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Tag: Child Support

Is It Common for Ex-spouses to Continue Supporting Each Other Financially and Emotionally After a Divorce? What Are Some Potential Solutions for This Situation?

See parent question. I am a divorce lawyer, and after a divorce case ends (meaning a decree of divorce has been issued and case essentially closed), I literally never know how the divorced couple interacts afterward unless their interactions result in the violation of provisions of the decree, or circumstances change so substantially and materially from what they were at the time the decree of divorce was entered that modifying the decree becomes either necessary or warranted.

If a court orders an ex-spouse to pay child support and/or alimony, then clearly that ex-spouse will be supporting the other financially, but this is due to a court order, not out of the goodness of that ex-spouse’s heart (in fairness, most people have no objection to supporting their own minor children and would do so whether they were “court-ordered” to do so).

That stated, it is my impression that post-divorce, most (most, not all) couples interact with each other very little, and only as much as necessary. Obviously, divorced parents of minor children almost always find themselves interacting with each other more than a couple without children or whose children are grown adults and not living with either parent because these divorced parents of minor children need to sign documents pertaining to the children, attend health care appointments and parent teacher conferences, performances and athletic events in which the children participate, etc.

Some ex-spouses end up voluntarily supporting an ex-spouse financially and/or emotionally because they didn’t want the divorce and still care for their ex-spouses and genuinely want to help them. Some provide support over and above what the court orders because it’s easier to provide the support than it is to ignore the ex-spouse’s constant wheedling and complaining, threats, and overall nuisance-causing.

Some people divorce in such an amicable way that they can truly care for each other yet conclude (often mutually) that they are better off friends than spouses. In those situations, they can and do care about and support each other as friends. I don’t know about you, but I am not in the habit of supporting my friends financially (with friends like those . . . ). Of course I’ll help in a time of emergency or need, I’ll buy a friend a birthday gift, pick up the tab for a meal, and things like that, but I don’t consider it part of a friendship to be paying a friend’s expenses with any degree of regularity. So a “friendly ex-spouse” who expects your friendship with him/her to include regular financial support of any amount is probably exploiting your good will.

For the most part, it is my experience that most ex-spouses do not voluntarily continue to support each other financially and emotionally after a divorce; it’s part of the divorce process to cut those ties.

A divorced person who feels “cheated” or “deprived” of an ex-spouse’s financial and/or emotional support after divorce because of divorce is someone who either does not understand divorce or its purpose.

If one is an innocent spouse who was nothing but loving and supporting and faithful and devoted during the married and his/her spouse divorced him/her due to no fault of the innocent spouse, well, honey, unless your ex comes to his/her senses and sincerely begs your forgiveness (and it is known to happen in rare, rare circumstances—not frequently enough to justify believing or even hoping it is likely to happen), then if your ex wants nothing more to do with you, you’re much better off finding love, affection, and support elsewhere.

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

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Can Child Support (Whether Prospectively or Retrospectively) Be Waived by the Child Support Payee?

The easiest of these two questions to answer is the second one, i.e., “Can child support be waiver retrospectively by the child support payee? The answer is yes, if the parties comply with

Utah Code § 78B-12-109. Waiver and estoppel

(1) Waiver and estoppel shall apply only to the custodial parent when there is no order already established by a tribunal if the custodial parent freely and voluntarily waives support specifically and in writing.

(2) Waiver and estoppel may not be applied against any third party or public entity that may provide support for the child.

(3) A noncustodial parent, or alleged biological father in a paternity action, may not rely on statements made by the custodial parent of the child concerning child support unless the statements are reduced to writing and signed by both parties.

See Cahoon v. Evans (2011, 257 P.3d 454, 682 Utah Adv. Rep. 58, 2011 UT App 148) at headnotes 3 and 4 and West’s Child Support Key Number 452:

[3] Statute, providing that waiver and estoppel shall apply only to the custodial parent when there is no child support order already established by a tribunal, expressly limits application of waiver and estoppel to those situations where there is no prior child support order.

[4] Mother was not precluded by waiver or estoppel from seeking reimbursement for unpaid child support, given that child support order had previously been entered and statute expressly limited application of waiver and estoppel to those situations where there was no prior child support order.

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

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Why Hiding Your Money in a Divorce and/or Child Support Court Case Won’t Work (and why people still try) By Braxton Mounteer

When those who will be ordered to divide assets with a spouse and/or pay child and/or spousal support (alimony) confront the matter, many try to lie about and to misrepresent their finances and their income in the hope they can avoid paying. Few involved in the support calculation effort–from the would-be support recipient to the court–believes one would tell the truth about his/her income, and this is doubly true for child support obligors who are self-employed. While it is tempting to lie about your income in the hope of receiving more than you should or paying less than you should, that’s wrong (and it most likely would not work anyway).

There are several ways one can try to hide and misrepresent income and assets during a divorce case.

  • hide physical cash in the proverbial mattress or mason jar buried in the backyard
  • hide it in a safe deposit box no one knows of but you
  • hide money in a trust account, in an account opened in the name(s) of your child(ren) or another person, in an offshore account
  • overpay taxes
  • defer salaries or commissions
  • fake debt

The deadbeat dad strategy works like this, you spend all your time working and thus generate income. However, you hate your former spouse and even though you don’t have the time with your kids that you would like you still want to provide for them. So, to avoid paying your former spouse anything, you hide your money in a trust or in an unknown bank account (or some other degree of hiding your cash like skimming or filtering) that they don’t know about. You filter your cash through several fronts (friends, family members, false debt, overpaying taxes) and after the lengthy process of laundering your money, you receive it.

 How do you enjoy the hard-earned cash that you have cleaned your name from? You don’t. You have wandered into the Walter White problem. You have money you can’t spend because that would unravel the lie. You will have to keep this lie going for 18 years, and then hope that your children forgive you in your golden years for the hardship that you put them through during their childhood (this depends on the level of poverty that you have claimed).

The housewife strategy works like this, you spend your time caring for the house and the children and generate no income. You get access to your spouse’s money either through an allowance or through direct access. You then skim off the top every time you pay a bill or get groceries or something similar. This is done through cashback or keeping the change if you are given physical cash. This adds up over time and must be started several years before your divorce. You store your nest eggs either in the form of valuables, or in physical cash. You could get a safety deposit box or a safe or hide the cash in the marital home (under floorboards, in a wall, under the mattress, or in a vase).

How do you enjoy this money? You don’t. These nest eggs are for emergencies or for your quick exit from the marriage. This strategy is entirely dependent on your former spouse not catching on that money is going missing. Hopefully they are asleep at the wheel regarding their finances and not a penny pincher. You then have to maintain the lie and not show that you have money to buy things that your former spouse has not gifted to you. How do you retrieve the money without your spouse getting suspicious? You can’t pawn your wedding ring or fill your house with luxury goods without them noticing (a distant relative can only die so many times before its suspicious).

While both strategies have their ups and downs, both involve underreporting your income and hiding it. You will get caught because you are trying to hoodwink someone who has intimate knowledge of your financial situation. You cannot hide your offshore bank account from your wife who you took to the Bahamas to open it. You can’t hide money or valuables from your husband without tearing the house down. You won’t be able to hide your income because you are trying to lie to people who have seen every trick in the book and then some. You are also required to produce documents, such as your bank account statements and lists of your property. Your spouse will keep you honest.

You are fighting an uphill battle to avoid your legal obligation. Most people do not make enough money to warrant these strategies and if you get caught, you can lose every penny you tried to hide and then some. You can try but you will most likely fail because you do not have the skill, time, money, or ability to maintain these deceptions. Do you really think you will reinvent the wheel?

Honestly, it is easier to just tell the truth because the court can just choose to not believe you. If the lie that you have told to the court has too many holes or just isn’t up to snuff, then you could just lose anyway. You care about your children, so do not give them a reason to hate you just because you want to spite your former spouse.

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How much does a parent have to pay in child support? What is the legally set amount?

Some people believe that child support is the same for all parents. They believe that every parent who is ordered to pay child support pays the same amount of money per child. This is not how child support is calculated in most jurisdictions, and Utah is no exception.

Child support is based upon several factors before it is calculated and ordered:

  • the incomes of both parents;
  • the number of children there are; and
  • the number of overnights that each parent spends with the child or children on an annual basis

Some other factors can affect child support calculations, such as whether a child has special needs, but generally, child support is a factor of parent income and the number of overnights the children spend with each parent. Allow me to explain with this hypothetical example:

John and Jane are the parents of three minor children.

John’s gross monthly income (we use gross monthly income as the income figures for calculating the monthly base child support obligation) is $5,400 per month, and Jane’s monthly gross income is $2,600 per month.

To calculate child support in various custody situations, we are going to utilize the Utah State Office of Recovery Services Child Support Calculator.

If the children spend an equal number of overnights with both parents on an annual basis, then child support looks like this because it is calculated this way under Utah Code § 30-3-35.2[1]:

(2)

(d) Child support for the equal parent-time schedule shall be consistent with Section 78B-12-208.

(e)

(i) A court shall determine which parent receives 182 overnights and which parent receives 183 overnights for parent-time.

(ii) For the purpose of calculating child support under Section 78B-12-208, the amount of time to be spent with the parent who has the lower gross monthly income is considered 183 overnights, regardless of whether the parent receives 182 overnights or 183 overnights under Subsection (2)(e)(i).

Joint Custody P1 – 183 P2 – 182
Joint Custody P1 – 182 P2 – 183

If one parent has the children in his or her custody more or less than on an equal time basis, the calculation looks something like this:

  • I will show what a calculation based upon an unequal physical custody award looks like by calculating child support based upon John spending less than 111 overnights with his children annually)
  • In such a situation, we will treat John as the “noncustodial” parent. “Noncustodial parent” does not mean that John has lost all of his parental rights, but just that he does not have primary physical custody of the children (i.e., that the children are in his care and custody less than 111 overnights annually). Based upon John’s spending less than 111 overnights with the children, the Child Support worksheet would look like this, and would result in John’s child support obligation being as follows:
Sole Custody

And there is yet another way to calculate child support in a “split custody” situation. That’s a situation where, when there are multiple children, some live primarily with one parent and some live primarily with the other (in other words, they don’t spend time all together with one parent at a time).

So, let’s assume in this scenario that two of the children live with John as the custodial parent, and one of the children lives with Jane has the custodial parent of that one child. This is how the child support calculation worksheet would look and what the resulting child support obligations from each parent to the other would be:

Split Custody

As you can see, on a split custody basis, even though each parent has custody of one or more children, it ultimately comes down to one parent’s obligation being offset by what the other parent’s obligation is. This is why John pays $13 to Jane each month, even though Jane’s obligation to John is $355.94 per month because his obligation to Jane is $369.08 per month.

So John’s obligation to Jane of $369.08 per month is reduced by Jane’s $355.94 monthly obligation to John, resulting in a difference of $13.

 

Now, the examples I provided above are not the only ways child custody can be awarded and thus not the only ways that child support can be calculated and awarded, but these examples are the most common that you’ll see. So, now you get an idea of what happens and what the child support calculations and obligations are in these situations.

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


[1] This is not truly an equal custody award because one parent is awarded 183 overnights with the children annually. It does not have to be this way, and indeed, I submit it should not be this way. If you are a parent who wants a true equal custody award made, then calculate custody and child support this way:

  • Agree that each parent is awarded 182.5 overnights with the children annually and note that this will result in one parent naturally having the children in his/her care and custody 183 overnights in one year, then 182 overnights in the next year due to the fact that a year consists of (with the exception of leap years, which occur so rarely as to be statistically insignificant) an odd number of days, i.e., 365.
  • Calculate what child support would be for the obligor parent (“obligor” means the one who pays) if a parent had the children in his/her care and custody 183 overnights annually and 182 overnights annually, and then average those two child support obligations to get what the child support obligation is on a 182.5 overnights annually basis.
  • So, in John and Jane Doe’s hypothetical case, that would mean that John’s monthly base child support payment obligation on a 182.5 perfectly equal custody basis would be $287 per month ($272 + #302 = $574. $574 ÷ 2 = $287).
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Why Hiding or Misrepresenting Your Income in a Divorce and/or Child Support Court Case Won’t Work (and why people still try) By Braxton Mounteer

When those who realize they may be ordered to pay child and/or spousal support (alimony) confront the matter, many try to lie about and to misrepresent their income in the hope they can avoid paying, or at least pay as little as possible. Few involved in the support calculation effort–from the would-be support obligee (“obligee” means the one who receives support payments) to the court–believes anyone would tell the truth about his/her income, and this is doubly true for support obligors (“obligor” means the one who pays) who are self-employed.

Those who hope to receive child support are also tempted to lie about their income as well because the less income they can get the court to believe they have, the more they hope to be paid.

While it is tempting to lie about your income in the hope of either receiving more than you should or paying less than you should, that’s wrong (and it most likely would not work anyway).

Many will earn more than they claim to earn by getting paid under the table or working a side hustle.

But how do you enjoy the hard-earned cash that you have cleaned your name from (i.e., the Walter White problem)? If you spend the money you haven’t reported, you risk unraveling the lie. For example, if your personal expenses are $10,000 per month, but you report an income of only $6,000 per month and don’t show yourself incurring $4,000 worth of debt every month, then clearly you have income of some kind that enables you to cover your $10,000 of monthly living expenses.

Avoiding your legal obligations often proves to be more trouble than it’s worth. It is both easier and easier on your conscience just to tell the truth. Most people aren’t good enough liars to keep everyone fooled forever. Don’t give your children reason to hate you for being greedy.

Now, we get it: some of you would feel a lot better about paying child support if you knew the parent receiving the support money was actually spending it for the child’s support and not for that parent’s own selfish benefit. But that’s a subject for another blog.

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

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House Bill 129 Child Support Requirements

Today’s blog post treats another proposed law that is up for consideration during the 2024 Utah legislative session: House Bill 129 (HB0129 (utah.gov)), entitled “Child Support Requirements”.

This bill would, if passed into law, provide that a parent or other obligated individual is not responsible to pay child support for a child who is in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).

The law that is currently in place provides for the possibility of a parent having to pay child support to DCFS or to reimburse DCFS for funds is has expended on the support of a child while the child is in DCFS custody. H.B. 129 would eliminate that possibility.

I wonder why the government would want to eliminate a way of getting its hands on our money, and in fairness, I don’t see anything wrong with a parent having to reimburse the state for funds DCFS expends on behalf of a child in the protective custody, temporary custody, or custody of the division, from the child’s parent or guardian. Do you?

The proposed legislation is cited below:

27     Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah:

28          Section 1. Section 78A-6-356 is amended to read:

29          78A-6-356. Child support obligation when custody of a child is vested in an

30     individual or institution.

*****

114          (12) [(a)] The child’s parent or another obligated individual is not responsible for child
115     support for the period of time that the child is removed from the child’s home by the Division
116     of Child and Family Services [if:].
117          [(i) the juvenile court finds that there were insufficient grounds for the removal of the
118     child; and]
119          [(ii) the child is returned to the home of the child’s parent or guardian based on the
120     finding described in Subsection (12)(a)(i).]

121          [(b) If the juvenile court finds insufficient grounds for the removal of the child under
122     Subsection (12)(a), but that the child is to remain in state custody, the juvenile court shall order
123     that the child’s parent or another obligated individual is responsible for child support beginning
124     on the day on which it became improper to return the child to the home of the child’s parent or
125     guardian.]

*****

138          80-2-301. Division responsibilities.
139          (1) The division is the child, youth, and family services authority of the state.
140          (2) The division shall:

*****

202          [(l) seek reimbursement of funds the division expends on behalf of a child in the
203     protective custody, temporary custody, or custody of the division, from the child’s parent or
204     guardian in accordance with an order for child support under Section 78A-6-356;]

*****

282          80-2-303. Division enforcement authority — Attorney general responsibilities.

*****

306          (3) (a) The attorney general’s office shall represent the division in an action[:]


307          [(a)] involving a minor who has not been adjudicated as abused or neglected, but who
308     is placed in the custody of the division by the juvenile court primarily on the basis of
309     delinquent behavior or a status offense[; or].
310          [(b) for reimbursement of funds from a parent or guardian under Subsection
311     80-2-301(2)(l).]

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Do you think the child support laws in your state are fair? If no, then describe the changes that you would make.

I can’t speak for all jurisdictions, but in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah), child support awards are generally, in my opinion, 1) too high, 2) often wrongfully misused by those seeking child support (and by the courts that award child support) as a means of providing financial support for a parent (not just the child(ren)), and 3) not subject to enough (if any) oversight regarding their properly use.

One factor that can cause child support to be awarded unfairly to the child support recipient is this: I’ve attended the meetings of the committee that sets child support guidelines in my state. It was clear in my observations of the committee’s work that some on the committee don’t see child supporters as financial support exclusively for children, but for the parent receiving the child support payments also. I’ve seen courts award sole or primary child custody to a parent not because that was in the best interest of the child, but because the court wanted to ensure that the parent awarded custody got the extra child support money that comes with a sole or primary custody award. In my view, that is unfair. There are many times when a judge will award child support (and the associated child custody) not strictly for the purpose of providing some financial support for the children but for the custodial parent as well. When they do, it is manifestly inequitable and unjust (to child and parent alike), and a violation of the public trust, but it still happens. Not in every child support case, but it happens.

One factor that can cause child support to be spent unfairly by the child support recipient is: no accountability on the part of the child support funds recipient for the expenditure of the child support funds. Once the parent who was awarded child support receives the funds, he/she can spend them however he/she wants. If the child support recipient (also known as the child support obligee) does not actually spend the child support on the financial needs of the children, he/she gets away with it.

In my jurisdiction (Utah), while the law provides for accountability as to how child support funds are spent, that law is literally never applied (Play 26 years of practice I have never seen it ordered). There is no accountability for how child support funds are paid. That is not opinion, that is fact. About the only way to get accountability for use of child support funds is if the child support recipient so grossly and obviously misspends them that it cannot be denied, in which case the court may make some changes to the child support award as a result.

In fairness, while it may be a little easier to devise a means for a fairer calculation of needed child support than it is to devise a workable, reliable means of holding child support obligees accountable, both tasks are extremely difficult. Everyone has a different opinion of what is a “fair calculation,” and where there’s a will to misappropriate the child support funds with which one is entrusted without being detected, there’s a way (multiple ways, in fact, the number of which is limited only by the imagination).

In my jurisdiction, there are different kinds of child support. Three different kinds, to be exact (sometimes four, under certain circumstances). What most people consider child support is known as base monthly child support in Utah. That is the amount that is paid directly to the custodial parent. But child support also includes sharing equally the cost of the child’s health, medical, dental, and hospital insurance premiums, and half of all uninsured medical, health, dental, and hospitalization expenses. Child support also includes the responsibility that the parents share equally the cost of all work-related childcare expenses. And in joint physical custody cases, often the court will order that the parties share equally the costs of certain expenses for the child in addition to base monthly child support to cover things like mandatory school expenses and cost of reasonable extracurricular expenses.

A parent has his/her own living expenses. While it is true that in some cases a parent may incur housing expenses greater than what they would be were there no need for extra room to house the child or children, child support is not needed for “extra” housing expenses if the size of the parent’s residence would have been the same regardless of the child custody award.

The problem with thinking that “half of all living expenses are the child’s”) is that rarely are half of all living expenses are, in fact, the child’s. For example, if a parent would have been residing in the same sized residence with or without the child present, then the “child’s portion” of rent is $0. Even if the residence is a 2-bedroom house/apartment, the second bedroom is not equivalent to half the cost of the residence. Children don’t eat as much food until they are older (and even so, they are not eating on the custodial parent’s dime every day because they eat some time meals the noncustodial parent). I cannot speak for all jurisdictions, but in Utah child support is usually more than what the child (the child, not the custodial parent, the child) needs to be sufficiently financially supported).

All common expenses clearly do not divide perfectly equally between the parent and child. A parent whose residence would have been the same size regardless of whether he/she shared it with a child would have $0 in child housing expenses, $0 in certain utilities expenses (i.e., heating, garbage removal, cable TV, internet), for example. So, the idea that child support must take into account that a child’s “shelter” expenses are equal to half the parent’s rent or mortgage payment is false on its face. If a court wants to indulge such a fiction for the sake of making it easier to calculate child support, that’s a different matter. A child’s transportation needs are not necessarily equal to half or 25% of those of the parent either.

In Utah, work-related daycare is an expense shared equally between the parents and is separate from the base monthly child support amount. To be clear: a noncustodial parent pays base monthly child support in addition to sharing half the costs of work-related child care expenses.

While it is true that a child’s food consumption changes as the child ages, that’s built in to the child support calculations, so that it averages out—child support is more than necessary to feed a 5-year-old and less than necessary to feed a 17-year-old, but the average child support amount accounts for both scenarios as the child ages. I have never, in 26 years of practice in Utah, personally witnessed a case (nor have I heard of any other case in which) child support was ordered increased for a teenaged child on the basis of “additional food and clothing expenses of a teenager”. Child support calculations are the same for all children, regardless of age.

The “poor hapless custodial parent” story is tired and not credible. Of course, there are many deadbeat noncustodial parents to pay less than full court-ordered child support and many deadbeats who pay none. But that is not the discussion here. The idea that child support that is awarded is somehow insufficient to meet a child’s needs (needs) is bunk. All the arguments that “child support is too low” are bunk too. Consider this: in Utah, both parents have a child support obligation (that includes the custodial parent). That means that that the custodial parent has an obligation to spend his/her own money on the child’s support in addition to the money he/she receives in child support from the noncustodial parent. So, if we have John and Jane Doe as parents, they have two minor children, John’s gross monthly income is $6,500 and Jane’s gross monthly income is $2,400, and John is the noncustodial parent, then John’s monthly child support obligation is $1,111. That’s $555.50 per child, per month, that John pays. Jane’s child support obligation is less, but still $411 per month (see the Utah child support worksheet below, calculated on a sole custody basis in this hypothetical scenario). That’s an additional $205.50 per child per month. Don’t tell me that $761 per month isn’t enough to provide for a child’s needs monthly. Remember: base monthly child support does not include both parents sharing the costs of child health insurance equally, uninsured child health care equally, and work-related daycare equally. That’s all in addition to the base monthly child support amount. In other words, the custodial parent doesn’t have to spend out of that $761 per month for child health insurance, uninsured out of pocket health care, and daycare (the parents bear those expenses separately on an equal shares basis). $761 is likely more than what the parents would have spent on the child’s support had the parents resided together with the children under the same roof.

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

https://www.quora.com/Do-you-think-the-child-support-laws-in-your-state-are-fair-If-no-then-describe-the-changes-that-you-would-make/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

 

 

Don’t tell me that $761 per month isn’t enough to provide for a child’s needs monthly. Remember: base monthly child support does not include both parents sharing the costs of child health insurance equally, uninsured child health care equally, and work-related daycare equally. That’s all in addition to the base monthly child support amount. In other words, the custodial parent doesn’t have to spend out of that $761 per month for child health insurance, uninsured out of pocket health care, and daycare (the parents bear those expenses separately on an equal shares basis). $761 is likely more than what the parents would have spent on the child’s support had the parents resided together with the children under the same roof.

Don’t tell me that $761 per month isn’t enough to provide for a child’s needs monthly. Remember: base monthly child support does not include both parents sharing the costs of child health insurance equally, uninsured child health care equally, and work-related daycare equally. That’s all in addition to the base monthly child support amount. In other words, the custodial parent doesn’t have to spend out of that $761 per month for child health insurance, uninsured out of pocket health care, and daycare (the parents bear those expenses separately on an equal shares basis). $761 is likely more than what the parents would have spent on the child’s support had the parents resided together with the children under the same roof.

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What happens in court if I file for divorce but my husband has an active case on me for child support? Will I get the child?

Whether you “get the child” (meaning whether you will be awarded physical custody of the child) has little to no relevance to the fact that your spouse is seeking child support from you.

My guess is, based upon the way you phrased your question, that 1) you and your husband are separated and were separated before you filed, or before you have contemplated filing, for divorce; 2) the children have been, on an informal basis (i.e., no court order) your spouse has been exercising sole or primary custody of the children for a while since the separation occurred; and 3) your spouse has applied for an administrative order or court order for child support without having filed for a divorce. Under such circumstances, what would weaken your case for awarding custody to you would be the fact that the children have been in the sole or primary custody of your spouse during separation (and thus, the argument would go, that is the way it should stay, if and when a court issues a decree of divorce), not that he/she has sought child support from you.

If the children have been in the sole or primary custody of your spouse since separation and this is not due to your spouse having concealed the children from you, having absconded with the children, or having otherwise not obtained and exercised this de facto sole/primary custody wrongfully, then it’s not the fact that your spouse is seeking child support from you that hurts your case for custody. What hurts your case for custody being awarded to you is the fact that your spouse stepped up to take care of the kids and you did not.

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

Eric Johnson’s answer to What happens in court if I file for divorce but my husband has an active case on me for child support? Will I get the child? – Quora

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Client Red Flags By Braxton Mounteer

In my time as a legal assistant in the family law profession, I have observed many different kinds of client behaviors, some better than others. Those behaviors that cause the warning sirens to go off in our office are not always apparent upon first meeting with a client. It can be two or three weeks of communication before a red flag behavior appears.

One of the worst red flags that I have seen is not telling the whole truth. Clients who spin a yarn that falsely paints them as victims who are down on their luck and being abused by their exes and the system. Usually, this kind of dishonest client is not only being dishonest, but gives as good has he or she got in a mutually dysfunctional relationship. There isn’t much of an argument to be had by accusing your spouse of being an abusive drunk, a pill-popper, a philanderer, etc. when you’re engaged in the same or similar bad behavior. Be honest with your lawyer. He can help you. He can’t magically make all problems disappear, but he can ensure you present the ugly truths about yourself in the most effective ways. Your lawyer can’t help you very much, if at all, however, if you’re not honest with your lawyer. Period.

Another behavior that sets off the warning bells are the clients who focus on how much money and/or assets that they can get out of their former spouse. You are entitled to an equitable distribution of the marital assets. A fair division. But when clients try to leverage the children for money lie about abuse and betrayal and debauchery, that’s not only disgusting but it can backfire.

Finally, the least damning of the red flags but the most common are the clients who ghost their lawyers. Why would you hire an attorney ostensibly to help you, then not cooperate with them? If your lawyer is calling, it is probably important. You need to take the call. You need to return the call. Read your lawyer’s emails. Respond to them. Timely. When you fall asleep at the wheel or just expect your lawyer to do everything, it isn’t your lawyer’s fault when things go awry.

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

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Gaming Child Support as the Child Support Recipient

Many people complain (justifiably) about child support in this regard: parents who qualify to receive child support or to receive more child support by being unemployed, underemployed or who deliberately work lower paying jobs than they are qualified to do, and who then spend those support funds on themselves, not on the needs of the children.

It’s a very good point. We all know (and so do the courts) about child support recipients who (for lack of a better word) “embezzle” child support funds for their own personal use. It happens frequently, unfortunately. And it is hard to detect and to prove to a court. Even if one can prove that child support funds are being misspent by the recipient parent, most courts throw their hands in the air and say, effectively, “OK, so I agree that mom/dad is misspending the funds. What do you want me to do now? Order that you pay less child support? That will only result in the children having less, ‘cuz the recipient ain’t gonna have an epiphany and start spending the lower amount of support on the kids.” It’s a no-win situation for the innocents (children and payor alike).

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Is There Any Realistic Way to Prevent Misappropriating Child Support Funds?

This is a subject that comes up frequently. It comes up frequently not because misappropriating child support is a hard problem to mitigate but because the courts don’t have the will to implement effective mitigation measures.

When one of the factors in determining the child support award is essentially “making sure the less affluent parent (the poorer parent) has enough money to afford the costs of the lifestyle to which the child is accustomed,” this question arises: how is it ensured that the money paid by the child support obligor (the one paying support) to the child support obligee (the child support recipient) is spent on funding “the lifestyle to which the child is accustomed”? An associated question is: what is to stop the child support obligee from spending the funds on the obligee herself/himself?

The answer to both questions is fairly easy to implement:

  • Audit the child’s needs (rigorously; and we can define needs as “the lifestyle to which the child is accustomed” for this purpose)
  • Determine the costs of the child’s needs
  • Award the amount of child support paid based upon the child’s needs
  • Require the child support obligee to account for (with objectively verifiable proof) the expenditure of the child support funds paid, so that both the child support obligor and the court (and even the child himself/herself) can verify that the child support funds are not being misappropriated.

Utah even has a statutory provision that gives a court the option of requiring the child support obligee to account for the expenditure of child support funds[1], but in 26 years of practice I have yet to see a court order that the child support obligee account.

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


[1] Utah Code § 78B-12-218.  Accountability of support provided to benefit child — Accounting.

(1) The court or administrative agency which issues the initial or modified order for child support may, upon the petition of the obligor, order prospectively the obligee to furnish an accounting of amounts provided for the child’s benefit to the obligor, including an accounting or receipts.

(2) The court or administrative agency may prescribe the frequency and the form of the accounting which shall include receipts and an accounting.

(3) The obligor may petition for the accounting only if current on all child support that has been ordered.

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Does it not feel weird to anyone that a parent who does not get child custody has to pay child support to the other parent who is enjoying the kids?

I think I know why you think it’s weird. Why have the children live with one parent instead both parents on an equal custody basis? In other words, “I’ll bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with me, and you bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with you.” That makes, sense. But there is more than one way to view this situation. Most jurisdictions in the U.S.A. see it this way:

If the children spend more time in the care and custody of one parent than the other, then that parent will bear greater financial burden in the form of having to pay for at least the food the children eat, the laundry detergent they use in the washing of their clothes, the extra utilities expenses they represent (using more water and electricity than if the parent lived alone) and the soap, shampoo, and toilet paper the children use.

In Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), child support is intended to cover not only these expenses of the children, but their clothing and bedding, school fees, and extracurricular activities too.

This is why most jurisdictions order the parent who exercises less care and custody than the other parent (the noncustodial parent) to pay what is called “child support” to the custodial parent.

But what if the parents share equal physical custody of the children? Does that mean that neither parent will pay child support to the other? Not necessarily.

In Utah, even if the parents were awarded equal custody of the children, one parent can end up still paying child support to the other, if one parent has a higher income than the other. The reason for this is the idea that the children’s lifestyle should be the same regardless of which parent they are residing with at the time. To ensure the parent whose income is lower can afford to provide the same lifestyle for the children as their other parent, many courts (including Utah’s) will still order the richer parent to pay child support to the poorer parent for this purpose.

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

https://www.quora.com/Does-it-not-feel-weird-to-anyone-that-a-parent-who-does-not-get-child-custody-has-to-pay-child-support-to-other-parent-who-is-enjoying-with-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Does it not feel weird to anyone that a parent who does not get child custody has to pay child support to the other parent who is enjoying the kids?

I think I know why you think it’s weird. Why have the children live with one parent instead both parents on an equal custody basis? In other words, “I’ll bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with me, and you bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with you.” That makes, sense. But there is more than one way to view this situation. Most jurisdictions in the U.S.A. see it this way:

If the children spend more time in the care and custody of one parent than the other, then that parent will bear greater financial burden in the form of having to pay for at least the food the children eat, the laundry detergent they use in the washing of their clothes, the extra utilities expenses they represent (using more water and electricity than if the parent lived alone) and the soap, shampoo, and toilet paper the children use.

In Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), child support is intended to cover not only these expenses of the children, but their clothing and bedding, school fees, and extracurricular activities too.

This is why most jurisdictions order the parent who exercises less care and custody than the other parent (the noncustodial parent) to pay what is called “child support” to the custodial parent.

But what if the parents share equal physical custody of the children? Does that mean that neither parent will pay child support to the other? Not necessarily.

In Utah, even if the parents were awarded equal custody of the children, one parent can end up still paying child support to the other, if one parent has a higher income than the other. The reason for this is the idea that the children’s lifestyle should be the same regardless of which parent they are residing with at the time. To ensure the parent whose income is lower can afford to provide the same lifestyle for the children as their other parent, many courts (including Utah’s) will still order the richer parent to pay child support to the poorer parent for this purpose.

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

https://www.quora.com/Does-it-not-feel-weird-to-anyone-that-a-parent-who-does-not-get-child-custody-has-to-pay-child-support-to-other-parent-who-is-enjoying-with-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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I am ordered to pay child support to my ex. My ex and I are both ordered to share the cost of our child’s health, medical, dental, and hospital care insurance equally. Is there anything I can do to ensure that I am reimbursed without it costing me more than the value of the reimbursement itself?

Question: I am ordered to pay child support to my ex. My ex and I are both ordered to share the cost of our child’s health, medical, dental, and hospital care insurance equally.

The amount of money that my ex owes me each month for half of the cost of the children’s insurance is less than a hundred dollars each month.

The problem is that I end up paying all of the children’s insurance costs each month, and my ex never reimburses me.

While I pay child support consistently on time and in full each month, my ex does not reimburse me for half the cost of our children’s insurance coverage each month. This is no accident or oversight on my ex as part. My ex is doing this deliberately.

It would cost me more in attorney’s fees and court costs to go after my ex for reimbursement than it would be just to eat that cost myself. Is there anything I can do to ensure that I am reimbursed without it costing me more than the value of the reimbursement itself?

Answer: Yes.

For those of you reading this who are going through a Utah divorce or child custody case, don’t have a final order yet, and know that this issue is going to arise, you can prevent it by incorporating into the child support order this provision from Utah Code § 78B-12-212:

(6)(a) The parent who provides insurance may receive credit against the base child support award or recover the other parent’s share of the child’s portion of the premium.

This subsection of the Code is what allows the court to reduce the amount of child support you pay to your ex each month by that portion of the children’s health insurance premium cost that your ex owes you. So, if you owed your ex $472 per month in child support, and your ex owed you $55 per month for your ex is half of the children’s insurance premium costs, you would end up paying your ex a total of $417 each month instead of $472 ($472 – $55 = $417).

If you didn’t have the presence of mind to include such a provision in the final decree or order of the court, you can still obtain this benefit after the fact by either filing a motion or petition with the court to have this ordered.

Or you can work through the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) to have ORS handle the collection and payment of child support, and in that process, adjust the amount of child support your ex is paid by reducing it by your ex’s half of what your ex owes you for child insurance cost reimbursement.

To request the assistance of ORS to obtain credit against child support for your ex’s half of the children’s monthly health insurance premium costs, I’ve provided a link to ORS’s website on the subject and a link to the contact information for ORS:

Asking for a Credit for the Child’s Portion of Health Insurance

Contact Child Support – State of Utah Office of Recovery Services

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

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What do I do when my ex uses doctor’s appointments in our child support issue on court when we have 50/50 decision making, but I have the final say to any decision made? Will it be used against me?

If I understand your question correctly, you’re wondering if the court will fault for your ex-spouse’s claims that you are failing to act responsibly when it comes to making and keeping doctor appointments for the child, and perhaps also criticizing your judgment when it comes to matters of the child’s health care.

Many judges are suckers generally for claims of child abuse and neglect. What do I mean? None of them want to be blamed for failing to notice and failing to protect. And so when faced with allegations of child abuse or neglect or parental misconduct toward a child, many of them are on the side of caution, claiming that they are simply looking out for the best interest of the child, when in far too many cases they’re simply looking out for their own best interests (that’s usually what erring on the side of caution does and means in family law—abusing a parent’s reputation and parental rights, so that a court doesn’t have to risk making “the wrong choice” when deciding on allegations of child abuse and neglect).

If instead, your ex is accusing you of misconduct by scheduling doctor appointments for your children without conferring and agreeing with the co-parent before the doctor appointments are scheduled and attended, then if your question is whether your ex will prevail, then if the law and/or court order requires you and your ex/co-parent to confer with each other before you can exercise your “final say” authority to schedule the appointments over your ex’s/co-parent’s objection, then you are likely in the wrong and likely to be found to be in the wrong.

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The Father Just Paid Child Support, and Now He’s Asking the Mother of the Child to Start Showing Him Receipts. Do You Think He Is Right for Asking?

Absolutely.

No question about it.

Now, don’t confuse “he has every right to ask for receipts” with “he has every right to receipts”.

If a child support payor (known in some jurisdictions as the child support obligor) has reasonable articulable bases for suspecting that the child support payee (known in some jurisdictions as the child support obligee) is not responsibly spending the child support funds for the support of the child, then the payor has every right to raise the concern and to ask for proof to the contrary.

But if a child is hungry, mal-nourished, wearing clothes too small for him/her or wearing worn out clothing or wearing flip flops in the snow, has no blankets or even a bed to sleep in, etc. and yet the child support recipient parent is receiving hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars per month intended to meet those needs of the child, the child support payor has every right to raise concern with the court and every right to request that the court audit the payee and require the payee to prove that he/she is being a good steward of the child support funds.

In Utah, we have a statute on this very subject:

Utah Code § 78B-12-218. Accountability of support provided to benefit child — Accounting.

(1) The court or administrative agency which issues the initial or modified order for child support may, upon the petition of the obligor, order prospectively the obligee to furnish an accounting of amounts provided for the child’s benefit to the obligor, including an accounting or receipts.

(2) The court or administrative agency may prescribe the frequency and the form of the accounting which shall include receipts and an accounting.

(3) The obligor may petition for the accounting only if current on all child support that has been ordered.

If this statute has ever been implemented in a child support case, I have yet to see it. Whenever I’ve asked a court to implement it, the courts’ are offended that my client would have the audacity to be concerned over child support payee malfeasance.

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

https://www.quora.com/The-father-just-paid-child-support-and-now-he-s-asking-the-mother-of-the-child-to-start-showing-him-receipts-Do-you-think-he-is-right-for-asking

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My Ex-wife Is Married. Should Her and Her New Husband’s Total Household Income Be Used When Determining Child Support?

I really don’t understand why this question gets asked, and it is asked frequently. Actually, that’s not true. I do know why.

The people who usually ask this question are child support obligors (payors) who are suffering under the burden of their child support obligation. They resent having to pay so much child support, or even any child support of all. Frankly, I sympathize. Often, child support is calculated incorrectly, based upon an income that the child support obligor does not earn and never did earn. Sometimes child support is based upon the obligee falsely reporting his/her income is much lower than it really is. Other times, child support is based upon an award of child custody that is unfair to parent and child alike.

And so there are many discouraged child support obligors who become obsessed with finding a way to pay less or no child support. This obsession clouds their judgment. They begin to see “reasons” for reducing or eliminating the child support obligations that make no sense. One of these so-called reasons (that isn’t really a reason) is when the child support obligee remarries. The thinking goes in the minds of these hapless child support obligors that the remarried parent now has a new income source in the form of the income of the new spouse’s income. The problem with this argument is that while the parent may have a new spouse, that new spouse is a stepparent to the child, not that child’s parent. The child still has only two parents who are financially responsible for that child’s support. Stepparents do not have an obligation to support their stepchildren in Utah. And that is why parents who remarry do not have their spouses’ incomes included in their own incomes for child support calculation purposes in Utah.

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

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Can the Mom End up Paying Child Support to the Father if He Was Abusive?

There are so many things wrong with this question. But thank you for asking it because it can be the start of a beneficial conversation and lead to a better understanding of divorce and family law, child custody, and support.

First, the question implies that only women receive child support from men, and thus only men pay child support to women. Wrong. Child support is paid to a parent (man or woman) who can demonstrate that he/she needs payment from the other parent to help the child maintain the lifestyle that his/her parents’ respective lifestyles can and ought to support. Many times, the child support payee (recipient) is the mother. This could be because the mother has the child in her care and custody for a greater portion of the year than does the father. It could also be because the mother earns less money than the father.

But if the father were awarded physical custody of a child for more time during the year than the mother and/or made less money than the mother, then the father could be awarded child support. Many fathers (not as many fathers as mothers, but some fathers) find themselves in this exact situation, which is why many fathers receive child support from mothers.

Just being a mother will not guarantee that a woman will receive child support. Whether a parent committed abuse rarely has anything to do with whether that parent will pay child support (see above), although it may have an indirect effect on child support if, due to a parent’s abuse, the other parent is awarded more custodial time with the child.

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Blake v. Smith – 2023 UT App 78 – child custody, child support

Blake v. Smith – 2023 UT App 78

2023 UT App 78

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

DEJUAN BLAKE,

Appellee,

v.

JILLYN SMITH,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210779-CA

Filed July 20, 2023

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Su Chon

No. 184900112

Julie J. Nelson, Attorney for Appellant

DeJuan Blake, Appellee Pro Se

JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and RYAN D. TENNEY

concurred.

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

 

¶1        Jillyn Smith appeals the district court’s order regarding custody and child support for her minor son (Child). Because we determine the court abused its discretion by awarding Smith sole physical and legal custody while requiring joint decision-making between Smith and Child’s father, DeJuan Blake, we vacate that part of the court’s custody award. Furthermore, because we conclude the court made a mathematical error in calculating the amount of child support, and that a further examination of the evidence of Blake’s income is warranted, we reverse the court’s child support award and remand for recalculation as appropriate.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Smith met Blake in 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the two entered into a relationship. As a result of the relationship, Smith became pregnant with Child in 2009. At the time Smith learned about the pregnancy, she was no longer living in Las Vegas—she had moved to Utah to escape her relationship with Blake.

¶3        After a tumultuous pregnancy, during which Blake continuously asked Smith to have an abortion, Child was born in Utah in October 2009. Blake traveled to Utah to visit Child twice during the first year of Child’s life, with each visit lasting “maybe an hour or two.” The sporadic visits continued over the next few years, with Child and Smith traveling with Blake on short trips together. Although Smith asked Blake for financial support during this time, Blake did not provide support and instead always offered an “excuse.” Eventually, the communications between the couple became too toxic and Smith elected to “take a break from communication” with Blake.

¶4        Thereafter, Smith decided to “give [Blake] a second chance.” Blake and Child had “maybe a few” “infrequent[]” telephone conversations a year, but the conversations were short due to Child’s speech impediment. Blake was not involved in Child’s schooling or scheduling, he never attended Child’s doctor’s appointments, and he “wouldn’t follow through” or offer any explanation as to why he could not help Smith with financial support for Child’s medical care or educational needs.

¶5        Blake traveled to Utah in 2015 to attend Child’s birthday party. Toward the end of the party, Blake and Smith had a verbal altercation regarding Blake’s failure to honor their agreement for Blake to pay Smith child support. Following this visit, Blake returned to Utah once in 2016 to attend Child’s baseball game. That visit also ended in a verbal altercation.

¶6        In January 2018, Blake petitioned the district court for paternity and custody of Child. At the time, Child was eight years old and living with Smith.

¶7        After initiating custody proceedings, Blake filed a series of three financial declarations with the district court. Blake is self-employed and owns a company managing professional and aspiring boxers. Blake’s stated gross income, monthly expenses, and debt listed on each of the three financial declarations differed significantly. In the first declaration, Blake claimed $0 in gross monthly income, $1,875 in monthly expenses, and a debt of $7,240. In the second, Blake claimed $2,000 in gross monthly income, $17,797 in monthly expenses, and no debt. And in the third, Blake claimed $1,686 in gross monthly income, $3,947 in monthly expenses, and no debt. The bank statements filed with each disclosure were incomplete; however, the bank statements that were submitted showed that between August 2017 and January 2019, Blake made deposits into his personal account totaling $456,669.98, and that during that same time, he made withdrawals totaling nearly $50,000 for investments in cryptocurrency, payments to his mother, payments to the mother of one of his other children, and luxury clothing.

¶8        The case proceeded to a bench trial in October 2020. At trial, Smith detailed the relationship between Child and Blake. She explained that Blake had never been actively involved in Child’s life and that Blake had not seen Child at all since May 2016. Smith testified that she and Blake had reached an “original agreement” for child support where Blake would pay her $1,000 per month. She further testified that this agreement did not start until 2015—when Child was already six years old—and that the payments had lasted for only one month. In total, Smith estimated that Blake had contributed $1,600 in support payments “over the entirety of [Child’s] life.”

¶9        Following trial, the district court adjudicated Blake as Child’s father, awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody of Child, and awarded Blake standard relocation parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-37, which is approximately 17% of the year. In reaching its legal custody determination, the court analyzed the statutory factors outlined in Utah Code sections 30-3-10 and 30-3-10.2 and concluded that the presumption favoring joint legal custody had been rebutted and that joint legal custody was not in Child’s best interest. However, the court ordered a joint decision-making arrangement between the parties, requiring that the parties “discuss with each other decisions that should be made regarding [Child].” The arrangement further provides, “If there is a dispute, the parties should attend mediation and each pay half of the mediation fees. If the dispute remains, then [Smith] will have final say. [Blake] can . . . bring the matter to court if he is unsatisfied with the decision.”

¶10      Regarding child support, the district court primarily calculated Blake’s past child support payments based on his 2018 tax record, where he claimed $45,050 in gross receipts and $34,483 in deductions. After reviewing the evidence, the court concluded that several of the deductions—totaling $27,530—were unsupported and accordingly struck those deductions. Based on this, the court found that Blake’s “annual income should be $23,790” through March 2020. However, given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court concluded that “Blake’s income has come to a halt,” and it accordingly found it “appropriate . . . to impute minimum wage income of $1,257/month from March 2020 forward.”

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶11      Smith now appeals the district court’s order regarding custody and child support, raising two issues for our review. First, Smith argues the court abused its discretion when it “issued an internally inconsistent [custody] award” giving Smith “sole legal and physical custody but also order[ing] joint decision-making” between her and Blake. “We review custody determinations under an abuse of discretion standard, giving the district court broad discretion to make custody awards.” K.P.S. v. E.J.P., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 24, 414 P.3d 933 (quotation simplified). “But this broad discretion must be guided by the governing law adopted by the Utah Legislature. And on matters of statutory interpretation, we review for correctness.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 155, 459 P.3d 276 (quotation simplified). And “[w]here the court’s findings are internally inconsistent on a material point, reversal and remand are appropriate.” Vandermeide v. Young, 2013 UT App 31, ¶ 21, 296 P.3d 787, cert. denied, 308 P.3d 536 (Utah 2013).[1]

¶12      Second, Smith argues the district court abused its discretion when it calculated Blake’s income for purposes of child support. “We review the district court’s decisions regarding child support . . . under the abuse of discretion standard.” Pankhurst v. Pankhurst, 2022 UT App 36, ¶ 13, 508 P.3d 612 (quotation simplified). Where the court’s findings contain mathematical error or conflict with the record, we will remand for recalculation. See Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 57–60, 496 P.3d 242.

ANALYSIS
I. Custody

¶13      Smith first challenges the district court’s custody award, contending the court abused its discretion in crafting the award because it is “internally inconsistent.” According to Smith, the joint decision-making arrangement “undermines” her award of sole physical and legal custody because it “allows [Blake] to force mediation and litigation whenever he disagrees with a decision made by [Smith], even though she has sole legal and physical custody.” We agree.

¶14      As an initial matter, the Utah Code does not define “sole physical custody” or “sole legal custody.” But in Hansen v. Hansen, 2012 UT 9, 270 P.3d 531, our supreme court provided guidance as to the meaning of those terms. In Hansen, the father and the mother were awarded joint custody of their daughter following their divorce. Id. ¶ 2. The mother was awarded sole physical custody and the father was ordered to pay child support to the mother. Id. Sometime later, the daughter entered a private youth homeless shelter, where she lived through her eighteenth birthday. Id. While the daughter was living at the shelter, the father filed a petition with the district court seeking to redirect his child support payments from the mother to the homeless shelter. Id. ¶¶ 2–3. The court denied the motion, which denial was ultimately upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. Id. ¶¶ 4–5, 30.

¶15      The supreme court’s decision centered on the meaning of custody. Although the daughter had been residing at the shelter, the court determined that the daughter’s physical custody had not changed; rather, the mother still retained physical custody. Id. ¶¶ 15–19, 28. The court explained,

Family law treatises consistently define custody as a bundle of constituent rights and obligations to a child’s possession, care, and control, and explain that the essence of custody is control over all aspects of the child’s life coupled with responsibility for the child’s welfare. Standard dictionary definitions of custody are to the same effect.

Custody is often divided into two subsets: legal and physical custody. Both encompass a duty of control and supervision. While legal custody carries the power and duty to make the most significant decisions about a child’s life and welfare, physical custody involves the right, obligation, and authority to make necessary day-to-day decisions concerning the child’s welfare. Although the latter is limited to the right to control the child’s daily activities, it still involves a right of control. This grant of authority is necessary so that the custodian can control and discipline the child or make emergency medical or surgical decisions for the child.

Id. ¶¶ 16–17 (quotation simplified). Put differently, “the legal duty of control or supervision [is] the essential hallmark of custody.” Id. ¶ 18 (quotation simplified). Legal custody encompasses the ability to make major decisions in a child’s life, while physical custody encompasses the ability to make day-to-day decisions in a child’s life.

¶16      Although the Utah Code does not define sole physical or legal custody, it does define “joint legal custody” and “joint physical custody.”[2] Under the current statutory scheme, a parent may be awarded “joint legal custody,” which is defined as “the sharing of the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent by both parents.” Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(2)(a) (emphasis added). As this court has long recognized, the purpose of joint legal custody is to allow “both parents [to] share the authority and responsibility to make basic decisions regarding their child’s welfare.” See Thronson v. Thronson, 810 P.2d 428, 429–30 (Utah Ct. App. 1991), cert. denied, 826 P.2d 651 (Utah 1991).

¶17      Taken together, it follows that an award of “sole” legal custody does not involve sharing the “rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent.” See Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(2)(a). Accordingly, when the district court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Smith, it also awarded her alone the “rights and obligations to [Child’s] possession, care, and control,” see Hansen, 2012 UT 9, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified), including the sole authority to “make the most significant decisions about [Child’s] life and welfare,” see id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified), and the “authority to make necessary day-to-day decisions concerning [Child’s] welfare,” see id. (quotation simplified). It therefore was inconsistent to simultaneously order a joint decision-making arrangement.

¶18       Moreover, the joint decision-making arrangement is at odds with the district court’s own findings regarding Child’s best interest. “In making a custody determination, a [district] court’s primary focus is what custody arrangement would be in the best interest[] of the child.” Grindstaff v. Grindstaff, 2010 UT App 261, ¶ 4, 241 P.3d 365. Utah law presumes that joint legal custody is in a child’s best interest, but that presumption may be rebutted by showing “by a preponderance of the evidence that it is not in the best interest of the child.” Utah Code § 30-3-10(3)–(4). And under Utah law, there is “neither a preference nor a presumption for or against joint physical custody or sole physical custody.” Id. § 30­3-10(8).

¶19      “In determining whether the best interest of a child will be served by ordering joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both, the court shall consider” a number of statutory factors. See id. § 30-3-10.2(2). Here, the court analyzed the statutory factors and determined that awarding Smith sole legal and physical custody of Child was in Child’s best interest. In particular, the court found that there was “very little evidence provided that either parent could function appropriately with co-parenting skills,” that it was “unclear” whether the parties could work together to reach shared decisions in Child’s best interest, and that there was “very little evidence” the parties “actually discussed and made decisions together.” In light of these findings, it is unclear how the joint decision-making arrangement—which is not limited to major decisions but instead encompasses all decisions—could be properly viewed as advancing Child’s best interest. It does not follow from the evidence of the parties’ ongoing issues making decisions relating to Child that such an arrangement would lead to success in the future. Rather, precisely because of the court’s findings, it seems likely that such an arrangement would cause ongoing issues, result in costly mediation and additional court involvement, and be detrimental to Child’s best interest, which is exactly what Utah law seeks to avoid.

¶20      In sum, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody while also ordering a joint decision-making arrangement between Smith and Blake. Although Utah law does not prohibit a joint decision-making arrangement in cases involving an award of joint physical and legal custody, an examination of the underlying statutory scheme reveals that such an arrangement is not compatible with an award of sole physical and legal custody. Furthermore, these competing provisions belie the court’s own findings regarding Child’s best interest as relates to custody. As such, we vacate the portion of the court’s custody award ordering the joint decision-making arrangement.

II. Child Support

¶21      Smith next argues the district court erred in calculating child support. Specifically, Smith takes issue with the court’s calculation of Blake’s income for purposes of child support, contending the court’s calculation (1) contains a mathematical error and (2) is inconsistent with the evidence in the record. We agree.

¶22      The Utah Child Support Act outlines the process by which a district court must evaluate the income of a parent when calculating child support. See generally Utah Code § 78B-12-202. To begin, the court must consider the “gross income” of a parent, which the Utah Code defines broadly as including

prospective income from any source, including earned and nonearned income sources which may include salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, rents, gifts from anyone, prizes, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, alimony from previous marriages, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment compensation, income replacement disability insurance benefits, and payments from “nonmeans-tested” government programs.

Id. § 78B-12-203(1). And when a parent is self-employed—as is the case with Blake—the statute directs how gross income should be handled. It provides that “[g]ross income from self-employment or operation of a business shall be calculated by subtracting necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation from gross receipts. . . . Gross income . . . may differ from the amount of business income determined for tax purposes.” Id. § 78B-12-203(4).

¶23      The district court determined that Blake’s income had been impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and accordingly evaluated his income for purposes of child support based on what he had earned pre-pandemic and what he was earning during the pandemic. On the record before us, we see two errors in the court’s calculations. First, the court made a discrete mathematical error in calculating Blake’s pre-pandemic income. Second, and more broadly, the court did not consider all the evidence of Blake’s finances when calculating Blake’s income, both pre-pandemic and at the time of trial.

¶24      First, the district court calculated Blake’s past child support payments using his 2018 tax record. On that record, Blake claimed $45,050 in gross receipts. From that, Blake deducted $34,483 as follows: $5,270 for “materials and supplies,” $3,605 for “advertising,” $360 for “legal and professional services,” $500 for “office expense,” $21,760 for “other business property,” and $2,988 for “utilities.” After viewing the evidence, the court found that Blake had failed to adequately explain why he should be entitled to deductions for “materials and supplies” ($5,270), “other business property” ($21,760), or “office expense” ($500), and it accordingly struck those deductions, totaling $27,530. As a result, the court should have concluded that Blake’s income was $38,097, or $3,175 per month rounded. But it did not. Instead, it concluded that Blake’s income was $23,790, or $1,983 per month. This value is mathematically incorrect.

¶25      Second, notwithstanding the mathematical error in the court’s calculation of Blake’s income, the value imputed by the court is inconsistent with the evidence in the record. Utah law is clear that “in contested cases,” a judge is entitled to impute income to a parent so long as the judge “enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” See id. § 78B-12­203(8)(a). “The purpose of such imputation is to prevent parents from reducing their child support or alimony by purposeful unemployment or underemployment.” Connell v. Connell, 2010 UT App 139, ¶ 16, 233 P.3d 836 (quotation simplified). Accordingly, when imputing income, “the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings considering,” among other things, “employment opportunities,” “work history,” and “occupation qualifications.” Utah Code § 78B-12­203(8)(b).

¶26      As explained above, the court calculated Blake’s income at $1,983 per month up until the time that the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. And at trial, which was held in October 2020, the court concluded that due to the pandemic, “Blake’s income has come to a halt” and therefore determined it was “appropriate . . . to impute minimum wage income of $1,257/month from March 2020 forward.” But the financial documents submitted by Blake do not support the low amount of income the court chose to impute.

¶27      Blake’s bank records—which were all filed with the court—show that Blake made deposits into his personal account totaling $456,669.98 between August 2017 and January 2019. These deposits included a check for $200,000, which Blake testified “was for my services that was rendered” in connection with a high-publicity boxing match. And in addition to the deposits, Blake’s bank records show significant withdrawals. For example, the records indicate that Blake had regularly invested in cryptocurrency, had transferred over $15,000 to his mother, had transferred over $9,000 to the mother of one of his other children,[3] and had spent over $10,000 on luxury clothing.

¶28      Despite the evidence of Blake’s spending, Blake did not demonstrate how he was funding his lifestyle, and he claimed only one debt of $7,240 in the first of his three financial disclosures. In light of the foregoing, the district court’s determination that Blake was making no money and therefore should be imputed minimum wage is not supported by the evidence. Rather, the evidence suggests that Blake was less than forthcoming with the court as to the actual amount of his income. As such, on remand the court should reevaluate evidence of Blake’s finances, his earning capacity, and whether he is voluntarily underemployed and should make a further determination as to whether greater income should be imputed to him.[4] In so doing, the court should take special care to ensure that the final award is void of mathematical error.

CONCLUSION

¶29      The district court abused its discretion when it awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody of Child while also ordering a joint decision-making arrangement with Blake. We therefore vacate the court’s custody ruling as it relates to the joint decision-making arrangement. The court also abused its discretion when calculating child support. The current award contains a mathematical error and is not supported by record evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the court’s award of child support and remand with instructions that the court reexamine the evidence to determine whether greater income should be imputed to Blake.

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


[1] Blake did not file a brief or otherwise appear in this appeal. Although “an appellee’s failure to file a brief does not amount to an automatic default and consequent reversal of the lower court,” our supreme court has recently recognized that such failure does impact the “typical burden of persuasion on appeal.” See AL-IN Partners, LLC v. LifeVantage Corp., 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19, 496 P.3d 76 (quotation simplified). Because an appellee’s failure to raise any argument leaves the appellant’s claims “unrebutted,” see Broderick v. Apartment Mgmt. Consultants, LLC, 2012 UT 17, ¶¶ 18–21, 279 P.3d 391, “when an appellee fails to present us with any argument, an appellant need only establish a prima facie showing of a plausible basis for reversal,” AL-IN Partners, 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19 (quotation simplified). We question whether the standard articulated in AL-IN Partners should apply the same way in cases such as this where the standard of review on appeal is deferential to the discretionary decisions of the district court. But because this issue was not briefed and our decision on both arguments presented ultimately involves the conclusion that the district court did abuse its discretion and committed other errors, we need not decide the issue today. However, we note the question does warrant additional consideration in a case where it is squarely before the court.

[2] In relevant part, the statute defines “joint physical custody” as when “the child stays with each parent overnight for more than 30% of the year.” Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(3)(a). This particular provision is not applicable here because Blake was awarded standard relocation parent-time which falls below the 30% threshold. See id. § 30-3-37. Nevertheless, Utah law is clear that “[e]ach parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent.” Id. § 30-3-10.9(6). Thus, by statute Smith has sole decision-making authority over day-to-day decisions when Child is in her care. Likewise, Blake has decision-making authority over day-to-day decisions when Child is in his care.

[3] This amount does not include child support payments awarded to the mother, which were $1,000 per month. Those support payments were made directly to Nevada’s State Collection and Disbursement Unit.

[4] Smith filed a post-trial motion pursuant to rule 59(e) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to amend, among other things, the court’s child support award. The district court issued a Memorandum Decision and Order denying the motion. In analyzing the child support issue, the court stated that “[g]ifts are not generally considered income.” This is legally incorrect. As explained above, the Utah Code explicitly defines “gross income” as including “gifts from anyone.” See Utah Code § 78B-12-203(1). To the extent Blake was gifted items, the court must include the value of those gifts when calculating his income.

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How Is Child Support Determined When the Non-custodial Parent Doesn’t Have a Job, but Is Living on Millions of Inheritance?

This is a more complex question than it might at first appear.

First, we need to address the matter of people who confuse beliefs with facts. If I had a dollar for every client or potential client parent who came to me claiming that the other parent was far more wealthy than he or she was letting on, I myself would be a millionaire. But that doesn’t stop most parents from making utterly unfounded allegations to the court that the other parent has income greater than he or she is reporting, has money stashed away in all kinds of secret bank accounts and other places, and or is receiving income from unearned sources, such as trusts or inheritance or investments or rental properties or intellectual property, etc.

Please bear in mind that the court is not required to believe claims uncorroborated by any credible evidence, no matter how strenuously you may assert those beliefs.

Now, in situations where in fact, a parent is not employed but does receive unearned income of some kind or another, that income can, and almost certainly will be, considered for child support calculation purposes. At the risk of oversimplifying the definition of unearned income, it is basically money that is not earned from active employment.

The Utah Code defines actual (as opposed to imputed*) income for child support calculation purposes as follows:

(1) As used in the guidelines, “gross income” includes prospective income from any source, including earned and nonearned income sources which may include salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, rents, gifts from anyone, prizes, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, alimony from previous marriages, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment compensation, income replacement disability insurance benefits, and payments from “nonmeans-tested” government programs.

(78B-12-203.  Determination of gross income — Imputed income.)

*But what if a parent is capable of earning an income but simply fails or refuses to work for an income? That is where imputation of income comes into play. In Utah, in the context of child support calculation, “imputed income” means income that if a parent is found to be capable of earning a certain amount of money, then that parent is treated for child support calculation purposes as if he/she is earning that income, even if he/she is not in fact earning it. Here is how the Utah Code imputes (and does not impute, in certain situations—see subsection 8(d) below) income for child support calculation purposes:

(8)

(a)       Income may not be imputed to a parent unless the parent stipulates to the amount imputed, the parent defaults, or, in contested cases, a hearing is held and the judge in a judicial proceeding or the presiding officer in an administrative proceeding enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.

(b)       If income is imputed to a parent, the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings considering, to the extent known:

      (i)        employment opportunities;

      (ii)       work history;

      (iii)     occupation qualifications;

      (iv)      educational attainment;

      (v)       literacy;

      (vi)      age;

      (vii)    health;

      (viii)   criminal record;

      (ix)      other employment barriers and background factors; and

      (x)       prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community.

(c)       If a parent has no recent work history or a parent’s occupation is unknown, that parent may be imputed an income at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour work week. To impute a greater or lesser income, the judge in a judicial proceeding or the presiding officer in an administrative proceeding shall enter specific findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.

(d)       Income may not be imputed if any of the following conditions exist and the condition is not of a temporary nature:

      (i)        the reasonable costs of child care for the parents’ minor children approach or equal the amount of income the custodial parent can earn;

      (ii)       a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage;

      (iii)     a parent is engaged in career or occupational training to establish basic job skills; or

      (iv)      unusual emotional or physical needs of a child require the custodial parent’s presence in the home.

So, in answer to your question about whether a parent can be ordered to pay child support even if he or she does not have a job and earn an income that way, the answer is yes, that parent can be ordered to pay child support.

(78B-12-203.  Determination of gross income — Imputed income.)

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

(3) Eric Johnson’s answer to How is child support determined when the non-custodial parent doesn’t have a job, but is living on millions of inheritance? – Quora

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