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Category: Spouse’s Business

Lamb v. Lamb, 2024 UT App 16 – divorce, custody, business, home equity

2024 UT App 16

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JOSEPH EARL LAMB,

Appellee,

v.

SONYA ELIZABETH LAMB,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210787-CA

Filed February 8, 2024

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Robert P. Faust

No. 174904728

Mary Deiss Brown, Attorney for Appellant

Gregory G. Skordas, Gabriela Mena, and Allison R.

Librett, Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1 Joseph Earl and Sonya Elizabeth Lamb’s divorce was decided at a bench trial.[1] As relevant here, Joseph was awarded custody of their children, ownership of a family business, and half the equity of the marital home. Sonya now challenges the court’s custody determination and the award of the business. She also challenges the manner in which the court determined the equity in the marital home. We affirm the district court’s rulings in all aspects.

BACKGROUND[2]

¶2        Joseph and Sonya married in 2007 and separated in July 2017. We address separately each of the district court’s determinations with which Sonya takes issue.

The Custody of the Children

¶3        Joseph and Sonya have three children, all of whom were minors when they divorced in August 2021. In November 2017, at a hearing for temporary orders, Sonya’s counsel told the court that Sonya had been the children’s primary caregiver “until recently.” Sonya also admitted that she was arrested in July 2017 and was facing charges for possession and use of drugs, but she asserted that she had “taken responsibility,” had “stopped using drugs,” was “sober and more than capable of caring for the children and continuing on as their primary caregiver,” and had “been attending Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings.” Sonya asserted that Joseph had a “serious drug addiction problem.” Joseph claimed that Sonya had vacated the marital home shortly before her arrest, and he revealed that he obtained a protective order against her. The court acknowledged the allegations both sides made against the other but noted that Joseph currently had the children in his care and was living in the marital home. The court then determined that Joseph should maintain “custody of the children on a temporary basis.”

¶4        Apparently, the children remained in the temporary custody of Joseph until the parties’ divorce trial, where the court received the testimony of a “reunification therapist” (Family Therapist), who had been hired by the parties after the custody evaluator had been “unable to perform an evaluation due to the children spending less than minimum time” with Sonya.

¶5        Based on the testimony of Family Therapist, which we recount when relevant in our analysis below, the court found that “unification” between Sonya and the two older children was “lacking” because of acrimonious relationships. The court noted that Family Therapist had testified that progress in reunification therapy would “influence what possible custody” Sonya might have in the future relative to the older children. The court determined that it was “in the best interest of the children that reunification therapy” continue to allow Sonya the opportunity “to reunify her relationship with the children.”

¶6        Accordingly, the court found that it was in the children’s best interest that Joseph be “awarded sole physical custody and final decision making authority,” with both parties being awarded joint legal custody. With regard to the youngest child, the court awarded supervised parent-time to Sonya one night a week. The court awarded Sonya no parent-time with the older two children. The court noted that supervised parent-time for Sonya would “be flexible” and might “increase after the current reunification issues” and Sonya’s “medical issues” were addressed. The court also stated that Sonya’s “non-use of cannabis” needed to be verified because marijuana use was “a contributing factor” that brought on her mental health episodes.

The Business

¶7        During their union, the parties were financially supported, at least in part, by a business that distributed supplies to gas stations. During the divorce proceedings, Joseph maintained that he was in the process of purchasing the business from his father but that he did not have the money to pay for it. Joseph explained that he drew a salary for his work with the business. In contrast, Sonya maintained that she and Joseph agreed to buy the business in 2010 and that they completed paying off the business in 2016. Sonya claimed that she and Joseph signed a document “to take over the business” but that she did “not have the document.” Sonya did produce a different document that explicitly stated the business was being sold only to Joseph.

¶8        The district court awarded the business to Joseph, along with all its debts and obligations. In addition, the court, apparently recognizing that the business was possibly still owned by Joseph’s father, ordered that any money Joseph borrowed against the marital home to purchase the business would “not be used to reduce the total equity in the home” so as to reduce Sonya’s share of the home’s value. In making this award to Joseph, the court was clear that it was basing its decision “on the testimony” provided by Joseph.

The Marital Home

¶9        Based on a Zillow estimate[3] provided by Sonya, the court determined the value of the marital home to be $998,659, but the equity in the home was reduced by mortgages and liens on the property. Joseph testified that three mortgages, totaling $402,000, were on the property.[4] And the home was additionally encumbered by eleven liens. Two of these liens, totaling $2,414, were attributed to Sonya and Joseph. The remaining nine, totaling $256,521, were tax liens and civil judgments incurred by the previous owner of the home.[5]

¶10      The court received evidence that when Joseph and Sonya purchased the home in November 2009, it was subject to some existing debt. Joseph testified as follows:

Counsel: “Was there anything particular about that purchase [of the home]?”

Joseph: “We didn’t have the credit or the means to get into a home at the time, so my brother is a real estate agent and he’s good friends with [the previous owner] and said, ‘Hey, this house is available. If you like it, I can probably get you into it.’ And so we took him up on that and (inaudible) that we had to take on (inaudible).”

Counsel: “So there were other debts on that house when you purchased it?”

Joseph: “Yes        I didn’t know about all of them at the time, but yes.”

Counsel: “What are those debts?”

Joseph: “There’s a lot of tax liens from [the previous owner] throughout the years. There’s a couple of (inaudible) from Sonya and I, medical bills that weren’t paid. . . .”

Counsel: “And have you paid off the tax liens? The liens on the house?”

Joseph: “No.”

Thus, in a somewhat unusual arrangement, the parties appear to have purchased the home subject to certain liabilities, even if they did not know the precise extent of those liabilities. Presumably, these liabilities would have been offset by a reduction in the purchase price, making the home more affordable.

¶11      Adding the mortgages and liens together for an amount of $660,935, the court determined that equity in the home was $337,724. The court ordered Joseph to pay Sonya $168,862 as her share of that equity.

¶12      Sonya appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶13 Sonya identifies multiple ways in which she believes the district court erred. But “[f]or the sake of brevity,” we “consolidate these grounds” and “set out in the opinion only so much . . . as we deem necessary to a decision of the questions involved herein.” Patterick v. Carbon Water Conservancy Dist., 145 P.2d 503, 505 (Utah 1944), overruled on other grounds by Timpanogos Plan. & Water Mgmt. Agency v. Central Utah Water Conservancy Dist., 690 P.2d 562 (Utah 1984).

¶14      Sonya first contends that the district court abused its discretion in making custody and parent-time decisions because it lacked sufficient information to make those decisions. “We review custody determinations deferentially, and so long as the district court’s discretion is exercised within the confines of the legal standards we have set, and the facts and reasons for the decision are set forth fully in appropriate findings and conclusions, we will not disturb the resulting award.” Kingston v. Kingston, 2022 UT 43, ¶ 20, 532 P.3d 958 (cleaned up).

¶15      Sonya next contends that the district court’s findings were “entirely inadequate to explain” its reasoning for awarding ownership of the business to Joseph. “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.” Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262 (cleaned up).

¶16      Lastly, Sonya argues that the district court’s “procedures and decisions regarding the division of equity in the marital home were illogical and manifestly unjust.” “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.” Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 12, 525 P.3d 534 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 531 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

ANALYSIS

  1. A Note on Briefing

¶17      Sonya’s briefing is plagued by significant deficiencies and does not comply with the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure for appropriate briefing. First, excluding the cases cited for the standards of review, Sonya cites only a single case in her opening brief, and she does so in a perfunctory fashion—making only a shallow attempt to explain its relevance to the issues. Sonya continues this trend in her reply brief, where she cites no cases at all. In this regard, she falls far short of appellate expectations. “A party may not simply point toward a pile of sand and expect the court to build a castle. In both district and appellate courts, the development of an argument is a party’s responsibility, not a judicial duty.” Salt Lake City v. Kidd, 2019 UT 4, ¶ 35, 435 P.3d 248; see also Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (“The argument must explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal.”); id. R. 24(b)(3).

¶18      Second, in her statement of the case, Sonya fails to include a single citation to the record. This is in contravention of our clearly stated rule. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(6) (“The statement of the case must include, with citations to the record: (A) the facts of the case, to the extent necessary to understand the issues presented for review; (B) the procedural history of the case, to the extent necessary to understand the issues presented for review; and (C) the disposition in the court or agency whose judgment or order is under review.” (emphasis added)). We note that Sonya somewhat more adequately cites the record in the argument section of her brief, but that is not what the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure require, and by ignoring the rules to suit her briefing preferences, she does little to bolster judicial efficiency.[6]

¶19      We point out these deficiencies not to ridicule, disparage, or shame counsel, but to provide warning that future briefing of this nature will likely be deemed inadequate and that any arguments on the merits may not be substantively considered by this court. This court receives hundreds of briefs each year. They vary in quality and in their adherence to the rules. We recognize that members of the bar have a lot on their plates and occasionally miss a typo or overlook a citation. But wholesale disregard of briefing rules is quite beyond the pale and can have unwelcome consequences for attorneys (and their clients) who choose this risky path. See Ostler v. Department of Public Safety, 2022 UT App 6, ¶ 27, 505 P.3d 1119 (“We . . . retain discretion to not address an argument that is inadequately briefed.” (cleaned up)); accord State v. Schwenke, 2007 UT App 354U, para. 2; State v. Garner, 2002 UT App 234, ¶¶ 8–13, 52 P.3d 467. And we hasten to point out that the risk of ignoring briefing requirements should come as no surprise to any attorney in Utah owing to our multiple references to the issue over the years. See Trees v. Lewis, 738 P.2d 612, 612–13 (Utah 1987) (stating that the merits of a dispute need not be reached if an appellant “has not supported the facts set forth in [a] brief with citations to the record” as required by rule 24(a)(6) of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure); State v. Price, 827 P.2d 247, 249 (Utah Ct. App. 1992) (“We have routinely refused to consider arguments which do not include a statement of the facts properly supported by citations to the record.”); Koulis v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 746 P.2d 1182, 1184 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (“If a party fails to make a concise statement of the facts and citation of the pages in the record where those facts are supported, the court will assume the correctness of the judgment below.”). That we have exercised our discretion to address the merits of the issues on appeal here should not be taken as an imprimatur sanctioning inadequate briefing but as a conduit to raise awareness of the risk of ignoring the rules.

¶20 We take this occasion to recall the advice offered by our supreme court several decades ago:

If the questions involved in a case are of sufficient importance to justify asking this court to decide them, they are worthy of the careful consideration of counsel presenting them. It is the duty of attorneys practicing in this court to present to the court the authorities supporting their views and to assist the court in reaching a correct conclusion.

State v. Thomas, 1999 UT 2, ¶ 13, 974 P.2d 269 (cleaned up). With that, we remind counsel of their responsibility to assist the judiciary in advancing jurisprudence through diligent advocacy, adherence to our rules, and competent representation.

  1. Custody and Parent-Time
  2. Disclosure

¶21      Sonya argues that the district court erred in admitting Family Therapist’s testimony when Joseph had not timely disclosed him as an expert witness pursuant to rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires disclosure “within 14 days after the close of fact discovery.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(4)(C)(i). Sonya’s briefing on this point leaves much to be desired. She entirely ignores what happened at trial, instead substituting her own retrospective take on what she believes should have happened without attempting to explain why her timeliness argument should now be considered. Providing some persuasive caselaw—which may or may not exist—would have gone far to support her argument. But like the rest of her briefing, this part is inadequate.

¶22      A review of the record shows that Sonya did not object to Family Therapist’s testimony on the grounds of untimely disclosure. Instead, Sonya argued that Family Therapist had “far exceeded any kind of mandate,” that he had not signed confidentiality waivers, and that allowing his testimony created patient privacy and ethical violations. In her objection at trial, rule 26 was mentioned only in passing and not in a way that would suggest she was objecting on timeliness grounds. It certainly would not have been clear to opposing counsel that a rule 26 timeliness issue was being raised such that he would have known to argue a harmlessness or good-cause defense for the failure to disclose, which would have been an easy argument to make given that both Joseph and Sonya had jointly retained Family Therapist and Sonya knew about Family Therapist several years before trial. And it would not have been clear to the district court that it was being asked to rule on a timeliness-based objection. For these reasons, Sonya did not preserve any such objection for appellate review. See State v. Centeno, 2023 UT 22, ¶ 57, 537 P.3d 232 (“It is well established that we will not address the merits of an unpreserved issue absent a showing that an exception to the preservation rule applies.”).

  1. Hearsay

¶23 Sonya additionally argues that Family Therapist’s testimony, insofar as he testified as a fact witness, “was inadmissible hearsay and based entirely on his conversations with the parties and their children as their reunification therapist.” Sonya’s hearsay argument is difficult to follow and poorly briefed. Instead of analysis in support of her hearsay argument, she provides scant and unsupported assertions.

¶24      Sonya objected below to Family Therapist’s testimony on the grounds that it was hearsay. But the court ruled that it was not hearsay, concluding that Family Therapist’s testimony was not offered “for the truth of the matter asserted.” Rather, the court ruled that the “focus of [the] questioning” was, first, to allow the court “to find out how [the children were] doing, if they’re capable of going forward” and, second, to identify the present “obstacles” to “structuring visitation with [Sonya].” On appeal, Sonya makes no attempt to engage with the court’s reasoning, instead limiting her analysis to a blanket assertion that “it [was] evident” Family Therapist was “allowed to testify as an expert, offering hearsay, opinions and recommendations in [a] manner that simply is not permitted by the Rules of Civil Procedure.” Such superficial and undeveloped argument is simply not persuasive, most especially because it does not address the alleged error in the court’s reasoning. It is well settled that appellants who fail to “address the district court’s reasoning” also fail to carry their “burden of persuasion on appeal.” See Federated Cap. Corp. v. Shaw, 2018 UT App 120, ¶ 20, 428 P.3d 12; see also Spencer v. Spencer, 2023 UT App 1, ¶ 27, 524 P.3d 165; Bad Ass Coffee Co. of Haw. v. Royal Aloha Int’l LLC, 2020 UT App 122, ¶ 48, 473 P.3d 624.

  1. Custody Factors

¶25 Sonya next argues that the court did not address the custody factors outlined in section 30-3-10 of the Utah Code, making its custody findings insufficient. More specifically, Sonya argues that the court’s factual findings were deficient due to the court’s reliance on the testimony of Family Therapist in making those findings.

¶26 Section 30-3-10 states that in “determining any form of custody and parent-time . . . , the court shall consider the best interest of the child and may consider . . . other factors the court finds relevant,” including factors for each parent articulated in the code. Utah Code § 30-3-10(2) (emphasis added). These factors a court may consider are “not on equal footing.” Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. Instead, “it is within the trial court’s discretion to determine, based on the facts before it and within the confines set by the appellate courts, where a particular factor falls within the spectrum of relative importance and to accord each factor its appropriate weight.” Id. (emphasis added). “And where significant evidence concerning a particular factor is presented to the district court, findings that omit all discussion of that evidence must be deemed inadequate.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, 509 P.3d 806. Thus, to “ensure that the trial court’s custody determination, discretionary as it is, is rationally based, it is essential that the court set forth in its findings of fact not only that it finds one parent to be the better person to care for the child, but also the basic facts which show why that ultimate conclusion is justified.” Id. ¶ 24 (cleaned up).

¶27      Here, the factors about which the court received significant evidence concerned Sonya’s ability to function as a parent, which the court received as testimony from Family Therapist. As we have explained above, Sonya’s challenges to the admissibility of Family Therapist’s testimony fail, and we accordingly conclude that the district court acted well within its discretion in relying on his testimony.

¶28      Regarding Sonya’s ability to parent the two older children, Family Therapist testified that they were “very angry” with Sonya and “announced that they would never see or talk to her again.” Their anger was due to their religious sensibilities and Sonya’s announcement that she was pregnant by a man other than their father during the pendency of the divorce.

¶29      With regard to Sonya’s parenting, Family Therapist stated that the youngest child was very frightened after “his last visit with [Sonya] when she was struggling psychiatrically.” Moreover, Family Therapist also testified the youngest child was beginning to see himself as Sonya’s “partner,” resulting in the child “becoming parentified.”[7]

¶30 Family Therapist further indicated that while he was unaware of Sonya’s “current condition or functioning,” Sonya had been “hospitalized and diagnosed with some issues.” He asserted that “safety” needed to be addressed, meaning that Sonya required a psychiatric evaluation to demonstrate that her “situation” was “under control.” He also indicated that Sonya needed to work on “being forthright with medications.” Sonya, by her own admission, had “suffered an isolated manic episode” related to bipolar disorder and “called the police for assistance” because she was suffering from “visual and auditory hallucinations.”

¶31    Sonya’s briefing on this point misses the mark because it entirely relies on the assumption that Family Therapist’s testimony was inadmissible, an assumption we conclude is without foundation. See supra ¶¶ 21–24. She does not explain why, in light of Family Therapist’s admissible testimony, the court’s consideration of the statutory custody factors was insufficient. Sonya’s briefing makes no attempt to explain why the court is not allowed to rely on the evidence it receives when making custody decisions.

¶32 Moreover, Sonya does not identify any “significant evidence,” see Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, as to the other factors in section 30-3-10 that the court received but left unaddressed. Instead, her briefing advances an argument that is entirely conclusory and unsupported by record citation or legal authority:

Although § 30-3-10 gives broad discretion to the court as to the relevance and appropriate weight to give each factor, the district court in this case simply did not have any information that would allow it to make findings as to most of the statutory factors. For instance, the district court did not know who the primary caretaker of the children during the marriage was. The district court did not know anything about the marriage. The district court would not permit any testimony relevant to Joseph’s moral character or his history of drug abuse and sexual proclivities. The Court would not allow any testimony as to Joseph’s inability and unwillingness to co-parent with Sonya. At the end of the day, the Court simply sidestepped its responsibility as an independent factfinder and deferred to [Family Therapist].

This might be a good argument if Sonya had supported it with citations to the record and to legal authority. As this argument stands before us, we are unable to verify what it asserts. But we suspect that Sonya might be indulging in hyperbole here. Indeed, Sonya’s assertion that “the district court did not know anything about the marriage” is patently false. Our review of the record indicates that the court, in fact, knew quite a bit about the marriage, such as its financial situation, issues related to the children, and the problems that led to its demise, to name just a few topics within its familiarity. And with regard to Joseph’s alleged use of illegal drugs, we found only one instance (subsequently echoed by Sonya’s attorney) in the record where Sonya asserted before the district court that Joseph had a “cocaine habit.” But the district court was free to “disregard such testimony if it [found] the evidence self-serving and not credible,” since the factfinder “is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses.” See Clark v. Clark, 2023 UT App 111, ¶ 37, 537 P.3d 633 (cleaned up). An isolated allegation made in passing certainly does not amount to “significant evidence,” see Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, especially given the district court’s role as the factfinder to judge the credibility of witnesses, see Ouk v. Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14, 348 P.3d 751. And as to the other statutory custody factors that Sonya asserts the court left unaddressed, she has not pointed us to any significant evidence that the court received with respect to those factors.

¶33      Thus, unlike the situation in Twitchell, where we concluded “that the district court exceeded its discretion by failing to include in its findings any discussion of the evidence relating to the abuse allegations against [the mother], her alleged neglect of [the child,] and her moral character, as well as the effect that evidence had on its best-interest analysis,” see 2022 UT 49, ¶¶ 22–23, 25, here there simply wasn’t significant evidence presented regarding section 30-3-10’s other custody factors. This lack of evidence—insofar as there was a lack—was not the court’s fault; it was Sonya’s fault for not presenting it. After all, a court cannot be faulted for failing to consider evidence that was not presented to it. In contrast, given the substantial evidence the court did receive about the serious mental health issues Sonya faced, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its consideration of the statutory factors when determining that awarding physical custody to Joseph was in the best interest of the children.

¶34 In sum, Sonya has failed to show that the district court abused its discretion in accepting and relying on the testimony of Family Therapist in making custody determinations or that the district court did not properly address the statutory factors in determining custody of the children.

III. Ownership of the Business

¶35      Both parties agree that the district court concluded that the business was not a joint marital asset. The district court awarded the business to Joseph “[b]ased on [Joseph’s] testimony.” Along with awarding the business to Joseph, the court stated that Joseph was “responsible for payment of the purchase price of the business.”

¶36      Sonya’s briefing on this point is challenging because it consists largely of recounting financial matters pertaining to the marriage but unrelated to the ownership of the business. She then asserts, with no discernible effort to explain why, that the “findings/conclusions were entirely inadequate to explain the Court’s reasoning for giving ownership” of the business to Joseph. Her argument is difficult to follow, but its essence, insofar as we can tell, appears to be that the court erred in believing Joseph’s testimony over hers.

¶37 We disagree with Sonya that the court erred in crediting Joseph’s testimony regarding the ownership of the business over Sonya’s. Again, the court stated in its factual findings that its award of the business to Joseph was “[b]ased on [his] testimony.” In making this credibility determination, the court acted well within its discretion. “[W]here there exists evidence sufficient to support a court’s rulings regarding a divorcing couple’s finances, that ruling will be upheld on appeal, even if evidence was presented that might have cut the other way.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 27. This is because “the fact-finder is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses and is free to disbelieve their testimony. Even where testimony is uncontroverted, a trial court is free to disregard such testimony if it finds the evidence self-serving and not credible.” Ouk v. Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14, 348 P.3d 751 (cleaned up); see also Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App 233, ¶ 20 n.5, 217 P.3d 733 (“[I]t is the trial court’s singularly important mission to consider and weigh all the conflicting evidence and find the facts.”).

¶38      Here, the district court was in the best position to judge the credibility of the parties. It clearly found Joseph’s testimony regarding the ownership of the business to be more credible. Sonya has provided no reasoned argument—apart from her assertion that she disagrees with it—as to why the district court’s conclusion that the business was not marital property was erroneous. Accordingly, Sonya has failed to meet her “burden on appeal to show that no reasonable person would take the view adopted” by the district court, and we therefore conclude that the district court did not err in awarding the business, along with its liabilities, to Joseph. See Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14.[8]

  1. Equity in the Marital Home

¶39      Sonya’s final claim is that the district court abused its discretion in dividing equity in the marital home. “In divorce actions, a district court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18, 452 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). Thus, in such proceedings,

we will reverse only if (1) there was a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error; (2) the factual findings upon which the award was based are clearly erroneous; or (3) the party challenging the award shows that such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion. Because we can properly find abuse only if no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court, appellants have a heavy burden to show that an alleged error falls into any of these three categories.

Id. (cleaned up).

¶40      Sonya’s claim focuses on three aspects of the court’s valuation of the home: (1) the mortgage amount, (2) the use of the Zillow estimate, and (3) the amount of the liens on the home. We address each in turn.

¶41      The Mortgage Amount. Sonya complains that the district court, based on Joseph’s testimony, should have used $298,000 as the amount owing on the mortgages rather than $402,000, an adjustment that would have benefitted her by increasing the equity she would have received. “Generally, the marital estate is valued at the time of the divorce decree or trial. However, in the exercise of its equitable powers, a trial court has broad discretion to use a different date, such as the date of separation, when circumstances warrant. If the trial court uses a date other than the date of the divorce decree, it must support its decision with sufficiently detailed findings of fact explaining its deviation from the general rule.” Rothwell v. Rothwell, 2023 UT App 50, ¶ 39, 531 P.3d 225 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 537 P.3d 1011 (Utah 2023). In response to Sonya’s motion for amended findings, the court explained, “[Joseph’s] statement of the mortgage balance of $298,000 was referring to the total amount of all three (3) mortgages. The Court also took that into evidence taking into account that it was [Joseph’s] best estimate according to what his monthly mortgage payments are and how much was deducted from the principal each month.” We understand this to mean that the court took into consideration that it was through Joseph’s extraordinary post-separation payment efforts that the mortgage amount had been reduced. Moreover, Sonya concedes in her reply brief that it was within the district court’s discretion to use the earlier mortgage total. Accordingly, we see no abuse of discretion in the court’s use of the date of the separation to determine the amount of the mortgages.

¶42      The Zillow Estimate. Sonya next complains that the home should have been valued at about $260,000 more than was indicated by the Zillow estimate the court used. The glaring problem with this aspect of Sonya’s complaint is that it was her counsel’s idea to use the Zillow estimate. In open court, her counsel looked up the estimate and announced it to the court. And the court proceeded to base its calculations on the very data Sonya’s counsel supplied. We simply will not countenance Sonya’s assertion that the district court erred in proceeding to use the estimate that Sonya herself, through counsel, provided. Sonya invited any error in this regard. See Somer v. Somer, 2020 UT App 93, ¶ 14, 467 P.3d 924 (“Where a party makes an affirmative representation encouraging the court to proceed without further consideration of an issue, an appellate court does not consider the party’s objection to that action on appeal.” (cleaned up)). In her briefing on appeal, Sonya points to nothing in the record that would have allowed the court to value the home using anything other than the Zillow estimate. Sonya does not challenge that the court acted on the only information it had and that Sonya herself provided. Accordingly, “given the absence of any expert financial testimony, . . . the paucity of assistance the parties offered the court,” and the representations made by Sonya’s counsel regarding the marital home’s value, we conclude that “the court in this instance made findings within its discretion and supported by the evidence it was given.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 55.

¶43      The Liens. Sonya argues that the district court abused its discretion in counting third-party liens against the equity in the home. Given the evidence the court received, we see no error on the part of the court in this regard. Indeed, there was evidence to support the court’s determination that the third-party liens should be included in the calculation of the home’s equity. Joseph testified that when he and Sonya purchased the home, they did so knowing that they were assuming responsibility for some of the previous owner’s debts. This is an admittedly odd arrangement, but Joseph testified that they were willing to accept it because they were not in a financial position to purchase the home otherwise. Sonya offered no testimony or other evidence to contradict Joseph’s assertion, and she still points to nothing presented at trial that contradicted this evidence. Accordingly, we conclude that the factual findings that included the liability associated with the third-party liens were not clearly erroneous and that the court did not abuse its discretion in calculating the home’s equity.

CONCLUSION

¶44      Sonya has not demonstrated that the district court abused its discretion in its custody determination, in awarding the business to Joseph, or in its division of equity in the marital home. Affirmed.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277


[1] Because the parties share a surname, we refer to them by their given names.

[2] As addressed below, neither party’s briefs included sufficient citations to the record. This shortcoming has necessitated us combing the record to establish some semblance of a background, something we are not obligated to do. See State v. Wright, 2019 UT App 66, ¶ 47 n.6, 442 P.3d 1185 (explaining the parties’ duty to cite the record in appellate briefs), cert. denied, 456 P.3d 391 (Utah 2019). Accordingly, our recitation of the facts is necessarily minimal as we limit it to what is essential to resolve the issues on appeal.

[3] Neither party produced an appraisal of the home or an appraisal witness at trial, leading the court to ask the parties, “Does anybody have any valuation [of the home] at all?” Sonya’s counsel answered, “Well, we could do it [with] Zillow.” At this point, while in court, Sonya’s counsel looked up the value and reported, “According to Zillow as of today, the estimated value is $998,659.” No objection was lodged at trial to the court receiving this information. “Zillow is a commercial website that provides, among other things, an estimated market value for many residential properties.” Chaudry v. Chaudry, No. 1794, 2021 WL 2910977, at *9 n.7 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 12, 2021).

[4] This number reflected the amount owing at the time of separation. At the bench trial, Joseph testified that the amount was currently about $298,000.

[5] Joseph’s counsel provided a LexisNexis report as evidence of the liens on the home. This report was admitted as evidence with no objection.

[6] Nor did Joseph’s counsel provide a single citation to the record in his brief. This shortcoming is most unhelpful. While an appellee is not required to file a brief, see, e.g.AL-IN Partners, LLC v. LifeVantage Corp., 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19, 496 P.3d 76, we observe that if a brief is filed, it would behoove counsel to provide record citations. After all, and at the risk of stating the obvious, record citations are required because in their absence it’s difficult, and at times impossible, to figure out what the parties are referencing.

[7] “Parentification is often referred to as growing up too fast. Typically, it occurs when a child takes on parental responsibility for their siblings or even their parents, taking care of a sibling or parent physically, mentally, or emotionally. This can damage a child’s mental well-being and lead to long-term mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.” Amber Felton, What Is Parentification, Web MD, https://www.webmd.com/parenting /what-is-parentification [https://perma.cc/N6TT-Y7QN].

[8] Sonya also argues that the district court violated her constitutional due process rights by its “ongoing interference” with her counsel’s presentation of her case. Quite frankly, apart from a litany of complaints about the court requiring counsel to keep her questioning relevant, the contours of her argument on appeal are difficult to discern, and she fails to cite a single case in support of the argument. Accordingly, we decline to consider her due process argument because it is inadequately briefed. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (“The argument must explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal.”); see also Orlando Millenia, LC v. United Title Services of Utah, Inc., 2015 UT 55, ¶ 30 n.3, 355 P.3d 965 (“The briefing on this claim . . . is inadequate. [The appellant’s] briefing on this issue fails to cite any authority and makes no attempt to connect the law to the facts of this case.”).

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Holt v. Holt – 2024 UT App 6 – reasonable time rule

Holt v. Holt – 2024 UT App 6

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

RHONDA S. HOLT, Appellee,

v.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN HOLT, Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20220090-CA

Filed January 11, 2024

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Andrew H. Stone

No. 044902588

Ben W. Lieberman, Attorney for Appellant

Matthew A. Steward and Katherine E. Pepin,

Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and

DAVID N. MORTENSEN concurred.

ORME, Judge:

¶1       Christopher and Rhonda Holt’s divorce was finalized in 2004 after the entry of a stipulated settlement agreement and the district court’s entry of a divorce decree. Per the divorce decree, Rhonda[1] was awarded a commercial property in which she operated a salon and Christopher was awarded an equity interest in the property redeemable “when the property is sold.” From the time the court entered the divorce decree, Rhonda operated the salon and did not sell the property or satisfy Christopher’s outstanding interest.

¶2        Years later, Christopher petitioned the district court asking that it require Rhonda to sell the property and satisfy his equity interest, first on the rationale of modifying the divorce decree and later on the rationale of enforcing it. He contended that because “Utah law implies a reasonable time under the circumstances,” the court should compel Rhonda to sell the property. The district court ultimately determined that Rhonda had no obligation to sell the property and declined to impose any deadline by which she had to do so. But under Utah law, a reasonable time for performance will be implied if a contract fails to include a specific time for performance. And on the facts of this case, we conclude that a reasonable time for Rhonda’s performance extends to the time when she ceases to operate a salon on the property.

BACKGROUND

¶3        Christopher and Rhonda were married in 1988. In 2004, Rhonda filed a complaint for divorce, and soon after, the district court granted Rhonda’s motion for default judgment. The court then entered a divorce decree based on the parties’ Stipulation and Settlement Agreement (the stipulation). The record reflects that when the stipulation was entered, each party was represented by counsel. Christopher’s counsel withdrew after the stipulation was filed, just prior to entry of the decree.

The Stipulation and the Decree

¶4        The stipulation included an integration clause indicating that it was the parties’ final agreement. Specifically, it was “a complete settlement of all rights either party may have in the other’s property” and any “valid” modification or waiver of the stipulation’s terms must be “in writing and signed by both parties before a notary public.” The stipulation provided that neither party would receive alimony. Pursuant to the stipulation, the district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and a divorce decree that mirrored the provisions of the stipulation.

¶5        At the heart of this matter is section 9(B) of the decree. First, it awarded Rhonda the salon property and ordered Christopher to “execute a quit claim deed” in her favor. Second, it reserved for Christopher “an equitable lien for one-half of the net equity in the property when the property is sold.” Third, it defined net equity as “the gross selling price less realtor commissions and normal closing costs.” And fourth, it reiterated that Christopher “shall only be entitled to his equity when the property is sold.” The preceding section—section 9(A)—awarded Rhonda the parties’ home “free and clear from any claim by” Christopher and instructed that Christopher was to “execute a quit-claim deed in favor of” Rhonda within ten days following entry of the decree. It is noteworthy that section 9(B), in contrast to section 9(A), did not include a specific timeframe related to Rhonda’s satisfaction of Christopher’s equity interest in the property.

The Petition to Modify the Decree

¶6        In October 2018, over fourteen years after the decree was entered, Christopher filed a petition to modify the decree, claiming “a material and unforeseeable substantial change of circumstances.” Specifically, the petition indicated that “the parties did not anticipate that fourteen years would pass” during which Christopher’s equity interest in the property would go unpaid. Christopher sought an order compelling Rhonda to either sell or refinance the property and to satisfy Christopher’s outstanding interest.

¶7        In response, Rhonda moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that Christopher had failed to support his assertion of a material and unforeseeable change in circumstances warranting the requested modification of the decree. Rhonda acknowledged that Christopher would be entitled to have his equity interest in the property cashed out, but she argued that under the plain language of the decree, he was entitled to payment only when the property was sold, which had not yet occurred. Rhonda noted that the parties’ circumstances had not materially changed since the court entered the decree in 2004—she had not sold or refinanced the property and she continued to operate her salon on the property. Quoting Land v. Land, 605 P.2d 1248 (Utah 1980), Rhonda argued that “when a decree is based upon a property settlement agreement, forged by the parties and sanctioned by the court, equity must take such agreement into consideration.” Id. at 1250–51. She noted our Supreme Court’s position that “[e]quity is not available to reinstate rights and privileges voluntarily contracted away simply because one has come to regret the bargain made.” Id. at 1251. Rhonda asserted that the decree does not impose a deadline by which she had to sell the property and “clearly withholds distribution” of Christopher’s interest in the property until it is sold. Thus, she maintained that Christopher “failed to demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that was not [contemplated] by the parties at the time the decree was entered.”

¶8        In his opposition to the motion to dismiss, Christopher claimed that he was not represented by counsel during the divorce action and thus was not involved in drafting the decree.[2] He also claimed that he relied on representations Rhonda made both before and after entry of the decree that she would refinance or sell the property “in the very near future to pay him out.” Christopher asserted that prior to the divorce, the parties had received an $84,000 loan from his parents to purchase the property and that when his parents passed away some years later, $84,000 was taken out of his inheritance to pay the obligation. Christopher argued that under the plain language of the decree and under Rhonda’s suggested interpretation of section 9(B), he “could die and not receive any benefit from the agreement” and he could potentially lose his interest in the property if Rhonda were to pass away or transfer the property to someone else, thereby avoiding the satisfaction of Christopher’s equity interest.

¶9        Rhonda responded that the petition before the court was one to modify the decree based on a theory of material change of circumstances—not one to enforce the decree. She argued that this was really a situation of unilateral mistake on his part, and she reiterated her position that hindsight and dissatisfaction with a prior stipulation are not adequate grounds for relieving parties of their contractual obligations. Rhonda again acknowledged her obligation to pay Christopher his share of the equity when the property is sold, but she pointed out that the decree did not specify a sale deadline. She also noted that it would have been very easy to incorporate such a date into the stipulation and the decree if that had been the parties’ intention. To support this position, Rhonda pointed out that section 9(A) of the decree imposed a ten-day deadline for Christopher’s delivery of a quitclaim deed to the parties’ home, while section 9(B), which dealt with the sale of the salon property, included no provision concerning the time for performance.

¶10      Christopher requested that the court hold an evidentiary hearing concerning Rhonda’s motion to dismiss. But the district court denied this request and also denied Rhonda’s motion to dismiss. Eventually, a trial date was set. And at the ensuing bench trial,[3] at which both Christopher and Rhonda testified, the district

court granted Rhonda’s motion for a directed verdict and dismissed the petition on the ground that Christopher had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the petition.[4]

The Motion to Enforce the Decree

¶11      In July 2021, Christopher filed a motion to enforce the decree in a renewed effort to compel Rhonda’s sale of the salon property. Christopher argued that under the principles articulated in New York Avenue LLC v. Harrison, 2016 UT App 240, 391 P.3d 268, cert. denied, 393 P.3d 283 (Utah 2017), the decree’s lack of an “expressly-stated time[] for performance” signified that the court should impose a “reasonable time under the circumstances” by which Rhonda had to sell the property and that such a time had already passed. See id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified).

¶12      In response, Rhonda argued that the motion to enforce was simply Christopher’s attempt to get a “third bite at the apple.” Similar to her response to the petition to modify, Rhonda argued that Christopher failed to present sufficient credible evidence to support his contention that the parties’ intent was anything other than to afford Christopher his interest in the property when Rhonda sold it. She contended that because the salon on the property was her “sole source of income,” the parties deliberately omitted any specific performance deadline, providing instead— and explicitly emphasizing—that Christopher would be entitled to payment for his interest when, and only when, the property was sold. Rhonda asserted that it would therefore be inappropriate for the court to impose a reasonable time by which she had to sell the property when the decree’s plain language was straightforward and explicitly did not include one.

¶13 In October 2021, Commissioner Russell Minas heard argument on the motion. The commissioner concluded that “[b]ecause there [was] no deadline provided by the parties, Utah law implies a reasonable time under the circumstances,” see id., which he determined to be “until [Rhonda] ceases to use the Property to operate a business.” The commissioner thereafter issued his recommendation in the matter. See Utah R. Civ. P. 108(a) (“A recommendation of a court commissioner is the order of the court until modified by the court.”).

¶14 Christopher subsequently filed an objection to the recommendation pursuant to rule 108 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. See id. (“A party may file a written objection to the recommendation within 14 days after the recommendation is made in open court[.]”). Christopher acknowledged that the commissioner correctly determined that the reasonable-time rule articulated in New York Avenue applied to this case. But he challenged the commissioner’s application of the rule. He argued that the “reasonable time under the circumstances is determined by looking to the intention of the parties at the time of the formation of the contract” and that in so doing, it is clear the reasonable-time threshold had already passed because neither the stipulation nor the decree intended for Rhonda “to retain the Property and all equity so long as she operated a business.” Rhonda yielded to the commissioner’s interpretation of a reasonable time, arguing that the commissioner correctly defined a reasonable time under all the circumstances.

¶15 The district court heard argument on Christopher’s objection.[5] The court overruled Christopher’s objection from the bench and modified the commissioner’s recommendation. The court concluded that a reasonable time for performance should not be implied here because, per the language of the decree, Rhonda’s deadline to sell the property was whenever she chose to sell it and that “it would be inappropriate for the Court to impose a date by which the Property must be sold.”

¶16      Christopher appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶17 Christopher primarily argues that the district court erred in concluding that the reasonable-time rule was inapplicable here. “We interpret a divorce decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 255 P.3d 684 (Utah 2011). Accordingly, we review the district court’s interpretation of the decree for correctness. See Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 14, 525 P.3d 534, cert. denied, 531 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

¶18 Christopher also argues that the court “exceeded the scope” of his objection when it addressed “matters not before the court.” The scope of a court’s review of a commissioner’s recommendation turns on the correct interpretation of the applicable rule of civil procedure. Cf. Zions Bancorporation, NA v. Schwab, 2023 UT App 105, ¶ 12, 537 P.3d 273 (holding that the district court’s “statutory interpretation” is reviewed “for correctness”) (quotation simplified); Bermes v. Summit County, 2023 UT App 94, ¶ 28, 536 P.3d 111 (stating that a district court’s “interpretation of a set of statues or ordinances” is reviewed “for correctness”) (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 2023 WL 9058850 (Utah 2023).

ANALYSIS

I. Reasonable Time Under the Circumstances

¶19      Christopher first challenges the district court’s conclusion that “it would be inappropriate for the Court to impose a date by which the property must be sold.” He asserts that the court’s conclusion is incorrect, that the reasonable-time rule is applicable here, that a reasonable time has long since elapsed, and that Rhonda should be compelled to sell the property and satisfy his equity interest. We determine that the district court’s conclusion was incorrect and conclude that the reasonable-time rule is applicable in this matter. We then determine what constitutes a reasonable time for Rhonda’s performance under the circumstances.

¶20 A stipulated divorce decree represents an enforceable contract between divorcing spouses, and so “we interpret the parties’ decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” Thayer v. Thayer, 2016 UT App 146, ¶ 17, 378 P.3d 1232 (quotation simplified). Of course, “the cardinal rule in contract interpretation is to give effect to the intentions of the parties as they are expressed in the plain language of the contract itself,” and “we construe a contract to give effect to the object and purpose of the parties in making the agreement.” New York Avenue LLC v. Harrison, 2016 UT App 240, ¶ 21, 391 P.3d 268 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 393 P.3d 283 (Utah 2017). Key to the issue before us, our principles of contract interpretation further provide “that if a contract fails to specify a time of performance the law implies that it shall be done within a reasonable time under the circumstances,” id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified), which analysis entails a question of fact, see iDrive Logistics LLC v. IntegraCore LLC, 2018 UT App 40, ¶ 55, 424 P.3d 970, cert. denied, 425 P.3d 803 (Utah 2018).

¶21 The parties agree on the basic meaning of the terms contained in section 9(B) of the decree. They accept that under section 9(B), Rhonda was awarded ownership of the property, Christopher was required to “execute a quit claim deed” in Rhonda’s favor while reserving for himself “an equitable lien for one-half of the net equity of the property when the property is sold,” and that Christopher would “only be entitled to his equity when the property is sold.” Further, both parties acknowledge that section 9(B) does not include a date by which the property was required to be sold. Based on this understanding, Christopher argues that the district court’s conclusion was incorrect, that the reasonable-time rule does apply, and that Rhonda should be compelled to sell the property immediately, a reasonable time having long since come and gone, or else his interest “could remain trapped forever.”

¶22 Christopher asserts that under our decision in New York Avenue, the district court should be required to apply the reasonable-time rule based on the reality that section 9(B) did not include a specified time of performance. In that case, a seller contracted with a buyer for the sale of certain real estate. 2016 UT App 240¶ 3. Due to unforeseen complications, the transaction was not settled on the date intended by the contract. Id. ¶¶ 5–6. The buyer, still desiring to be bound by the terms of the contract, elected to begin making monthly settlement extension payments to the seller, as provided for in the contract, thus advancing the contract’s intended settlement date to the last day of the month associated with the buyer’s settlement extension payment. Id. ¶ 6. While the contract provided terms to extend the settlement date, it failed to specify a final date regarding the ultimate settlement of the contract or to define the maximum number of settlement extensions available to the parties. Id. ¶ 5. After numerous settlement extensions, the seller sought to terminate the contract. Id. ¶¶ 8–9. Following a summary judgment hearing, the district court determined that the contract entitled the buyer to extend the settlement deadline indefinitely, “so long as valid tender of the extension payment was made.” Id. ¶ 12 (quotation simplified).

¶23 On appeal, we held, in relevant part, that because the contract did “not limit the number of extension payments,” it did “not provide a date by which [seller] must perform its core obligation to complete the purchase of the Property.” Id. ¶ 34. Accordingly, we noted “that if a contract fails to specify a time of performance the law implies that it shall be done within a reasonable time under the circumstances.” Id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified). And we concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment that countenanced an indefinite extension of the time for performance. Id. ¶¶ 29, 32.

¶24 Similar to the seller in New York Avenue, Christopher is concerned that if we conclude that the reasonable-time rule does not apply to section 9(B) of the decree, there exists a possibility that Rhonda could opt to never sell the property and thereby retain all of the equity indefinitely. In reviewing the conclusions of the court, we must evaluate the plain language of section 9(B) of the decree to determine if the district court correctly held that the reasonable-time rule did not apply.

¶25 Based on the plain language of section 9(B), it is obvious that nowhere in its four sentences is there any provision regarding a specific date by which Rhonda must sell the property. Rhonda argues on appeal that it would be improper for the court to impose a reasonable time for performance because, unlike the contract at issue in New York Avenue, section 9(B) did not intend to “create an obligation” for the sale of the property. She further contends that sale of the property is a condition precedent, and thus, she is not required to sell the property but that if she does, Christopher would then be entitled to receive his share of the equity. We are not persuaded by Rhonda’s argument. The intent of the decree was to “resolve all issues between” the parties. Therefore, while section 9(B) was not intended to be a sales agreement, it was also not intended to allow Rhonda to indefinitely prevent the satisfaction of Christopher’s interest. See Brady v. Park, 2019 UT 16, ¶ 53, 445 P.3d 395 (“When we interpret a contract we first look at the plain language of the contract to determine the parties’ meaning and intent.”) (quotation simplified). Accordingly, we agree with Christopher that a reasonable time for performance should be implied. Thus, we conclude that the district court incorrectly determined that the reasonable-time rule was inapplicable here. We next determine what the reasonable time should be, and here we part ways with Christopher and endorse the view adopted by the commissioner.

¶26      Due to the nature of these proceedings and Christopher’s decision not to request transcripts of the prior hearings, we are unable to consider the parties’ presentations before the commissioner or the district court, including not only the arguments they made but also any evidence they introduced or evidentiary proffers they made. Even so, Christopher contends that “[a] reasonable time is defined by the parties’ intentions at the time the contract is formed, not when the dispute arises,” and that because the parties did not intend for his interest to remain unsatisfied this long, a reasonable time has long since elapsed. Conversely, Rhonda contends that “[t]he language of the Decree demonstrates that the Parties intended for [her] to be able to operate her business from the Property to support herself indefinitely.”

¶27 In consideration of what constitutes a reasonable time under the circumstances, we must discern the parties’ intentions from the language of their contract—the stipulated decree—and the relevant circumstances, but in the absence of whatever evidence might have been adduced or proffered at the hearings as we have not been favored with the transcripts. We are mindful that neither party was awarded alimony in this case, meaning Rhonda’s livelihood depended on her continued ability to operate her salon business. And it is significant that not only was no time for Rhonda‘s performance specified, but it was emphasized that Christopher shall be entitled to his equity only “when the property is sold.” The conclusion is inescapable, as determined by the commissioner, that the intention of the parties, as reflected in the language they employed, was that Rhonda’s obligation to sell the property and cash out Christopher would be triggered when she ceased to operate the salon business. That occurrence would equate to the reasonable time for her performance under the unique circumstances of this case.

II. Scope of District Court Review

¶28      Christopher next challenges the district court’s expansive consideration of the commissioner’s recommendation, arguing that the court “exceeded the scope” of his objection by addressing “matters not before the court.” We disagree with Christopher’s position. A plain reading of rule 108(f) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure requires the district court to make “independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” And our jurisprudence makes clear that a district court has plenary responsibility for “what is essentially its own order.” Somer v. Somer, 2020 UT App 93, ¶ 12, 467 P.3d 924 (quotation simplified). Accordingly, we conclude that the court did not exceed the scope of its authority in reviewing the commissioner’s recommendation without being confined to the contours of the objection made by Christopher.

¶29      “We interpret court rules, like statutes and administrative rules, according to their plain language.” Day v. Barnes, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 12, 427 P.3d 1272 (quotation simplified). Rule 108 provides a procedure by which a party may object to a commissioner’s recommendation and request that the district court review the recommendation. Within this framework, subsection (a) first indicates that a commissioner’s recommendation “is the order of the court until modified by the court” and that “[a] party may file a written objection to the recommendation.” Utah R. Civ. P. 108(a) (emphasis added). Next, subsection (b) explains that any objection “must identify succinctly and with particularity the findings of fact, the conclusions of law, or the part of the recommendation to which the objection is made and state the relief sought,” and it also provides that the accompanying memorandum of support “must explain succinctly and with particularity why the findings, conclusions, or recommendation are incorrect.” Id. R. 108(b). Lastly, subsection (f) directs that “[t]he judge will make independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence, whether by proffer, testimony or exhibit, presented to the judge, or, if there was no hearing before the judge, based on the evidence presented to the commissioner.” Id. R. 108(f) (emphasis added). Thus, the plain language of the rule “does not provide for an appeal-like review of a commissioner’s decision, but instead requires independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” Day, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified).

¶30 In the case at hand, after the commissioner made his recommendation, Christopher filed an objection wherein he explained that while the commissioner “correctly found” that the reasonable-time rule applied to section 9(B) of the decree, he erred because the recommendation was not based on evidence that, at the time the decree was entered, the parties intended that Rhonda would “retain the Property and all equity so long as she operated a business.” After a hearing on Christopher’s objection, the court modified the recommended order based on its independent determination that it would be “inappropriate” to apply the reasonable-time rule and “to impose a date by which the Property must be sold.” Christopher now argues that the court’s decision to modify the recommendation concerning the reasonable-time rule “exceeded the scope” of his objection because, as the objecting party, he “was entitled to define the scope of his objection, and he did so narrowly.”

¶31 We reject this argument. As just explained, when faced with an objection to a commissioner’s recommendation, the responsible district court judge is expected to make “independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” Utah R. Civ. P. 108(f) (emphasis added). We have previously explained that because a commissioner’s recommendation is “the order of the district court until modified by that court,” “it would make little sense that the district court would be limited in reviewing what is essentially its own order.” Day, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 18 (quotation simplified). Therefore, while rule 108 provides that the objecting party must proceed with “particularity” concerning the basis of the objection, Utah R. Civ. P. 108(b), that same particularity does not circumscribe the authority of the reviewing court and does not limit the reviewing court’s ability to make its own findings and conclusions, see id. R. 108(f). Thus, notwithstanding Christopher’s “narrowly” defined objection, the court’s modification of the commissioner’s recommendation did not exceed the appropriate scope of review in a procedural sense, even though we conclude that the court’s substantive conclusion was incorrect.

CONCLUSION

¶32 The district court erred because the reasonable-time rule should have been applied in this case, and the reasonable time to be imputed is essentially the time as determined by the commissioner, namely when Rhonda ceases operating her salon on the property. We remand so the court can adjust its order accordingly. At the same time, we conclude that the court did not exceed the scope of its review authority under rule 108.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277


[1] Because the parties share the same last name, we refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.

[2] Christopher, then represented by new counsel, may have been confused about this because the decree was entered on the basis of his default. But the record in this case demonstrates that Christopher was represented by counsel right up until the time the decree was entered on the basis of his stipulated default.

[3] With no transcript of the bench trial submitted by Christopher, we rely on the minutes of the proceedings found in the record. Cf. In re A. Dean Harding Marital & Family Trust, 2023 UT App 81, ¶ 85, 536 P.3d 38 (stating that “when an appellant fails to provide an adequate record on appeal, we presume the regularity of the proceedings below”) (quotation simplified).

[4] In May 2021, Christopher appealed, requesting that this court review the dismissal of the petition to modify and “all subsidiary rulings and orders leading to final judgment,” but he moved to voluntarily dismiss this appeal shortly thereafter, which motion this court granted.

[5] As with the bench trial, Christopher did not request a transcript of this hearing and we therefore rely on the minutes of the proceedings found in the appellate record to understand what occurred during the hearing. See supra note 3. While it perhaps is not always necessary to include a transcript of hearings in the appellate record, we have previously determined that a transcript “is necessary in cases where the court issued an oral ruling at the conclusion of the hearing and where the court’s eventual written order is silent with regard to the matter being challenged.” In re A. Dean Harding Marital & Family Trust, 2023 UT App 81, ¶ 86, 536 P.3d 38“In such cases, a transcript of the hearing is necessary for us to effectively review the challenged issue” because without it “we do not know what evidence or argument the court relied on in rendering any decision.” Id. While we do have a spartan description of the hearing included in the court’s minutes, which is not without utility, we discourage parties from relying wholly on the court’s minutes when a transcript is readily available.

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Establishing the existence or absence of business/commercial goodwill value in a divorce.

Sometimes a business is a marital asset.

When the value of a business that is a marital asset is divided in divorce, the question of the “goodwill value” of the business will usually arise.

Goodwill is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “a business’s reputation, patronage, and other intangible assets that are considered when appraising the business, esp. for purchase; the ability to earn income in excess of the income that would be expected from the business viewed as a mere collection of assets.” (Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019))

The Utah appellate case of Marroquin v. Marroquin defined institutional or enterprise goodwill as “based on the intangible, but generally marketable, existence in a business of established relations with employees, customers and suppliers, and may include factors such as a business location, its name recognition and its business reputation” (¶15, 440 P.3d 757 (Utah App. 2019)). In contrast, “Personal goodwill is based on an individual’s “reputation for competency” and is not subject to distribution upon divorce.” (Id.) This is why, in Marroquin v. Marroquin, where the court determined the only goodwill associated with the husband’s business was that of personal goodwill, the value of such goodwill was not subject to distribution upon divorce of the parties. Consequently, requiring the husband to pay the spouse part of the value ascribed to the personal goodwill would have been inequitable.

In the Utah appellate case of Stonehocker v. Stonehocker (2008 UT App 11, 176 P.3d 476 (Utah Ct. App. 2008)), the value of the husband’s business would be determined independent of any goodwill component where the business was the product of the husband’s reputation, goodwill, and sole efforts, and there could be no good will in a business that was dependent for its existence upon the husband who conducted the enterprise and would vanish were the husband to die, retire or quit work (Id. at ¶ 44).

Most small businesses do not have business or commercial goodwill, but that does not stop many spouses from claiming that business/commercial goodwill exists, that it exists in prodigious quantities, and that the spouse making the claims is entitled to a big ‘ole cash award equal to half of the alleged business/commercial goodwill.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Mintz v. Mintz – 2023 UT App 17

Mintz v. Mintz – 2023 UT App 17

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

RAYNA ELIZABETH MINTZ,

Appellant and Cross-appellee,

v.

GLEN RYAN MINTZ,

Appellee and Cross-appellant.

Opinion

No. 20200507-CA

Filed February 9, 2023

Third District Court, Silver Summit Department

The Honorable Kent R. Holmberg

No. 174500034

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]

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        After a lengthy marriage, Rayna and Glen Mintz[2] 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.

BACKGROUND[3]

¶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.

ANALYSIS
I. Alimony

A.        Investment

¶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 157Uparas. 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)).

B.         Entertainment

¶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.

Another read,

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.

III. Dissipation

¶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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.

CONCLUSION

¶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.

 

[1] 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).

[2] Due to the parties’ shared surname, we employ their given names.

[3] 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).

[4] 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.

[5] 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)).

[6] 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.

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Erickson v. Erickson – 2022 UT App 27

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

DEAN ERICKSON,

Appellee,

v.

JANICE ERICKSON,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20200193-CA

Filed March 3, 2022

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Todd M. Shaughnessy

No. 174901105

Albert N. Pranno, Attorney for Appellant

Jordan M. Putnam, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE DIANA HAGEN authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN

FORSTER concurred. HAGEN, Judge:

¶1        During their thirty-four years of marriage, Dean and Janice Erickson acquired substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business.[1] But, in anticipation of their divorce, Janice engaged in an intentional scheme to dissipate those assets and devalue the marital estate. Solely because of Janice’s misconduct, the district court appointed a receiver, ordered a valuation of the couple’s business, and sanctioned Janice with the obligation to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs.

¶2        Janice now contends that the court erred when it failed to deduct her personal goodwill when calculating the value of the couple’s business, excluded her rebuttal expert on valuation, and imposed sanctions against her that were greater than the injury her misconduct caused Dean. We affirm on the first two issues and remand on the third.

BACKGROUND[2]

¶3        Dean filed for divorce from Janice in early 2017. The couple’s marital estate consisted of substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business, Meds for Vets, LLC (Meds). Meds “is a pharmaceutical compounding business with many employees.” The company “does the majority of its business online through its website” and sells “to customers throughout the country.” At the time of the divorce, Meds employed three pharmacists who held the necessary licenses to conduct the business. Janice was one of those pharmacists and held “the majority of the licenses.” Janice also functioned “as the sole manager and chief executive officer of Meds.”

¶4        Around the time Dean filed for divorce, Janice entered into a series of fake business contracts with a friend for the purpose of dissipating marital assets. Dean moved the court for a temporary restraining order, asking the court to appoint a receiver for Meds. The court denied the temporary restraining order but appointed a receiver for Meds in an effort “to prevent further irreparable injury/harm to the marital estate through waste/dissipation of marital assets.” At the recommendation of the receiver, Janice was allowed to continue her role in the company due to her “familiarity with the industry, regulatory environment and existing relationship[] with the customer base . . . so as to not disrupt [Meds’] operations and employees.”

¶5        In addition to the oversight of Meds, the receiver had authority to conduct an “investigation concerning whether and how the joint marital assets . . . were used or misused and how to effectively separate the parties and their marital estate in all business regards.” In its final report to the court, the receiver concluded that Janice had dissipated known marital assets totaling $2,247,274. Janice accomplished that feat, in part, by unilaterally entering into a fraudulent “business relationship which resulted in a substantial and ongoing dissipation of marital assets.”

¶6        The receiver was also charged with “perform[ing] a valuation of the normalized operation of Meds.” The final report included a business valuation placing Meds’ value at $1,560,000. The valuation report explained the different factors considered, including “whether or not the enterprise has goodwill or other intangible value.” Ultimately, the valuation did not include any amounts associated with goodwill.

¶7        The court scheduled a trial on December 2, 2019, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, to determine the final division of the marital estate. The pretrial disclosure deadline was set for November 4, but Janice moved to extend the deadline. The court granted her motion, extending the deadline to Tuesday, November 26 at 5:00 p.m.

¶8        Just before 5:00 p.m. on November 26, Janice filed a disclosure that identified a valuation expert she intended to call as a rebuttal witness. But she did not serve the disclosure on Dean’s attorney until after the deadline had passed. In addition, she did not provide the expert’s report to Dean’s attorney until the afternoon of Wednesday, November 27—the day before Thanksgiving and less than five days before trial.

¶9        On the first day of trial, Janice asked to call her valuation rebuttal expert as the first witness because it was the only day he was available to testify. Dean objected to the admission of the expert’s testimony because it was untimely disclosed, giving Dean insufficient time to prepare. The court allowed Janice to call the expert out of order and reserved its ruling on Dean’s objection until after the expert testified. During his testimony, the expert opined that the receiver’s valuation had overstated Meds’ value as an ongoing business by improperly considering Janice’s personal goodwill.

¶10 The court ultimately excluded the expert’s testimony based on Janice’s untimely disclosure. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4) (“If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.”) The expert had testified that it had taken him only a few weeks to prepare his report, but that Janice had not hired him until shortly before trial. Accordingly, the court found that Janice “had ample opportunity to seek an independent valuation of the marital businesses at her own expense” and noted that it had “addressed this issue with [Janice] several times.” The court further found that Dean had an “understandable inability to be able to fully address [that information] in the limited time that remained prior to trial.”

¶11 The court alternatively ruled that even if it had not excluded Janice’s valuation rebuttal expert as untimely, his testimony was unpersuasive. The court rejected the expert’s opinion, based on Janice’s own representations, that Meds’ value was dependent on Janice’s personal goodwill. The court noted that Utah case law generally associates personal goodwill with “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person” and that such businesses are not “comparable to the situation here with [Meds].” The court also found that it had “not been provided any evidence from which [it could] draw a conclusion that [Janice’s] presence at [Meds], given the point to which its grown, is essential for that business to continue, given the number of employees and the extent of the operations that it has.”

¶12 After trial, the court entered a supplemental decree regarding the division of marital assets. The court “affirm[ed] and accept[ed] all recommendations, valuations, findings, and conclusions contained” in the receiver’s reports, unless the decree stated otherwise, “and incorporate[d] them by reference” into the decree, including the receiver’s $1,560,000 valuation of Meds.

¶13 Due to Janice’s “intentional efforts to dissipate marital assets,” the court also assigned the cost of the receivership and Dean’s attorney fees to Janice as a sanction for contempt and other misconduct. The court found that Janice’s behavior was sanctionable because she “engaged in substantial dissipation of marital assets” that was, “in some cases, in direct violation of this Court’s orders.” Indeed, “the approximately $2.5 million [she] dissipated . . . was one of the largest, if not the largest, blatant dissipation of marital assets the Court ha[d] ever seen.”

¶14 With respect to Dean’s legal fees, the court found that Janice’s contemptuous conduct forced Dean to incur “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [was] required to address the dissipation issues in this case” because of Janice. The court found that it was therefore appropriate and equitable to assign all Dean’s attorney fees to Janice because “[t]he lion’s share of [Dean’s] legal costs were incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice] in this case.”

¶15 More than three months after trial, Janice filed a motion for new trial pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that there was irregularity in the trial proceedings, that there was insufficient evidence to support the valuation of Meds, and that the court erred in awarding Dean attorney fees. The court dismissed that motion as untimely without reaching the merits.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶16 Janice now appeals, raising three issues. First, she contends the district court erred in the value it assigned to Meds because it failed to exclude the value of her personal goodwill. A district court is “entitled to a presumption of validity in its assessment and evaluation of evidence, and we defer to the district court’s findings of fact related to property valuation and distribution unless they are clearly erroneous.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 10, 440 P.3d 757 (cleaned up).

¶17 Second, she contends the court erred in excluding her valuation rebuttal expert as a sanction for untimely disclosure. “We review a district court’s decision [to impose] sanctions under rule 26(d)(4) for an abuse of discretion.” Segota v. Young 180 Co., 2020 UT App 105, ¶ 10, 470 P.3d 479 (cleaned up). We will find abuse of discretion where there exists an erroneous conclusion of law or “where there is no evidentiary basis for the trial court’s ruling.” Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 15, 438 P.3d 25 (cleaned up), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.

¶18 Third, she contends that the court erred when it ordered her to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs, rather than limiting the award to the amounts caused by her sanctionable conduct. “Both the decision to award attorney fees and the amount of such fees are within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 86, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I. The Valuation of Meds

¶19      In her challenge to the district court’s valuation of Meds, Janice argues that the court failed to consider the value of her personal goodwill.[3] “When valuing a business in marriage dissolution cases, district courts must consider whether goodwill is institutional or personal to one spouse.” See Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15, 440 P.3d 757. Goodwill is personal when the business “is dependent for its existence upon the individual who conducts the enterprise and would vanish were the individual to die, retire or quit work.” Stevens v. Stevens, 754 P.2d 952, 956 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). Personal goodwill is based on an individual’s “reputation for competency.” Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15. And unlike institutional goodwill, personal goodwill is not subject to distribution in the marital estate. Id.

¶20      Janice contends that the district court erred as a matter of law by failing to consider whether the value of the business depended on goodwill that was personal to her and thus not divisible. We disagree. The district court did consider goodwill in valuing the business, but specifically found that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Unless the court clearly erred, we presume this assessment is valid and we defer to its findings. See id. ¶ 10.

¶21      In finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds, the court rejected Janice’s contention that Meds was comparable to a sole proprietorship and that her “personal goodwill, as opposed to entity or enterprise goodwill,” should have been excluded in valuing the company. The court concluded that Meds was unlike “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person”—where the value of the company rests primarily on the work and professional reputation developed by the proprietor—“given the number of [Meds] employees and the extent of its operations.”

¶22 On appeal, Janice claims that the court failed to consider the personal goodwill engendered by her own “management and licensure role” in Meds. Before the receiver’s appointment, Janice “had acted as sole manager and chief executive officer of the company,” but there was no evidence to suggest that placing someone else in that role would diminish the value of the company. Indeed, the court specifically found that it had not been “provided any evidence from which [it could] draw the conclusion that her presence at the business, given the point to which it’s grown, is essential for that business to continue given the number of employees and the extent of operations it has.” Janice has not demonstrated that those findings were clearly erroneous.

¶23 As evidence of her personal goodwill, Janice cites the receiver’s report that some Meds employees “attributed the company’s declining revenue, in part, to [Janice] being distracted by the divorce.” But the decline in Meds’ revenue during this period does not suggest that the company’s value was dependent on Janice being in a management role. To the contrary, the court found that Janice’s continued involvement was detrimental because she “continue[d] to take steps to harm and devalue” Meds, even after the appointment of the receiver. In other words, Meds’ declining revenue during that time was caused not by Janice’s inattention to her management role, but by her deliberate efforts to devalue the company.

¶24 Janice also points to the fact that the company used her licenses to operate in multiple states. The court found, however, that Meds holds the necessary pharmacy licenses among three pharmacists. And there was no evidence that Janice’s licenses could not be obtained by the other pharmacists already on staff or that Meds could not hire a replacement pharmacist with those licenses. Thus, the fact that some licenses were historically held by Janice does not undermine the court’s finding that the value of Meds as an ongoing business did not depend on Janice’s involvement.

¶25 In sum, the record shows that the court considered and rejected Janice’s contention that her personal goodwill was included in the valuation of the business, and Janice has not shown that those findings were clearly erroneous. Therefore, there is no basis on which to disturb the court’s valuation of Meds.

II. Excluding Janice’s Rebuttal Expert

¶26 Next, Janice challenges the court’s ruling excluding her valuation rebuttal expert based on her untimely disclosure. Expert disclosures are governed by rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that rule, proper disclosure of an expert witness requires the timely disclosure of “(i) the expert’s name and qualifications, . . . (ii) a brief summary of the opinions to which the witness is expected to testify, (iii) the facts, data, and other information specific to the case that will be relied upon by the witness in forming those opinions, and (iv) the compensation to be paid for the witness’s study and testimony.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(A). “If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.” Id. R. 26(d)(4). “Thus, Utah law mandates that a trial court exclude an expert witness disclosed after expiration of the established deadline unless the district court, in its discretion, determines that good cause excuses tardiness or that the failure to disclose was harmless.” Solis v. Burningham Enters. Inc., 2015 UT App 11, ¶ 21, 342 P.3d 812 (cleaned up); see also Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 22, 438 P.3d 25 (“[I]f a party fails to disclose or supplement a discovery response, the evidence or testimony may not be used.”), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.

¶27 Janice does not dispute that the disclosure of her valuation expert and his report was untimely. The question is whether Janice established an exception to the otherwise mandatory sanction of exclusion under rule 26(d)(4). We conclude that the district court did not exceed its discretion in rejecting Janice’s claim that her untimely expert disclosure was either harmless or justified.

¶28 First, the record amply supports the court’s conclusion that the untimely expert disclosure was not harmless. The court enlarged Janice’s time to serve her disclosures, extending her deadline from November 4 to November 26 at 5:00 p.m.—a mere six days before trial. On November 26, “shortly before 5:00 p.m.” Janice filed her expert disclosure with the court, but she did not serve that disclosure on Dean’s counsel until after the 5:00 p.m. deadline. Moreover, she did not serve the expert report until the following afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving. The timing left only the holiday weekend for Dean’s counsel to review the expert report and prepare to meet that testimony before the trial began on Monday. On the first day of trial, Janice called her rebuttal expert witness out of order, depriving Dean of any additional time he might have had to prepare during the course of the trial. The purpose of rule 26 is to eliminate unfair surprise and provide the opposing party with a reasonable opportunity to prepare for trial. Drew v. Lee, 2011 UT 15, ¶ 28, 250 P.3d 48. Here, the late disclosure deprived Dean of a reasonable opportunity to prepare to rebut the newly disclosed expert’s testimony. Under these circumstances, the district court acted well within its discretion in concluding that the late disclosure was not harmless.

¶29 Second, the record also supports the court’s determination that Janice had no good reason to delay disclosing her expert and his report. The court found that it gave Janice “months” to “call an expert to dispute the valuation that was done by the court-appointed receiver,” yet she waited until “a couple weeks” before trial to hire her valuation rebuttal expert. Moreover, the court found that Janice’s excuse for not hiring an expert—that she was waiting because she wanted the marital estate to pay for the expert—“carrie[d] no water with [the court]” because the court had made clear, at least since the previous August, that Janice had to pay for her own rebuttal valuation expert. Under these circumstances, the district court did not exceed its discretion in finding that the delay was unjustified.

¶30 We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Janice’s untimely disclosure was neither excused for good cause nor harmless to Dean. Therefore, the district court correctly applied the automatic sanction dictated by rule 26(d)(4) and excluded the expert’s testimony.

III. Sanction of Attorney Fees and Costs

¶31 On appeal, Janice does not challenge the court’s finding that she engaged in sanctionable conduct and acknowledges that “the bulk of the court’s award of fees and allocation of costs were within the court’s authority.” Instead, she argues that the award was excessive because it included some attorney fees and costs not attributable to her sanctionable conduct. Because we cannot determine whether the attorney fees award exceeded the costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct, we remand to the district court for further proceedings.

¶32 “[W]hen a court imposes an award of fees or costs as a sanction, its award must be limited to the amount actually incurred by the other party” as a result of the sanctionable conduct. Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 36, 299 P.3d 1079. In Goggin, the district court awarded the former wife all her attorney fees and costs after finding that they were “largely due to [her former husband’s] untoward and contemptuous behavior.” See id. ¶ 38 (cleaned up). Our supreme court reasoned that “this language implies that [the former wife] may have been awarded at least some attorney fees and out-of-pocket costs that were not caused by [the former husband’s] contemptuous behavior.” Id. (cleaned up). The supreme court therefore held that the district court had exceeded its discretion by awarding costs and fees in excess of the amount attributed to the sanctionable conduct. Id.

¶33 Here, it is not clear whether the district court limited the award to the fees and costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. In assigning the entire cost of Dean’s attorney fees and expenses to Janice, the court found that Dean had incurred “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [had been] required to address the dissipation issues in this case.” Yet the court also found that Dean’s legal fees and costs “incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice]” merely constituted the “lion’s share” of Dean’s legal fees. Like the district court’s use of the term “largely” in Goggin, the use of the term “lion’s share” here suggests that a portion of Dean’s fees and costs were not the direct result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. To the extent that the attorney fees award included such additional costs, it exceeded the district court’s discretion.

¶34 Accordingly, we vacate the attorney fee award and remand for further proceedings. On remand, the district court should either make findings to support the determination that all Dean’s legal expenses were caused by Janice’s sanctionable conduct or modify the award to exclude any amounts not caused by that conduct.[4]

CONCLUSION

¶35 Janice has not shown that the court failed to consider goodwill in valuing the business or that it clearly erred in finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Nor has she shown that the court exceeded its discretion in determining that her untimely expert disclosure was not harmless or justified. However, to the extent that the attorney fees award exceeded the costs Janice’s sanctionable conduct caused Dean to incur, the court exceeded its discretion in granting that award. Therefore, we remand for further proceedings on that issue consistent with this opinion.[5]

—————————————————————-

[1] As is our practice when parties share the same last name, we refer to each by their first names, intending no disrespect to either party.

[2] “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard, and we present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Nakkina v. Mahanthi, 2021 UT App 111, n.2, 496 P.3d 1173 (cleaned up).

[3] Janice also argues that there was “[i]rregularity in the proceedings” because the receiver “hire[d] a business valuator who is . . . a partner with the receiver at the [same] firm.” But this issue was not preserved. See Brookside Mobile Home Park, Ltd. v. Peebles, 2002 UT 48, ¶ 14, 48 P.3d 968 (explaining that for an issue to be preserved “(1) the issue must be raised in a timely fashion; (2) the issue must be specifically raised; and (3) a party must introduce supporting evidence or relevant legal authority” (cleaned up)). Janice did not challenge this alleged irregularity below. It appears that Janice may have attempted to raise the issue in a motion pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, see Utah R. Civ. P. 59(a)–(a)(1) (providing that “a new trial may be granted to any party on any issue” because of “irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury or opposing party, or any order of the court, or abuse of discretion by which a party was prevented from having a fair trial”), but the district court properly refused to consider that motion as untimely, and the issue is therefore unpreserved for appeal, see Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 30, 163 P.3d 615 (holding that an issue raised in an untimely posttrial motion was not preserved for appellate review where district court “properly refused to address the” untimely motion).

[4] Dean argues that even if the district court awarded attorney fees and costs not attributable to Janice’s contemptuous behavior, that error was harmless because a mathematical error resulted in Janice not paying the intended award. If the district court determines that “a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission” has occurred, the court may correct the mistake on remand. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(a).

[5] “Although [Dean] requests attorney fees on appeal, because the trial court awarded [him] attorney fees only as a sanction for [Janice’s] conduct during litigation, we deny that request.” Liston v. Liston, 2011 UT App 433, ¶ 27, n.6, 269 P.3d 169.

Erickson v. Erickson – 2022 UT App 27

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Wadsworth v. Wadsworth – 2022 UT App 5 – marital estate

2022 UT App 5 

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS 

  1. CANDI WADSWORTH,
    Appellant,
    v.
    GUY L. WADSWORTH,
    Appellee. 

Opinion
No. 20190106-CA
No. 20200430-CA
Filed January 13, 2022 

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department 

The Honorable Su Chon 

No. 104904966 

Michael D. Zimmerman, Troy L. Booher, and Julie J.
Nelson, Attorneys for Appellant 

Clark W. Sessions, T. Mickell Jimenez, Marcy G.
Glenn, and Kristina R. Van Bockern, Attorneys
for Appellee 

JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and RYAN D. TENNEY concurred. 

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge: 

¶1 This appeal arises from the divorce and division of the marital estate belonging to H. Candi Wadsworth and Guy L. Wadsworth. Candi1 challenges various aspects of the district court’s marital property valuation, its decision to defer the payment of her share of the marital estate, its award of alimony, and various other findings and orders. Guy cross-appeals, raising challenges relating to terms of the deferred payment and the alimony award. In a separate appeal, Candi also challenges the district court’s decision not to grant her a security interest in her portion of the marital estate, which she will not receive in full until December 31, 2024. Because that issue is intertwined with various issues raised in the first appeal, we address both appeals in this consolidated opinion. 

¶2 We remand for the district court to add certain notes receivable to the value of the marital estate, to adjust its alimony award to account for Candi’s tax burden, to clarify its decision on whether security is required for the alimony award, and to grant Candi a security interest in her portion of the marital estate. We otherwise affirm the district court’s decision. 

BACKGROUND 

¶3 Candi and Guy married in 1979. Guy started Wadsworth Brothers Construction (WBC) in 1991, and over the years, it grew into a multimillion-dollar company. The parties also have interests in numerous other business entities, including two restaurants, a hotel, and various real estate holdings. 

¶4 In 2009, Candi filed for divorce, suspecting that Guy was involved in an extramarital affair. Guy denied the infidelity, and the couple reconciled. However, a year later, Guy confessed to an affair, and Candi again filed for divorce. 

Pre-Divorce Proceedings and Temporary Orders 

¶5 During the period between these two divorce filings, Guy purchased two restaurants, a plane, a cabin, and a yacht. He did not discuss any of these purchases with Candi, and she learned about them from other people. The yacht cost $2,502,800, but by the time of trial, the yacht was under water—Guy still owed $1,175,399, but the yacht was worth only $790,500. 

¶6 Without consulting Candi, Guy also assigned fractional shares of various marital entities to the Wadsworth Children’s 2007 Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) in 2009. Although the parties had created the Trust two years before, they had originally funded it with only $10. By the time of trial in 2017, the fractional shares held by the Trust were worth approximately $4 million. 

¶7 While the divorce was pending, Guy maintained control of the marital estate, apart from $1 million and two interest-generating accounts that he transferred to Candi early in the proceedings. In February 2012, the district court adopted the parties’ stipulation regarding temporary orders (the Stipulation) stating that, on a temporary basis, Guy “shall pay all of the children’s expenses as he has in the past as well as all of [Candi’s] expenses as he has in the past.” Because Guy was paying these expenses, he was not ordered to pay temporary child support or alimony at that time. The Stipulation also addressed the use of marital assets during the pendency of the divorce proceedings: 

  1. Based upon the parties’ stipulation, [Guy] shall maintain, in the regular course of business, the management and control of [WBC], as he has in the past.
  2. Based upon the parties’ stipulation, neither party shall sell, gift, transfer, dissipate, encumber, secrete or dispose of marital assets other than in the course of their normal living expenditures, ordinary and necessary business expenses and to pay divorce attorneys and expert fees and costs. [Guy] shall have the right to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.

¶8 During the divorce proceedings, Candi asked the court to hold Guy in contempt based on alleged violations of the Stipulation. She asserted that he made numerous financial transactions that violated the Stipulation, including selling his home, buying a new home, selling a hotel, creating a new business entity and loaning it money, investing money in a property development company (FDFM), purchasing a jet to “flip,” and making an “undisclosed sale” of $697,448.72. The court accepted Guy’s and his estate planning attorney’s testimonies that “Guy had a history of setting up different corporate entities for liability protection purposes” and that he “did not create any entity or transfer any asset with the intention of hiding it from Candi.” The court found that “the transactions Candi complains of were consistent with Guy’s historical practice of transferring assets from one entity to another or from one form into another” and that those actions fell within the Stipulation’s condition permitting Guy “to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.” The court also found that “[t]here is no indication that these transactions were out of the ordinary or done with the intent to hide assets.” 

¶9 In September 2014, Guy sought to modify the Stipulation, explaining that the parties’ last child had reached majority, that he had paid off the mortgage on Candi’s house, and that he had purchased Candi a new vehicle, thereby eliminating many of her expenses. Guy asked the court to modify its order to require him to pay Candi $20,000 per month rather than all her expenses without limit. Following a hearing in January 2015, the court ordered that Guy pay Candi $20,000 per month in temporary alimony. It also ordered that Candi “keep an accounting of how the money is spent if she desires more funds.” During the first month following the order, Candi exceeded the $20,000 budget and “she had to repay Guy for amounts she had previously spent as well as cancel planned travel with the children.” In April 2015, the court issued a written order in which it clarified that Guy should “reimburse” Candi “as to any payments beyond the $20,000” unless he could show it was “an inappropriate or excessive expense.” Candi never requested additional funds from Guy after the court issued the written April 2015 order. She claims this was because she elected to curtail her spending rather than ask Guy for extra money; she maintains that she did not believe he would comply with her requests and she did not want to incur more attorney fees to collect the money. During this period, Guy was spending approximately $60,000 per month. 

¶10 Guy represented that Candi continued to have access to the parties’ boats and planes, a cabin, free dining at the restaurants, and a country club and other exclusive resorts for which Guy continued to pay the membership fees. However, to use the planes and boats, Guy expected Candi to pay for the cost of the pilot, captain, and other expenses out of her $20,000 monthly funds. Candi did not do so because she understood the cost to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per trip. Candi also alleged that Guy refused a number of requests she made to use the parties’ shared assets. 

Procedural History of the Divorce 

¶11 The parties spent more than six years conducting discovery and other pretrial litigation before the matter finally came before the district court for an eight-day bench trial in February 2017. The court held a second four-day trial in May 2017 concerning Candi’s attempt to revoke the Trust. See infra ¶ 25. 

¶12 The court issued a Memorandum Decision, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in September 2017 (the 2017 Findings). Subsequently, Candi filed a Motion to Clarify, and both parties also filed Motions to Amend. The court issued an order addressing those motions in May 2018 (the May 2018 Order). In response to that order, both parties filed additional Motions to Amend, which the district court ruled on in a Memorandum Decision and Order in October 2018 (the October 2018 Order). The court then directed Guy to prepare supplemental findings of fact to incorporate the various rulings encapsulated in the May 2018 Order and the October 2018 Order. 

¶13 Following the October 2018 Order, Guy filed an Ex Parte Motion for Expedited Entry of Decree of Divorce. Guy pointed out that new federal tax law would change how alimony was taxed for any divorce decrees entered on or after January 1, 2019. Instead of alimony being taxable to the payee spouse and deductible to the payor spouse, alimony would become taxable to the payor and deductible to the payee. Since the trial had occurred and the 2017 Findings had been entered over a year before, “predicated on the application of the existing divorce laws,” Guy asserted that it would be inequitable to enter the divorce decree after December 31, 2018. Although the court indicated that it believed “both parties are to blame” for the delays in finalizing the decree, it ultimately did enter Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (the 2018 Supplemental Findings), as well as the Decree of Divorce, on December 31, 2018. 

¶14 The parties then filed a third set of cross-motions to amend the findings and conclusions, and the court held a hearing on those motions in early 2019. The court entered a Memorandum Decision and Order in May 2019, which it subsequently amended in June 2019 (the 2019 Order). The court directed Candi to prepare corrected Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and a Supplemental Decree of Divorce. The court entered the Amended Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (the 2019 Supplemental Findings) and the Amended Decree of Divorce on October 30, 2019. 

Expert Valuation of Marital Property 

¶15 Both parties hired experts to value the various business entities. Three aspects of that valuation and the district court’s findings are relevant on appeal: notes receivable, WBC’s backlog, and WBC’s equipment. 

Notes Receivable 

¶16 The balance sheets for three of the entities owned by Guy included in their accounting of liabilities loans that they owed to Guy—Immobiliare II, Ltd. owed Guy $252,861; Five Diamond Hospitality, Inc. owed Guy $706,605; and FDFM owed Guy $100,000. These liabilities were considered in the court’s final calculation of these entities’ value. However, the notes receivable on these loans—which belonged to Guy—were not counted as marital assets. 

¶17 The court made no mention of the notes receivable in its 2017 Findings. Candi raised this matter in her Motion to Clarify. Candi asked the court to add the value of the notes receivable to the value of the estate. In response, Guy did not assert that the notes had been included but nevertheless resisted their inclusion as part of the marital estate, arguing that Candi had not made the “request at trial and did not enter evidence of where the funds remain and in which entities or whether the funds are being used for business purposes.” The court found that “[t]he parties agree that the Court did not consider the three notes receivable” but observed that “[n]either party points to the record regarding this issue.” The court did not adjust its valuation of the estate based on the notes. 

¶18 Subsequently, Candi filed her second motion to amend, in which she again raised the matter of the notes receivable, among other things. In the October 2018 Order, the court found that Candi “does not show that those notes were not considered in the company valuations” and that it had “already addressed her argument” in the previous order. Guy was then asked to prepare supplemental findings based on the court’s order, and that version of the findings stated that “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts.” 

WBC’s Backlog 

¶19 As of June 30, 2016, WBC had a backlog of work— construction contracts that had been signed but for which the work had yet to be completed—amounting to an estimated value of approximately $75 million. Guy testified that WBC’s profit margin on such projects was typically between 5% and 7%. Candi’s expert estimated the projected net profit on the backlog to be $3,441,733. Guy’s expert estimated that the projects would realize a gross profit of $4,676,347, but he also opined that the backlog ultimately had “no value” because “the backlog in its current state” was not sufficient to sustain the company and could therefore be expected to start “absorb[ing] cash flow.” Guy also testified that WBC had struggled to make a profit since the recession and had to lay off workers and use capital to continue operating. He testified that WBC had failed to get some large contracts it was hoping for and that its backlog was less than in past years. Another witness, who advises large companies on marketing and selling their businesses, testified that “marketability” and “valuation methodologies” are “all centered around current backlog.” He explained that “in a construction company, they’re only as good as the backlog in front of them.” 

¶20 The court found that “the value of the projected backlog profit is $4 million.” However, the court adopted Guy’s expert’s valuation of WBC, which had assigned the backlog no independent value. The parties addressed the inconsistency in their motions to amend. Candi asked the court to adjust the overall valuation of WBC upward by $4 million to reflect its finding that the backlog profit was worth $4 million. Guy asked the court to change its finding that the backlog was worth $4 million to conform to its adoption of his expert’s valuation of the company, which assigned the backlog no value. In its May 2018 Order, the court found that Guy’s expert had “testified the backlog had no value to a potential buyer, and the Court adopted his valuation of WBC.” It also found that the other witness had testified that “any potential purchaser would not purchase the company based on a backlog.” Finally, it found that “Candi did not provide counter-testimony to” the “statements of no value in the backlog.” Accordingly, it concluded that “[t]he evidence supports that the backlog has no value in the valuation of the company” and amended its decision to state that “the backlog has no value.” These amended findings were incorporated into the 2018 Supplemental Findings. 

WBC’s Equipment 

¶21 Both parties hired experts to assess the value of WBC’s equipment. Guy’s expert had worked in the construction industry for twenty-five years and had been an appraiser for Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers for four years. To value the equipment, the expert used “internal standards that [Ritchie Brothers] has developed over time and experience” based on “historical auctions, personal experiences of appraisers, and knowledge of the world’s economic conditions.” Guy’s expert testified that Ritchie Brothers’ “business is derived primarily from stable operators exchanging equipment and updating equipment inventories in the normal course of business,” rather than wholesalers trying to resell and make additional profit, and that “80 percent of [their] sales . . . represent fair market value.” Guy’s expert and his team “personally inspected nearly all the pieces of equipment at issue”; “[t]hey turned on the machines, checked the miles and hours and verified the [vehicle identification numbers].” They appraised 569 items and estimated that “the entire package of equipment . . . would sell at unreserved public auction in the range of $13,890,300.” 

¶22 Candi’s expert is a member of the American Society of Appraisers and is an Accredited Senior Appraiser. He conducts appraisals based on the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). He testified that “he evaluated the equipment at the fair market value of a ‘going concern’ business” and that he believed using “auction values” was more appropriate for a business that was trying to liquidate its inventory. Candi’s expert received a list of approximately 400 pieces of equipment with the make, model, description, and serial number. He “did not closely inspect each piece of equipment,” “did not start any of the equipment, did not look at the mileage or hours logged, and did not consider the condition of each piece.” He “took photos of the equipment and researched the values by contacting manufacturers, contractors, and dealers; consulting other sales [online]; and considering his prior appraisals and experience.” Ultimately, Candi’s expert valued the equipment at $22,499,255. 

¶23 The court found that the method used by Guy’s expert was “more accurate” and that his team was “more thorough in assessing the individual pieces of equipment.” The court rejected Candi’s assertion that selling equipment at “an auction house has the same connotation as a fire sale,” relying on the expert’s testimony that end users regularly buy heavy construction equipment at auction. It therefore adopted Guy’s expert’s $13,890,300 valuation of the equipment. 

Dissipation 

¶24 Candi argued to the district court that Guy had dissipated marital assets in anticipation of divorce, including spending money on his girlfriend; purchasing the yacht, a jet, and a wine collection; paying attorney fees for the Trust; and transferring money out of the estate into the Trust. Except as to $814,000 Guy spent on his girlfriend, for which it compensated Candi out of the marital estate, the court found that “Guy did not dissipate marital assets.” Although the court found that the legal fees spent on the Trust were not dissipation, it nevertheless allocated half of that value to Candi as part of the marital estate. As to the purchase of the yacht, jet, and wine, the court reasoned that Guy did not dissipate assets by purchasing these items because the items were still in the marital estate, and Candi was awarded half their value. The court also found that “[i]t was Guy’s historical practice to buy planes and boats” and that “[s]ome depreciation of” such assets “is to be expected.” The court rejected Candi’s argument that purchasing a depreciating asset should, as a rule, be considered dissipation. However, the court assigned the negative value on the yacht entirely to Guy, reasoning that he “unilaterally purchased this boat” and limited Candi’s access. 

¶25 The parties engaged in extensive litigation regarding the Trust, even going through a separate trial to address the validity of the transfers and to consider Candi’s attempt to revoke the Trust. However, the court ultimately determined that “the Trust was validly created,” that the parties intended for it to be irrevocable, that the creation and funding of the Trust was “in line with the parties’ history of gifting assets to the children as part of their wealth management and estate planning strategy,” that “there is no evidence that Guy was motivated by a desire to divest Candi of marital assets,” and that the transfers were completed before Candi filed for divorce so that the Trust property was not part of the marital estate or subject to division. Accordingly, the court rejected Candi’s argument that Guy’s transfer of assets into the Trust constituted dissipation. 

¶26 Candi also took issue with Guy’s investment in FDFM, an entity “created to develop land in [North] Dakota when the oil rush was booming.” Although Guy’s interest in FDFM by the time of trial was worth only $734,000, he had invested $1,129,000 into it. Candi asserted that the higher value should be used because Guy did not disclose the investment to her. The district court rejected this argument, explaining that Guy “never consulted with Candi on any business decisions that he made” throughout the marriage, so making business decisions without disclosing them to her was “well within the scope of his historical practices.” 

¶27 Candi also complained that Guy had used marital funds to pay his attorney fees and that his spending on fees had not been credited to the marital estate. In examining the funds each party had already received, the court recognized that Candi had received $1,277,500 in marital funds to pay her attorney and expert fees and costs. The court also estimated, based on Guy’s testimony, that Guy had spent approximately $800,000 in attorney and expert fees and costs. The court equalized these amounts in calculating the value of the marital estate. 

Division of the Estate and Equalization Payment 

¶28 The district court found that the total value of the marital estate was $43,886,329.85 and that each party should receive half of that value ($21,943,164.93). The court awarded Candi various liquid assets, real property, vehicles, retirement plans, investments, and other property totaling just over $4.7 million. It awarded the remainder of the marital property, including all interest in the parties’ various businesses, to Guy and ordered Guy to pay Candi $17,238,018.02 to compensate her for the value of her portion of the estate. The court explained that “because of the overlapping entities and the numerous assets placed in various entities, it would be more appropriate to award Candi a sum of money constituting her share of the marital estate.” The court found that “shared ownership of the companies” was not an option because “Candi does not have the business acumen necessary to know how to run these companies” and that it would be “a bad idea” for the parties to continue their relationship by operating the companies together, “especially given Candi’s distrust of Guy.” It also found that “[a] forced sale of marital business assets is not in the best interest of either party” because both parties benefit from “Guy’s continued work for WBC and other businesses.” 

¶29 Although Candi had argued to the district court that she should be given ownership of the two restaurants to help offset the portion of the estate owed to her, the court rejected that request because it found that “her limited business experience would not help her in increasing the value of the business.” In its May 2018 Order, the court further explained its refusal to award the restaurants to Candi by observing that the restaurants had only just begun to be profitable due to Guy’s careful management and that the restaurants were partially owned by a third party. 

¶30 In the initial 2017 Findings, the court did not outline a method for Candi to receive her share of the marital estate. Candi proposed several options, including appointing a special master to oversee the distribution, transferring some of the assets to her directly, sharing ownership of the companies, or forcing a sale of some of the assets. The court rejected each of these proposals. Instead, in the 2018 Supplemental Findings, the court ordered Guy to pay the amount owed to Candi “in such equal monthly installments as he shall determine.” Any remaining amount was to be paid in a balloon payment five years from the date of the entry of the Decree of Divorce, which made the final payment to Candi due December 31, 2023. The court also ordered that Guy pay 10% annual interest on the amount owed to Candi. Although Guy contested the high interest rate, the court justified it because the court had given him “substantial leeway in setting the payment schedule over the next five years.” Because Guy would have “exclusive and full access to the marital assets,” the court reasoned that the high interest rate would give him a necessary incentive to make the payments more quickly. 

¶31 In subsequent motions, the parties continued to dispute the court’s equalization order. Thus, in its 2019 Supplemental Findings, the court again modified the payment schedule. Guy was to pay Candi (1) $30,000 per month, to be applied first toward interest; (2) $500,000 per year, to be applied first toward interest; and (3) a balloon payment of the outstanding principal and interest by December 31, 2024.2 The court also modified the interest rate to 5% per year. The court explained that the 10% interest rate “was appropriate” when the court had “deferred to Guy to come up with an appropriate payment plan” but that it was excessive once the court “determined the payment plan.” Instead, the court set the interest rate at 5% and explained that rate was intended “to provide Guy with an incentive to pay the Equalizing Balance quickly.” 

¶32 After the court issued its ruling, Candi filed a motion asking the court to secure her unpaid share of the marital estate. She explained that security was necessary to “protect her from dissipation, economic uncertainties, or Guy’s death.” She also asked for an injunction ordering Guy “not to alienate, waste, dissipate, or diminish his share, ownership interest, or the value of the entities” without “Candi’s express, prior, written permission.” Candi proposed several methods for securing her interest, including attaching a UCC-1 lien to the assets of WBC or other marital entities or imposing other “conditions and covenants” on Guy and WBC. But she also explained that “there are a lot of different ways” to give her an effective security interest, including placing a lien on the restaurants, WBC’s equipment, or Guy’s interest in the businesses. 

¶33 The court refused to grant Candi any security, reasoning that it could not award a lien against the businesses because “[t]he businesses were not parties to this suit,” that the equalization payments were not subject to the Uniform Commercial Code because the division of the marital estate is not a commercial transaction, and that Guy was unable to obtain adequate life insurance to secure her interest due to his age and health. The court did not provide any further rationale for its determination that no security was warranted or explain why other options for securing Candi’s unpaid interest in the marital estate, such as a lien on Guy’s personal interest in the businesses, could not be employed. 

Alimony 

¶34 In its 2017 Findings, the district court found that Candi testified “she had more than $20,000 in reasonable monthly expenses.” However, the court found that Candi “could not testify as to specific details” and “did not prepare a financial declaration.” Nevertheless, the court examined standard financial declaration items, Guy’s financial declaration, a standard of living analysis of the parties’ pre-separation spending prepared by one of Candi’s experts, and Guy’s record of the expenses he paid on Candi’s behalf while the divorce was pending to reach a determination regarding Candi’s monthly need. The court included numerous categories of expenses in its needs calculation and determined Candi’s reasonable monthly expenses to be $27,693.90. However, the court did not include taxes in its assessment of Candi’s needs, because Candi “failed to provide evidence of her tax liability at trial.” The court imputed minimum wage income to Candi at $1,257 per month. The court subtracted the imputed income from Candi’s reasonable monthly expenses to determine that her monthly need is $26,436.90. 

¶35 The court found that Guy had a net income of $141,143 per month and reasonable monthly expenses of $50,138. Accordingly, it found that Guy easily had the ability to pay alimony in the amount of $26,436.90 per month to Candi. It ordered Guy to pay that amount of alimony for a length of time equal to the length of the marriage, effective as of the date of the 2017 Findings. Alimony was to terminate upon “the death of either party” or “remarriage or cohabitation by” Candi. The court also indicated that “Guy should provide a life insurance policy for Candi to cover alimony for a period of time sufficient to cover his obligation should he unexpectedly pass away.” 

¶36 While the parties’ various motions were pending following the entry of the 2017 Findings, Guy represented that he was unable to get life insurance due to a health condition and asked the court to remove that requirement. The court denied Guy’s request and found in the May 2018 Order, 

Although there was information regarding Guy’s health, there was no information whether or not he could or could not obtain a life insurance policy. The Court wants to ensure that Candi will receive the money awarded should he pass unexpectedly. The parties may also work toward a mutually agreeable solution that will protect Candi and her ability to receive said money. 

However, the 2018 Supplemental Findings, drafted by Guy, stated simply that “there was no information as to whether or not Guy could or could not obtain a life insurance policy for such purpose nor the cost thereof.” Candi urged the court to be more specific by making its life insurance order mandatory and requiring Guy to provide an alternative means of security if he could not get life insurance. However, the court declined to do so, stating that “[t]he Court’s ruling in the [May 2018 Order] is sufficient.” 

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW 

¶37 On appeal, Candi argues (1) that the operative dates of the Decree of Divorce should be adjusted or, alternatively, that the balloon payment should be due on December 31, 2023; (2) that she received unequal access to the marital estate while the divorce was pending and should be compensated for the inequality; (3) that the court erred in its valuation of the marital estate, namely, by failing to take into account the value of the notes receivable, undervaluing WBC’s backlog and equipment, and not crediting the estate for Guy’s alleged dissipation of assets; (4) that the court erred in setting the terms of the marital estate division and refusing to grant her a security; (5) that the court should have included her tax burden in its calculation of her need for alimony purposes and required Guy to secure his alimony obligation with life insurance or by some other means; and (6) that the court exceeded its discretion by not holding Guy in contempt for violating the Stipulation. 

¶38 For his part, Guy argues, on cross-appeal, (1) that the court set too high an interest rate on the balloon payment, (2) that the court should have required Candi to share in transaction costs that may be incurred if and when Guy liquidates assets to make the balloon payment, and (3) that the court should not have awarded any alimony to Candi at all. 

¶39 The court’s valuation of the marital property, the manner in which it distributed that property, and its alimony determination are all subject to the same standard of review. “In divorce actions, a district court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18, 452 P.3d 1134 (quotation simplified). “We can properly find abuse [of the district court’s discretion] only if no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the [district] court.” Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 26, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified). 

Accordingly, we will reverse only if (1) there was a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error; (2) the factual findings upon which the award was based are clearly erroneous; or (3) the party challenging the award shows that such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion. 

Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18 (quotation simplified). 

¶40 The court’s decision whether to hold Guy in contempt is also entitled to deference. “The decision to hold a party in contempt of court rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal unless the trial court’s action is so unreasonable as to be classified as capricious and arbitrary, or a clear abuse of discretion.” Barton v. Barton, 2001 UT App 199, ¶ 9, 29 P.3d 13 (quotation simplified). 

ANALYSIS 

  1. Operative Dates

¶41 Candi first argues that the court should make the entire divorce decree effective on October 30, 2019, rather than December 31, 2018, since that was the date the court entered the final Amended Decree of Divorce. Alternatively, she asserts that the balloon payment should be due on December 31, 2023, consistent with the terms of the initial Decree of Divorce. However, Candi has not presented us with any substantive arguments in support of this contention. Her argument is essentially that it was unfair to put the Decree of Divorce into effect before the tax laws changed and yet delay the equalization payments until after the Amended Decree of Divorce was entered because both results “favored Guy.” But the fact that a ruling favors one party or the other does not, by itself, make that ruling an abuse of the court’s discretion. In fact, we cannot see any meaningful link between these two rulings—one concerns the effective date of the entire Decree, whereas one concerns the commencement of the payment plan. 

¶42 Moreover, the district court had good reason for both decisions. As Guy pointed out in his Ex Parte Motion for Expedited Entry of Decree of Divorce, “[t]he trial of this matter, and the evidence submitted at trial and considered by the Court, were all predicated on the application of the existing divorce laws.” Thus, entering the Decree of Divorce after the first of the year would have, no doubt, spurred even more objections and additional hearings regarding alimony. Entering the Decree before the law changed was consistent with the parties’ expectations throughout the divorce proceedings. 

¶43 With respect to the equalization payments, the court’s 2019 Supplemental Findings were drastically different from its 2018 Supplemental Findings. The 2018 Supplemental Findings left the equalization payment schedule in Guy’s hands, whereas the 2019 Supplemental Findings required him to pay a specified monthly amount. Leaving the effective date for those payments on December 31, 2023, as outlined in the 2018 Supplemental Findings, would have required Guy to come up with the entire first year’s payments all at once, as he was not required to make monthly or yearly payments under the 2018 Supplemental Findings. The court found it appropriate for the equalization payments to commence at the same time it issued its 2019 Supplemental Findings because it could not “determine who has delayed the payment plan” and it “believe[d] that both parties share the responsibility for the delay in this matter.” Candi has not demonstrated that this was an abuse of the district court’s discretion. 

  1. Access to Marital Estate

¶44 Candi next asserts that the district court should have compensated her for “inequities [that] resulted from Guy’s use of the marital estate” while the divorce was pending. Candi raises three arguments concerning the allegedly unequal access to the marital estate: (1) that Guy was ordered to pay her only $20,000 per month in temporary alimony while he continued to spend around $60,000 per month, (2) that she did not have equal access to the parties’ tangible assets and funds while the divorce was pending, and (3) that Guy spent more on attorney fees out of the marital estate than the $800,000 found by the district court. 

  1. Monthly Spending

¶45 First, Candi contends that it was unfair for the district court to grant her only $20,000 in temporary alimony while Guy had an income of more than $141,000 per month and was spending over $60,000 per month. 

¶46 “Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, all property acquired by parties to a marriage is marital property, owned equally by each party.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126, 459 P.3d 276; accord Brown v. Brown, 2020 UT App 146, ¶ 23, 476 P.3d 554. “For this reason, it is improper to allow one spouse access to marital funds to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending, while denying the other spouse the same access.” Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126. 

¶47 But this principle does not require that the parties account for every dollar spent out of the marital funds and reimburse one another for any disparity. Rather, it requires that each party have equal access to use marital funds and assets “to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending.” Id. For this reason, Dahl and Brown are distinguishable from the case at hand. In Dahl, the district court had ordered the wife to repay $162,000 she had received from the husband to pay for her living expenses while the divorce was pending without requiring the husband to repay the marital funds he spent during that time. Id. ¶ 125. The supreme court held that this was an abuse of discretion because it “had the effect of allowing one spouse to use marital funds to pay for living expenses during the pendency of the divorce, while denying such use to the other spouse.” Id. ¶ 129. In Brown, the district court ordered the husband to pay for the wife’s “expenses insofar as they exceeded the income she earned plus amounts [he] advanced while the divorce was pending.” Brown, 2020 UT App 146, ¶ 24. This court found that order to be appropriate because it gave the wife “the benefit of the marital estate to help cover [her] living expenses . . . up until the divorce decree was entered.” Id. ¶¶ 27– 28. 

¶48 Here, the district court ordered Guy to “reimburse” Candi for reasonable monthly expenses “beyond $20,000” unless they were “inappropriate or excessive.” And although Candi indicated that she voluntarily curtailed her spending to avoid fighting for reimbursement, she did not present any evidence that she incurred expenses in excess of the $20,000 Guy provided each month. Since the court ordered Guy to pay for reasonable expenses beyond $20,000, it established a mechanism for Candi to have continued access to the marital estate to pay for her living expenses. The fact that Candi found it too burdensome to request additional funds and was skeptical about Guy honoring her request does not mean she lacked meaningful access to the marital estate.3 And the fact that Guy spent more each month than Candi does not, by itself, indicate that Candi lacked equal access to marital funds while the divorce was pending. Access is not the same as use. And we are aware of no principle requiring that district courts equalize the parties’ use of marital assets during the pendency of a divorce as opposed to reimbursing a party for expenses they incurred as a result of unequal access. 

  1. Tangible Assets

¶49 Our analysis of Candi’s challenge to the unequal use of the parties’ tangible assets is similar to our analysis of her unequal use of funds: she has not demonstrated that she had unequal access to the assets, as opposed to unequal use. It was certainly easier for Guy to use the assets, since they were in his control. And it is undisputed that Guy told Candi she would have to pay the expensive costs associated with using the planes and boats. However, Candi never attempted to use the yacht or plane due to her concerns regarding the expense. Had she done so, she could have requested that Guy reimburse her for these costs in accordance with the court’s temporary alimony award. Since Guy was using the marital assets to pay for the costs of the yacht and plane in addition to meeting his monthly needs, such a request would not have been “inappropriate or excessive.” It is unfortunate that Candi was deterred from taking advantage of this option by the conditions Guy placed on the use of these assets. However, since she did not actually incur the expenses or seek reimbursement for extra expenses from Guy, Candi does not persuade us that the district court should have ordered an increase in her alimony or awarded her more of the marital estate under Dahl or Brown to make up for the disparity in access to the tangible assets. C. Attorney Fees  

¶50 Candi next contends that the district court improperly assessed the attorney fees Guy paid out of the marital estate at only $800,000. This number was taken from Guy’s testimony at trial that he had paid between $700,000 and $800,000 in attorney fees at that point. Candi argues that this estimate was made before Guy paid for the twelve days of trial and post-trial litigation and that “[t]he court should have ordered Guy to disclose all his attorney fees and attributed the full amount to his side.”  

¶51 However, although the Decree of Divorce did not go into effect until the end of 2018, the court valued the parties’ marital estate based on the information before it at trial in 2017. Because this was the “snapshot in time,” see Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 24, 440 P.3d 757, on which the valuation of the marital estate was based, spending that occurred after that date could not have reduced the overall value of the estate. This means that any funds Guy expended on attorney fees following trial were necessarily post-division expenses. Even assuming that Guy spent more than $800,000 on attorney fees in total— which he likely did, given that the $800,000 accounted only for what he had incurred as of trial—that does not necessarily mean that he paid for those fees out of the marital estate as it existed at the time of trial. He was obligated to pay Candi her share of the estate’s value calculated based on the value proven at trial, regardless of any later spending.  

III. Valuation of the Marital Estate ¶52 Candi argues that the district court made several errors in assessing the overall value of the marital estate. Specifically, she asserts that it failed to account for the value of the notes receivable and that it used the wrong method to assess the value of WBC’s backlog and equipment. She also asserts that Guy dissipated assets and that the estate should have been credited for the dissipation. 

  1. Notes Receivable

¶53 The account ledgers for three of the parties’ entities included line items for loans owed to Guy, totaling $1,059,466. The district court deducted these amounts from the value of those entities in calculating the overall value of the marital estate. However, the notes receivable, owed to Guy, were not counted as an asset of the marital estate. When Candi brought the matter to the court’s attention, it found that “[t]he parties agree that the Court did not consider the three notes receivable” but rejected Candi’s argument on the ground that “[n]either party points to the record regarding this issue.” However, when the 2018 Supplemental Findings, drafted by Guy, addressed the matter, the court’s finding evolved to “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts.” 

¶54 Candi asserts that the court’s findings are clearly erroneous and that the court therefore erred in refusing to include the notes receivable in the valuation of the marital estate. We agree with Candi that the trial evidence memorializing the accounts payable to Guy constituted record evidence of Guy’s notes receivable with respect to those entities. Thus, the court erred in finding that Candi had not “point[ed] to the record regarding this issue.” Moreover, its finding in the 2018 Supplemental Findings that “all Notes Receivable were included in the valuation of the various marital entities by the parties’ experts” is not supported by the evidence.4 We are aware of nothing in the record indicating that any experts added the notes receivable to the valuation of the marital estate. 

¶55 It was unreasonable for the court to include the accounts payable in its calculation of the other entities’ liabilities without also crediting the notes receivable to Guy as an asset. The only evidence before the court concerning the notes receivable is that contained in the owing entities’ ledgers—that Guy was entitled to receive the funds. Thus, it is necessary for the district court to adjust the value of the marital estate to include the $1,059,466 owing to Guy from the other entities. 

  1. Backlog

¶56 Candi next asserts that the district court erred in assessing the value of WBC’s backlog. She asserts that because WBC is a “viable business,” the court should have recognized that it “has future work lined up and future work yet to come.” Specifically, Candi takes issue with two of the court’s findings relating to the backlog: (1) that “Candi did not provide counter-testimony to” Guy’s witnesses’ “statements of no value in the backlog” and (2) that one of Guy’s witness had “testified that any potential purchaser would not purchase the company based on a backlog.” 

¶57 Candi points to the testimony of her own expert that the backlog would generate a net profit of $3,441,733. She further argues that Guy’s expert’s assertion that the profit would be 

eaten up with administrative costs and capital expenditures relies on a misguided “assumption that WBC would obtain no new work.”5 She points out that such an assumption was faulty, as “WBC had only one negative year in the . . . five-and-a-half years” prior to trial. 

¶58 But Guy’s expert’s opinion that the backlog lacked value did not rely on the assumption that WBC would never get new work, as Candi asserts. Rather, it was based on his assessment that the backlog was not large enough to keep up with administrative expenses the company would need to incur, such as equipment costs, salaries, insurance, etc. Guy’s expert explained that in assessing the value of the backlog, he examined “the general and administrative expenses in the current environment that both a buyer and seller would look at when they’re examining whether or not this backlog has any value.” Based on this examination, he concluded that “the backlog in its current state would start to absorb cash flow from a negative performance during the next eleven months”—in other words, although WBC could expect to earn a gross profit from the backlog, it would have to dip into that profit to make up for its negative cash flow and would therefore not earn a net profit. This concept was further addressed by Guy in his testimony, where he explained that although WBC had a backlog, at the time of the evaluation it did not have as many contracts as it needed, had to lay off workers, and had to rely on capital to continue operating. 

¶59 While Candi’s expert testified that the backlog would generate a net profit of $3,441,733, he did not address the details about anticipated administrative costs or the state of the industry that Guy and his expert addressed in their testimonies, and this seems to be the absent “counter-testimony” to which the court was referring in its finding. Indeed, the court was clearly aware of and considered Candi’s expert’s testimony and valuation, as it included that information in its findings. But it nevertheless concluded that “Candi presented no other evidence or expert testimony in that industry regarding the backlog.” Thus, the court’s finding was not in error. And in any event, it was the court’s prerogative to credit the testimony of Guy’s expert over the testimony of Candi’s expert. See Henshaw v. Henshaw, 2012 UT App 56, ¶ 11, 271 P.3d 837 (“It is within the province of the trial court, as the finder of fact, to resolve issues of credibility.”); see also Barrani v. Barrani, 2014 UT App 204, ¶ 4, 334 P.3d 994 (“Courts are not bound to accept the testimony of an expert and are free to judge the expert testimony as to its credibility and its persuasive influence in light of all of the other evidence in the case.” (quotation simplified)). 

¶60 As to the court’s finding regarding Guy’s witness’s testimony about a potential buyer, while that finding could have been more precise—the witness actually testified that a buyer cares only about a “sustainable backlog” and that a buyer would rely on “the backlog in front” of the company rather than its historic backlog—the imprecision ultimately does not convince us that the court relied on an erroneous assumption. The witness did not testify specifically regarding WBC’s backlog, and his actual statement ultimately supports the district court’s finding regarding the value of the backlog. If the court applied the principle stated by the witness—that only the backlog in front of WBC was relevant—to the testimony it relied on that the backlog would not generate a net profit, the testimony was not inconsistent with the court’s finding that the backlog lacked value. 

¶61 Ultimately, it was within the court’s discretion to accord each party’s expert testimony the weight it deemed proper. And the testimonial evidence presented by Guy and his expert and witness supports the court’s conclusion that the backlog lacked value. Even assuming that WBC was a viable company that would continue to generate contracts, the evidence supported a determination that its current contracts were not sufficient for the company to expect to generate a net profit. 

  1. Equipment

¶62 Next, Candi challenges the district court’s valuation of WBC’s equipment. Her argument rests primarily on her assertion that the court erroneously used “liquidation value” to calculate the value of the equipment rather than valuing WBC as a “going concern.”6  

¶63 First, we agree with Guy that Utah law does not support Candi’s contention that the court was required to evaluate WBC as a going concern. In fact, our case law is clear that courts have broad discretion in determining the proper method for calculating the value of marital property. See DeAvila v. DeAvila, 2017 UT App 146, ¶ 12, 402 P.3d 184 (“District courts generally have considerable discretion concerning property distribution and valuation in a divorce proceeding and their determinations enjoy a presumption of validity.” (quotation simplified)); cf. Griffith v. Griffith, 1999 UT 78, ¶ 19, 985 P.2d 255 (“[T]rial courts have broad discretion in selecting an appropriate method of assessing a spouse’s income and will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion.”). Moreover, courts may even reject all valuation methods presented by experts and elect to simply split the difference between multiple appraisals. See Newmeyer v. Newmeyer, 745 P.2d 1276, 1278–79 (Utah 1987) (upholding a court’s decision to fix the value of a marital home by splitting the difference between the values presented by two experts); Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶¶ 12–13, 169 P.3d 754 (upholding a district court’s decision to average the value of stock on nine different relevant dates to reach the fair value of stock in the marital estate); Barber v. Barber, No. 961783-CA, 1998 WL 1758305, at *1 & n.1 (Utah Ct. App. Oct. 8, 1998) (holding that the district court acted within its discretion when it valuated a business by averaging four appraisals provided by expert witnesses). 

¶64 Generally, we will uphold a district court’s valuation of marital assets as long as the value is “within the range of values established by all the testimony,” and as long as the court’s findings are “sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 691–92 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (quotation simplified); see also Weston v. Weston, 773 P.2d 408, 410 (Utah Ct. App. 1989) (upholding a court’s election not to apply a marketability discount to the value of stock in a closely held corporation, despite several experts recommending that such a discount be applied, because the value the court found was “within the range of values established by all the testimony”).7  

¶65 Thus, even assuming that Guy’s expert’s valuation was “liquidation value,” it would have been within the court’s discretion to use that valuation, which was “within the range of values established by all the testimony,” so long as the court adequately supported its decision with factual findings explaining its decision. See Morgan, 795 P.2d at 691–92. Here, not only did the court support its determination with detailed factual findings, but those factual findings make clear that it considered the auction value to represent the fair market value of the equipment, not the liquidation value. 

¶66 In accepting Guy’s expert’s valuation over that of Candi’s expert, the court explained that Guy’s expert was more thorough because he examined each individual piece of equipment and took into account its condition, mileage, and hours. Additionally, the court found it relevant that 80% of Ritchie Brothers’ “sales are directly to end users” and credited the expert’s testimony that their appraisal was based on fair market value, specifically rejecting Candi’s assertion that auction value was equivalent to the value in a “fire sale.” The court also pointed out that even Candi’s expert had used some sales data from auction houses to assess values. Based on this evidence, the court found that “[t]here is no indication that [Guy’s expert’s] evaluation does not reflect the actual marketplace price the parties could expect to receive upon sale” and adopted the $13,890,300 value provided by Guy’s expert. We will not disturb the court’s well-supported decision on this issue.8  

  1. Dissipation

¶67 Candi next contends that “Guy dissipated assets at a time he understood that divorce was likely” and that the district court should have included the value of additional allegedly dissipated assets—over and above the money Guy spent on his girlfriend, which the court considered dissipation and accounted for as such—in its valuation of the marital estate. 

¶68 “Where one party has dissipated an asset, hidden its value or otherwise acted obstructively, the trial court may, in the exercise of its equitable powers, value a marital asset at some time other than the time the decree is entered . . . .” Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 49, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified). In other words, “when a court finds that a spouse has dissipated marital assets, the court should calculate the value of the marital property as though the assets remained” and give “the other spouse . . . a credit for his or her share of the assets that were dissipated.” Id. 

¶69 A number of factors may be relevant to this inquiry, including 

(1) how the money was spent, including whether funds were used to pay legitimate marital expenses or individual expenses; (2) the parties’ historical practices; (3) the magnitude of any depletion; (4) the timing of the challenged actions in relation to the separation and divorce; and (5) any obstructive efforts that hinder the valuation of the assets. 

Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 33, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). Candi’s dissipation argument concerns three transactions: (1) Guy’s purchase of the yacht, (2) Guy’s investment in FDFM, and (3) Guy’s transfer of assets into the Trust. 

  1. Yacht

¶70 Candi first argues that the district court erred in concluding that the purchase of the yacht was not dissipation. Candi asserts that although the yacht itself remained in the estate, its rapid depreciation meant that it was “cash going out the door for no benefit.” She also argues that because Guy used the yacht and she did not, any benefit from the use of the yacht was individual to Guy rather than to the marital estate. 

¶71 Candi acknowledges that Utah law has not held that the purchase of a depreciating asset constitutes dissipation. But she nevertheless urges us to adopt such a rule, relying on case law from Illinois. However, even if we were inclined to find these cases persuasive, most of them appear to be distinguishable from the case at hand. For example, in In re Marriage of Thomas, 608 N.E.2d 585 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993), the court held that the devaluation of the parties’ business constituted dissipation not simply because it had decreased in value but because the husband had directly undermined the business through “inattention” and “his failure to solicit additional clients or through his outright stealing of clients for his new business.” Id. at 587. In In re Marriage of Schneeweis, 2016 IL App (2d) 140147, 55 N.E.3d 1280, the court upheld a finding of dissipation where the husband had begun making “secretive, risky and progressively more destructive” financial decisions that were “inconsistent with the parties’ prior practices.” Id. ¶ 28 (internal quotation marks omitted). And in In re Marriage of Block, 441 N.E.2d 1283 (Ill. App. Ct. 1982), where the husband had purchased a racing boat that was financially under water, the court held that it could be considered “a debt in dissipation” but clarified that “there would be no net effect on the marital estate” if “the value of the boat is approximately the same as the amount of indebtedness.” Id. at 1288–89.9  

¶72 Here, the court found that the purchase of the yacht was consistent with “Guy’s historical practice” of buying “planes and boats” and that there was no evidence “that Guy caused excessive diminution in value.” Additionally, the court assigned to Guy all responsibility for the outstanding debt on the yacht, so any “debt in dissipation” caused by the yacht’s purchase was resolved, see id. at 1288. While the yacht was used primarily by Guy, he did make it available to Candi, and he never transferred it out of the marital estate. We agree with Guy that the depreciated value of the yacht, alone, does not mandate a finding of dissipation, particularly where its purchase was consistent with purchases made during the marriage and there is no indication that Guy’s actions contributed to the depreciation.10  

  1. North Dakota Investment

¶73 Candi next claims that the district court should have valued FDFM based on the $1,129,000 Guy invested in it rather than its $734,000 value at the time of trial. She asserts that “had Guy not unilaterally made that poor investment, more money would have remained in the estate.” According to Candi, because Guy did not consult her regarding the investment, he “acted obstructively” and should therefore be held accountable for the diminished value of the asset. See Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 49, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified). 

¶76 While we agree with Candi that the court could have compensated her for the marital assets put into the Trust had it found dissipation, we do not agree that the court exceeded its discretion in finding that the transfers did not constitute dissipation. The court found that the transfers did not amount to dissipation because Candi had participated in creating the Trust, even though it had not initially been funded; transferring assets to their children was consistent with the parties’ practices during the marriage, beginning as early as 1993; and Candi had deferred to Guy to “run the parties’ finances and estate” throughout the marriage. The court found “no evidence that Guy attempted to withhold information or cut Candi out from the estate planning process.” And while the timing of the transfers could provide circumstantial evidence of dissipation, the parties’ historical practices and the lack of additional evidence suggesting obstructive intent on Guy’s part support the court’s determination that the transfers were not dissipation. 

  1. Division of the Estate and Equalization Payments

¶77 The parties raise various challenges to the district court’s division of the estate and its order regarding the equalization payments. First, Candi asserts that the court erred by not awarding her a greater share of the marital estate directly. Second, she argues that the court erred by refusing to grant her security to help ensure that she actually receives her unpaid share of the estate. Third, both parties challenge the 5% interest rate set by the district court. Finally, Guy argues that the court should have ordered Candi to share in any transaction costs that may be incurred should he be required to liquidate assets to make the equalization payment. 

  1. Estate Division

¶78 Candi argues that the district court abused its discretion by—at least temporarily—awarding Guy the bulk of the estate and giving him five years to pay Candi her share. She argues that instead, the court should have done one or more of the following: (1) ordered Guy to pay Candi her share immediately; 

awarded her a greater share of cash and retirement accounts; 

awarded her the restaurants; (4) ordered Guy to liquidate investments, yachts, planes or spare equipment to pay Candi more cash up front; or (5) ordered larger annual payments in implementing the equalization payment schedule. 

¶79 “When the district court assigns a value to an item of marital property, the court must equitably distribute it with a view toward allowing each party to go forward with his or her separate life.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 27, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). In situations where the marital estate consists primarily of a single large asset, such as a business or stock, a common acceptable approach for the court to take is to award the asset to one party and make a cash award to the other party. See Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 56, 379 P.3d 890; Argyle v. Argyle, 688 P.2d 468, 471 (Utah 1984). This avoids the necessity for the parties “to be in a close economic relationship which has every potential for further contention, friction, and litigation.” Argyle, 688 P.2d at 471 (quotation simplified). 

¶80 In fashioning this type of marital property division, “a court has the ability to make equitable provisions for deferred compensation”—the keyword being “equitable.” Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 60. One way to assess the equitability of the provisions is to examine whether the award affords one party “significantly more latitude to go forward with his [or her] separate life” than the other. Id. ¶ 61 (quotation simplified). It is also relevant whether the party required to pay the deferred compensation will be able to use the property to their unfair advantage at the expense of the person to whom the compensation is owed. Id. ¶¶ 59–60. 

¶81 We agree with Guy that the specific division scheme selected by the district court—Guy receiving, on a temporary basis, a larger share of the estate, but with the obligation to make equalization payments to Candi—is not inequitable, so long as adequate security for the unpaid equalization payments is included. See infra Part IV.B. While the court may have been within its discretion to employ one or more of the other methods recommended by Candi, its numerous factual findings support its ultimate determination, and the deferred payment provisions, coupled with security, are sufficiently equitable to fall within its discretion.11  

¶82 Candi asserts that the court’s distribution of marital assets and its use of the equalization payment plan impermissibly gives Guy disproportionate access to the estate. She compares the facts of this case to those in Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, 379 P.3d 890, in which this court determined that a deferred payment plan that gave the husband discretion to dictate the amount of monthly installments over ten years at a 2.13% interest rate was not equitable. See id. ¶¶ 59–60. Candi argues that just like in Taft, “the overall dynamics of the court’s award more readily allow [Guy], with his immediate ability to use and enjoy the property awarded to him[,] . . . significantly more latitude to go forward with his separate life than [Candi] is afforded.” See id. ¶ 61 (quotation simplified). 

¶83 But Taft is distinguishable from the case at hand. First, the husband in Taft was permitted to decide the amount of the monthly payments to his ex-wife over the course of ten years between the time of the divorce decree and the time the balloon payment was due. See id. ¶ 59. His discretion was so absolute that the court observed he “could conceivably make . . . equal monthly payments of $1 for nine years and eleven months before making the final balloon payment . . . , thereby forcing [his wife] to wait ten years before realizing any real benefit from her property award.” Id. Here, on the other hand, the district court set the terms of the payment plan, ultimately requiring Guy to pay Candi $30,000 per month plus an additional $500,000 per year. Although the court certainly could have ordered Guy to pay more, we are not convinced that the amount ordered was so inequitable as to fall outside the bounds of the court’s discretion. Unlike the wife in Taft, Candi will not have to wait until the balloon payment is due to realize any benefit from her property award. Rather, she will receive $860,000 each year in addition to the $4.7 million she has already received. While this leaves Guy in control of a substantial portion of Candi’s property, she is at least able to benefit from her property award in the meantime. 

¶84 Second, the interest applied to the property distribution in Taft was only 2.13%, an amount this court observed “provides very little incentive for [the husband] to substantially pay it prior to the expiration of the ten-year period, much less for him to pay [the wife] sizeable monthly installments.” Id. ¶ 60. In fact, the low interest rate “would almost certainly allow [the husband] to invest [the wife’s] money elsewhere and reap the benefit of any additional increment of interest—a benefit that in fairness should accrue to [the wife].” Id. In this case, on the other hand, the district court applied a 5% interest rate, which it acknowledged was higher than the statutory postjudgment interest rate, to incentivize Guy to pay Candi sooner. See supra ¶ 31; see also infra Part IV.C. By setting interest at a rate calculated to discourage any delays in paying Candi, the court avoided the type of inequitable deferred payment plan at issue in Taft. 

¶85 We acknowledge that granting Guy a five-year period in which to continue using the bulk of Candi’s property award to grow his business does afford him a benefit that may, to some degree, come at Candi’s expense. But we are convinced that it is not inequitable in light of the entire landscape of the marital estate and property division. First, the size of the parties’ estate and the fact that the bulk of it is wrapped up in WBC means that gathering the liquid funds to pay Candi’s property award is not something that can be accomplished overnight, at least not without substantially decreasing the overall value of the marital estate. Thus, it was reasonable for the court to allow Guy some period of time to gather the funds necessary to pay Candi. Second, this time period may allow Guy to keep his larger businesses intact and find other ways to pay Candi. Keeping the businesses intact will ultimately benefit both parties, as it will allow Guy to maintain his income and continue paying alimony to Candi. Finally, we take Guy’s point that he may incur substantial transaction costs if he ultimately does need to liquidate assets to pay Candi. See infra Part IV.D. Thus, it seems to us that the hypothetical benefit Guy may incur by using Candi’s share of the property to increase the value of the estate will be offset by the hypothetical detriment he could incur if he has to liquidate the assets. Since the court did not order Candi to share in any of these transaction costs, the court’s decision to give Guy the use of Candi’s portion of the property during the five-year forbearance period does not strike us as inequitable, at least so long as adequate security is afforded to Candi.12  

  1. Security

¶86 And this brings us to Candi’s next argument: that the district court abused its discretion by imposing this specific deferred-payment arrangement without requiring Guy to provide adequate security. Candi asserts that the court’s arrangement put her in the position—involuntarily—of an unsecured creditor and posits that no lender would agree to make a $15 million loan without some sort of security interest. Without any type of security, Candi argues, she stands to lose her ability to collect her share of the marital estate in the event Guy passes away before the balloon payment is due or he moves his assets into irrevocable trusts. We agree with Candi and emphasize that the district court’s chosen arrangement passes discretionary muster only if it comes accompanied by an adequate security mechanism. 

¶87 The court’s only justification for declining to grant Candi any type of security was its determination that it could not award a lien against the businesses, that the Uniform Commercial Code did not apply, and that life insurance was not an option due to Guy’s health. But the court did not explain why these limitations prevented it from granting Candi any type of security. Candi’s request was broad: she asserted that “there needs to be some kind of order or security or lien or whatever form it takes . . . that will ensure that those former marital assets are there at the time that . . . the balloon payment needs to be made.” “So all we’re asking for is some kind of order to ensure that there’s going to be payment down the road.” 

¶88 Guy maintains that no security is necessary because he has shown himself to be reliable in making payments and does not have a history of hiding assets. But we agree with Candi that, regardless of Guy’s history, character, or intentions, she should not be required to rely solely on Guy’s continued health and goodwill to ensure her ability to collect what she is owed. Whether Candi’s mistrust of Guy is warranted or not, it was unreasonable for the court not to grant her any type of security in her half of the marital estate. 

¶89 Moreover, Candi has even greater cause for concern in light of Guy’s age and poor health. In fact, Guy expressed concern that he might pass away before the divorce decree was finalized and relied on that possibility to argue that the divorce action should be bifurcated. Should Guy pass away before the balloon payment is due, Candi would no longer have even the benefit of Guy’s goodwill. Instead, she would have to further litigate with his heirs (including her own children) to fight for her share of the marital estate. It is hard to reconcile why the district court considered this to be an adequate legal remedy. Candi should not have to take her chances as an unsecured creditor should Guy pass away before she can receive her share of the marital estate. No reasonable creditor would agree to a forbearance on such terms, and it was therefore inequitable to impose such terms on Candi. 

¶90 Accordingly, we remand this case for the court to fashion an equitable security interest that will adequately protect Candi’s ability to collect her remaining share of the marital estate at the end of the five-year forbearance period. 

  1. Interest Rate

¶91 Both Guy and Candi take issue with the 5% interest rate the district court imposed on the equalization payments. Guy asserts that the interest rate should have been set at the statutory postjudgment interest rate, which was 4.58% at the time the court entered the 2019 Supplemental Findings. Candi argues that the court should have imposed the 10% interest rate originally set in its 2018 Supplemental Findings. We reject both parties’ arguments and affirm the district court’s imposition of the 5% interest rate. 

¶92 Guy asserts that the court was bound by the postjudgment interest rate established by section 15-1-4 of the Utah Code, which provides that “final civil . . . judgments of the district court . . . shall bear interest at the federal postjudgment interest rate as of January 1 of each year, plus 2%.” Utah Code Ann. § 15-1-4(3)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). Section 15-1-4 does apply to orders in a divorce case “in relation to the children, property and parties.” See Marchant v. Marchant, 743 P.2d 199, 207 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(1) (1984) (current version at id. (LexisNexis Supp. 2021) (stating that the district court “may include in the decree of divorce equitable orders relating to the children, property, debts or obligations, and parties”))). However, section 15-1-4 provides the “minimum interest allowable.” Id. (emphasis added). The statute “does not preclude a District Court, under [section 30-3-5] from imposing an interest rate of more than [the statutory postjudgment rate] where, under the circumstances, that award is reasonable and equitable.” Stroud v. Stroud, 738 P.2d 649, 650 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (quoting Pope v. Pope, 589 P.2d 752, 754 (Utah 1978)). And, in fact, setting equalization payments at the postjudgment interest rate, rather than a higher rate, may be an abuse of discretion if doing so is inequitable under the circumstances. See Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶¶ 56, 60, 379 P.3d 890 (finding a 2.13% interest rate, which was the rate provided by Utah Code section 15-1-4 at the time, to be insufficient where the husband was granted discretion to determine the amount of payments over the course of ten years because it incentivized the husband to invest the wife’s money elsewhere rather than paying her sooner). Thus, we find no merit to Guy’s contention that the court was bound to apply the default postjudgment interest rate to the equalization payments. 

¶93 Candi argues that an interest rate higher than the 5% ordered by the court is necessary to “compensate Candi for her unwilling forbearance to Guy and incentivize Guy to pay quicker.” She argues that 10% is an appropriate interest rate because it is consistent with the Utah Code’s default interest rate for a “forbearance of any money, goods, or services.” Utah Code Ann. § 15-1-1(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). However, Candi has not provided us with any authority suggesting that the court was required to impose this specific interest rate. 

¶94 The court’s decision to impose the 5% interest rate was reasoned and supported by sufficient factual findings. The court explained that it had considered the 10% interest rate to be “appropriate” when the court had “deferred to Guy to come up with an appropriate payment plan.” The court opined that had Guy been permitted to set the payment schedule, as the husband in Taft was, the 10% interest rate would have been needed to avoid giving Guy “an incentive to invest the money and reap the return instead of paying off” Candi. The court explained that once it set the payment plan, rather than leaving it to Guy’s discretion, it did not believe the 10% interest would be valid under Taft. Nevertheless, it also explained that the interest rate was not a postjudgment rate because the deferred payment was more akin to a forbearance, and it still wanted to give Guy “an incentive to pay the Equalizing Balance quickly.” 

¶95 Our case law is clear that as with other aspects of property division, equitability is the standard for evaluating the appropriateness of an interest rate set by the district court for deferred payments in a divorce. See Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 25, 169 P.3d 765 (“The overriding consideration is that the ultimate division be equitable . . . .” (quotation simplified)). We are not convinced that the 5% interest rate fell outside the reasonable range of equitable interest rates the court could have selected. Moreover, the court clearly explained its reasoning. Thus, we will not disturb the 5% interest rate the court set. 

  1. Transaction Costs

¶96 Finally, Guy asserts that the district court should have required Candi to share in any transaction costs that he may incur in the event he needs to liquidate assets to pay off Candi’s share of the marital estate. He points out that taxes and other transaction costs associated with liquidating the businesses or any other large assets could be significant and that if the court does not require Candi to pay her portion of those transaction costs, it could substantially eat into his portion of the marital estate. 

¶97 We do not disagree with Guy that if he is forced to liquidate assets, doing so may result in significant taxes and transaction costs to him. But it is by no means certain that such costs will be incurred. We do not generally expect courts to “speculate about hypothetical future [tax] consequences.” See Alexander v. Alexander, 737 P.2d 221, 224 (Utah 1987) (refusing to reduce the value of a “stock-price-tied profit-sharing plan to account for tax liability” because the imposition of taxes was not certain); see also Sellers v. Sellers, 2010 UT App 393, ¶ 7, 246 P.3d 173 (holding that the district court was not required to consider potential tax obligations associated with a retirement account because the tax consequences were “speculative” and assumed “massive withdrawals” from the account); Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1213–14 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (holding that the district court “did not err in refusing to adjust property distribution because of . . . theoretical [tax] consequences” of selling a second home). The valuation of marital property “is necessarily a snapshot in time,” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 24, 440 P.3d 757, and such a moment does not consider “the myriad situations in which the value of [the parties’] property might be positively or negatively affected in the future,” Sellers, 2010 UT App 393, ¶ 7. 

¶98 Moreover, excessive transaction costs were the very thing the equalization payments were intended to prevent. The court acknowledged that forcing the parties to immediately liquidate assets would significantly cut into the pie that would be available to divide between both parties. That is why the court awarded the bulk of the estate to Guy and gave him five years to pay Candi her portion. The court gave him unfettered discretion to determine how to gather the funds necessary to pay Candi. In doing so, it gave Guy free rein over the bulk of Candi’s share of the estate, which he may use to continue building his businesses and wealth over the next five years. The benefit he may derive from using Candi’s share of the estate may very well amount to much more than the interest Candi will receive at the 5% rate, which is all she will have access to until the balloon payment is due, yet she will not share in that benefit any more than she will share in any transaction costs Guy may incur.13 See supra ¶ 85. The entire principal of Candi’s portion will remain in Guy’s control until he makes the balloon payment at the end of 2024. 

Furthermore, because the assets are in Guy’s control, Candi will have no role in deciding how to liquidate the assets or which transaction costs to incur.14  

¶99 Given the speculative nature of the potential taxes and transaction costs, as well as the full discretion Guy was given to determine whether and how to liquidate assets, it was not an abuse of discretion for the court not to order that Candi share in those costs. 

  1. Alimony

¶100 The next set of challenges the parties raise concerns the district court’s award of alimony to Candi. Guy asserts that the court exceeded its discretion in awarding any alimony whatsoever. Candi, on the other hand, asserts that the court should have increased the alimony award to account for her tax burden. She also argues that the court should have required Guy to either obtain life insurance or provide some other security to ensure that she would receive her alimony payments if he were to pass away. 

  1. Alimony Award

¶101 Guy argues that the district court should not have awarded alimony to Candi because (1) she did not provide the court with sufficient evidence from which it could calculate her monthly needs and (2) Candi’s property settlement was sufficient to allow her to support herself. In support of both arguments, Guy primarily relies on our supreme court’s holding in Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, 459 P.3d 276. But Dahl neither automatically requires a court to deny a request for alimony in the absence of documentation nor prevents the court from awarding alimony to a spouse who receives a large property settlement. 

¶102 With respect to documentation of need, the Dahl court held only that the district court “acted within its discretion in denying” the wife’s alimony request when she failed to provide evidence supporting her claimed need, not that the district court was required to deny her request. Id. ¶ 117. In fact, the court explicitly acknowledged that “the district court could have . . . imputed a figure to determine [the wife’s] financial need based either on [the husband’s] records of the parties’ predivorce expenses or a reasonable estimate of [the wife’s] needs.” Id. ¶ 116 (emphasis added). Furthermore, we have previously considered and rejected the “assertion that failure to file financial documentation automatically precludes an award of alimony.” Munoz-Madrid v. Carlos-Moran, 2018 UT App 95, ¶¶ 8–9, 427 P.3d 420. “[A]lthough [Candi’s] expenses may have been difficult to discern because she failed to provide supporting documentation . . . , there was not a complete lack of evidence to support their existence.” See id. ¶ 10. Indeed, the court explained that it relied on the list of items in the standard financial declaration, Guy’s financial declaration, evidence concerning the parties’ spending during the marriage, and evidence of Candi’s expenses during the pendency of the divorce to calculate Candi’s reasonable monthly needs. 

¶103 Dahl also does not stand for the proposition that alimony should never be awarded to those who receive a large property settlement. Rather, Dahl merely states that receiving “a sufficiently large property award to support a comfortable standard of living” prevented “any serious inequity” from arising due to the court’s decision not to impute the wife’s need in the face of her lack of evidence. See 2015 UT 79, ¶ 116 (quotation simplified). We acknowledge that if the payee spouse has income-producing property, the income from that property “may properly be considered as eliminating or reducing the need for alimony by that spouse.” Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988); see also Batty v. Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 5, 153 P.3d 827 (holding that the evaluation of a payee spouse’s ability to meet his or her own needs “properly takes into account the result of the property division, particularly any income-generating property [the payee spouse] is awarded”); Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1170 n.3 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (explaining that courts should distribute property before fashioning an alimony award, so they can take into account income generated from property interests). Nevertheless, the court in this case did not abuse its discretion by awarding alimony despite Candi’s large property settlement. 

¶104 Although Candi was entitled to receive a large settlement eventually, Guy continued to control the bulk of the parties’ marital estate and would do so for the next five years. The court noted this in its determination regarding alimony, observing that “alimony was needed” because “Guy was unable to pay Candi the full value of the marital estate at this time.” The court refused to take into account income Candi may derive from her portion of the marital assets in the future because that analysis was “too speculative for the Court to consider.”15 However, it observed that “at such time as . . . Candi . . . receives income or other assets from her share of the marital estate, or from other sources, the Court will evaluate the amount, if any, by which those amounts may reduce her unmet financial needs and thereby reduce or eliminate Guy’s alimony obligation.” Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Candi alimony, and any income she derives from the property settlement may be considered when she actually has control of that property. 

  1. Taxes

¶105 On the other hand, Candi argues that the district court should have included her tax liability on alimony in its calculation of her needs. In calculating both a payor spouse’s ability to pay and a payee spouse’s needs, courts are generally expected to consider the person’s tax liability. See McPherson v. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶ 14, 265 P.3d 839; Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶¶ 17–18, 169 P.3d 754. In particular, it is plain error for a court to consider the tax consequences for one party in assessing their income and expenses but not for the other party. Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶¶ 45, 58, 402 P.3d 219. 

¶106 In its findings, the court used Guy’s net income to assess his ability to pay alimony. However, because Candi did not present evidence of her tax burden on any alimony award, the court did not consider her tax burden in assessing her need. We acknowledge that the court’s ability to estimate Candi’s taxes was hampered by Candi’s failure to provide evidence of her anticipated tax liability. Nevertheless, it is certain that she will incur some tax burden, particularly in light of the fact that she will be taxed on any alimony payments she receives.16 And we agree with Candi that it was inequitable for the court to consider Guy’s tax burden when calculating his ability to pay without considering Candi’s tax burden in assessing her needs. Thus, we remand the court’s alimony award for the limited purpose of having the court make findings as to Candi’s projected tax burden and adjust the alimony award accordingly. 

  1. Life Insurance

¶107 Next, Candi asserts that the district court should require Guy to either obtain life insurance or provide a substitute for life insurance to secure his alimony payments. She points out that the court initially stated in its 2017 Findings that “Guy should provide a life insurance policy for Candi to cover alimony for a period of time sufficient to cover his obligation should he unexpectedly pass away.” Although the court initially rejected Guy’s argument that he should be required only to “use his best efforts to obtain life insurance,” the court ultimately adopted Guy’s proposed language in its 2018 Supplemental Findings stating that “there was no information as to whether or not Guy could or could not obtain a life insurance policy for such purpose nor the cost thereof.” Candi asked the court to reconsider that finding and make the life insurance requirement mandatory. However, the court rejected that request and stated that its finding in the May 2018 Order was “sufficient.” But while that finding indicated the court’s intent “to ensure that Candi will receive the money awarded should [Guy] pass unexpectedly,” it did not definitively decide the issue of whether Guy was required to obtain life insurance to secure his alimony obligation or if he was able to demonstrate an inability to comply with the court’s direction. We are left wondering whether the court did, or did not, order Guy to obtain life insurance and are unable to ascertain the answer to this question from the court’s rulings. Accordingly, we remand this issue to the district court to clarify its order.17  

  1. Contempt

¶108 Finally, Candi argues that the district court erred in declining to hold Guy in contempt for violating the Stipulation, which the parties reached early on in the proceedings, that they would not “sell, gift, transfer, dissipate, encumber, secrete or dispose of marital assets” but that Guy could continue to manage WBC and conduct business “as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets.” “As a general rule, in order to prove contempt for failure to comply with a court order it must be shown that the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988). In a civil contempt proceeding, these elements must be proven “by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. 

¶109 Candi asserts that the Stipulation’s language allowed Guy to engage in business transactions only insofar as those transactions related to WBC. She argues that the “business hereinabove identified” language in the Stipulation is limited to “the management and control of” WBC and that the court therefore misread the Stipulation by not holding Guy in contempt for any transactions that were not directly related to WBC. But as Guy observes, the Stipulation also allowed the parties to engage in transactions “in the course of their normal living expenditures, ordinary and necessary business expenses and to pay divorce attorneys and expert fees and costs.” 

¶110 “We interpret language in judicial documents in the same way we interpret contract language,” that is, “we look to the language of the [document] to determine its meaning.” Cook Martin Poulson PC v. Smith, 2020 UT App 57, ¶ 24, 464 P.3d 541 (quotation simplified). We consider Guy’s reading of the Stipulation to be more consistent with the plain language of that document. The provision giving Guy “the right to conduct the business hereinabove identified as he has in the past, which may include incurring debt, paying expenses and acquiring assets,” properly refers to both the operation of WBC and normal living and business expenses. 

¶111 Moreover, because contempt requires that the party knew what was required and intentionally refused to comply, see Von Hake, 759 P.2d at 1172, “for a violation of an order to justify sanctions, the order must be sufficiently specific and definite as to leave no reasonable basis for doubt regarding its meaning,” Cook, 2020 UT App 57, ¶ 26 (quotation simplified). Even were we inclined to agree with Candi’s more limited interpretation, we could not say that the language is so clearly limited to WBC that there could be “no reasonable basis for doubt regarding its meaning.” See id. (quotation simplified). 

¶112 The Stipulation allowed Guy to continue conducting normal transactions as he had in the past, and the district court found that “the transactions Candi complains of were consistent with Guy’s historical practice of transferring assets from one entity to another or from one form into another” and that there was “no indication that [they] . . . were out of the ordinary.” Candi does not challenge this finding. Thus, we conclude that the court did not exceed its discretion in declining to find Guy in contempt. 

CONCLUSION 

¶113 We conclude that the district court erred in failing to credit the value of the notes receivable to the marital estate. We also conclude that it erred in refusing to grant Candi a security interest to protect her right to receive her unpaid share of the marital estate. However, we affirm the district court’s property valuation and distribution in all other respects. 

¶114 As to the alimony award, we conclude that the district court erred in failing to account for Candi’s tax obligation in its calculation of her need and remand for clarification of whether the court intended to order Guy to obtain security on Candi’s alimony award. We affirm the alimony award in all other respects. 

¶115 We also affirm the remaining orders and findings challenged on appeal, including the operative date of the Decree of Divorce, the equalization payment schedule, the court’s finding that Guy did not dissipate marital assets apart from the money he spent on his girlfriend, and its decision not to hold him in contempt. 

¶116 Consistent with our discussion in this opinion, we remand to the district court to adjust the marital property valuation, to make findings regarding Candi’s tax liability and adjust the alimony award, to clarify whether Guy is must obtain security on Candi’s alimony award, and to enter orders necessary to adequately secure Candi’s interest in her unpaid share of the marital estate. 

_________ 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=Wadsworth v. Wadsworth20220113_20190106_5.pdf 
 
http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=Wadsworth v. Wadsworth20220113_20200430_5.pdf

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Fischer v. Fischer – 2021 UT App 145 – marital vs. separate property

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS 

GARY LEE FISCHER,
Appellant,
v.
MELISSA KAY FISCHER,
Appellee. 

Opinion 

No. 20200557-CA 

Filed December 30, 2021 

Seventh District Court, Moab Department 

The Honorable Don Torgerson 

No. 184700047 

Steve S. Christensen and Clinton R. Brimhall, Attorneys for Appellant 

  1. Andrew Fitzgerald, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES JILL M. POHLMAN and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred. 

ORME, Judge: 

¶1 Gary Lee Fischer challenges the district court’s division of the marital estate in the parties’ divorce decree, which awarded Melissa Kay Fischer the marital home, a vehicle, and profits from a business that Gary operated.1 Gary also challenges the court’s denial of his post-trial motion for a new trial regarding the division of a savings account Melissa first disclosed at trial. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

BACKGROUND2 

¶2 Following a nearly 29-year marriage, Gary and Melissa separated on April 8, 2018. Gary filed for divorce approximately two months later. The case proceeded to trial in June 2019. The main issues at trial involved the division of various bank accounts, personal property, vehicles, the marital home, and an insurance business Gary had started during the marriage with Melissa’s help. 

¶3 At trial, the parties testified regarding their assets. During cross-examination of Melissa, Gary learned for the first time that Melissa had an American Express bank account with a balance of $50,000. Melissa testified that she set up the account in “early” 2019, long after the parties had separated. She explained that the account was started with money from her share of various accounts she co-owned with Gary and that she was able to get the balance to $50,000 because she “worked so hard to save” money after they separated. Gary did not then inquire further regarding this account. 

¶4 After hearing all the relevant testimony, the court made an oral ruling from the bench, determining that Gary’s business was established using marital funds. It ruled, however, that because the business “is the equivalent of a professional degree, what you would expect to see with a solo practitioner, attorney or accountant, or a doctor in solo practice,” it had “to value this asset minus any goodwill component.”3 The court then explained that 

the balance of the [business] bank account as of today is $5,000. [Melissa] is entitled to one-half of that amount. Additionally, it is apparent from the tax returns that the business has made a profit in excess of its expenses and [Gary’s] salary. Net profit has been $2,144 per month consistently through 2017, and [Gary] testified that it’s been constant since then. Accordingly, that profit is a profit of this asset, and so 14 months worth of that profit, [Melissa’s] share is $15,008. 

So the asset is marital in the sense that it was established during the marriage and it was an asset to be considered in dividing, but the Court finds that there’s no future equity share that is divisible, and so other than those monetary amounts, the Court awards the interest in the LLC to [Gary] 100 percent, and I certainly understand that it’s frustrating. We help our spouses be successful, and they take our great ideas and they incorporate them into their business, and we give input to their endeavors, but in the end, I’m bound by the existing law, which says that this isn’t a marketable asset unless he’s running it, and . . . so that’s the basis for that finding. 

¶5 Regarding the tangible marital assets, the court found that there was $292,285 equity in the home, resulting in a share of $146,142.50 for each party. The court nevertheless awarded the home to Melissa, explaining that Gary’s share of the equity would be “used to offset the other property awards in this case.” The court also allocated a vehicle worth $25,000 to Melissa. The court awarded Gary four vehicles and a trailer. The first three vehicles were valued at $29,600, $17,833, $51,450. The fourth vehicle, which still had money owing on it, had $4,000 in equity. The trailer was valued at $8,000. The court additionally distributed to Gary jewelry, art, and other personal property having a combined value of $57,590. The court valued all these assets “as of the date of divorce.” 

¶6 With respect to the parties’ joint bank accounts, the court decided that it would be more appropriate to divide these accounts as they stood at the time of the parties’ separation rather than at the time of divorce. The court stated that it did this 

because it was the clearest picture of what the parties’ asset actually was. Since then, they’ve each gone on to either save money [or spend money]. She saved money. It appears he spent money. So that seemed to be the fairest division of the cash accounts . . . given how long the separation has been, over a year. 

¶7 The court also ordered that Melissa’s retirement accounts, valued as of the date of divorce, be split equally between the parties. The court determined that the American Express account was not divisible in the divorce because it was Melissa’s separate property. The court then concluded that “if my math is correct, that should leave a wash on all of the property.” 

¶8 In response to this ruling, Gary filed a post-trial motion, in which he argued that the court’s division of marital assets was “not equal.” He asserted that the court awarded a total of $396,793 in marital assets to Melissa, which included (1) the home at $292,285, (2) half the business account at $2,500, (3) half the profits from the business from the time of separation to the time of divorce at $15,008, (4) a vehicle at $25,000, (5) half the balance in two bank accounts existing at the time of separation at $12,000, and (7) the American Express account at $50,000.4 Gary then argued that the court awarded him only $197,981 in marital assets consisting, of (1) half the business account at $2,500, (2) half the profits from the business from the time of separation to the time of divorce at $15,008, (3) the four vehicles valued at a total of $102,883, (4) the trailer at $8,000, (5) the personal property items at $57,590, and (6) half of the two bank accounts at $12,000. Gary asserted that, as a result, Melissa received $198,812 more than he did—$148,812 once the $50,000 American Express Account is subtracted from Gary’s calculation. See supra note 4. In essence, Gary’s position was that the court’s math was in fact quite wrong when it mused that, “if my math is correct, that should leave a wash on all of the property.” 

¶9 The court subsequently issued a written order memorializing its findings and rulings at trial. In that order, regarding the award of the marital home to Melissa, the court conceded that 

[a]lthough the Court endeavored to equally divide the assets in the case, with [Gary] receiving the majority of high-value personal property to offset his share of equity in the home, the final division of property does not equally divide the value in the marital home. Nevertheless, the Court believes the division is equitable, based on all circumstances in the case. 

[Gary] would like the home sold, with the cash divided equally. But the costs of sale would likely deplete most of the difference in the equity division. Neither party would benefit from those lost funds and [Melissa] would be left without a home. Additionally, although the Court awards [the business to Gary], it is apparent that [Melissa] significantly contributed to making [the business] a success. Her contribution to the business is not quantifiable. But the overall division of property and assets in this case is equitable, when the business is considered. 

The court also determined that the American Express account would be awarded to Melissa as her separate property because it had been initially funded with her share of sums from marital accounts, then enhanced with post-separation deposits. The court also reiterated that it valued “the cash accounts as of the date of separation” because “[a]fter separation, [Gary] spent significant money and incurred substantial debt” and “[g]iven the length of separation, the value at the time of separation provides for the most equitable division of the cash accounts.” The court then reaffirmed its oral ruling regarding the remainder of its award. 

¶10 Gary subsequently filed another motion, this time requesting a new trial under rule 59(a) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure on the American Express account issue. He asserted that Melissa had “disclosed at trial and not before that she had a $50,000 American Express savings account” and that he “was genuinely surprised by this trial disclosure.” He claimed that he “should have had the opportunity to investigate this account and trace its origin to determine whether [Melissa’s] representations about it were accurate.” 

¶11 The district court denied Gary’s motion in another written order. It stated that “with reasonable diligence, [Gary] could have discovered the account before trial but did not utilize the discovery process to his advantage.” It additionally stated that “[Gary] did not object at trial to the introduction of the information related to the account and [Melissa] testified that the account was created after separation.” 

¶12 Gary appeals. 

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW 

¶13 Gary raises three issues on appeal. First, he asserts that the district court erred in determining that the American Express account was Melissa’s separate property and in denying his motion for a new trial on that issue. This issue implicates two standards of review. First, “whether property is marital or separate is a question of law, which we review for correctness.” See Brown v. Brown, 2020 UT App 146, ¶ 13, 476 P.3d 554 (quotation simplified). Second, “we review the decision to grant or deny a motion for a new trial only for an abuse of discretion.” State v. Loose, 2000 UT 11, ¶ 8, 994 P.2d 1237. 

¶14 Next, Gary challenges the court’s award to Melissa of $15,008 of the business’s profits accrued during the fourteen months from the time of the couple’s separation until trial. We review the district court’s ruling on this issue for an abuse of discretion. See Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072, 1074 (Utah 1985).5  

¶15 Finally, Gary asserts that the court abused its discretion when it awarded Melissa a disproportionate share of the marital estate without providing findings that justify the unequal division.6 “In a divorce proceeding, the trial court may make such orders concerning property distribution and alimony as are equitable. The trial court has broad latitude in such matters, and orders distributing property and setting alimony will not be lightly disturbed.” Id. (internal citation omitted). 

ANALYSIS 

  1. American Express Account

¶16 Gary asserts that the district court erred in determining the American Express account was Melissa’s separate property and in denying his motion for a new trial on that issue. Although the marital estate is generally valued “at the time of the divorce,” see Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 262 (Utah Ct. App. 1993), a district court, in its discretion, may determine that property acquired post-separation, but before entry of a final divorce decree, is separate property so long as this decision is “supported by sufficiently detailed findings of fact that explain the trial court’s basis for such deviation,” see Donnelly v. Donnelly, 2013 UT App 84, ¶¶ 41, 45, 301 P.3d 6 (quotation simplified). See also Shepherd v. Shepherd, 876 P.2d 429, 432–33 (Utah Ct. App. 1994).7  

¶17 Here, the court’s decision to categorize the American Express account as Melissa’s separate property flowed logically from its ruling on the parties’ joint bank accounts. In that ruling, the court made specific findings supporting its decision to adjudicate the bank accounts as of the date of separation rather than at the time of divorce. It stated that it was doing so because it “seemed to be the fairest division” due to the fact that, “[a]fter separation, [Gary] spent significant money and incurred substantial debt,” while Melissa saved money. Moreover, the court relied on the length of the separation—some fourteen months—during which both parties lived independently of one another.8 Thus, given that the court decided to adjudicate the parties’ joint accounts as of the time of separation rather than at the time of divorce, the general rule that all assets obtained during the marriage are marital property did not apply, by extension of this same logic, to the American Express account. 

¶18 The district court therefore did not err when it determined that the American Express account was Melissa’s separate property.9 It follows, then, that the court likewise did not abuse its discretion in denying Gary’s motion for a new trial on this issue. See State v. Loose, 2000 UT 11, ¶ 8, 994 P.2d 1237. 

  1. Business Profits

¶19 Gary next contends that “the district court abused its discretion when it determined that Melissa should be awarded half of the ‘profits’ accrued by the business in the 14 months prior to trial.” “In Utah, marital property is ordinarily divided equally between the divorcing spouses and separate property, which may include premarital assets, inheritances, or similar assets, will be awarded to the acquiring spouse.” Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 23, 169 P.3d 765. “The primary purpose of a property division . . . is to achieve a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties.” Riley v. Riley, 2006 UT App 214, ¶ 27, 138 P.3d 84 (quotation simplified). 

¶20 Gary essentially argues that there were no profits from the business because all the money earned was simply his income and any award to Melissa would therefore essentially be alimony, which the district court had already determined neither party needed. But Gary’s attempt to equate the profits with his salary, or with alimony, is unavailing because the court found that the net profits had “been $2,144 per month consistently through 2017, and [Gary] testified that it’s been constant since then.” The court also found, with our emphasis, that “[t]ax returns show that, since separation, the business has made a profit in addition to expenses and [Gary’s] salary.” And Gary has not shown on appeal how these findings underpinning the court’s ruling were erroneous. See State v. Thompson, 2020 UT App 148, ¶ 20, 476 P.3d 1017 (“To successfully challenge a district court’s factual findings on appeal, an appellant must establish a basis for overcoming the healthy dose of deference owed to factual findings, generally by identifying and dealing with supportive evidence through the process of marshaling.”) (quotation simplified). See also State v. Nielsen, 2014 UT 10, ¶ 40, 326 P.3d 645 (“[A] party who fails to identify and deal with supportive evidence will never persuade an appellate court to reverse[.]”). 

¶21 Therefore, because Gary has not meaningfully addressed the supportive evidence behind these findings, which findings adequately explain the court’s ruling, we hold that the court did not abuse its discretion in distributing the business profits as it did. 

III. Equitable Distribution of Assets 

¶22 Gary’s final argument is that the district court abused its discretion when it awarded nearly $150,000 more of the real and personal property comprising the marital estate to Melissa than it did to him. Specifically, Gary asserts that “the district court abused its discretion in two ways: it did not follow the guideline that marital assets are to be split equally and it did not provide adequate findings to support its departure from the equal division presumption.” We agree. 

¶23 In dividing the marital estate in a divorce proceeding, “[e]ach party is presumed to be entitled to . . . fifty percent of the marital property.” Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1172 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). “But rather than simply enter such a decree, the court should then consider the existence of exceptional circumstances and, if any be shown, proceed to effect an equitable distribution in light of those circumstances[.]” Id. Thus, “once a court makes a finding that a specific item is marital property, the law presumes that it will be shared equally between the parties unless unusual circumstances, memorialized in adequate findings, require otherwise.” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1022 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (emphasis added). See Bradford v. Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 27, 993 P.2d 887 (“An unequal division of marital property . . . is only justified when the trial court memorializes in . . . detailed findings the exceptional circumstances supporting the distribution.”) (quotation simplified). 

¶24 On appeal, both parties expend significant effort in arguing how the court’s award of real and personal property was either equitable or inequitable. We need not endeavor to directly resolve this debate, however, because the court’s ruling lacked adequate findings to support the disparate distribution. Here, Melissa was awarded the entirety of the net value in the home, $292,285, and a car valued at $25,000. In total, Melissa was awarded $317,285. Gary, on the other hand, was awarded four vehicles with a total value of $102,883, the trailer at $8,000, and the other personal property items with a total value of $57,590. Gary was therefore awarded $168,473. This left a $148,812 discrepancy in favor of Melissa.10 

¶25 Although the district court “has broad latitude” in equitably distributing the marital estate, see Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 8, 169 P.3d 765 (quotation simplified), it cannot unequally divide that estate unless it “memorializes in adequate findings” the “unusual circumstances” that justify doing so, Hall, 858 P.2d at 1022 (emphasis added) (quotation otherwise simplified). Here, the court unequally divided the marital estate but did not enter adequate findings detailing the unusual circumstances that justified such an award. The court’s justification for its disparate award is limited to three observations. 

¶26 First, the court opined, without pointing to any evidence, that the cost of selling the home would deplete any disparity that might exist between the parties and benefit neither. In the absence of evidence to this effect, this is purely speculative, and we are hard-pressed to see how the commissions and other fees in selling the home would be anywhere near large enough to overcome the substantial discrepancy in the value of the property awarded to each party. The court also rationalized the disparity by concluding that Melissa would otherwise be without a home, but presumably this would have been a momentary event given her assets, her employment, and her share of the sale proceeds. These are simply not the kind of exceptional circumstances that would justify such a disparity. Cf. Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 27 (“In this case, the trial court’s only finding justifying the award of the [entire] home to Mr. Bradford was that ‘the house and property is in fact not partitionable as it contains a residence, road and river frontage. If an interest were to be conveyed the house would have to be refinanced or sold.’ This finding is insufficient, by itself, to support an award of the marital home entirely to Mr. Bradford.”) (footnote omitted). Indeed, district courts “often order a sale of marital property and equitably divide the proceeds between the parties” or “allow one spouse to ‘buy out’ the other spouse’s interest in marital property,” and the district court here “made no adequate finding explaining why either of these two remedies was not appropriate for the parties in this case.” See id. 

¶27 Second, the court stated that while “the final division of property does not equally divide the values in the marital home,” it was nonetheless “equitable, based on all circumstances in the case.” This is a conclusory statement and not a finding that justifies the unequal distribution of marital assets. General comments about the equitability of an award are simply not enough to overcome the presumption that marital property should be “shared equally.” Hall, 858 P.2d at 1022. 

¶28 Finally, the court noted that although it awarded the business to Gary, “it is apparent that [Melissa] significantly contributed to making [the business] a success. Her contribution to the business is not quantifiable. But the overall division of property and assets in this case is equitable, when the business is considered.” Once again, this is not a finding sufficient to explain such a large departure from the presumptively appropriate equal distribution of the marital estate. See Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 27. The court found that the business had no marketable value, and thus it is unclear how it quantified Melissa’s contribution. Further, the court’s observations about Melissa’s contributions do not demonstrate “exceptional circumstances” that justify a nearly $150,000 difference in the property awards to each party. See Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1172 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). 

¶29 Without adequate findings detailing why Melissa should be entitled to such an unequal split of the marital estate, we cannot affirm the court’s award. We therefore remand the case to the district court either (1) to make adequate findings specifically detailing (and quantifying) the exceptional circumstances that would justify the unequal distribution of the marital estate, or (2) if such findings are not appropriate on this record, then to equally distribute the marital estate.11  

CONCLUSION 

¶30 The district court did not err in determining that the American Express account was Melissa’s separate property or exceed its discretion in awarding to her half of the profits the business accrued from the time of separation until trial. The court did err, however, in unequally dividing the marital estate without entering adequate findings justifying that unequal distribution. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part, and we remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=Fischer v. Fischer20211230_20200557_145.pdf 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 18: Financial Declarations and Initial Disclosures

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 18: Financial Declarations and Initial Disclosures

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

My minimal exposure to the legal profession as a legal assistant to a divorce attorney has given me the opportunity to learn about financial declarations and initial disclosures. These forms are necessary for any party going through the process of litigation for a divorce, and they are straightforward as to what they require.

The financial declaration is a statement of income, expenses, debts, assets, and financial accounts for each party to a divorce action.

One’s initial disclosures form identifies people with information relevant to the case, the potential witnesses, and documents and other physical evidence a party asserts supports his/her case.

Completing the financial declaration and initial disclosures forms completely and correctly, along with gathering all the necessary supporting documentation, is a time-consuming process. With rare exception, divorce litigants do not want to prepare these forms. I know this because anyone I have tried to help through this process always fails to complete the forms and/or complains about the work that needs to be done on these forms. I get it, but what the clients often don’t seem to get is that your financial declaration and initial disclosures are not optional. Court rule require both you and your spouse to fill them out, fill them out correctly, and fill them out fully. Failing to do so can result in the court penalizing you and/or making erroneous rulings based upon incorrect and/or incomplete forms.

I am not a lawyer and thus cannot give any legal advice, but as someone who has taken part in the process of helping clients prepare their financial declarations and initial disclosures, I can see that preparing these forms completely, accurately, and on time greatly benefits you and your lawyer, saving you both time and frustration, as well as sparing you grief, on the back end.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Financial Declaration (utcourts.gov)

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Do judges sometimes feel overburdened by the responsibilities of their job?

Yes, and for good reason. First, let me be unusually but sincerely candid: many judges and many of the actions that judges take disappoint me. There are some excellent judges on the bench who are clearly skilled in the law and know how to apply it accurately, justly, and equitably. Would that all judges lived up to this standard. But not all judges do. I mention this so that the context of my answer to your question is clear.

Being a judge is, in my opinion, mostly a thankless job. Sure, there are some obvious perks to being a judge, including, but not limited to, a good salary, state and federal holidays off, most judges receive a generous pension when they retire, the prestige of being called “Your Honor,” but the burdens of being a judge are in some ways unimaginable. Can you conceive of sentencing someone to life in prison or death? Or even sentencing someone to 5 to 10 years in prison when you’re not certain of his or her guilt? Can you imagine what it must be like to spend your work week, week after week, hearing hundreds of stories of lying, cheating, robbing, destroying property, assaulting, raping and murdering? It all takes an inevitable toll on even the strongest of people. Those judges who do the best they can and do the job well day after day, year-over-year deserve not only our respect, but our sympathy, our thanks, and support.

All that stated, there are clearly some judges who are not cut out for the job and need to quit. Some need to quit because they are not competent as judges. Some need to quit because, while they might have been up to the demands of the job in the beginning, they aren’t anymore. Some need to quit before they become so jaded that they cannot give the job and the people who come before them the attention both the job–and the cases they hear and decide–deserve.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Do-judges-sometimes-feel-overburdened-by-the-responsibilities-of-their-job/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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What would happen if there were no alimony or splitting assets in divorce without kids?

That is an interesting question. Before I answer it, know this: anyone who is motivated to marry on a “what’s in it for me?” basis and who stays married motivated by a “what’s in it for me?” basis is likely to be unhappy in his/her marriage and likely will end up divorced. Marriage success and happiness depends upon the couple’s mutual devotion to each other, to the family they make together, and placing the interests of their marriage and family ahead of their own, individual self-interest.

Here is what I believe would happen if there were no more alimony or splitting of assets in divorce proceedings when a married couple has no children:

  • the desire for certain women to marry would plummet. Why? It’s politically incorrect to state the following, but it is no less true: many women (not all) marry so that their husbands (and now, in the case of lesbian couples, their wives) will provide for them (and only for them, not for children the couple may have) financially. If this kind of woman (i.e., a woman who relied on her spouse financially) knew that she would get no alimony upon divorce and wouldn’t get half of the funds the spouse saved and half of the retirement funds the spouse accrued during the marriage, there is a certain kind of woman who would not marry.
    • Do not misunderstand me: a woman (or man) who foregoes pursuing a career so that the couple can have children and rear a family together in the best possible conditions, with one parent staying home to care for the children instead of working outside the home, is a spouse who, if she/he has lived up to that commitment, deserves alimony if the marriage ends in divorce. The traditional family, i.e., where the children have a stay at home parent, is the optimal way to rear children who will be themselves physically and mental healthy, decent, productive adults. Some families cannot afford to have a parent stay at home. There is no shame in that. But when both spouses work even though they both don’t need to work, and where such spouses have children and warehouse those kids in daycare, they are doing themselves and their children a disservice that cannot be compensated for.
  • the desire for a percentage of heterosexual men to marry would increase. Many such men have seen their fellow male friends and family members financially ruined by alimony and by losing so much of what they worked so hard for in divorce. This causes many men to fear and avoid marriage to a woman out of concern that divorce will ruin them. Many husbands of childless couples who knew that their wives would not profit from divorce would not fear divorce nearly as much as they do now.
    • Do not misunderstand me: there are many men who are devoted to their wives and children. Their wives and family are a labor of love for whom them willingly and gladly sacrifice their time, effort, and income. There are many decent men, however, whose wives are not themselves decent people who are equally devoted to their husbands and families. Men who marry gold diggers are justifiably upset when the gold diggers try to profit from divorce.

Now if, after you read this answer in its entirety, you conclude that “marriage is for suckers,” you have missed the point completely.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/What-would-happen-if-there-were-no-more-alimony-or-splitting-of-assets-in-divorce-proceedings-and-no-kids-are-involved/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Can a divorced spouse claim rights to a previous primary residence?

Can a divorced spouse claim rights to a previous primary residence?

A court can, in exceptional circumstances, award a spouse some or all of your premarital and separate property that is clearly not a marital asset. In the jurisdiction where I practice family law (Utah), the rule in caselaw is:

Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314 (Utah Ct.App. 1990):

The general rule is that equity requires that each party retain the separate property he or she brought into the marriage, including any appreciation of the separate property. Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1168 (Utah Ct.App.1990) (separate property, in this case inherited property, includes “its appreciated value” during the marriage). Exceptions to this general rule include whether the property has been commingled, whether the other spouse has by his or her efforts augmented, maintained, or protected the separate property, and whether the distribution achieves a fair, just, and equitable result. Id.; Noble v. Noble, 761 P.2d 1369, 1373 (Utah 1988).

Elman v. Elman, 245 P.3d 176 (Utah Ct.App. 2002):

In distributing property in divorce proceedings, trial courts are first required to properly categorize the parties’ property as marital or separate. See, e.g., Kelley v. Kelley, 2000 UT App 236,¶ 24, 9 P.3d 171. Generally, trial courts are also required to award premarital property, and appreciation on that property, to the spouse who brought the property into the marriage. See Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1320 (Utah Ct.App.1990); see also Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988).

6¶ 19 However, separate property is not “totally beyond [a] court’s reach in an equitable property division.” Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1169 (Utah Ct.App.1990). The court may award the separate property of one spouse to the other spouse in “ ‘extraordinary situations where equity so demands.’ ” Id. (quoting Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308); see also Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 263 (Utah Ct.App.1993) (“ ‘Exceptions to this general rule include whether … the distribution achieves a fair, just, and equitable result.’ ” (quoting Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320)).

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Can-a-divorced-spouse-claim-rights-to-a-previous-primary-residence/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Can a divorced spouse claim rights to a premarital primary residence?

Can a divorced spouse claim rights to a premarital primary residence?

A court can, in exceptional circumstances, award a spouse some or all of your premarital and separate property that is clearly not a marital asset. In the jurisdiction where I practice family law (Utah), the rule in caselaw is:

Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314 (Utah Ct.App. 1990):

The general rule is that equity requires that each party retain the separate property he or she brought into the marriage, including any appreciation of the separate property. Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1168 (Utah Ct.App.1990) (separate property, in this case inherited property, includes “its appreciated value” during the marriage). Exceptions to this general rule include whether the property has been commingled, whether the other spouse has by his or her efforts augmented, maintained, or protected the separate property, and whether the distribution achieves a fair, just, and equitable result. Id.; Noble v. Noble, 761 P.2d 1369, 1373 (Utah 1988).

Elman v. Elman, 245 P.3d 176 (Utah Ct.App. 2002):

In distributing property in divorce proceedings, trial courts are first required to properly categorize the parties’ property as marital or separate. See, e.g., Kelley v. Kelley, 2000 UT App 236,¶ 24, 9 P.3d 171. Generally, trial courts are also required to award premarital property, and appreciation on that property, to the spouse who brought the property into the marriage. See Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1320 (Utah Ct.App.1990); see also Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988).

6¶ 19 However, separate property is not “totally beyond [a] court’s reach in an equitable property division.” Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1169 (Utah Ct.App.1990). The court may award the separate property of one spouse to the other spouse in “ ‘extraordinary situations where equity so demands.’ ” Id. (quoting Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308); see also Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 263 (Utah Ct.App.1993) (“ ‘Exceptions to this general rule include whether … the distribution achieves a fair, just, and equitable result.’ ” (quoting Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320)).

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Can-a-divorced-spouse-claim-rights-to-a-previous-primary-residence/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

Can you try? Yes. Will you succeed? Probably not. Unless you can prove (not persuade, but demonstrate by objectively, independently verifiable proof) that your ex-husband defrauded the court, you’re likely stuck with the decree and court orders you’ve got. This is extremely difficult in its own right. This is also extremely expensive and most people don’t have that kind of money.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/I-was-divorced-and-lied-to-during-my-divorce-and-I-am-disabled-can-I-take-my-ex-back-to-court-for-spousal-support/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Brown v. Brown – 2020 UT App 146 – marital vs. non-marital assets

2020 UT App 146
THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS
JERRY V. BROWN, Appellant, v. YVONNE A. BROWN, Appellee.

Opinion
No. 20190543
Filed October 29, 2020

Fourth District Court, Provo Department
The Honorable Derek P. Pullan
No. 154403120

Julie J. Nelson, Troy L. Booher, and Alexandra Mareschal, Attorneys for Appellant

Ron W. Haycock Jr., S. Spencer Brown, and Scarlet R. Smith, Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and DIANA HAGEN concurred.

ORME, Judge:

¶1        Jerry V. Brown appeals the district court’s determination in this divorce proceeding that his dental practice was marital property and that his ex-wife, Yvonne A. Brown, was therefore entitled to half its value. Jerry[1] also appeals the district court’s award of $96,409.72 to cover pre-decree expenses Yvonne incurred over nearly a two-year period while the divorce was pending. We reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for revision of the divorce decree.

BACKGROUND

¶2        In 1986, Jerry purchased a dental practice and building. By 1996, he had completely paid off the purchase price. During a portion of this ten-year period, Jerry was married to his first wife, with whom he had four children. After Jerry and his first wife divorced, Jerry and Yvonne married in 1996. Yvonne had also been married previously and brought three children into the marriage. In 1999, Jerry and Yvonne had a child together. They divorced in 2011 but remarried approximately one year later.

¶3        Soon after their first marriage to each other, Yvonne began working at the practice. After about a month, however, Jerry and Yvonne decided that it was not a good fit. They determined that Yvonne should stay home and care for their blended family from then on, but she occasionally filled in at the practice on an emergency basis. Regardless of the hours Yvonne worked, the practice paid her a monthly salary, depositing her paycheck into Jerry and Yvonne’s joint bank account.

¶4        During both his marriages to Yvonne, Jerry kept the practice’s accounts separate from the couple’s joint accounts. Jerry testified that he did not “at any time . . . put personal funds from [his] personal account or [their] marital accounts into [the practice].” And Yvonne testified that Jerry was “controlling with finances” and threatened to fire his employees if they discussed the practice’s finances with her. Yvonne’s sister, who worked at the practice, testified that Jerry kept the finances “quiet” and would not discuss them with Yvonne. She further testified that whenever Yvonne would “come to the office, he’d empty the cashbox and walk across the street and deposit all of the money into the bank.”

¶5      In addition to drawing his regular salary, Jerry paid expenses attributable to the marriage, such as the couple’s mortgage payments, vehicle payments, insurance bills, travel expenses, and other obligations, using funds from the practice’s account. Jerry also deposited $6,000 from the practice’s account into the couple’s joint account each month, which Yvonne used to pay household expenses. But because Yvonne did not have access to any other bank accounts, if she needed extra money, she “had to ask for it, and usually it became very heated because [Jerry] controlled all of [the] finances.”

¶6        In 2002, Jerry and Yvonne built an $860,000 home that came with a $5,722 monthly mortgage obligation. Around this time, Jerry also renovated the practice’s building and financed it solely by a loan secured by the building, which resulted in a $4,000 monthly payment that he paid from the practice’s revenue. Yvonne testified that the practice’s new debt affected the family’s lifestyle, income, activities, and travel. She further explained that they “had to make a lot of sacrifices financially at the time to offset [the] income” that stayed in the practice instead of being used to supplement the available marital funds. And around 2004 or 2005, Jerry attempted to open a second office to expand the practice, which proved unsuccessful. This investment, too, was funded solely by the practice.

¶7        After the couple’s first divorce and their subsequent remarriage in 2012, Yvonne began attending school to become an esthetician and eventually obtained her master’s degree in that field. Jerry paid for her schooling from the practice’s revenue. In 2013, Yvonne opened a spa at the practice, for which Jerry added three rooms to the practice’s building. This new spa company was a separate entity from the practice and had a separate bank account. Jerry testified that he spent “well over $200,000” of the practice’s revenue on spa equipment to help Yvonne get established.

¶8      In June 2015, the couple separated again. Around this time, Yvonne started another spa company in a different location and moved all the equipment that Jerry had purchased with funds from the practice to this new location. After this separation, Jerry and Yvonne continued to engage in financial transactions. Jerry had refinanced the practice’s building in May 2015 and obtained $200,000, which he was solely responsible for repaying, and gave half—$100,000—to Yvonne. For a time, he continued to deposit $6,000 a month into a bank account for Yvonne. Jerry also kept making monthly payments of $2,200 on a laser he had purchased in 2015 for Yvonne’s business until it was paid off in March 2019, even though Yvonne had agreed to make the payments. Jerry also continued to help Yvonne by investing over $120,000 in her new spa company. Jerry testified that he did this because he was “hoping that [they] might be able to work things out because [finances were their] biggest problem,” and he hoped that those issues would be resolved if her business became profitable.

¶9 In June 2017, Jerry and Yvonne realized that reconciliation was no longer a possibility and decided to divorce once again. Jerry made two more deposits of $6,000 in June and July into a personal account for Yvonne, and in August he deposited another $4,500. From September through December he deposited only $2,500 a month, and he did not deposit any money from January through July 2018. The court then ordered Jerry, starting in August 2018, to pay Yvonne temporary alimony in the amount of $1,607 per month,[2] which Jerry paid until trial in April 2019.

¶10 After trial, the court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law, dividing the marital estate and deciding other issues pertinent to the divorce. Only two parts of those findings and conclusions, which were later folded into the divorce decree, are relevant to this appeal. First, the court ruled that “[b]ecause marital funds were expended for the benefit of [the practice, it] was converted from Jerry’s separate property to marital property.” The court based this ruling on its finding that

[o]n two occasions, Jerry decided to use income from [the practice] to reinvest in the practice. First, in 2004 or 2005 Jerry opened a second dental office. . . . Opening that office required capital. Accordingly, through [the practice], Jerry secured a loan. The monthly payment on the loan was $2,000. The . . . office was a failed venture. . . . Jerry used income from [the practice] to pay for this failed expansion, thereby decreasing the funds he routinely pulled from [the practice] to pay marital expenses as he routinely had done.

Second, in 2003 during the first marriage Jerry decided to renovate the [practice’s building]. The renovation required capital. Jerry used available funds from [the practice] as well as a loan to pay for the renovation. . . . The monthly payment was $4,000. This monthly obligation left less money for Jerry to pull from [the practice] to pay for marital expenses as he routinely had done. According to [Yvonne], the renovation debt reduced the family income and [a]ffected “what we did and how we traveled.”[3]

¶11 Second, the court ruled that Yvonne was entitled to $96,409.72 in “pre-decree reasonable monthly expenses.” The court based this amount on the extent to which Yvonne’s reasonable expenses from June 2017 until April 2019—found by the court to be $9,464.45 per month—exceeded her monthly income, i.e., the amounts Jerry made available to her, her own earned income, and the amount she received from the sale of a laser. Specifically, it found that

[Yvonne’s] monthly shortfall—for which she should have had access to marital funds but did not—can be calculated.

  • For the two months from June and July 2017, [Yvonne’s] monthly income was $8,839.92, her earned income plus the $6,000 Jerry paid to her. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $624.53 each month, for a total shortfall of $1,249.00.
  • For August 2017, [Yvonne’s] monthly income was $7,339.92, her earned income plus the $4,500 Jerry paid to her. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $2,124.53, the total shortfall for that month.
  • For the four months from September to December 2017, [Yvonne’s] monthly income was $5,339.92, her earned income plus the $2,500 Jerry paid to her. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $4,124.53 each month, for a total shortfall of $16,489.12.
  • For the seven months from January to July 2018, [Yvonne’s] monthly income was $2,839.92, her earned income. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $6,624.53 each month, for a total shortfall of $46,371.71.
  • For the ten months from August 2018 to April 2019, [Yvonne’s] income was $4,446.92, her earned income plus the $1,607 paid to her by Jerry. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $5,017.53 each month, for a total shortfall of $50,175.30.
  • Prior to the decree, [Yvonne] sold one of the lasers for $10,000.00 and used this money to pay her monthly expenses.

¶12      Jerry appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶13 Jerry raises two issues. First, he asserts that the district court erred when it determined that the practice had become a marital asset. “[W]hether property is marital or separate is a question of law,” which we review for correctness. Liston v. Liston, 2011 UT App 433, ¶ 5, 269 P.3d 169.

¶14 Second, Jerry contends that the district court erred in ordering him to pay Yvonne $96,409.72 in expenses incurred by her during the pendency of the divorce proceeding that were not covered by her income and marital funds. We review property decisions and alimony awards with considerable deference, reversing only where the district court has exceeded the sound exercise of its discretion. See Hartvigsen v. Hartvigsen, 2018 UT App 238, ¶ 4, 437 P.3d 1257.

ANALYSIS

  1. The Practice

¶15 Jerry argues that the district court erred in concluding that the practice—which was unquestionably his separate property at the outset of his marriage to Yvonne—became a marital asset based solely on the fact that practice funds were frequently used to cover family expenses and, at times, the amount of this marital subsidy was reduced to help expand the practice. “The presumption is that marital property will be divided equally while separate property will not be divided at all.” Lindsey v. Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 32, 392 P.3d 968. “Married persons have a right to separately own and enjoy property, and that right does not dissipate upon divorce.” Id. “The general rule is that equity requires that each party retain the separate property he or she brought into the marriage, including any appreciation of the separate property.” Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1320 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). “However, separate property is not totally beyond a court’s reach in an equitable property division.” Elman v. Elman, 2002 UT App 83, ¶ 19, 45 P.3d 176 (quotation simplified). Utah law has identified three circumstances that support an award of separate property to the other spouse. Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 33. These circumstances are: (1) “when separate property has been commingled” with marital property; (2) “when the other spouse has augmented, maintained, or protected the separate property”—otherwise known as the contribution exception; and (3) “in extraordinary situations when equity so demands.” Id.

¶16 Here, the court did not rule that the practice had been commingled[4] with marital property, or that this was an extraordinary situation. Rather, it concluded that the contribution exception applied. The contribution exception may be satisfied in three ways: (1) “when one spouse brings assets into the marriage and the other spouse’s prudent investment of those assets substantially increases their value”; (2) “when marital funds are expended or marital debt is incurred for the benefit of one spouse’s separate property”; or (3) potentially, “when one spouse works for a business owned by the other spouse but is not paid a wage or salary.” Id. ¶ 35 (quotation simplified).

¶17      Here, the first contribution variant does not apply because it is undisputed that Yvonne did not play a role in investing the practice’s assets to substantially increase their value. The third variant is likewise inapplicable because although Yvonne did work at the practice for a time, she was paid a monthly salary for that work and, indeed, she was paid that salary even when she did not work. Rather, the court relied on the second variation of the contribution exception when it ruled, “Because marital funds were expended for the benefit of [the practice, it] was converted from Jerry’s separate property to marital property.” This determination was erroneous because it is clear from the record that no marital funds were ever used to benefit the practice; the flow of funds was only in the opposite direction.

¶18      To reach its conclusion, the court determined that money that stayed within the practice became marital property simply because Jerry, having previously been more amenable to using money from the practice to pay for family expenses, reduced the amount of those transfers to help fund expansion of the practice. The court reasoned that the practice was converted to a marital asset because funds that were normally diverted from the practice to cover family expenses were instead retained to build the practice. This premise does not satisfy the contribution exception because the practice was at all times a separate asset, and the flow of money went in only one direction: from the practice’s accounts to the personal and joint accounts of Yvonne and Jerry. Once this money left the practice and entered these accounts, that money then became marital property.[5] Cf. Keiter v. Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 19, 235 P.3d 782 (“[E]arned income from employment or from rendering professional services during a marriage falls within the usual definition of marital property.”).

¶19 But this one-way flow did not convert the source of that money, i.e., the practice, into a marital asset. The practice therefore never lost its separate character because no money from a marital source was ever used for the benefit of the practice, even though the converse was true. Cf. Schaumberg v. Schaumberg, 875 P.2d 598, 603 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (holding that because husband used a marital loan to “maintain and augment” a business asset, that “changed [the asset’s] character from a personal asset to a marital asset”). And this is true even though Jerry at times reduced the amount of money that left the practice to help fund the family’s expenses. Given that Yvonne’s work at the practice was financially compensated—indeed, overcompensated—the only way that the practice in this case could have become a marital asset is if money from Yvonne’s and Jerry’s personal and joint accounts had been regularly used to shore up the practice or the parties took out a marital debt to fund the practice. See Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 35. Cf. Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 24 (holding that a husband’s personal and medical practice’s accounts were “inextricably commingled” and both were marital assets because the husband deposited his salary into both accounts and paid for business and personal expenses from both accounts) (quotation simplified). Here, in contrast, the court explicitly found, with our emphasis, that “Jerry decided to use income from [the practice] to reinvest in the practice.” Thus, the practice retained its separate character because the money that became a marital asset after leaving the practice never returned to the practice. Nor were other marital assets used to subsidize the practice.

¶20 Yvonne claims that Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, requires affirmance of the district court’s decision. There, the husband’s income from his medical practice, which income was a marital asset, see id. ¶ 19, “would be deposited along with his separate earnings into his personal account [and] medical practice account . . . [t]hen, both business and personal expenses would be paid from those accounts,” id. ¶ 24. Given this routine, the Keiter court determined that both accounts were marital assets because “they were ‘inextricably commingled’ with both separate and marital income.” Id. Yvonne claims that the same scenario is present here because Jerry “deposited some income into his joint account with [her], some into a personal bank account, and some into [the practice’s] account [and] paid family expenses from each account.” But the critical difference between Keiter and the case at hand is that in Keiter the husband’s salary was deposited into the medical practice’s and the marital account, thus commingling the practice’s account with marital funds, and he then used the funds from both accounts to pay for both business and personal expenses, thereby using marital funds to support and improve his separate property. That is classic commingling, a theory that the district court here correctly avoided. See supra ¶ 16 & note 4.

¶21      Unlike in Keiter, Jerry never deposited his salary—marital income—into the practice’s account, which would have thereby “inextricably commingled” marital funds with separate funds. See Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 24 (quotation simplified). Furthermore, Jerry never used marital funds to pay for business expenses, as was the case in Keiter. Rather, Jerry’s salary left the practice’s account and entered his personal account or a marital account and was never used to cover the practice’s expenses, which the district court specifically found when it stated that only the practice’s own assets were used to expand the practice. And while personal expenses were often covered with additional funds from the practice’s account, this was a one-way flow—no marital funds were ever used to pay for business expenses. The district court therefore erred in treating the practice as a marital asset and awarding Yvonne a portion of the value of the practice.

  1. Pre-decree Expenses

¶22 Jerry next argues that the district court exceeded its discretion by ordering him to “reimburse [Yvonne] for almost all of her claimed expenses during the twenty-two-month[6] pendency of their separation.”

¶23 “Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, all property acquired by parties to a marriage is marital property, owned equally by each party.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126, 459 P.3d 276. “For this reason, it is improper to allow one spouse access to marital funds to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending, while denying the other spouse the same access.” Id.

¶24 Here, the district court ruled that, “[p]ursuant to the rule articulated in Dahl, [Yvonne]—like Jerry—was entitled to access marital funds to pay her reasonable monthly expenses incurred while the divorce was pending.” The court then ordered Jerry, who effectively had control of the marital funds, to pay Yvonne for her expenses insofar as they exceeded the income she earned plus amounts Jerry advanced while the divorce was pending. The net amount, with a further offset for the value of a laser she sold for $10,000, amounted to $96,409.72.

¶25      Jerry argues that the district court improperly applied our Supreme Court’s holding in Dahl. In that case, the Court held that the district court erred in requiring the wife, who was not living in the marital home and had no access to the marital estate during the pendency of the divorce, to repay her ex-husband money that he had paid her from the marital estate during the course of the divorce proceedings for her living expenses. Id. ¶ 125. The Court ruled that because these funds came from the marital estate and were used to pay the wife’s pre-decree living expenses, she was not obligated to repay the money. Id. ¶¶ 128–129.

¶26      Jerry argues that Dahl does not apply to this case and does not “stand for the proposition that the spouse with access to the marital estate must pay all of the other spouse’s living expenses during the pendency of the divorce.” This argument reflects a misunderstanding of Dahl. The point of Dahl is not that only one spouse may have “access to the marital estate” but that both do, and both are entitled to rely on it to cover their “reasonable and ordinary living expenses” pending entry of the divorce decree.[7] Id. ¶ 126.

¶27 It is true that Dahl is on a slightly different footing than this case. In Dahl, our Supreme Court held that the wife did not have to repay the money she received from the marital estate, rather than, as here, directing that the marital estate would cover the shortfall in her expenses.[8] The Court in Dahl explicitly stated, “Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, all property acquired by parties to a marriage is marital property, owned equally by each party,” and “it is improper to allow one spouse access to marital funds to pay for reasonable and ordinary living expenses while the divorce is pending, while denying the other spouse the same access.” Id. (emphasis added). It further elaborated that “allowing both spouses equal access to marital funds during the pendency of a divorce promotes the goal of a fair, just, and equitable distribution of marital property.” Id. (emphasis added) (quotation otherwise simplified). Thus, Dahl stands for the proposition that both spouses are entitled to equal access to the marital estate to fund their reasonable and ordinary living expenses pending the divorce. In accordance with this proposition, the district court appropriately ordered the marital estate to reimburse the shortfall in Yvonne’s pre-decree living expenses with reference to the expense level it deemed reasonable, to the extent those expenses exceeded her earned income, asset sale, and the diminishing amounts Jerry made available to her.[9] At this point, while Jerry might be signing the check, the adjustment is conceptually made from the marital estate—not from funds that are his own separate property. See supra note 8.

¶28 Jerry further argues that the district court’s award should have been offset by the $100,000 he gave Yvonne in May 2015, the value of the equipment he bought for her spa business, the $120,000 he additionally contributed to her business, and other money that he transferred to her from the practice’s accounts. This argument is unavailing. First, the equipment assisted Yvonne in earning an income and paying her bills. That earned income reduced the amount of Yvonne’s monthly shortfall. The cost of that equipment cannot, years later, be used as an offset against Yvonne’s pre-decree living expenses, especially where Yvonne’s earned income already offset those expenses. Second, because the majority of these transactions occurred before the couple’s decision in 2017 to seek a divorce, it was not unreasonable for the court to ignore these transactions when making its award for living expenses after that decision was made, as Yvonne was still entitled to the benefit of the marital estate to help cover those living expenses, as was Jerry, up until the divorce decree was entered.[10]

¶29 The court did, however, make a simple calculating error when it ruled that “[f]or the ten months from August 2018 to April 2019, [Yvonne’s] income was $4,446.92, her earned income plus the $1,607 paid to her by Jerry. Her monthly expenses exceeded her income by $5,017.53 each month, for a total shortfall of $50,175.30.” Both parties agree that the time period actually amounted to nine months, not ten. Thus, the award corresponding to that period should be reduced by $5,017.53. On remand, the district court needs to adjust its pre-decree expense award accordingly.

CONCLUSION

¶30 The district court erred in concluding that the practice had become a marital asset because no marital funds were used to enhance the practice and the practice had not otherwise lost its character as a separate asset. Beyond a simple calculating error and the apparent oversight detailed in note 10, however, the court did not exceed its discretion in its pre-decree expense ruling that required the marital estate to cover the shortfall in Yvonne’s reasonable living expenses, as found by the court, because Yvonne had an equal right to the marital estate to pay those expenses.

¶31 We remand to the district court to amend its decree to incorporate appropriate changes, in accordance with this opinion.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

 

 

[1] Because the parties share the same surname, we refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.

[2] Following trial, the district court found that this amount was too low “because Jerry had significantly understated his income” and ruled that Jerry’s actual ability to pay was $2,687 per month. The court established this amount as alimony going forward. The court’s alimony determination is not at issue in this appeal.

[3] In view of the brief hiatus between the parties’ two marriages, corresponding to only one year in a twenty-three-year period when the parties were otherwise married, in adjudicating their second divorce, the district court essentially evaluated their circumstances as though they were parties to a single continuous marriage. In this atypical circumstance and on the facts of this case, this approach seems entirely reasonable, the parties appear to have acquiesced in it during the course of this proceeding, and neither party challenges it on appeal.

[4] We agree that the practice never became a marital asset under the theory of commingling because Jerry kept the practice’s accounts and the couple’s personal accounts separate at all times. No money ever came back to the practice once it entered the parties’ personal and joint accounts. Thus, it is clear that the practice was never commingled with marital property, even though practice funds were made available, when Jerry saw fit, to subsidize the marital estate.

[5] The district court considered Jerry’s historical use of business funds to pay marital expenses in calculating alimony.

[6] Jerry refers to this period as twenty-two months but it is clear that the time frame in question is actually twenty-three months. This is calculated from the time the couple separated in June 2017 up until trial in April 2019. When including June 2017 and April 2019 in the calculation, this is a twenty-three month period.

[7] Pursuant to Dahl, the marital estate must pay for the “reasonable and ordinary living expenses” of each party during the pendency of their divorce proceedings. Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126, 459 P.3d 276. While Yvonne’s expenses during the relevant period may seem high, Jerry has made no claim that these expenses, as found by the district court, were unreasonable in light of the marital standard of living.

[8] Jerry characterizes the district court’s order to reimburse Yvonne for her monthly expenses as requiring him to pay it. But Jerry mischaracterizes what the court actually did. Conceptually, it did not order him to pay all her expenses but ordered the marital estate to cover Yvonne’s expenses, an estate in which Yvonne had equal share and to which she should have had equal access. See id. Jerry further argues that he should have to pay only half, at most, of the court’s pre-decree expenses award. This argument is unavailing, however, because Jerry took control of the marital estate to continue to cover his own expenses but deprived Yvonne of that same benefit. Thus, Jerry is required to cover the shortfall in Yvonne’s living expenses from the marital estate, to which he deprived Yvonne access while their divorce was pending.

[9] As explained above, see supra ¶ 11, once the decision was made to divorce, Jerry initially channeled $6,000 in marital funds per month to Yvonne, leaving a shortfall of only a little over $600 per month. When that allowance dropped to zero for seven months in 2018, the monthly shortfall increased by more than tenfold, to over $6,600.

[10] There is, however, an expense that Jerry calls to our attention that is on a different footing, namely the $2,200 monthly payment for a laser that he continued to make even after the couple’s June 2017 decision to divorce, and which he continued to pay until March 2019, as specifically found by the district court. It is undisputed that Yvonne agreed to make those payments, but she did not do so. The court did not circle back and deal with these payments when determining its award of pre-decree expenses to Yvonne, even though the court allowed an offset for the $10,000 Yvonne realized upon sale of another laser that Jerry financed, which surely seems analogous. Jerry’s argument that he should have had a further offset for half of the payments made for this laser during the relevant period is persuasive. (As explained above, and as consistent with the district court’s approach, this offset would be only for the payments made between the time the couple decided to divorce in June 2017 and the time Jerry paid off the laser in March 2019.) On remand, the court should deal with this loose end and further adjust the award for Yvonne’s pre-decree expenses as may be appropriate.

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