and DIANA HAGEN concurred.
¶1 Ryan Miller appeals the district court’s dismissal of his petition to modify the parties’ divorce decree. Ryan’s petition asked that he be appointed the primary custodial parent of the parties’ children. The district court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and, alternatively, for the parties’ failure to engage in a dispute resolution procedure before seeking court intervention. On appeal, Ryan contends the court applied the wrong standards for dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) and for determining whether a change of circumstances justified modifying the divorce decree. He also challenges the court’s dismissal of his petition based on his failure to use a dispute resolution procedure before filing the petition. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
¶2 Ryan and Brenda divorced in June 2014. The divorce decree incorporated, and was based on, the parties’ stipulation and property settlement agreement. The parties stipulated, and the court decreed, that they would have joint legal and physical custody of their children, with Brenda as the “primary physical custodial parent” and the children attending school based on her residence. The parties’ stipulation and the decree also separately provided parent-time for Ryan.
¶3 Additionally, the parties stipulated to a parenting plan. As relevant here, the plan expressed an overarching preference for resolving co-parenting disputes between them, using “experts to assist them” in doing so “when they are unable to resolve conflict themselves” and to “solve problems and make joint decisions by working through [the] decision-making procedure” included in the plan. It also expressed the parties’ agreement to make “major decisions” regarding the children together and to use a mediator before seeking a resolution in court when, “after following the joint decision-making procedure and implementing the governing principles,” the parties were unable to “reach a consensus.”
¶4 In May 2019, Ryan filed a petition to modify the divorce decree (the Petition). He contended it was in the children’s best interest that he be awarded “primary custody” of them, “with Brenda enjoying parent-time pursuant to Utah Code Annotated, Section 30-3-35.1.” Ryan asserted there had been “substantial and material changes in circumstances that were unforeseeable” at the time the decree was entered, and he made twelve allegations in support.
¶5 Specifically, Ryan alleged: (1) “Brenda does not communicate with Ryan regarding [the children] and their needs”; (2) Ryan was “not informed” when one of the children “suffered a concussion” or about the associated “activity restrictions”; (3) “Brenda has refused to allow [the children] to attend significant events in Ryan’s and [the children’s] lives”; (4) Ryan and his current spouse have a two-year-old child “with whom [the children] are bonded and with whom they desire to spend more time,” and Ryan’s current spouse works from home and is able to care for the children; (5) “Ryan’s job and work hours have stabilized” since the decree was entered, “giving him predictability in when he is at home and able to spend time” with the children; (6) during Ryan’s Thursday overnight parent-time, he “spends much of the time . . . doing homework” with the children, “which has accumulated throughout the week” while the children were with Brenda; (7) “Brenda does not give [the children] their medication”; (8) the children “have been neglected in their personal hygiene and appearance”; (9) Brenda allows the children “constant screen time”; (10) Brenda is cohabiting with someone who is “forcing [the children] into a vegan lifestyle, resulting in malnourishment,” and who has warrants out for his arrest; (11) the children have asked “Ryan if they can spend more time with him”; and (12) “Brenda has an established pattern of neglecting” the children.
¶6 Brenda filed a motion to dismiss the Petition pursuant to rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a party may move for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Brenda contended Ryan’s allegations “fail[ed] to meet the high burden required for a change of custody” because none of them, “even if true, constitute[d] a material and substantial change in circumstances.” Therefore, Ryan had “failed to state a claim upon which the relief he seeks, a change of custody, could possibly be granted.” Brenda did not argue that the Petition should be dismissed for the additional reason that Ryan had failed to use dispute resolution procedures in relation to his request to modify custody.
¶7 After an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed the Petition on two independent grounds. First, the court agreed with Brenda that the Petition failed to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6) for modification of custody. It addressed each of the changed-circumstances allegations and determined most of them “could support some change.” But it determined many of the allegations were entitled to “little weight” as part of its “substantial and material change in circumstances analysis.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the allegations, taken “as a whole,” “as true,” and “in the light most favorable to [Ryan]” “do not amount to an allegation that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the parties and their children that would justify the change requested.” On this basis, the court concluded Ryan failed to state a claim upon which the custody modification could be granted and dismissed the Petition.
¶8 Second, as an alternative ground for dismissal, the court determined Utah Code section 30-3-10.4(1)(c) “means what it says” regarding the use of dispute resolution procedures to resolve disputes related to the modification of custody. During the hearing on Brenda’s motion, the court sua sponte raised the issue of whether the parties had attempted to use a dispute resolution procedure, and the court determined they had not. Because Ryan “admitted through counsel that he has not sought” to engage in such procedures, the court determined the Petition was additionally dismissed “for failure to properly use alternative dispute resolution procedures.”
¶9 Ryan timely appeals.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶10 Ryan appeals the Petition’s dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. “We review a decision granting a motion to dismiss for correctness, granting no deference to the decision of the district court.” Fehr v. Stockton, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8, 427 P.3d 1190 (quotation simplified). “We likewise review the district court’s subsidiary legal determinations for correctness.” Id.
¶11 Ryan also challenges the court’s dismissal of the Petition for failure to use dispute resolution procedures, contending the court erred by sua sponte determining that his failure to use dispute resolution procedures justified dismissal of the Petition. While district courts generally have inherent authority and discretion regarding the “manage[ment of] their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases,” see PDC Consulting, Inc. v. Porter, 2008 UT App 372, ¶ 14, 196 P.3d 626 (quotation simplified), to the extent this issue implicates the process afforded to Ryan, it is a legal question we consider under a correctness standard, see Brigham Young Univ. v. Tremco Consultants, Inc., 2007 UT 17, ¶ 25, 156 P.3d 782.
¶12 The district court dismissed the Petition for failure to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Ryan contends the court misapplied the dismissal standard under, and exceeded the scope of, the rule. He argues the court improperly “established facts” and “proceeded to the merits of [his] claims in reviewing his allegations of changed circumstances.” Relatedly, Ryan contends the court erred by applying an incorrect standard for a petition to modify a divorce decree. Characterizing the Petition as requesting only a change in parent-time rather than a change of custody, he argues the court erred by applying the heightened changed-circumstances standard applicable to custody change requests.
¶13 Ryan also argues the district court erred by granting the motion to dismiss on the alternative ground that he had not utilized dispute resolution procedures in seeking modification of the decree.
¶14 We address each issue below, ultimately concluding the court erred in granting Brenda’s motion for dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and in sua sponte dismissing the Petition due to the parties’ failure to engage in dispute resolution procedures.
I. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim
A. Applicable Principles
¶15 “A complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted if it alleges the facts and sets forth the legal basis for an available legal remedy.” Simmons Media Group, LLC v. Waykar, LLC, 2014 UT App 145, ¶ 15, 335 P.3d 885 (quotation simplified). “A rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss admits the facts alleged in the complaint but challenges the plaintiff’s right to relief based on those facts.” Blanch v. Farrell, 2018 UT App 172, ¶ 14, 436 P.3d 285 (quotation simplified). Our review of a rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is “concerned solely with the sufficiency of the pleadings, and not the underlying merits of the case.” Fehr v. Stockton, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8, 427 P.3d 1190 (quotation simplified); see also Capri Sunshine, LLC v. E & C Fox Invs., LLC, 2015 UT App 231, ¶ 11, 366 P.3d 1214 (“The purpose of a rule 12(b)(6) motion is to challenge the formal sufficiency of the claim for relief, not to establish the facts or resolve the merits of a case.” (quotation simplified)); Shah v. Intermountain Healthcare, Inc., 2013 UT App 261, ¶ 6, 314 P.3d 1079 (explaining that a rule 12(b)(6) review concerns the “legal sufficiency of the claim”). “We assume the truth of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Fehr, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8 (quotation simplified). While courts “need not accept legal conclusions or opinion couched as facts,” Miller v. West Valley City, 2017 UT App 65, ¶ 12, 397 P.3d 761 (quotation simplified), “[a] district court should grant a motion to dismiss only if it is clear from the allegations that the non-moving party would not be entitled to relief under the set of facts alleged or under any facts it could prove to support its claim,” O’Hearon v. Hansen, 2017 UT App 214, ¶ 10, 409 P.3d 85; see also Van Leeuwen v. Bank of Am. NA, 2016 UT App 212, ¶ 6, 387 P.3d 521 (stating that dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) “is justified only when the allegations of the complaint clearly demonstrate that the plaintiff does not have a claim” (quotation simplified)).
¶16 The Petition requested a change in primary custody. Modification of an order establishing joint physical or legal custody is governed by Utah Code section 30-3-10.4. It provides that upon petition by “one or both of the parents, . . . the court may, after a hearing, modify or terminate an order that established joint legal custody or joint physical custody if” “the verified petition or accompanying affidavit initially alleges that admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents or joint legal or physical custodians have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified” and that “a modification of the terms and conditions of the order would be an improvement for and in the best interest of the child.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(1)(a), (b) (LexisNexis 2019). This is a two-part test: the court “first must decide whether there are changed circumstances warranting the exercise of the court’s continuing jurisdiction to reconsider the custody award,” and it may then proceed to the best interest determination “only if circumstances have materially and substantially changed.” Erickson v. Erickson, 2018 UT App 184, ¶ 14, 437 P.3d 370 (quotation simplified).
¶17 The change-in-circumstances inquiry is a threshold requirement for reopening a custody order. Doyle v. Doyle, 2011 UT 42, ¶ 25, 258 P.3d 553. It has two requirements: “the party seeking modification must demonstrate (1) that since the time of the previous decree, there have been changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based; and (2) that those changes are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody.” Peeples v. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15, 456 P.3d 1159 (quoting Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 54 (Utah 1982)). “Prohibiting a court from reopening the custody question until it has first made a threshold finding of substantially changed circumstances serves multiple interests.” Doyle, 2011 UT 42, ¶ 25 (quotation simplified). “First, because a custody decree is predicated on a particular set of facts, that decree is res judicata,” with the result that the changed-circumstances requirement “prevents an unnecessary drain on judicial resources by repetitive litigation of the same issue when the result would not be altered.” Id. (quotation simplified). Second, the changed-circumstances requirement “protects the custodial parent from harassment by repeated litigation.” Id. (quotation simplified). Finally, the requirement “protects the child from ‘ping-pong’ custody awards.” Id. (quotation simplified); see also Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 14 (noting the “important ends” served by the changed-circumstances requirement are avoiding “the deleterious effects of ‘ping-pong’ custody awards that subject children to ever-changing custody arrangements” and “prevent[ing] the undue burdening of the courts and the harassing of parties by repetitive actions” (quotation simplified)).
¶18 Our courts have recognized that “the change in circumstances required to justify a modification of a divorce decree varies with the type of modification sought.” Erickson, 2018 UT App 184, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified). For example, when modifying parent-time (as opposed to custody), “the petitioner is required to make only some showing of a change in circumstances, which does not rise to the same level as the substantial and material showing required when a district court alters custody.” Id. (quotation simplified); see also Blocker v. Blocker, 2017 UT App 10, ¶ 12, 391 P.3d 1051.
¶19 Further, “in some cases, a lesser showing of changed circumstances may support modifying a stipulated award than would be required to modify an adjudicated award,” because “the res judicata policies underlying the changed-circumstances rule are at a particularly low ebb.” Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15 (quotation simplified); see also Elmer v. Elmer, 776 P.2d 599, 603 (Utah 1989); Zavala v. Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶¶ 16–17, 366 P.3d 422.
¶20 Nevertheless, for custody changes, “[t]he required finding of a material and substantial change of circumstances is statutory,” with the result that “[n]either this court nor the supreme court has purported to—or could—alter that requirement.” Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 16; see also Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 13. As a result, although the changed-circumstances showing may differ depending on the case, “[i]f a custody award has already been entered, custody will not be re-examined absent a material and substantial change of circumstances.” Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 16; see also Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15 (acknowledging “that the change-in-circumstances requirement still applies even in cases involving stipulated (as opposed to adjudicated) custody orders”). See generally Doyle, 2011 UT 42, ¶ 38 (“Even an overwhelming case for the best interest of the child could not compensate for a lack of proof of a change in circumstances.”).
¶21 Applying these principles, we conclude the district court improperly applied the rule 12(b)(6) standard when it dismissed the Petition. As we discuss below, in evaluating the Petition, the court properly determined Ryan requested a change in custody rather than a change in parent-time. But although the court properly categorized the Petition as seeking a change in custody and recited the correct rule 12(b)(6) standard, the court exceeded the scope of that standard when it weighed the change-of-circumstances allegations on their merits instead of assuming their truth to determine whether the Petition “allege[d] that admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents or joint legal or physical custodians have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified.” See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(1)(a); see also Fehr, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8. On this basis, we reverse the rule 12(b)(6) portion of the district court’s dismissal order.
¶22 Because the court’s application of rule 12(b)(6) depends on its determination that the Petition sought a change in custody rather than in parent-time, we first address Ryan’s challenge to the court’s custody standard determination, then address the court’s rule 12(b)(6) application in light of the proper custody standard.
B. Custody Standard
¶23 Ryan contends the district court, in evaluating the Petition, improperly applied the heightened changed-circumstances standard applicable to custody changes. He claims the Petition merely requested a change in parent-time and asserts the court erred by declining to apply the lesser changed-circumstances showing applicable to changes in parent-time.
¶24 The district court determined the standard applicable to modification requests for custody changes in Utah Code section 30-3-10.4(1) was the appropriate standard to apply, which required the Petition to allege “that admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents or joint legal or physical custodians have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(1)(a) (LexisNexis 2019). In doing so, the court noted that Ryan’s request was “the polar opposite” of the custody and parent-time arrangement in place under the decree. And ultimately it concluded, applying the standard articulated in section 30-3-10.4(1), that the allegations did not demonstrate “the circumstances of the children or one or both of the parents [had] materially and substantially changed since the entry” of the divorce decree. (Emphasis added.)
¶25 We perceive no error in the changed-circumstances standard the court applied. First, although the divorce decree granted the parties joint legal and physical custody, Brenda was designated as the “primary physical custodial parent,” with Ryan awarded parent-time. The Petition plainly requested the court to award Ryan “primary custody” of the children, “with Brenda enjoying parent-time,” and set forth a number of “substantial and material change[s] in circumstances” Ryan believed supported his request. Although on appeal Ryan characterizes his request merely as a change in parent-time, he nevertheless agrees that it asked to “mak[e] him the primary physical custodian.”
¶26 In this respect, Ryan’s request is more than merely a request to change parent-time. If the request were granted, Ryan would be deemed the primary custodial parent, with Brenda receiving parent-time. This change would dramatically decrease the number of overnights the children would spend per year with Brenda while increasing them for Ryan. Among other things, Brenda’s overnights would decrease from 220 per year to 145, and Ryan’s would increase to 220. See generally id. § 30-3-35.1 (LexisNexis 2019) (setting forth the number of overnights and schedule applicable to parent-time). The change also would substantially disrupt and alter the children’s routines, expectations, and time with Brenda attendant to her designation as the children’s primary custodial parent since the 2014 decree. Additionally, the change could affect where the children attend school because the decree provided they would “attend school based upon [Brenda’s] residence” as she was designated the primary custodial parent.
¶27 Thus, we do not agree with Ryan that his request is properly characterized merely as a change in parent-time; in substance, he has asked for an order to have the children’s primary custodial parent changed. We therefore conclude the court correctly applied the statutory changed-circumstances standard applicable to custody modification requests under section 30-3-10.4—whether there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances justifying a modification of the divorce decree—as opposed to the lesser showing applicable to mere parent-time changes.
¶28 In short, we perceive no error in the court’s decision to apply to the Petition the standard applicable to custody change requests under Utah Code section 30-3-10.4(1).
C. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
¶29 Ryan contends the district court erred by dismissing his Petition under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. He argues it misapplied, and exceeded the scope of, rule 12(b)(6) in dismissing the Petition. We agree.
¶30 Rule 12(b)(6) permits a party to move for dismissal of a complaint on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Utah R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). This means that, even accepting the complaint’s allegations as true, “it is clear . . . that the non-moving party would not be entitled to relief under the set of facts alleged or under any facts it could prove to support its claim.” O’Hearon v. Hansen, 2017 UT App 214, ¶ 10, 409 P.3d 85; see also Van Leeuwen v. Bank of Am. NA, 2016 UT App 212, ¶ 6, 387 P.3d 521 (stating that dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) “is justified only when the allegations of the complaint clearly demonstrate that the plaintiff does not have a claim” (quotation simplified)).
¶31 The Petition sought a change in the parties’ custody arrangement. See supra ¶¶ 23–28. As discussed above, in the context of petitions to modify custody orders, the allegations must demonstrate “that admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents or joint legal or physical custodians have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(1)(a) (LexisNexis 2019). To meet the changed-circumstances requirement, the Petition thus had to include allegations demonstrating “(1) that since the time of the previous decree, there have been changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based; and (2) that those changes are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody.” Peeples v. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15, 456 P.3d 1159 (quoting Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 54 (Utah 1982)).
¶32 Here, the district court articulated the correct legal standard, but ultimately misapplied it. It recognized its duty “to review [the changed-circumstances allegations] of the Petition . . . and to take those alleged facts at face value and any inferences that can be drawn from them in favor of the non-moving party” to determine whether the Petition stated a claim for modifying the custody order. And the court recited the appropriate standard in reaching its conclusion that Ryan had “not supported the allegation that admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the children or one or both of the parents have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified,” stating it reached its conclusion by “taking all allegations together and considering them in the light most favorable to [Ryan].”
¶33 But in reaching that conclusion, the court acknowledged that most of the Petition’s allegations “could support some change” and thereby constituted appropriate considerations for evaluating a custody change. Nevertheless, the court discounted those allegations in conducting its analysis of the changes. The court determined that, for various reasons, many of the Petition’s allegations were entitled to little weight. For example, it determined that allegations about Brenda’s failure to communicate, failure to allow the children to attend “significant events,” allowance of constant screen-time, and neglect were entitled to “little weight” in the overall substantial and material change analysis. Similarly, the court determined that several of the allegations, including the homework-related, cohabitation, and medication-regime allegations, were “of less value” in the substantial and material change analysis as the result of Ryan’s failure to engage in alternative dispute resolution and enforcement proceedings before bringing the Petition. And for certain allegations, including those regarding screen-time and Brenda’s cohabitation, the court acknowledged that it needed more facts to properly analyze the weight and consideration to be afforded them in the overall change-of-circumstances analysis, yet it also discounted the allegations for that reason.
¶34 By analyzing the weight and value of the allegations as well as the necessity of more facts, the court proceeded past the proper rule 12(b)(6) question—whether the Petition stated a legally sufficient claim for a substantial and material change in circumstances—to the merits-related questions of whether the various allegations actually constituted a material and substantial change in circumstances. See Fehr v. Stockton, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8, 427 P.3d 1190 (stating that a rule 12(b)(6) inquiry is “concerned solely with the sufficiency of the pleadings, and not the underlying merits of the case” (quotation simplified)). Doing so was error.
¶35 To be sure, the determination of whether allegations of changed circumstances amount to a material and substantial change is a legal one. See Huish v. Munro, 2008 UT App 283, ¶ 19, 191 P.3d 1242 (characterizing a court’s conclusion about “whether a material change in circumstances has occurred that would warrant reconsidering the original decree” as a “legal conclusion” (quotation simplified)); Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 21, 989 P.2d 491 (same). As a result, if changed-circumstances allegations clearly raise only circumstances that our courts have already determined to be insufficient to justify modification of a divorce decree as a matter of law, a district court may dismiss a modification petition as failing to state a legally sufficient claim. See generally O’Hearon, 2017 UT App 214, ¶ 10 (stating a motion to dismiss should be granted “only if it is clear from the allegations that the non-moving party would not be entitled to relief under the set of facts alleged or under any facts it could prove to support its claim”); cf. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶¶ 25, 27 (stating “[i]ssues that were present prior to the decree, and continue to be present in much the same way thereafter,” as well as “violations of a custody order by one party,” ordinarily do not “justify reexamining the propriety of the [custody] order”); Kelley v. Kelley, 2000 UT App 236, ¶ 22, 9 P.3d 171 (concluding “remarriage and/or failure to make support payments cannot alone justify a modification” of a divorce decree). Likewise, if a court determines a petition as a whole clearly does not allege a change in circumstances that has any relation to the parenting skills or custodial relationship or the circumstances on which the custodial arrangement was based, it may dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim. See O’Hearon, 2017 UT App 214, ¶ 10; cf. Becker v. Becker, 694 P.2d 608, 610 (Utah 1984) (stating that, to meet the materiality requirement, the change in circumstances must “have some material relationship to and substantial effect on parenting ability or the functioning of the presently existing custodial relationship” or “appear on their face to be the kind of circumstances on which an earlier custody decision was based”).
¶36 But because a determination of whether “substantial and material changes have occurred is a fact-intensive legal determination,” see Doyle v. Doyle, 2009 UT App 306, ¶ 15, 221 P.3d 888, aff’d, 2011 UT 42, 258 P.3d 553, a decision that a modification petition may be dismissed as legally insufficient under rule 12(b)(6) will be unusual. Here, the court expressly found that most of the allegations were appropriate considerations for a change-of-circumstances analysis and potentially could have supported a change of custody. In doing so, the court necessarily determined the allegations suggested that “admissible evidence will show that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents or joint legal or physical custodians have materially and substantially changed since the entry of the order to be modified.” See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(1)(a). Once it made such a determination, the court’s task under rule 12(b)(6) was at an end. See Fehr, 2018 UT App 136, ¶ 8. It was improper for the court to proceed beyond the question of sufficiency of the pleadings to merits-related questions of how much weight, value, or type of consideration to give to certain allegations in the overall changed-circumstances analysis, particularly in light of the court’s acknowledgement that more facts were needed regarding some of the allegations for it to make that assessment in the first place. See id.
¶37 For these reasons, we conclude the district court erred in dismissing the Petition for failure to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6). The court exceeded the scope of a proper rule 12(b)(6) inquiry in dismissing the Petition. Accordingly, we reverse the rule 12(b)(6) portion of the court’s dismissal of the Petition.
II. Dismissal for Failure to Use Dispute Resolution Procedures
¶38 Ryan also challenges the district court’s alternative ground for dismissal because of his failure to use dispute resolution procedures, arguing the court exceeded its discretion to dismiss the Petition on this ground. He contends the court erred by sua sponte raising the dispute resolution procedure issue and then ruling on it as an alternative ground for dismissal. He points out that Brenda’s motion to dismiss “did not raise the issue of the alternate dispute resolution requirement” as a ground for dismissal, and he asserts the parties “had no knowledge the issue was being considered” by the court as a ground for dismissal until the hearing. On this basis, he contends the court erred by dismissing the Petition on this ground without allowing the parties to “fully brief the issue.” We agree.
¶39 Our supreme court has explained that Utah’s “appellate system has developed along the adversarial model, which is founded on the premise that parties are in the best position to select and argue the issues most advantageous to themselves, while allowing an impartial tribunal to determine the merits of those arguments.” State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 8, 416 P.3d 443. In this respect, as a general rule, “all parties are entitled to notice that a particular issue is being considered by a court and to an opportunity to present evidence and argument on that issue before decision.” Plumb v. State, 809 P.2d 734, 743 (Utah 1990). “Sua sponte decisions by [district] courts are inconsistent with the notion of due process when parties are not provided advance notice that the court is considering a given course of action, and the losing party is not allowed to be heard thereon.” Jenkins v. Weis, 868 P.2d 1374, 1383 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (Bench, J., dissenting). In other words, “[t]imely and adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way are the very heart of procedural fairness.” Nelson v. Jacobsen, 669 P.2d 1207, 1211 (Utah 1983); see also Rubins v. Plummer, 813 P.2d 778, 780 (Colo. App. 1990) (“The right to prior notice and an opportunity to be heard is a critical part of our judicial system.” (citing Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970))). And, as to sua sponte dismissals in particular, a court should “normally refrain” from doing so unless the deficiency or issue “is brought to its attention by way of pleadings or motions by the parties.” See Rubins, 813 P.2d at 779. “[I]f the court is inclined to dismiss sua sponte, it must afford the plaintiff an opportunity to be heard” and to “persuade the court that dismissal is not proper” as a “matter of fundamental fairness, if not procedural due process.” Id.
¶40 Here, Brenda’s motion to dismiss did not raise the failure to use dispute resolution procedures in relation to the request to modify custody as a basis for failure to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6) or for dismissal on another basis; her motion sought dismissal only for failure to state that a material and substantial change had occurred, as required under Utah Code section 30-3-10.4(1)(a). Further, the relevant notice of hearing indicated the issue to be considered during the hearing was the motion to dismiss. See generally In re Cannatella, 2006 UT App 89, ¶ 3, 132 P.3d 684 (“To satisfy an essential requisite of procedural due process, a hearing must be prefaced by timely notice which adequately informs the parties of the specific issues they must prepare to meet.” (quotation simplified)).
¶41 As a result, Ryan was first made aware during the hearing itself that the court was considering dismissal on the additional ground that he had failed to use dispute resolution procedures before seeking court intervention. The court raised the dispute resolution issue sua sponte at the hearing, and apparently in the context of determining whether Ryan had satisfied the requirements for modification of custody under section 30-3-10.4(1). And without allowing Ryan an opportunity to brief the issue, it announced its ruling from the bench at the end of the hearing and dismissed the Petition on the additional ground that the parties had not met the dispute resolution requirement.
¶42 In doing so, the court denied Ryan an adequate opportunity to prepare for and address the dispute resolution issue before it announced its dismissal on that ground. For example, had Ryan been made aware that the court was considering the dispute resolution issue in conjunction with Brenda’s motion, he might have made an informed decision to forgo pursuing the Petition in favor of engaging in mediation or another dispute resolution procedure. In this respect, because of the court’s sua sponte treatment of the issue, Ryan was not afforded the opportunity to prepare for and address, with authority, whether engaging in dispute resolution proceedings, as set out in section 30-3-10.4, is required to state a claim for modification of custody or is otherwise required in every case before court intervention is sought. Cf. In re Adoption of B.Y., 2015 UT 67, ¶ 23, 356 P.3d 1215 (“Mere notice is an empty gesture if it is not accompanied by a meaningful chance to make your case.”). This denial of a briefing opportunity in light of the court’s sua sponte dismissal was significant where the court’s decision to dismiss on this ground appears to have been rooted in the court’s belief that engaging in a dispute resolution procedure is a prerequisite, under section 30-3-10.4, to filing a petition to modify custody. Relatedly, the court’s sua sponte consideration and ruling on the dispute resolution issue denied Ryan an opportunity to prepare for and address whether, given the particular nature of the allegations allegedly justifying a modification of custody and the terms of the parties’ parenting plan, the failure to engage in dispute resolution procedures before seeking court intervention was insufficient to justify the Petition’s dismissal.
¶43 Indeed, as Ryan has pointed out on appeal, there were some important questions raised by the court’s sua sponte treatment of the issue, including whether compliance with a dispute resolution procedure is required to state a claim for modification of custody or whether use of a dispute resolution procedure was required under the circumstances and in light of the allegations in this case. Because the court both sua sponte raised the issue for the first time and then rendered dismissal on it during the hearing, Ryan was denied an opportunity to research authority and consider, prepare for, and respond to these and other related issues. See In re Cannatella, 2006 UT App 89, ¶ 3.
¶44 For these reasons, the court’s sua sponte consideration of and dismissal based on the dispute resolution procedure issue, without affording Ryan the opportunity to research authority and prepare to address it, was error. In light of the lack of notice before the hearing that the court was considering dismissal for failure to engage in dispute resolution procedures and the complexity of the issues (as well as the variety of responses Ryan might have made had he been informed before the hearing that the court was evaluating the viability of the Petition on that ground), the court should not have dismissed on this ground before providing Ryan the opportunity to brief the issue. Accordingly, we reverse the court’s dismissal on the alternative ground of failure to use a dispute resolution procedure.
¶45 The district court applied the proper changed-circumstances standard in evaluating the Petition. But it misapplied the rule 12(b)(6) standard in dismissing the Petition. The court also erred by dismissing the Petition for failure to use dispute resolution procedures before seeking court intervention. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
What advice would you give someone before a divorce, if it’s known it may happen and you’re not in the wrong?
This is a very important question that too few people ask.
Does this sound familiar?:
Your spouse is making false allegations against you. No evidence to support them, yet the police and the courts and child protective services are swallowing it all.
You keep asking when justice will be done, when you will be vindicated.
You keep wondering when things would get back to “normal”.
In the back of your mind you are certain that one day things will indeed get back to normal
Odds are they won’t. Especially while your kids are minors.
But surely things can’t stay this crazy and out of whack forever, right?
Things will likely get better but will likely never “go back to normal.”
We don’t blame you for thinking we’re exaggerating. The idea that innocence counts for next to nothing is unthinkable. Too terrible to believe. As is the idea that people can slander you with impunity while the police and the courts stand by and either let it happen or even it help it happen. Believe it. It’s true.
No really, it’s true.
The words of this real divorced spouse and parent sum things up concisely and accurately: I kept wondering when things would get back to normal. I soon realized through brutal experience that it never will, as long as I have kids with my ex that are minors. Or if I am ever around my alone (meaning no other witness could confirm her false claims are exactly that, false). I can’t ever go back to life as it was before divorce. My rose-colored glasses are broken forever, The days of not worrying about someone making things up to punish me in divorce or criminal court or DCFS are no more. The “child-like faith” I once had in our legal system is lost for all time, never to return.
You can deny it all you want, but it will do you and your kids no good and only lead to more harm and being victimized more, if you bury your head in the sand or in the clouds. That will only add repeated and more severe injury to what started out as insult.
We know what you are hoping for, and you’re not there yet. You likely won’t be for much longer time than you think is realistic or fair.
Will the day soon come when you can stop worrying about protecting yourself from false allegations or complaints from your ex? No.
In fact, that day may never come.
We know people for whom it’s been years, in some cases more than a decade, and still, to this day the ex cannot be trusted to be decent.
You have to cautious and careful in the event that the snake that bit you once (or dozens of times) before might try to bite you again.
We know it’s exhausting and actually driving you near insane (we really do).
But you must stay vigilant.
You must stay classy. And stay frosty. You must. It’s either stay frosty, stay classy, or be crushed. Crushed emotionally, financially, etc.
An ounce of prevention truly is worth several hundred or several thousand pounds of cure.
We understand you’re not happy about this.
Still, knowing is half the battle. Forewarned is forearmed.
Staying blissfully ignorant won’t do you any good and can do you permanent damage.
Divorce and false claims of child and spousal and substance abuse, etc. are more prevalent than you think because nobody wants to believe it will happen to them. And those who are victimized are often too embarrassed and depressed to talk openly and honestly about it. Can you blame them?
That’s it. No easy solutions. No cheap assurances. But ignore this information, warnings, and protective measures at your peril.
Hang in there. Heed this crucial advice: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Why do kids think it’s their fault when their parents divorce?
Among the things little children believe is that the world reacts to them, exists and functions because of them. Consequently, when things go wrong in their lives it is common for young children to wonder whether or believe that their parents divorced because of something about or because of something the child did or failed to do.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
How do you divorce when your doesn’t want to go through with it? Does it require both parties to cooperate?
I cannot speak for all jurisdictions, but here is the answer for Utah, the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (though my best guess is that this applies to all jurisdictions):
Can you divorce your spouse if he/she doesn’t want a divorce? Yes, no question about it. You have an absolute right to a divorce, if you want a divorce. This is what a “no-fault divorce” is. Many people believe that “no-fault divorce” means many things it does not.
Some believe “no fault divorce” means “hey, spouse, you can’t divorce me because I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ve committed no fault.” No, that’s not what it means.
Some believe “no fault divorce” means “hey, spouse, I can divorce you because I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ve committed no fault.” That’s not what it means either.
No-fault divorce means this: you can get a divorce regardless of whether your spouse has committed any marital fault. What does this mean, and what is “marital fault”?
that before the no-fault divorce law was passed by the legislature the only way one could obtain a decree of divorce was by proving his/her spouse was “at fault”. If your spouse had not committed a marital fault, then you couldn’t get a divorce no matter how much you wanted a divorce. Marital fault-based grounds for divorce still exist in some states*, they are just not the only way one can qualify to get a divorce.
that with the passing of a no-fault divorce law, now one can obtain a divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” which means that as long as you claim (claim, not prove—after all, how could it be proven or disproven?) that there are “irreconcilable differences” between you and your spouse that render the marriage irretrievably broken, you can get a divorce.
Marital fault is any of the following grounds for divorce at common law. I will list the grounds that Utah recognizes first, plus some other grounds that other jurisdictions recognize as “fault”-based grounds for divorce:
impotency of the respondent at the time of marriage;
adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage;
willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year;
willful neglect of the respondent to provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life;
habitual drunkenness of the respondent;
conviction of the respondent for a felony;
cruel treatment of the petitioner by the respondent to the extent of causing bodily injury or great mental distress to the petitioner;
incurable insanity; or
when the husband and wife have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation.
Other fault-based grounds
abandonment for a certain length of time;
conviction of felony;
criminal conviction of a felony or imprisonment of one party for a certain length of time;
There are two kind of grounds for divorce: fault and no-fault. Irreconcilable differences are an example of no-fault grounds for divorce.
Before no-fault divorce laws were passed (and every state in the United States of America now allows divorce on a no-fault basis), a husband or wife could not obtain a divorce unless he/she could prove that his or her spouse had committed marital fault.
No, really. I’m not kidding. It got to the point that spouses we didn’t have fault-based grounds for divorce, but wanted a divorce nevertheless, would collude with each other and perjure themselves to commit fraud on the court: the husband or would would agree to claim, falsely that he/she committed adultery (or some other fault), and the other spouse would go along with the sham. Together they would represent to the court that a divorce was warranted on the basis of adultery that never took place, simply so they could get divorce from one another. lawmakers, realizing that this was happening, and realizing that there were many people in need of a divorce who could not qualify under existing laws, responded with the passage of no-fault divorce laws.
Fault-based grounds for divorce are those that allege that your spouse has committed one or more kinds of wrongs that would entitle you to a divorce.
No-fault grounds are those that allege that you don’t need or want to allege that your spouse has done anything wrong such that you are entitled to a divorce; instead, alleging no-fault grounds means that you just want out of the marriage, without having to blame your spouse as an excuse for getting divorced.
Fault-based grounds for divorce can vary from state to state, but generally the “marital faults” that qualify include:
impotency of the respondent at the time of marriage;
adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage;
willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year;
willful neglect of the respondent to provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life;
habitual drunkenness of the respondent;
conviction of the respondent for a felony;
cruel treatment of the petitioner by the respondent to the extent of causing bodily injury or great mental distress to the petitioner;
incurable insanity; or
when the husband and wife have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation.
Julie J. Nelson, Erin B. Hull, and Benjamin G. Larsen, Attorneys for Appellant
Suzanne Marelius, Attorney for Appellee
JUDGE KATE APPLEBY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred.
¶1 In April 2018, Brian Joseph Burggraaf and Carol Burggraaf divorced after nearly twenty-two years of marriage. Following a bench trial, the district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and granted a decree of divorce. Joseph contends the court erred when it (1) imputed income to him for the purpose of calculating child support and alimony, (2) determined he owed unpaid child support, (3) found the majority of his student loans to be separate debt, and (4) set his budget for the purpose of calculating alimony. Joseph also contends the court’s overall property distribution was inequitable. We affirm in large part but vacate the modest alimony award.
¶2 Joseph and Carol married and had five children. A few years into the marriage, Joseph decided to pursue a medical degree and the family moved to Colorado for his studies. Joseph has a learning disability that hinders his ability to “process new information,” and as a result he struggled academically during medical school. With testing accommodations, he was able to pass the first two medical board exams, but only after attending a tutoring program in Illinois. The parties agree that it cost approximately $4,000 each time Joseph attended the program, but they disagree as to whether the medical school or Joseph’s student loans paid for it, though Joseph offered no evidence to show the medical school had paid for the program. Joseph graduated with a medical degree and approximately $260,000 in student loan debt.
¶3 After graduating from medical school, Joseph did not obtain a full-time residency but was able to secure a temporary position in the state of Washington. He was not offered a permanent position there and was unemployed for one year. Joseph returned to the Illinois tutoring program as a preemptive measure for the third and final board exam, passage of which is required to become a licensed practicing physician. Although he finished the tutoring program, Joseph did not immediately take the exam. Instead, he obtained another temporary residency in Georgia but was fired after thirteen months. Joseph then took the final board exam and failed. He returned to Illinois for the tutoring program but ultimately did not retake the exam because he decided he “would not likely pass.” After considering these facts, the district court determined Joseph “chose to abandon his pursuit of work in the medical field.”
¶4 During Joseph’s medical school and residency pursuits, Carol was “mostly a stay at home mother” who occasionally taught piano lessons to earn extra money. At trial she testified that the family’s frequent moves made it difficult for her to maintain a consistent client base for these lessons. While Joseph was in medical school and residency, the family received government and charitable assistance to make ends meet. At the time of trial, Carol earned approximately $1,100 per month.
¶5 Since deciding to forgo becoming a licensed physician, Joseph’s employment history was sporadic. He was a substitute teacher earning $82 per day for a short time before starting his own business funded by a $16,500 loan from his father. The business failed after a few months; Joseph recouped the investment, but he earned nothing more. He then took seasonal contracting work, earning between $1,863 and $2,900 per month for six months. After that, he sold insurance for a few months; in his “best month” he earned about $900. At the time of trial, Joseph was earning $1,200 per month at a river “tubing” business, working ten-to-twenty hours per week during the off-season and seventy-to-eighty hours per week in the summer. Joseph testified that he also was attending school in pursuit of a master’s degree, which put his student loans in deferment.
¶6 The parties separated following a domestic violence incident, and Carol was granted temporary custody of their five children. Joseph later pled no contest to the criminal charges and was convicted of a class B misdemeanor. Approximately six months later, Joseph began paying Carol $200 per month for child support, which he calculated on his own without a court order.
¶7 The divorce was finalized three years after the date of separation following a four-day bench trial. After hearing evidence from both parties, the court determined Joseph was willfully underemployed and imputed his income for the purposes of calculating child support and alimony, granted Joseph and Carol joint physical and joint legal custody of the children, determined Joseph owed Carol unpaid child support, found the majority of Joseph’s student loans to be separate debt, and awarded Carol alimony. The court also distributed the marital property and debts, accounting for offsets and credits as necessary.
¶8 Both parties asked the district court to impute the other’s income because each claimed the other was willfully underemployed and his or her claimed income did not reflect his or her employment potential.
¶9 The court determined Carol was not willfully underemployed and, using her previous three years’ tax returns, imputed to her a monthly salary of $1,750. But the court found Joseph was willfully underemployed and had “substantially undermined the financial stability” of the family. The court noted Joseph’s history of being secretive about his finances and said he had “lacked candor with [Carol] and the Court.” The court found it significant that Joseph did not “pursue employment associated with his medical degree” and that his “choices of employment [were] significantly different, without believable explanation, depending on if the parties were together or separated.” Further, Joseph did not provide the court with information about “all of his financial accounts” and “ha[d] been untruthful about the true nature of his income and assets.” Joseph also failed to provide evidence of “his current paycheck being deposited.”
¶10 Although Carol asked the court to impute a medical doctor’s salary to Joseph, the court declined to do so, as it was too speculative. Because neither party presented evidence to show what a person in Joseph’s situation—holding a medical degree but not being a licensed physician—could earn in the local area, the court was left to cobble together an average monthly income using Joseph’s earnings when he owned his business and did contracting work as “the most credible evidence of [his] potential income.” The court found it “equitable and just to impute” to Joseph a monthly income of $3,421.
Child Support and Child Custody
¶11 The district court granted Carol and Joseph joint physical and joint legal custody of their five children. In its order, the court gave the two eldest children “broad discretion to exercise parent time in whatever amount they fe[lt was] appropriate with either parent,” although they were “not obligated to exercise said parent time.” The court also recommended the three eldest children “participate in reunification therapy” with Joseph, which they “may attend if they so desire but will not be forced.” With regard to the three youngest children, the court gave Joseph overnight parent-time every other weekend and one weeknight every other week and, during the other weeks, one non-overnight midweek visit. Carol was given “all other regular parent time not awarded to” Joseph, with the parties sharing statutorily prescribed holiday time and summer vacation.
¶12 In determining Joseph’s child support obligation, the court acknowledged the parties stipulated to joint physical custody but noted Carol was in reality the “primary custodial parent” and thus “responsible for all of the day-to-day out-of-pocket expenses for the children while they are with [her].” Joseph also testified he never had more than every other weekend with the two eldest children and Carol testified their middle child “often chose to do other things” than stay with him. Although Joseph calculated his child support obligation on his own to arrive at his $200 monthly figure, he failed to take into account the fact that only the two youngest children were with him for 142 nights, or more than thirty percent of the year. Because of this, the court used the sole custody worksheet to determine Joseph’s child support obligation.
¶13 The court gave Joseph credit for paying $200 per month (a total of $4,847.50) but, because it decided Joseph’s child support obligation was actually $1,138 per month during that period, he owed Carol more than $40,000 in unpaid child support.
¶14 At trial, Joseph argued his student loans, which were “in excess of $260,000,” should be considered a marital debt. He claimed only $59,551.34 of the money was used for medical school tuition and the rest was used for family expenses. He testified that the medical school paid for all books, laboratory coats, and equipment, such as stethoscopes. Carol denied this and testified that not only was the family using government assistance and charitable donations to pay their living expenses, but Joseph kept the money from his student loans in a separate account to which Carol had no access. Evidence also showed Joseph incurred “extra costs” such as “equipment, study aids, tutoring resources and [the Illinois] preparation course based on his perceived need due to his processing/learning disorder that were above and beyond the tuition expenses.” To dispute this, Joseph offered into evidence bank statements from two months showing a total of $3,308 in student loan money was deposited into the couple’s joint account, which was used for “living expenses, to pay the rent . . . utility bills . . . [and] kid expenses.”
¶15 The district court determined Joseph’s student loan debt was his separate obligation, with the exception of the $3,308 deposit into the joint checking account. In making this determination, the court found Joseph was not “credible in his representation that of $260,000 in student loans, only 25% was needed for actual school related costs.” The court noted Joseph “is the only one that may ever receive any benefit of his medical degree if he ever chooses to utilize it” and that he “solely decided to abandon his plans to be a licensed medical doctor.” Because of this, the court concluded “it would be unjust to require” Carol to share in the responsibility for the student loans.
¶16 In preparation for trial, Carol and Joseph each submitted to the court estimated monthly budgets. Joseph’s total monthly budget was $4,706 and included a line item for “education (self)” of $1,500. Carol’s monthly budget was $5,476, including a line item for “extra-curricular activities (children)” of $850.
¶17 Each testified extensively about their monthly expenses. Joseph did not produce documentation to support his contention that he paid $1,500 per month for his current educational pursuits. But he testified that his medical school student loans were in deferment because he was attending school. The parties each testified that, during the marriage, they struggled financially. At one time, they lived with Joseph’s parents, and they often received institutional charity, government aid, and help from their families.
¶18 In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the district court adjusted Carol’s budget and removed anything it found to be “discretionary and not reasonable necessary expenses,” including the children’s extra-curricular activities. The court determined Carol’s reasonable monthly budget to be $2,855, which, after calculating child support and her imputed income, left “her with a shortfall of $86 per month.”
¶19 The court declined to give Joseph a line item for his student loans because they were in deferment and he was not making payments on them. He also did not get a line item for his current educational expenses. The court said it omitted these items from Joseph’s submitted budget as discretionary and unnecessary “[b]ased on the testimony of the parties and the verifying documents presented at trial,” noting “none of [Joseph’s] documents reflect any student-aid, loans[,] or other assistance or expenses related to his current course of study” and Joseph “claimed to be paying approximately $1,500 per month in educational expenses for himself . . . with no documentation.”
¶20 In determining Joseph owed Carol alimony, the court considered:
[T]he financial condition and needs of [Carol], [her] earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for the children, the length of the marriage, whether [she] has custody of the minor children requiring support, and whether [she] directly contributed to any increase in [Joseph’s] skill by enabling [him] to attend school during the marriage.
The court found each factor supported an award of alimony. The court also noted “there was credible evidence that [Joseph] knowingly and intentionally caused physical harm to [Carol] and [Joseph] substantially undermined the financial stability of” the family, which the court said further supported the alimony award. Because the court imputed a monthly income of $3,421 to Joseph, after subtracting what it deemed his reasonable monthly expenses, the court determined he had an excess of $446 per month.
¶21 Using the budgets the court set and the parties’ imputed income, the court determined Joseph had an unpaid alimony obligation of $5,580, to be deducted from his share of the proceeds generated from the sale of their house, a marital asset. The court also determined Joseph’s ongoing alimony obligation to Carol would be $86 per month to account for her shortfall.
¶22 Joseph and Carol had a marital home that they sold before the divorce for $205,374.05, the proceeds of which were kept in a trust account. The district court began the property division by allocating half of the proceeds to each party. It then determined the value of certain items of disputed property and to whom the items should be awarded. As it did this, the court gave the non-receiving party an offset from the recipient’s house proceeds. For example, Carol was awarded a grand piano, valued at $11,907, and Joseph was thus awarded a $5,953.50 offset from Carol’s share of the house proceeds. The court used this same method to divide the marital debts and to reimburse Carol for half of the children’s medical, dental, and orthodontic bills she had incurred on her own. Because the court found Joseph owed Carol unpaid child support and unpaid alimony, those amounts also were deducted from his share of the house proceeds. In addition to his student loan debt, Joseph was deemed solely responsible for the $16,500 loan from his father and $4,000 he had charged on the joint credit card for attorney fees related to his criminal case. The court divided the remaining debts equally.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶23 Joseph raises five issues on appeal. First, he claims the district court’s imputation of his income to calculate his child support and alimony obligations was in error because the court failed to apply the statutory guidelines. “We review the [district] court’s interpretation of statutory requirements for correctness.” Busche v. Busche, 2012 UT App 16, ¶ 7, 272 P.3d 748. The court’s ultimate imputation of income is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Pulham v. Kirsling, 2019 UT 18, ¶ 41, 443 P.3d 1217.
¶24 Second, Joseph contends the district court erred when it calculated his child support obligation and found he owed unpaid child support. “Because [district] courts have broad discretion to award child support, we will not disturb such decisions absent an abuse of discretion.” Reller v. Argenziano, 2015 UT App 241, ¶ 15, 360 P.3d 768 (quotation simplified).
¶25 Third, Joseph contends the district court erred when it determined the majority of his student loan debt to be his separate obligation. “There is no fixed formula for determining the division of debts in a divorce action. We require only that the district court’s allocation of debt be based on adequate factual findings. And we will not disturb those findings absent an abuse of discretion.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 139 (quotation simplified).
¶26 Fourth, Joseph alleges the district court erred when it set his budget for the alimony calculation. District “courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25, 367 P.3d 1036 (quotation simplified).
¶27 Finally, Joseph claims the district court’s overall distribution of property is inequitable. District courts have “considerable discretion” in this area as well, and we will uphold the district court’s decision concerning property distribution “unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Gerwe v. Gerwe, 2018 UT App 75, ¶ 8, 424 P.3d 1113 (quotation simplified).
I. Income Imputation
¶28 Joseph contends the district court erred when it imputed his income, alleging the court did not follow Utah Code section 78B-12-203 regarding (1) gross annual income, (2) self-employment income, and (3) the factors for imputing income. Income may be imputed to a party if, “in contested cases, a hearing is held and the judge . . . enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(8)(a) (LexisNexis 2018). Because the parties each wanted the other’s income imputed, the district court heard evidence related to their incomes.
A. Gross Annual Income
¶29 Utah Code section 78B-12-203 establishes the method by which district courts may impute gross income. Section 78B-12-203(5)(a) directs courts, “[w]hen possible,” to compute income “on an annual basis and then recalculate to determine the average gross monthly income.” As Joseph points out, “courts frequently average several years of income.” (Citing Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 17, 379 P.3d 890; Tobler v. Tobler, 2014 UT App 239, ¶¶ 8, 28, 337 P.3d 296; Dobson v. Dobson, 2012 UT App 373, ¶ 2, 294 P.3d 591.) He claims the court erred because it took his “few highest earnings months out of the last several years and made that the imputation number.” (Quotation simplified.) But this does not necessarily constitute error. The statute says courts must compute an annual income “when possible.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(5)(a) (emphasis added). Because Joseph had not held a consistent job and failed to provide “copies of all of his financial accounts,” proof of his current income being deposited, or his tax documents (even after the court requested them), it was well within the court’s discretion, under the circumstances, to impute Joseph’s income as it did, and doing so did not constitute a “misunderstanding or misapplication of the law.” Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 19, 414 P.3d 1069 (quotation simplified); see alsoDole v. Dole, 2018 UT App 195, ¶ 7, 437 P.3d 464 (upholding imputation when “the actual income of [a spouse] is impossible to determine due to [his or her] dishonesty to [the district court], to [his or her] unaccountable income, and to his [or her] failure and refusal to obtain traditional employment” (quotation simplified)). Thus, we do not disturb the court’s imputation of Joseph’s income by averaging his monthly income from owning his own business and performing contracting work.
B. Self-Employment Income
¶30 Joseph next argues the district court failed to follow statutory procedures for imputing income for a self-employed individual. If a party is self-employed or operates his or her own business, Utah law directs courts to “subtract necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation from gross receipts.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(4)(a). Joseph started his own business with a $16,500 loan and operated it for three months, during which time he recouped the investment but earned nothing more. When imputing his income, the district court divided $16,500 by three and determined Joseph was capable of earning $5,500 per month. Joseph argues this was in error because he “earned nothing” during that period after subtracting necessary business expenses, which he identified as a computer, scanner, insurance, and travel. But Joseph did not provide any evidence of business expenses, and the court recognized his history of being “secretive about his finances” and his lack of candor. The court merely used this figure as a “high water mark” as evidence of his “potential income.” In these circumstances, the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion.
C. Statutory Factors
¶31 Finally, Joseph asserts the district court failed to follow the factors identified in Utah Code section 78B-12-203(8)(b). A court may not impute income to a party in contested cases unless “a hearing is held and the judge . . . enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” Id. § 78B-12-203(8)(a). The court “shall” base the imputation on ten factors, “to the extent known.” Id. § 78B-12-203(8)(b). These factors are “(i) employment opportunities; (ii) work history; (iii) occupation qualifications; (iv) educational attainment; (v) literacy; (vi) age; (vii) health; (viii) criminal record; (ix) other employment barriers and background factors; and (x) prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community.” Id.
¶32 Joseph claims the district court “failed to acknowledge the factors that are most important here,” namely employment opportunities, work history, health, criminal record, other employment barriers and background factors, and prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community. But the record is clear that the court did consider these factors; the factors simply did not weigh in Joseph’s favor. For instance, Joseph argues the court should have considered his learning disability and criminal record, which it dId. The court found Joseph “still very employable even considering those obstacles” and pointed to Joseph’s own testimony, which “emphasized his ability to work hard, long hours and across many fields of employment.” Joseph did not provide support for his assertion that his class B misdemeanor was the reason he could not obtain more lucrative employment. The court also considered Joseph’s work history. It noted his “choices of employment have been significantly different, without believable explanation, depending on if the parties were together or separated” and found that “his current and historical income during the parties’ separation is a deliberate attempt to minimize his financial obligations.” It also found it incredible that Joseph—an individual with a medical degree—was earning “barely more than minimum wage.” Thus, the record shows the court considered the statutory factors, and the conclusions it drew from its consideration of them were therefore well within its broad discretion.
II. Child Support
¶33 Joseph next argues the district court erred when it (1) used the sole custody worksheet to calculate his child support obligation and (2) determined he owed Carol unpaid child support. For the reasons detailed below, these arguments fail.
A. Sole Custody Worksheet
¶34 In Utah, “child support obligations are generally calculated using a worksheet in cases of joint physical custody. Moreover, for purposes of calculating child support, the designation of ‘joint physical custody’ or ‘sole physical custody’ is not as important as whether the custody arrangement exceeds the statutory threshold for joint physical custody.” Stephens v. Stephens, 2018 UT App 196, ¶ 29, 437 P.3d 445 (quotation simplified). District courts are given broad discretion in decisions regarding child support. Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 21, 414 P.3d 1069. If a court deviates from the statutory guidelines, it must make a finding that following them “would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of a child.” Gore v. Grant, 2015 UT App 113, ¶ 13, 349 P.3d 779 (quotation simplified).
¶35 The district court noted Carol and Joseph had agreed upon joint physical custody, but it nevertheless used the sole custody worksheet to determine Joseph’s child support obligation. The court supported its determination by making findings that Carol actually had the three eldest children overnight at her house for more than 70% of the time. Joseph’s own testimony supports this determination: only the two youngest children spent a standard parent time schedule with him. Thus, Carol had sole physical custody—defined in terms of overnights, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-102(15) (LexisNexis 2018)—of three of the children, and the parties shared joint physical custody of two of the children. Under these unique circumstances, we see no abuse of discretion in the district court’s decision to apply the sole custody worksheet.
B. Unpaid Child Support
¶36 Joseph also claims the district court erred when it found he owed thirty-six months’ worth of unpaid child support, based upon his imputed income, dating back to the filing of the divorce petition. He argues the court was without authority to ascribe unpaid support to him retroactively because Carol never asked the district court to enter a temporary order establishing the appropriate amount of child support to be paid during the pendency of the divorce case. But Joseph has not identified any statute or caselaw to support his position. See Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 21, 367 P.3d 1036 (“Where the contentions on appeal are asserted without the support of legal reasoning or authority, this court will not assume the appellant’s burden of argument and research.” (quotation simplified)). Moreover, “child support is a basic and unalienable right vested in the minor,” Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 39 (quotation simplified), and “[e]very child is presumed to be in need of the support of the child’s mother and father. Every mother and father shall support their children,” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-105(1) (LexisNexis 2018). Joseph was aware of his duty to support his children, as evidenced by his $200 monthly payments to Carol. Simply because he chose an arbitrary—and low—amount does not absolve him of the responsibility to fully support his five children.
¶37 Because Joseph failed to point us to statutory or other authority to instruct us otherwise, we decline to conclude that the district court abused its discretion in awarding Carol unpaid Burggraaf v. Burggraaf 20180405-CA 17 2019 UT App 195 child support, dating back to the date the divorce petition was filed, even in the absence of a temporary order.
III. Student Loans
¶38 Joseph challenges the district court’s determination that the majority of the student loan debt was his separate obligation. “Neither spouse is personally liable for the separate debts, obligations, or liabilities of the other . . . contracted or incurred during the marriage, except family expenses.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-2-5 (LexisNexis 2018). “There is no fixed formula for determining the division of debts in a divorce action. We require only that the district court’s allocation of debt be based on adequate factual findings. And we will not disturb those findings absent an abuse of discretion.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 139 (quotation simplified).
¶39 We see no abuse of discretion in the court’s finding that, in these unique circumstances, the majority of the student loan debt should be considered Joseph’s separate obligation. The court determined that Joseph alone had made the decision to “abandon his plans to be a licensed medical doctor” and that he should therefore be responsible for repaying the vast majority of the student loans associated with obtaining his medical degree. The court supported its conclusion by reviewing the parties’ testimonies about the loans and determining Carol to be the most credible. “Credibility determinations are within the province of the [district] judge, who is uniquely equipped to make factual findings based exclusively on oral testimony due to his or her opportunity to view the witnesses firsthand, to assess their demeanor and to reconsider their testimonies in the context of the proceeding as a whole.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, ¶ 34, 321 P.3d 200 (quotation simplified).
¶40 The court did not find Joseph’s testimony about using approximately $200,000 of his student loans for family expenses credible. Joseph provided no evidence to support his claim, other than two bank statements showing $3,308 was deposited into their joint account; the rest was kept in a separate account to which Carol had no access. Conversely, the court found Carol’s testimony “about the resources she utilized from teaching piano lessons, welfare from the parties’ church, family help and government assistance . . . credible and believable.” The court also noted Joseph’s testimony about “the extras that he needed in order to successfully complete medical school course work and the licensing tests,” but indicated Joseph “did not acknowledge any were above and beyond the tuition amount.” In these circumstances, the court’s findings were not an abuse of its broad discretion.
¶41 Joseph argues the budget the district court set for him in calculating his alimony was arbitrarily low, because it (1) failed to give him a line item for either his student loan debt or his current educational expenses, (2) failed to calculate his alimony obligation using the marital standard of living, and (3) supported its alimony award by finding Joseph at fault. District “courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25, 367 P.3d 1036 (quotation simplified). Because we agree with Joseph that the district court should have given him a line item in his budget for either his student loan debt or tuition payments to keep the loan in deferral, we do not address the marital standard of living or fault arguments.
¶42 When deciding whether to award alimony, a district court must consider seven statutory factors, including “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(8)(a)(iii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019). In determining Joseph’s alimony obligation, the court took each party’s proposed monthly budget and adjusted it to remove discretionary expenses. It did not include a line item for Joseph’s claimed $1,500 in educational expenses for himself. The court also declined to give him a line item for his student loan debt, because it was in deferment and he was not currently making payments on it. Although the court weighed statutory factors such as “the financial condition and needs of [Carol]; [her] earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for the children, the length of the marriage, whether [Carol] ha[d] custody of the minor children requiring support, and whether [she] directly contributed to any increase in [Joseph’s] skill by enabling [him] to attend school during the marriage,” seeId. § 30-3-5(8)(i), (ii), (iv), (v), (vii), the court failed to consider an additional mandatory factor, namely Joseph’s ability to pay, Id. § 30-3-5(8)(iii).
¶43 We conclude the court’s failure to consider Joseph’s ability to pay alimony was a “clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion.” Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25 (quotation simplified). Because the district court found the majority of Joseph’s student loan debt to be his sole obligation, it should have included a line item in his budget either for his student loan payments or for tuition payments that would keep the loan repayment in deferral. We acknowledge Joseph is not currently making student loan payments, but because he was found solely responsible for the loan debt and his share of the house proceeds are insufficient to pay off that debt, we cannot see on this record how he would not be entitled to a line item in his budget to account for either student loan payments or tuition payments.
Although Joseph has a $446 excess in his court-determined budget, a line item for even half of his requested educational expenses would eliminate said excess. This would certainly affect his ability to pay the most modest alimony award. We therefore vacate the award of alimony.
V. Property Distribution
¶44 Finally, Joseph argues the district court’s overall property distribution was inequitable. “Generally, district courts have considerable discretion concerning property distribution in a divorce proceeding and their determinations enjoy a presumption of validity. Thus, we will uphold the decision of the district court on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 119, (quotation simplified). Joseph contends he received “93% of the total debt [but only] 25% of the liquid assets.” But as he points out, we cannot “consider the property division in a vacuum.” (Quoting Newmeyer v. Newmeyer, 745 P.2d 1276, 1279 n.1 (Utah 1987).) Because the debt division Joseph cites includes both his student loan debt, the majority of which the court found was not marital debt, and the loan Joseph received from his father, which the court also found to be separate debt, the percentages he cites are artificially inflated. In reality, the court split the marital debts equally and did the same with the house proceeds. This does not constitute “a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion.” Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 119 (quotation simplified).
¶45 Because the district court did not exceed its considerable discretion in imputing Joseph’s income, calculating child support, finding the student loans to be separate debt, and in its overall property distribution, we affirm its decisions on those points. But we vacate the modest alimony award because Joseph does not have the ability to pay it in light of his student loan debt.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
 Because both parties share a last name, we use their given names “with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.” Smith v. Smith, 2017 UT App 40, ¶ 2 n.1, 392 P.3d 985.
 “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the [district] court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard” and “present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, n.1, 321 P.3d 200 (quotation simplified).
 Joseph denies the allegation and claims the conviction prevents him from obtaining meaningful employment.
 “‘Joint physical custody’ means the child stays with each parent overnight for more than 30% of the year, and both parents contribute to the expenses of the child in addition to paying child support.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-102(15) (LexisNexis 2018).
 Our practice is to provide a parallel citation to reported Utah appellate opinions. For reasons unknown, this opinion has not found its way into the Pacific Reporter, third series, in the four years since it was issued.
 Although this statute “addresses imputation for the purposes of child support, it is also relevant to imputation in the alimony context.” Fish v. Fish, 2010 UT App 292, ¶ 14 n.5, 242 P.3d 787. Because the material provisions cited have not changed, we cite the current version of the Utah Code.
 It is theoretically possible that Joseph could be the recipient of a scholarship or other financial aid that would allow him to attend school and thereby keep the student loan debt in deferment without actually making any out-of-pocket payment.
But there was no such evidence presented at trial, and the district court made no findings to this effect. Joseph’s testimony that he paid $1,500 per month to finance his current education stands unrefuted. And such a situation would in any event be relatively temporary; at some point in the near future, Joseph will be compelled to begin making payments on $260,000 of student loan debt that the district court assigned solely to him. Some provision must be made in Joseph’s budget to account for this expense.