How should the child support payment system in the U.S. be changed to make it more fair?
What is unfair about child support for the child support payor (also known as the child support obligor):
tying child support to the number of overnights the child spends in the custody of a parent entices many parents to seek being awarded as many overnights as possible, thereby ensuring that the one receiving child support receives as much as possible or ensuring that the one who pays child support pays as little as possible. Even when the child would benefit from being in the joint (or even joint equal) physical custody of the parents, many parents try to seek sole or primary physical custody awards simply to gain the child support calculation process.
child support recipients (also known as the child support payees or obligees) who use child support money for the their own personal expenses and not for the child’s actual support.
lack of accountability on the part of the child support recipient for how the child support monies are spent, to ensure that the monies are being spent on the financial support of the child, as opposed to the personal expenses of the child support recipient.
child support calculation formulae that are not commensurate with the child’s actual financial needs, i.e., orders that someone has to pay more money each month (in some cases substantially more money) than is necessary to meet the child needs.
child support awards that “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” by requiring such a high amount of child support be paid that the child support payor cannot meet his/her own basic monthly costs of living.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Should I be receiving more than $300 a month in child support if my ex-husband makes $1,200 per week?
Each jurisdiction has different child support laws and rules, but I can answer this question in the context of Utah law, because I practice divorce and family law in that state:
Your question is how do I know if I am receiving the correct amount of child support from the child support obligor parent. “Obligor” means the person who is obligated to do something, in this case a child support to the child support recipient, who is also known as the child support “obligee”.
In the past, Utah’s law left how child support was calculated to what the parties and/or the courts felt was appropriate. As you can imagine, however, leaving something so contentious as child support so wide open led to a tremendous amount of child support litigation. In response, the Utah State Legislature created a presumptive statutory formula for calculating child support.
Now let me walk you through what the statutory guidelines for child support calculation in Utah are, and how they apply. I have provided links to the code sections that I cite at the end of this post.
Utah Code § 78B-12-210 is entitled “Application of guidelines—Use of ordered child support.” For the average family and their children, the guidelines apply as a rebuttable presumption in establishing or modifying the amount of temporary or permanent child support. That means the amount of the child support award resulting from application of the guidelines, and the use of worksheets consistent with those guidelines, are presumed to be correct and binding upon the parents. This presumption can be rebutted and child support award be lower than what the guidelines provide, but only where the court is convinced that use of the guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of a child in a particular case. Deviating downward from the guidelines rarely occurs.
Utah Code § 78B-12-205, entitled “Calculation of obligations” provides that, except for parents whose monthly adjusted gross incomes are $1,050 or less, each parent’s child support obligation is established in proportion to their adjusted gross incomes. Utah Code § 78B-12-204 defines “adjusted gross income” is the amount calculated by subtracting from gross income alimony previously ordered and paid and child support previously ordered. The guidelines do not reduce the total child support award by adjusting the gross incomes of the parents for alimony ordered in the pending proceeding. In establishing alimony, the guidelines do not provide for your alimony obligation to be deducted from your gross income. So if you are not paying alimony or child support to a previous spouse (not your current spouse) or to children in addition to the ones who are the subject of your current child support case, your child support obligation will be calculated based upon your gross monthly income. Gross monthly income means before tax income.
Some people get angry when they hear that child support is based upon gross before tax income. Remember, the statutory guidelines don’t treat you as though you don’t pay taxes. The child support calculation formula takes the fact that you have to pay taxes into account.
So if your ex-husband makes $1,200 per week, if that’s a gross amount he is paid, then that means he earns $5,200 per month. Child support is based upon both what your husband earns and what you earn. There is a child support calculator provided by the State of Utah free of charge. I’ve included a link to that calculator at the end of this post too. Here is how filling out the child support worksheet works:
You need to know how much both your ex-husband’s and your adjusted gross monthly incomes are. You need to know how many minor children will be included in the child support calculation, and you need to know how many overnights the minor children spend with each parent.
So assume for our purposes that your ex-husband’s gross monthly income is $1,257 per month. $1,257 is equal to earning minimum wage on a full-time, 40-hour per week basis, so it would be almost impossible to calculate child support on anything less than $1,257 per month. We would also plug your gross monthly income into the calculator. So let’s use $1,257 for you too. If you are not disabled and can work full-time, even if you are unemployed currently, you cannot have your income be less than $1,257 per month because it’s assumed that anyone can earn minimum wage.
Let’s also assume that you have three minor children and that you have them in your custody 220 overnights annually and your ex-husband has than 145 overnights annually.
Now we have all the information we need to fill out the calculator, so will fill it in now in the appropriate blanks, then will click the “Continue” button to generate the child support worksheet. As you can see, your ex-husband’s child support obligation for three minor children would be $260 per month. As you can see, the child support calculator is pretty clear and straightforward, and now you know the basics of how child support is calculated, you can figure out for yourself what child or will be in your case by following the instructions on the child support worksheet calculator. You can even calculate different scenarios to find out what child support would be depending upon differences in income and in number of overnights each parent spends with the children on an annual basis.
JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN
FORSTER concurred. HAGEN, Judge:
¶1 During their thirty-four years of marriage, Dean and Janice Erickson acquired substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business. But, in anticipation of their divorce, Janice engaged in an intentional scheme to dissipate those assets and devalue the marital estate. Solely because of Janice’s misconduct, the district court appointed a receiver, ordered a valuation of the couple’s business, and sanctioned Janice with the obligation to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs.
¶2 Janice now contends that the court erred when it failed to deduct her personal goodwill when calculating the value of the couple’s business, excluded her rebuttal expert on valuation, and imposed sanctions against her that were greater than the injury her misconduct caused Dean. We affirm on the first two issues and remand on the third.
¶3 Dean filed for divorce from Janice in early 2017. The couple’s marital estate consisted of substantial assets, including a veterinary pharmaceutical business, Meds for Vets, LLC (Meds). Meds “is a pharmaceutical compounding business with many employees.” The company “does the majority of its business online through its website” and sells “to customers throughout the country.” At the time of the divorce, Meds employed three pharmacists who held the necessary licenses to conduct the business. Janice was one of those pharmacists and held “the majority of the licenses.” Janice also functioned “as the sole manager and chief executive officer of Meds.”
¶4 Around the time Dean filed for divorce, Janice entered into a series of fake business contracts with a friend for the purpose of dissipating marital assets. Dean moved the court for a temporary restraining order, asking the court to appoint a receiver for Meds. The court denied the temporary restraining order but appointed a receiver for Meds in an effort “to prevent further irreparable injury/harm to the marital estate through waste/dissipation of marital assets.” At the recommendation of the receiver, Janice was allowed to continue her role in the company due to her “familiarity with the industry, regulatory environment and existing relationship with the customer base . . . so as to not disrupt [Meds’] operations and employees.”
¶5 In addition to the oversight of Meds, the receiver had authority to conduct an “investigation concerning whether and how the joint marital assets . . . were used or misused and how to effectively separate the parties and their marital estate in all business regards.” In its final report to the court, the receiver concluded that Janice had dissipated known marital assets totaling $2,247,274. Janice accomplished that feat, in part, by unilaterally entering into a fraudulent “business relationship which resulted in a substantial and ongoing dissipation of marital assets.”
¶6 The receiver was also charged with “perform[ing] a valuation of the normalized operation of Meds.” The final report included a business valuation placing Meds’ value at $1,560,000. The valuation report explained the different factors considered, including “whether or not the enterprise has goodwill or other intangible value.” Ultimately, the valuation did not include any amounts associated with goodwill.
¶7 The court scheduled a trial on December 2, 2019, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, to determine the final division of the marital estate. The pretrial disclosure deadline was set for November 4, but Janice moved to extend the deadline. The court granted her motion, extending the deadline to Tuesday, November 26 at 5:00 p.m.
¶8 Just before 5:00 p.m. on November 26, Janice filed a disclosure that identified a valuation expert she intended to call as a rebuttal witness. But she did not serve the disclosure on Dean’s attorney until after the deadline had passed. In addition, she did not provide the expert’s report to Dean’s attorney until the afternoon of Wednesday, November 27—the day before Thanksgiving and less than five days before trial.
¶9 On the first day of trial, Janice asked to call her valuation rebuttal expert as the first witness because it was the only day he was available to testify. Dean objected to the admission of the expert’s testimony because it was untimely disclosed, giving Dean insufficient time to prepare. The court allowed Janice to call the expert out of order and reserved its ruling on Dean’s objection until after the expert testified. During his testimony, the expert opined that the receiver’s valuation had overstated Meds’ value as an ongoing business by improperly considering Janice’s personal goodwill.
¶10 The court ultimately excluded the expert’s testimony based on Janice’s untimely disclosure. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4) (“If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.”) The expert had testified that it had taken him only a few weeks to prepare his report, but that Janice had not hired him until shortly before trial. Accordingly, the court found that Janice “had ample opportunity to seek an independent valuation of the marital businesses at her own expense” and noted that it had “addressed this issue with [Janice] several times.” The court further found that Dean had an “understandable inability to be able to fully address [that information] in the limited time that remained prior to trial.”
¶11 The court alternatively ruled that even if it had not excluded Janice’s valuation rebuttal expert as untimely, his testimony was unpersuasive. The court rejected the expert’s opinion, based on Janice’s own representations, that Meds’ value was dependent on Janice’s personal goodwill. The court noted that Utah case law generally associates personal goodwill with “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person” and that such businesses are not “comparable to the situation here with [Meds].” The court also found that it had “not been provided any evidence from which [it could] draw a conclusion that [Janice’s] presence at [Meds], given the point to which its grown, is essential for that business to continue, given the number of employees and the extent of the operations that it has.”
¶12 After trial, the court entered a supplemental decree regarding the division of marital assets. The court “affirm[ed] and accept[ed] all recommendations, valuations, findings, and conclusions contained” in the receiver’s reports, unless the decree stated otherwise, “and incorporate[d] them by reference” into the decree, including the receiver’s $1,560,000 valuation of Meds.
¶13 Due to Janice’s “intentional efforts to dissipate marital assets,” the court also assigned the cost of the receivership and Dean’s attorney fees to Janice as a sanction for contempt and other misconduct. The court found that Janice’s behavior was sanctionable because she “engaged in substantial dissipation of marital assets” that was, “in some cases, in direct violation of this Court’s orders.” Indeed, “the approximately $2.5 million [she] dissipated . . . was one of the largest, if not the largest, blatant dissipation of marital assets the Court ha[d] ever seen.”
¶14 With respect to Dean’s legal fees, the court found that Janice’s contemptuous conduct forced Dean to incur “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [was] required to address the dissipation issues in this case” because of Janice. The court found that it was therefore appropriate and equitable to assign all Dean’s attorney fees to Janice because “[t]he lion’s share of [Dean’s] legal costs were incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice] in this case.”
¶15 More than three months after trial, Janice filed a motion for new trial pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that there was irregularity in the trial proceedings, that there was insufficient evidence to support the valuation of Meds, and that the court erred in awarding Dean attorney fees. The court dismissed that motion as untimely without reaching the merits.
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
¶16 Janice now appeals, raising three issues. First, she contends the district court erred in the value it assigned to Meds because it failed to exclude the value of her personal goodwill. A district court is “entitled to a presumption of validity in its assessment and evaluation of evidence, and we defer to the district court’s findings of fact related to property valuation and distribution unless they are clearly erroneous.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 10, 440 P.3d 757 (cleaned up).
¶17 Second, she contends the court erred in excluding her valuation rebuttal expert as a sanction for untimely disclosure. “We review a district court’s decision [to impose] sanctions under rule 26(d)(4) for an abuse of discretion.” Segota v. Young 180 Co., 2020 UT App 105, ¶ 10, 470 P.3d 479 (cleaned up). We will find abuse of discretion where there exists an erroneous conclusion of law or “where there is no evidentiary basis for the trial court’s ruling.” Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 15, 438 P.3d 25 (cleaned up), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.
¶18 Third, she contends that the court erred when it ordered her to pay all Dean’s attorney fees and costs, rather than limiting the award to the amounts caused by her sanctionable conduct. “Both the decision to award attorney fees and the amount of such fees are within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 86, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up).
I. The Valuation of Meds
¶19 In her challenge to the district court’s valuation of Meds, Janice argues that the court failed to consider the value of her personal goodwill. “When valuing a business in marriage dissolution cases, district courts must consider whether goodwill is institutional or personal to one spouse.” See Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15, 440 P.3d 757. Goodwill is personal when the business “is dependent for its existence upon the individual who conducts the enterprise and would vanish were the individual to die, retire or quit work.” Stevens v. Stevens, 754 P.2d 952, 956 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). Personal goodwill is based on an individual’s “reputation for competency.” Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 15. And unlike institutional goodwill, personal goodwill is not subject to distribution in the marital estate. Id.
¶20 Janice contends that the district court erred as a matter of law by failing to consider whether the value of the business depended on goodwill that was personal to her and thus not divisible. We disagree. The district court did consider goodwill in valuing the business, but specifically found that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Unless the court clearly erred, we presume this assessment is valid and we defer to its findings. See id. ¶ 10.
¶21 In finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds, the court rejected Janice’s contention that Meds was comparable to a sole proprietorship and that her “personal goodwill, as opposed to entity or enterprise goodwill,” should have been excluded in valuing the company. The court concluded that Meds was unlike “sole proprietorships essentially run by one person”—where the value of the company rests primarily on the work and professional reputation developed by the proprietor—“given the number of [Meds] employees and the extent of its operations.”
¶22 On appeal, Janice claims that the court failed to consider the personal goodwill engendered by her own “management and licensure role” in Meds. Before the receiver’s appointment, Janice “had acted as sole manager and chief executive officer of the company,” but there was no evidence to suggest that placing someone else in that role would diminish the value of the company. Indeed, the court specifically found that it had not been “provided any evidence from which [it could] draw the conclusion that her presence at the business, given the point to which it’s grown, is essential for that business to continue given the number of employees and the extent of operations it has.” Janice has not demonstrated that those findings were clearly erroneous.
¶23 As evidence of her personal goodwill, Janice cites the receiver’s report that some Meds employees “attributed the company’s declining revenue, in part, to [Janice] being distracted by the divorce.” But the decline in Meds’ revenue during this period does not suggest that the company’s value was dependent on Janice being in a management role. To the contrary, the court found that Janice’s continued involvement was detrimental because she “continue[d] to take steps to harm and devalue” Meds, even after the appointment of the receiver. In other words, Meds’ declining revenue during that time was caused not by Janice’s inattention to her management role, but by her deliberate efforts to devalue the company.
¶24 Janice also points to the fact that the company used her licenses to operate in multiple states. The court found, however, that Meds holds the necessary pharmacy licenses among three pharmacists. And there was no evidence that Janice’s licenses could not be obtained by the other pharmacists already on staff or that Meds could not hire a replacement pharmacist with those licenses. Thus, the fact that some licenses were historically held by Janice does not undermine the court’s finding that the value of Meds as an ongoing business did not depend on Janice’s involvement.
¶25 In sum, the record shows that the court considered and rejected Janice’s contention that her personal goodwill was included in the valuation of the business, and Janice has not shown that those findings were clearly erroneous. Therefore, there is no basis on which to disturb the court’s valuation of Meds.
II. Excluding Janice’s Rebuttal Expert
¶26 Next, Janice challenges the court’s ruling excluding her valuation rebuttal expert based on her untimely disclosure. Expert disclosures are governed by rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that rule, proper disclosure of an expert witness requires the timely disclosure of “(i) the expert’s name and qualifications, . . . (ii) a brief summary of the opinions to which the witness is expected to testify, (iii) the facts, data, and other information specific to the case that will be relied upon by the witness in forming those opinions, and (iv) the compensation to be paid for the witness’s study and testimony.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(A). “If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely a disclosure or response to discovery, that party may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.” Id. R. 26(d)(4). “Thus, Utah law mandates that a trial court exclude an expert witness disclosed after expiration of the established deadline unless the district court, in its discretion, determines that good cause excuses tardiness or that the failure to disclose was harmless.” Solis v. Burningham Enters. Inc., 2015 UT App 11, ¶ 21, 342 P.3d 812 (cleaned up); see alsoArreguin-Leon v. Hadco Constr. LLC, 2018 UT App 225, ¶ 22, 438 P.3d 25 (“[I]f a party fails to disclose or supplement a discovery response, the evidence or testimony may not be used.”), aff’d 2020 UT 59, 472 P.3d 927.
¶27 Janice does not dispute that the disclosure of her valuation expert and his report was untimely. The question is whether Janice established an exception to the otherwise mandatory sanction of exclusion under rule 26(d)(4). We conclude that the district court did not exceed its discretion in rejecting Janice’s claim that her untimely expert disclosure was either harmless or justified.
¶28 First, the record amply supports the court’s conclusion that the untimely expert disclosure was not harmless. The court enlarged Janice’s time to serve her disclosures, extending her deadline from November 4 to November 26 at 5:00 p.m.—a mere six days before trial. On November 26, “shortly before 5:00 p.m.” Janice filed her expert disclosure with the court, but she did not serve that disclosure on Dean’s counsel until after the 5:00 p.m. deadline. Moreover, she did not serve the expert report until the following afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving. The timing left only the holiday weekend for Dean’s counsel to review the expert report and prepare to meet that testimony before the trial began on Monday. On the first day of trial, Janice called her rebuttal expert witness out of order, depriving Dean of any additional time he might have had to prepare during the course of the trial. The purpose of rule 26 is to eliminate unfair surprise and provide the opposing party with a reasonable opportunity to prepare for trial. Drew v. Lee, 2011 UT 15, ¶ 28, 250 P.3d 48. Here, the late disclosure deprived Dean of a reasonable opportunity to prepare to rebut the newly disclosed expert’s testimony. Under these circumstances, the district court acted well within its discretion in concluding that the late disclosure was not harmless.
¶29 Second, the record also supports the court’s determination that Janice had no good reason to delay disclosing her expert and his report. The court found that it gave Janice “months” to “call an expert to dispute the valuation that was done by the court-appointed receiver,” yet she waited until “a couple weeks” before trial to hire her valuation rebuttal expert. Moreover, the court found that Janice’s excuse for not hiring an expert—that she was waiting because she wanted the marital estate to pay for the expert—“carrie[d] no water with [the court]” because the court had made clear, at least since the previous August, that Janice had to pay for her own rebuttal valuation expert. Under these circumstances, the district court did not exceed its discretion in finding that the delay was unjustified.
¶30 We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Janice’s untimely disclosure was neither excused for good cause nor harmless to Dean. Therefore, the district court correctly applied the automatic sanction dictated by rule 26(d)(4) and excluded the expert’s testimony.
III. Sanction of Attorney Fees and Costs
¶31 On appeal, Janice does not challenge the court’s finding that she engaged in sanctionable conduct and acknowledges that “the bulk of the court’s award of fees and allocation of costs were within the court’s authority.” Instead, she argues that the award was excessive because it included some attorney fees and costs not attributable to her sanctionable conduct. Because we cannot determine whether the attorney fees award exceeded the costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct, we remand to the district court for further proceedings.
¶32 “[W]hen a court imposes an award of fees or costs as a sanction, its award must be limited to the amount actually incurred by the other party” as a result of the sanctionable conduct. Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 36, 299 P.3d 1079. In Goggin, the district court awarded the former wife all her attorney fees and costs after finding that they were “largely due to [her former husband’s] untoward and contemptuous behavior.” See id. ¶ 38 (cleaned up). Our supreme court reasoned that “this language implies that [the former wife] may have been awarded at least some attorney fees and out-of-pocket costs that were not caused by [the former husband’s] contemptuous behavior.” Id. (cleaned up). The supreme court therefore held that the district court had exceeded its discretion by awarding costs and fees in excess of the amount attributed to the sanctionable conduct. Id.
¶33 Here, it is not clear whether the district court limited the award to the fees and costs that Dean incurred as a result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. In assigning the entire cost of Dean’s attorney fees and expenses to Janice, the court found that Dean had incurred “extraordinary legal costs in enforcing Court orders and attempting to track down and preserve marital assets” and that a “substantial amount of additional work [had been] required to address the dissipation issues in this case.” Yet the court also found that Dean’s legal fees and costs “incurred in connection with issues surrounding the dissipation of marital assets and the nefarious conduct engaged in by [Janice]” merely constituted the “lion’s share” of Dean’s legal fees. Like the district court’s use of the term “largely” in Goggin, the use of the term “lion’s share” here suggests that a portion of Dean’s fees and costs were not the direct result of Janice’s sanctionable conduct. To the extent that the attorney fees award included such additional costs, it exceeded the district court’s discretion.
¶34 Accordingly, we vacate the attorney fee award and remand for further proceedings. On remand, the district court should either make findings to support the determination that all Dean’s legal expenses were caused by Janice’s sanctionable conduct or modify the award to exclude any amounts not caused by that conduct.
¶35 Janice has not shown that the court failed to consider goodwill in valuing the business or that it clearly erred in finding that there was no personal goodwill associated with Meds. Nor has she shown that the court exceeded its discretion in determining that her untimely expert disclosure was not harmless or justified. However, to the extent that the attorney fees award exceeded the costs Janice’s sanctionable conduct caused Dean to incur, the court exceeded its discretion in granting that award. Therefore, we remand for further proceedings on that issue consistent with this opinion.
 As is our practice when parties share the same last name, we refer to each by their first names, intending no disrespect to either party.
 “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard, and we present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Nakkina v. Mahanthi, 2021 UT App 111, n.2, 496 P.3d 1173 (cleaned up).
 Janice also argues that there was “[i]rregularity in the proceedings” because the receiver “hire[d] a business valuator who is . . . a partner with the receiver at the [same] firm.” But this issue was not preserved. See Brookside Mobile Home Park, Ltd. v. Peebles, 2002 UT 48, ¶ 14, 48 P.3d 968 (explaining that for an issue to be preserved “(1) the issue must be raised in a timely fashion; (2) the issue must be specifically raised; and (3) a party must introduce supporting evidence or relevant legal authority” (cleaned up)). Janice did not challenge this alleged irregularity below. It appears that Janice may have attempted to raise the issue in a motion pursuant to rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, see Utah R. Civ. P. 59(a)–(a)(1) (providing that “a new trial may be granted to any party on any issue” because of “irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury or opposing party, or any order of the court, or abuse of discretion by which a party was prevented from having a fair trial”), but the district court properly refused to consider that motion as untimely, and the issue is therefore unpreserved for appeal, see Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 30, 163 P.3d 615 (holding that an issue raised in an untimely posttrial motion was not preserved for appellate review where district court “properly refused to address the” untimely motion).
 Dean argues that even if the district court awarded attorney fees and costs not attributable to Janice’s contemptuous behavior, that error was harmless because a mathematical error resulted in Janice not paying the intended award. If the district court determines that “a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission” has occurred, the court may correct the mistake on remand. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(a).
 “Although [Dean] requests attorney fees on appeal, because the trial court awarded [him] attorney fees only as a sanction for [Janice’s] conduct during litigation, we deny that request.” Liston v. Liston, 2011 UT App 433, ¶ 27, n.6, 269 P.3d 169.
How can a mother leave the father of her baby and get full custody, when she does not trust him to look after the baby by himself? The mother (or any parent in such a situation) would need to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, to the court that the father (or other parent) is sufficiently unfit to be entrusted with the child. Simply telling the court “I don’t trust the other parent” is not enough, not even close to enough to persuade the court.
The mother would need to provide the court independently verifiable facts that show the father is either unable or unwilling to provide adequate care and attention and supervision of the child. A court cannot award a parent sole legal and/or sole physical custody of a child without first finding there is sufficient evidence to justify such an award (or at least cannot do its job properly without first finding there is sufficient evidence to justify such an award).
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
How can my friend leave the father of her baby and get full custody, when she doesn’t trust him to look after the baby by himself?
The mother (or any parent in such a situation) would need to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, to the court that the father (or other parent) is sufficiently unfit to be entrusted with the child. Simply telling the court “I don’t trust the other parent” is not enough, not even close to enough to persuade the court. The mother would need to provide the court independently verifiable facts that show the father is either unable or unwilling to provide adequate care and attention and supervision of the child.
A court cannot award a parent sole legal and/or sole physical custody of a child without first finding there is sufficient evidence to justify such an award (or at least cannot do its job properly without first finding there is sufficient evidence to justify such an award).
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
I’ll answer as if this question were asked in the belief that the affair will have a profound effect upon child custody, child support, and/or alimony.
If you’ve had an extramarital affair, it generally won’t do your divorce case any favors, won’t win you any sympathizers.
But will it generally result in you being “punished” by the divorce court? The answer to that question is, in my experience as a divorce lawyer: probably not (unless your affair could be shown to have done your spouse and kids egregious financial, physical, or emotional harm) and/or you were a serial, unrepentant adulterer/adulteress).
Child custody: in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce law (Utah), it has been my experience that extramarital affairs are rarely seen as rendering a parent “unfit” to exercise sole or joint custody of his/her children.
While the court is required to consider “the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent” (Utah Code § 30-3-10(2)(d)) in making its child custody evaluation and award, usually the court will reason that an adulterous parent is not inherently any worse as a parent than one who is not.
If the affair cause the parent to spend excessive time away from the children, caused the parent to neglect the children, or if the children’s knowledge of the affair caused the children serious psychological or emotional harm and/or the children distrust or hate a parent because of the affair, then it’s not really the affair that is the problem itself, but the effects of the extramarital affair.
Child support: I have never seen an extramarital affair cited as a reason for awarding more or less child support had the child support payor not committed adultery.
Alimony: in Utah (where I practice divorce law), adultery can affect the alimony award, but will not automatically have an effect on the alimony award. Here is what the Utah Code contains:
(b) The court may consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.
(c) “Fault” means any of the following wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship:
(i) engaging in sexual relations with an individual other than the party’s spouse[.]
(See Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(c))
What does this mean? The Utah Supreme Court construed that section of the Utah Code in the case of Gardner v. Gardner (2019 UT 61, 452 P.3d 1134 (Supreme Court of Utah 2019)):
¶ 26 As with harm in a negligence case, a “great number of events” may have contributed to a divorce. In fact, we have previously recognized “that it is seldom, perhaps never, that there is any wholly guilty or wholly innocent party to a divorce action.” So in almost all divorce cases, it could be argued that each spouse contributed in some way to the breakup of the marriage. But some causes are clearly more substantial, or significant, than others. So even though it may be impossible to state with certainty a sole, or even the first, cause leading to the breakup of the marriage, it will certainly be possible in many cases for a court to determine the significant or important causes of the divorce.
¶ 27 Accordingly, we conclude that “substantially contributed” to the breakup of the marriage is conduct that was a significant or an important cause of the divorce. Under this definition, conduct need not be the sole, or even the most important, cause for it to substantially contribute to a divorce. So when an important or significant cause falls into a category of conduct specifically identified in section 30-3-5(8), courts are authorized to consider it in an alimony determination, even if the at-fault party can point to other potential causes of the divorce.
¶ 53 Section 30-3-5(8)(a) requires district courts to consider the financial situations of both spouses as part of its alimony determination. Additionally, section 30-3-5(8)(e) urges district courts to “look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation, in determining alimony in accordance with Subsection (8)(a),” and section 30-3-5(8)(f) provides that the “court may … attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.” Together these provisions codify the default rules that an alimony award should be crafted to “provide support for the [receiving spouse] as nearly as possible at the standard of living [he or] she enjoyed during marriage,” and, “to the extent possible,” to “equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.”
¶ 54 As we have explained, these default rules tend to further the court’s aim of achieving “a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties” because they typically put the parties in the best possible position to “reconstruct their [separate] lives on a happy and useful basis.” So the economic factors, and the general aim of placing the parties in the same position they enjoyed during the marriage, stand as an important starting point in any alimony determination.
¶ 55 But section 30-3-5(8) also provides courts the flexibility and discretion to depart from these default rules in certain situations where fairness demands. For example, in addition to the economic factors listed in section 30-3-5(8)(a), section 30-3-5(8)(b) also authorizes courts to consider “the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.” So the statute expressly provides district courts with the discretion to consider fault in determining whether to award alimony, as well as in determining the terms—the amount and length—of the alimony award.
¶ 56 Section 30–3–5 also provides guidance for how a court may adjust the amount and length of an alimony award in the event the court determines that one spouse’s fault necessitates a departure from the default economic alimony factors. For example, although section 30-3-5(8)(e) urges district courts as “a general rule,” to “look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation,” it also instructs courts to “consider all relevant facts and equitable principles,” and grants courts “discretion” to “base alimony on the standard of living that existed at the time of trial.” When section 30-3-5(8)(e) is read together with section 30-3-5(8)(b)’s fault provision, it is clear that where a court determines that one spouse’s fault would make it inequitable to maintain both parties at the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the court has the discretion to lower the award to an amount sufficient to sustain the at-fault spouse at a reasonable standard of living post-marriage, rather than the standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage.
¶ 57 Similarly, section 30-3-5(8)(f) authorizes courts to depart from default alimony awards where fault contributed to the break-up of the marriage. It instructs courts to “attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.” But it also notes that courts should do so only “under appropriate circumstances.” So once again, when this provision is read together with section 30-3-5(8)(b)’s fault provision, it is clear that courts need not attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living where one spouse’s fault would make equalization inappropriate.
¶ 58 Therefore, under the plain language of section 30-3-5(8), courts have discretion to depart from the default economic rules where one party’s fault makes it appropriate to do so. Because the district court determined that Ms. Gardner’s conduct qualified as fault under the statute, the court was authorized to depart from the default alimony rules by reducing Ms. Gardner’s alimony award by some amount.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
How do you feel about the fact that in divorce, the mother seems to get custody of the child almost by default? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 50/50 custody by default, or an actual assessment on which parent is more suited?
This is an excellent question, and an insightful one.
First, it is a fact that the mothers get custody of the children more often than do the fathers. Even if you factor out those fathers who could be awarded custody due to parental fitness issues or work schedules that are incompatible with sole or shared custody, mothers get custody more often than fathers.
Second, it would not just make “more sense” to have 50/50 custody as the rebuttable default presumption because that would be an impartial, equitable basis on which to start building the child custody analysis, it’s the only impartial, equitable way to start the child custody analysis. Assuming one sex is better than the other is inherently discriminatory and sexist.
Third, once we eliminate any presumptions that one sex is better than the other, we are clear to make the child custody determination based upon an actual assessment of whether the children are better off in the sole or primary physical custody of one parent, instead of in the joint custody of both parents.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
When lawsuit judgments may or may not be marital property: lessons from Utah appellate case law
In the Utah divorce case of Andersen v. Andersen, 379 P.3d 933 (Utah Court of Appeals 2016), the husband appealed the trial court’s denial of his claim that the settlement proceeds he had received from city in civil rights lawsuit were marital rather than separate property.
Did the Utah Court of Appeals agree?
Let’s read a summary of the case and then before I tell you the decision, reach your own conclusions first. The paragraph notations in the summary below are references to the paragraph numbers in the Court of Appeals’ decision.
¶5 In March 2015, the trial court held a two-day bench trial. With regard to Husband’s income and child support, the court noted that it had “great difficulty in attributing full candor to [Husband] on financial matters.”
¶7 In distributing the parties’ marital property, the trial court included $130,000 that Husband received in a settlement from Riverton City stemming from a civil suit alleging the city violated the Fair Housing Act. Husband argued the settlement proceeds were separate property because they were received as the result of a personal injury. To support his contentions, Husband provided a copy of his amended complaint (the Amended Complaint) and a settlement agreement (the Settlement Agreement).
¶8 The trial court ultimately concluded the settlement proceeds were marital property because the “complaint sought only damages and sought compensation for lost rents and costs and attorney fees for bringing the action” and therefore determined that Wife was entitled to a portion of the proceeds.
¶16 Husband argues “the court erred in determining factually and legally that the settlement from the civil rights lawsuit was marital property.” He argues it was legal error not to conclude that the settlement was for a personal injury. He further asserts “the court’s determination that absolutely no part of the settlement was to compensate for personal injury is unsupported by any facts or findings.” Finally, Husband argues the trial court “erred in deciding not to hear testimony from [his attorney in the civil rights case] about the nature of the settlement.”
¶17 “There is no fixed formula upon which to determine a division of properties in a divorce action….” Naranjo v. Naranjo, 751 P.2d 1144, 1146 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). Accordingly, “[w]e afford the trial court considerable latitude in adjusting financial and property interests, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Bradford v. Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 25, 993 P.2d 887 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, “changes will be made in a trial court’s property division determination in a divorce action only if there was a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error, the evidence clearly preponderates against the findings, or such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
¶18 “In addressing the distribution of property between divorcing spouses, the trial court must first determine whether the assets in dispute are marital or separate property.” Keyes v. Keyes, 2015 UT App 114, ¶ 28, 351 P.3d 90 (citing Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 23, ¶ 121, 345 P.3d 566). “Marital property is ordinarily all property acquired during the marriage … whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” Id. (omission in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Gardner v. Gardner, 748 P.2d 1076, 1078–79 (Utah 1988) (explaining that “marital property encompasses all of the assets of every nature possessed by the parties, whenever obtained and from whatever source derived” (citation and internal *938 quotation marks omitted)). By contrast, “separate property, which may include premarital assets, inheritances, or similar assets, will be awarded to the acquiring spouse.” Keyes, 2015 UT App 114, ¶ 28, 351 P.3d 90 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
¶19 Here, relying on Husband’s testimony, the Amended Complaint, and the Settlement Agreement, the court determined that Husband’s compensation was marital property. Specifically, it concluded,
The First Amended Complaint does not mention personal injury. The Settlement Agreement does not use the words “personal injury” anywhere in the document. The allegations included injuries that could be considered personal, such as an arrest, but the settlement did not describe whether the payment was based solely on the Fair Housing Act violations or other aspects of the litigation. The court cannot guess the payment amount was selected because of personal injury, again no claims being directly styled personal injury. The complaint sought only damages and sought compensation for lost rents and costs and attorney fees for bringing the action.
The trial court declined to find that the settlement was for a personal injury. But even if we assume it erred by failing to conclude that violations of the Fair Housing Act are not considered personal injuries, we are not convinced the court erred when it determined the settlement was marital property.
¶20 This court [i.e., the Utah Court of Appeals] has explained that compensation for a personal injury can be either separate property or marital property, depending on the nature of the damages. Naranjo, 751 P.2d at 1148. Specifically, “amounts received as compensation for pain, suffering, disfigurement, disability, or other personal debilitation are generally found to be the personal property of the injured spouse in divorce actions.” Id.; see also Izatt v. Izatt, 627 P.2d 49, 51 (Utah 1981) (determining that a wife’s personal injury compensation related to a medical malpractice suit that caused her to have two cardiac arrests was her personal property). But “money realized as compensation for lost wages and medical expenses, which diminish the marital estate, are considered to be marital property.” Naranjo, 751 P.2d at 1148; see also Bugh v. Bugh, 125 Ariz. 190, 608 P.2d 329, 331–32 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980) (concluding that compensation awarded to an injured employee for lost wages and medical expenses, and not pain and suffering, was marital property).
¶21 So, even assuming Husband’s civil rights action against Riverton City equated to a personal injury claim, whether Husband’s claims were for personal injuries is not determinative of whether the compensation for those claims constitutes marital or separate property. Rather, the court must look to the nature of the personal injuries to determine whether the compensation is for injuries usually considered so personal as to render it separate property.
¶22 In Naranjo v. Naranjo, 751 P.2d 1144 (Utah Ct. App. 1988), this court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the defendant’s compensation for lost wages and medical costs for a knee injury incurred in an industrial accident was marital property. Id. at 1146, 1148–49. The defendant injured his knee during his marriage to the plaintiff. The injury prevented the defendant from working for nine months and required numerous surgeries. Id. at 1146. At trial, he argued the compensation was not marital property and that “he planned to use the award proceeds to meet his future medical expenses and to offset his potential reduced earning capacity.” Id. The defendant further explained that he was unable to articulate how much of the compensation was for pain and suffering “because the judgment was awarded in Colorado, and, according to Colorado procedure, the jury verdict was not broken into general or special damages.” Id. at 1148. Nevertheless, the trial court found that the defendant had failed to meet his burden of showing the amount of the award attributable to pain and suffering. Id. at 1146.
¶23 Like the defendant in Naranjo, Husband argues the settlement was separate property, not marital. But Husband has failed to set forth any evidence to show that any amount of the settlement was for pain and suffering. The evidence Husband offered regarding the settlement was his own testimony, the Amended Complaint, and the Settlement Agreement. At most the Amended Complaint alleged Husband was harassed by a city official and was arrested. Husband’s prayer for relief in the Amended Complaint only requested compensation for “lost rental income,” “start-up costs lost,” “[r]easonable [a]ttorney fees,” and civil penalties and punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to punish” the City for violating the Fair Housing Act. At no point did it suggest Husband sought compensation for pain and suffering, nor does it allege the City violated any law that would warrant special damages that could be considered so personal as to render them separate property. Furthermore, as the trial court explained, the Settlement Agreement “did not describe whether the payment was based solely on the Fair Housing Act violation or other aspects of the litigation.”
¶29 We therefore conclude the trial court did not err when it determined that the settlement proceeds were marital property. Further, because he failed to actually object to the court not hearing the attorney’s testimony, Husband has not preserved the issue for appeal. In any event, he has not met his burden of proof to demonstrate that not hearing the attorney’s testimony was a harmful error.
¶33 Husband has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating the court erred in determining the settlement proceeds from Husband’s suit against Riverton City were marital property. Although a suit alleging violations of civil rights may be characterized as a personal injury lawsuit, our court has explained that proceeds from a personal injury lawsuit may be either separate or marital property, depending on the nature of the relief sought. See Naranjo v. Naranjo, 751 P.2d 1144, 1146 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). Thus, because Husband sought compensation for lost wages and rents—costs usually defined as marital—we cannot agree with Husband that the district court erred.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
Is it true that the first to file for divorce has to pay the other party’s lawyer fees?
No. Filing for divorce first does not obligate the filing party to pay the opposing party’s attorney fees.
Attorney’s fees are rarely awarded. Prevailing in the case does not automatically entitle the prevailing party to an award of attorney’s fees. Whether attorney’s fees are awarded is a matter left to the discretion of the judge.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277