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Tag: court order

What Are the Standards for Appeal That Usually Apply in a Utah Case?

See 2024 UT App 54 – Tilleman v. Tilleman, which recites many of them:

¶26 . . . Generally, we review a trial court’s custody award for an abuse of discretion. See T.W. v. S.A., 2021 UT App 132, ¶ 15, 504 P.3d 163. “This discretion is broad; indeed, as long as the court exercises it within the confines of the legal standards we have set, and the facts and reasons for the decision are set forth fully in appropriate findings and conclusions, we will not disturb the resulting award.” Id. (quotation simplified). But whether the court correctly interpreted the legal standards set forth in sections 30-3-10 and 30-3-10.2 is a question of law that we review for correctness. See Ross v. Ross, 2019 UT App 104, ¶ 8, 447 P.3d 104. See also State v. De La Rosa, 2019 UT App 110, ¶ 4, 445 P.3d 955 (stating that because “trial courts do not have discretion to misapply the law,” “the abuse-of-discretion standard of review will at times necessarily include review to ensure that no mistakes of law affected a lower court’s use of its discretion”) (quotation simplified).

¶26 . . . We review the trial court’s findings of fact for clear error. See T.W., 2021 UT App 132, ¶ 15. Under this standard, “the factual findings of the district court will not be disturbed unless they are clearly erroneous by being in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence. But the existence of conflicting evidence is not sufficient to set aside a district court’s finding.” Hinds v. Hinds-Holm, 2022 UT App 13, ¶ 28 n.4, 505 P.3d 1136 (quotation simplified).

¶27  . . . In reviewing the admissibility of evidence, we review the underlying legal questions for correctness and the “court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence and [its] determinations regarding the admissibility of expert testimony” for an abuse of discretion. Smith v. Volkswagen SouthTowne, Inc., 2022 UT 29, ¶ 41, 513 P.3d 729 (quotation simplified). “However, error in the district court’s evidentiary rulings will result in reversal only if the error is harmful.” Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc’ns Corp., 2015 UT App 134, ¶ 17, 351 P.3d 832.

¶28  “We review the district court’s interpretation of statutory requirements for correctness” and “the court’s ultimate imputation of income . . . for abuse of discretion.” Burggraaf v. Burggraaf, 2019 UT App 195, ¶ 23, 455 P.3d 1071 (quotation simplified).

¶29  “We review a district court’s decision to award attorney fees pursuant to this statute (Utah Code § 30-3-3) for an abuse of discretion,” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 16, 452 P.3d 1134, but review its underlying legal conclusions for correctness, see De La Rosa, 2019 UT App 110, ¶ 4.

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

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2024 UT App 51 – Bailey v. Bailey – evidence, sanctions

2024 UT App 51 – Bailey v. Bailey

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

AMY L. BAILEY, Appellee, v. DANNY RAY BAILEY, Appellant.

Opinion No. 20220534-CA Filed April 11, 2024

Second District Court, Farmington Department

The Honorable Michael D. DiReda No. 094701582

Julie J. Nelson, Attorney for Appellant Brian E. Arnold, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES RYAN D. TENNEY and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1        In 2019, nine years after her divorce, Amy L. Bailey (Amy) filed a petition to modify the child support provisions of the divorce decree, asserting that her ex-husband Danny Ray Bailey’s (Danny[1] income had significantly increased. The matter proceeded to trial, where the district court sanctioned Danny for noncompliance with pretrial disclosure obligations. Among other sanctions, the court prohibited Danny from presenting any evidence, and from refuting any evidence Amy presented, regarding his income. At the conclusion of this rather one-sided trial, the court made findings and conclusions regarding Danny’s income that Danny believes are inaccurate.

¶2        Danny now appeals those findings and conclusions, as well as the court’s underlying sanctions order. Danny asserts that the sanctions order was inappropriate and that he is entitled to a new trial at which he may present evidence regarding his income. We agree with Danny, and therefore vacate the court’s modification order and remand the case for a new trial.

BACKGROUND
The Petition to Modify

¶3        Amy and Danny divorced in 2010; at that time, the parties were able to reach a negotiated settlement which was later incorporated into a decree of divorce (the Decree). The parties have three children together, all of whom were minors at the time of their divorce; only one of the children was a minor at the time of trial. Under the terms of the Decree, Amy was awarded primary physical custody of the children, and Danny was awarded certain parent-time. Danny is self-employed, and his income for child support purposes was determined to be $8,837 per month. Amy’s earnings at that time were determined to be $4,071 per month. Using these income figures, Danny’s child support obligation was calculated to be $1,485 per month.

¶4        In 2019, nine years after entry of the Decree, Amy filed a petition to modify, seeking, among other things, a modification of Danny’s child support obligation. Discovery and disclosure deadlines were set, with fact discovery scheduled to close in November 2019 and expert discovery scheduled to close in March 2020. The expert discovery deadline passed, and neither party designated any expert witnesses. But in September 2020, Amy filed a statement of discovery issues, asserting that Danny had not disclosed certain financial documents, including his 2019 tax return, and asking that Danny be ordered to do so. Amy further requested that she be allowed “to designate an expert to opine on the limited issue of [Danny’s] expenses versus business expenses.” Danny objected to this request, arguing that expert discovery deadlines were “far past” and that Amy “should not be allowed to re-open expert discovery and further extend this matter.” After a hearing, the court ordered both parties to disclose their 2018 and 2019 tax returns and associated financial documents to the other, but the court agreed with Danny on the expert disclosure issue, denying Amy’s request and stating that it was “not inclined to extend discovery deadlines.”

¶5        Eventually, after some delays due to matters not relevant here, the court scheduled a one-day trial regarding the child-support-related issues to occur on November 10, 2021. In its pretrial order, the court ordered that, “at least 28 days before” trial, the parties were to “provide . . . pre-trial disclosures,” including “[t]he name . . . of each witness who will be called at trial,” “an updated financial declaration,” and “copies of their federal income tax returns for the two most recent tax years.”

¶6        On November 2, eight days before trial, Danny filed a motion to continue, asserting that he had “been unable to complete his 2020 tax return due to problems with his accounting software,” and requesting that the trial be continued so that the parties could “proceed with current and accurate income information.” Additionally, Danny brought to the court’s attention that, on October 20, just twenty-one days before trial— and notwithstanding the court’s previous reticence to extend discovery deadlines—Amy had, “for the first time,” identified two expert witnesses that she intended to call at trial. Danny asserted that these disclosures should have been made “within 14 days after the close of fact discovery,” which, in this case, was some two years earlier in November 2019. Danny asked the court to bar Amy from calling these witnesses at trial and, alternatively, stated that if the court was inclined to allow Amy to call these experts, he should be afforded “the appropriate disclosures and discovery opportunities set forth” in rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. As an added precaution, Danny filed a notice indicating that—contingent on the court’s ruling as to their admissibility—he would like “to receive written reports” from Amy’s newly-disclosed expert witnesses.

¶7        On the same day Danny filed his request for a continuance, Amy filed an objection. While pressing the court to move forward with the trial as scheduled, Amy simultaneously defended the timing of her expert disclosures. On this point, Amy argued that she was attempting to follow the court’s pretrial order, which stated that the list of witnesses that would be called to testify only needed to be provided twenty-eight days before the trial. And, according to Amy, she was doing just that by identifying in her pretrial disclosures the two expert witnesses she intended to call at trial. She argued that these two witnesses were “absolutely necessary” because she intended to rely on “their expert opinion” to demonstrate Danny’s “true income and the expenses being reported on his personal and business income taxes.”

¶8        Three days later, the court held a hearing on Danny’s motion. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted Danny’s request for a continuance of the trial date and rescheduled the trial to occur on March 1, 2022. The court also indicated that it would allow Amy to call the expert witnesses and it further observed that the continuance would give Danny time to consider whether he wanted to call a rebuttal expert witness of his own. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court noted that the main reason for continuing the trial was so that Danny could complete his 2020 tax return and disclose it to Amy, and it asked the parties whether they wanted to “set a deadline on the tax return.” Danny’s attorney stated that he’d rather not set a specific deadline, and Amy’s attorney didn’t argue for one either, stating that he and Danny’s attorney had “worked well together on that kind of stuff” and that he didn’t think any specific deadline for disclosure of the tax return would be necessary. The court pushed back a bit, asking, “Not a deadline? You’re okay just leaving it out there?” Amy’s attorney responded by stating that he was “fine with that.” In accordance with the parties’ wishes, the court set no specific deadline for Danny’s production of his 2020 tax return. The court’s previous pretrial order remained in place, however; as noted, it specified that all pretrial disclosures—including recent tax returns—were due “at least 28 days before” trial, which given the scheduled trial date would be February 1, 2022.

¶9        Not long after the November hearing on the motion to continue, Danny’s attorney withdrew. Danny then elected to proceed to trial pro se.

¶10      On February 3, less than four weeks before the trial date, the court held a status conference. At the conference, Amy’s attorney indicated that he had recently received Danny’s newly-completed 2020 tax return—specifically stating that he “just got those the other day”—but that he was still waiting to receive certain bank statements from Danny. In response, Danny—now representing himself—raised certain issues with Amy’s disclosures, indicating that he had not received all of her bank account information. After hearing from both parties, the court ordered Danny to provide Amy with the requested bank statements and ordered Amy “to do the same.”

¶11      During the status conference, the court also discussed the expert witness issue, and it asked Danny if he “had a chance to speak with or read the report from” Amy’s experts. Danny indicated that he had not received any such report. Amy’s attorney stated that he believed the report had been provided either to Danny or his previous counsel, but he offered to “resend” the report to Danny just in case.

The Trial

¶12      On March 1, the trial proceeded as scheduled, with Danny representing himself and Amy represented by counsel. At the start of the proceeding, before any evidence had been presented, Danny brought to the court’s attention that, two weeks earlier, he had filed an objection to Amy’s experts, asking that they be excluded from testifying because he still had not received any reports from them. At this, the court turned to Amy’s attorney for an explanation. Amy’s attorney this time did not claim that any expert report had ever been disclosed to Danny; instead, Amy’s attorney explained that Amy had been unable to “supplement[]” her earlier disclosures with the new experts’ reports because Danny had failed to timely provide Amy with financial information—including, most significantly, the 2020 tax return— that the court “had ordered [Danny] numerous times” to disclose. Amy’s attorney proposed that if the court was disinclined to allow these witnesses to testify as experts, they could, instead, be allowed to testify as “factual witness[es]” just to “tell [the court] what a line means on a tax return.”

¶13 Concerned about possible disclosure failings on both sides, the court asked Amy’s attorney whether it was “still the case” that Danny had failed to deliver “the documents, the returns, the information that [the court] ordered be delivered.” To this, Amy’s attorney responded, “Not timely.” Seemingly dismayed at the lack of cooperation between the parties, the court reminded them that the reason it had continued the trial was so that the parties could “exchange documents,” yet they had apparently still failed to “timely” comply with its instructions. Addressing Danny, the court stated, “So if you’re going to come to me and ask . . . that I exclude a witness, you’ve got to come in with clean hands. If your hands are soiled because you yourself have not complied with the rule and you’ve not told me that, that’s a problem, because I’m not going to apply the rules unevenly.” The court—without Amy making any specific request for a negative-inference sanction[2]—then told Danny that his apparent untimely disclosure of the 2020 tax return was “a problem that leads [the court] to think that perhaps a negative inference should be drawn against you . . . because why wouldn’t you just turn over the information that is critical to the [c]ourt’s determination on income since this is an income case?”

¶14      Before ruling on the matter, the court wanted to know how much time had elapsed between the completion of Danny’s 2020 tax return and Danny’s disclosure of that return to Amy. Danny indicated that “[p]robably two months” had elapsed between completion and disclosure. The court then asked, “Why wouldn’t you have just disclosed [the return] immediately once you had them done? Why did you wait two months to disclose [it]?” Danny explained that he was looking for new counsel at that time and that his understanding was that his “obligation was to supply” those documents with his pretrial disclosures, twenty-eight days before trial, which he did. Danny also reminded the court—twice—that, at the conclusion of the November hearing, no specific deadline for disclosure of the tax return had been set. The court then, without prompting from Amy’s attorney, began to read from rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, stating to Danny that, as soon as he learned that his disclosure was “incomplete,” he was required to “timely serve on the other parties the additional or correct information.”

¶15 After allowing both sides to argue the matter, the court determined that “at the end of the day,” Danny was the one who “didn’t disclose timely.” The court therefore told Danny that Amy “couldn’t have given you a full expert report, because you hadn’t given them the predicate information that was needed so the expert could do his or her job.”

¶16      After a recess to allow the parties one last opportunity to negotiate, the court considered what, if any, sanction should be imposed on Danny for his apparent untimely disclosure of his 2020 tax return. The court believed that it could impose any of the sanctions set forth in rule 37(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. After argument, the court determined it would be “inequitable” to allow Danny “to go forward and argue” what he thought his income should be when he “deprived the other side of [the] complete and accurate financial information that their [experts] needed in order to present a complete picture” of Danny’s finances. It therefore ordered that, during the trial, Danny would be prohibited from refuting any evidence that Amy introduced about Danny’s income, and he would not be allowed “to introduce [his] own evidence in support of what [he] believe[d]” his income should be. Basically, the only thing that Danny would be able to do at trial would be to present or challenge evidence presented related to Amy’s income.

¶17      Concerning Amy’s experts, the court determined it would be appropriate to allow them to testify as fact witnesses. Amy ended up calling only one of the two expert witnesses she listed in her pretrial disclosures, a forensic accountant (Accountant). At the beginning of his testimony, Accountant was reminded that he was not permitted to give “expert opinion” because he would, as Amy’s counsel described it, be a “factual witness.”

¶18      During his direct examination, Accountant was presented with exhibits containing Danny’s tax returns—including his 2020 tax return—and other financial documents and was asked questions concerning those documents. For example, Accountant was asked about the purpose of lines “28 A and B” on one of the forms, and he responded, “Those are there to present to the IRS sources of income from businesses that the taxpayer owns.” At another point in the trial, Accountant was also asked whether the W-2 wage on another form was for Danny or if it was “a qualified deduction” from Danny’s company. Accountant responded it was “neither,” and that “the income from the business” would be different from the amount represented on the form “because [it] specifically calculates adjusted income for [that] specific tax deduction.” Direct examination of Accountant continued in this fashion, with him testifying about several line items contained in Danny’s tax returns and what information should or should not be contained therein.

¶19 Amy was the only other witness to testify at trial. After submission of the evidence, Amy’s attorney made a closing argument. The court then went back and forth with Amy’s attorney, discussing the various figures that had been presented and what implications they might have on the calculation of child support arrearages going back to the date Amy filed her petition. After completing the calculation, the court made an oral ruling that, for child support purposes, Danny’s monthly income was $42,555 (as opposed to $8,837 under the original Decree) and that Amy’s monthly income was $6,265 (as opposed to $4,071 under the original Decree). Based on those figures, the court then calculated Danny’s ongoing child support obligation, as well as arrearages owed dating back to the month after Amy filed her petition to modify. Specifically, the court determined that Danny owed Amy $108,027 in back child support. Because of the “sizable back child support due and owing,” the court declined Amy’s request for attorney fees. A few weeks later, the court entered a written order memorializing its oral ruling.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶20 Danny now appeals the court’s modification order. In particular, Danny challenges the court’s findings and conclusions regarding his own monthly income, and he asserts that the court’s determinations in that regard are infirm because it improperly sanctioned him and did not allow him to present evidence supporting his position or refuting Amy’s position on that issue. Thus, Danny’s appeal centers on the court’s application of Utah rules regarding discovery, disclosure, and sanctions.

¶21      A district court’s interpretation of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure is reviewed for correctness. Hansen v. Kurry Jensen Props. LLC, 2021 UT App 54, ¶ 19, 493 P.3d 1131. For this reason, a court’s decision regarding the adequacy of a party’s disclosures is reviewed for correctness. See Butler v. Mediaport Ent. Inc., 2022 UT App 37, ¶ 17, 508 P.3d 619 (stating that “we review for correctness the district court’s conclusion that [a party’s] disclosures were inadequate, because that determination is at root a question of interpretation of” the applicable rules).

¶22      But when a district court’s interpretation of the applicable rules is correct, we extend “a great deal of deference” to the court’s decisions regarding its choice of sanctions, and we will only disturb such rulings “if abuse of discretion is clearly shown.” Raass Bros. Inc. v. Raass, 2019 UT App 183, ¶ 11, 454 P.3d 83 (quotation simplified). Similarly, we review deferentially a “district court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence,” including its “determination regarding the admissibility of expert testimony” for an abuse of discretion. Northgate Village Dev., LC v. City of Orem, 2019 UT 59, ¶ 14, 450 P.3d 1117 (quotation simplified). A court’s determination that a witness’s testimony is “not expert testimony” is similarly reviewed for an abuse of discretion. State v. Rothlisberger, 2006 UT 49, ¶ 8, 147 P.3d 1176.

ANALYSIS

¶23      Danny’s primary challenge on appeal concerns the district court’s imposition of sanctions, which he contends were unwarranted. For the reasons discussed herein, we find merit in Danny’s position, and agree that the court erred by imposing rule 37 sanctions on Danny.

¶24 There are two different rules of civil procedure that concern discovery sanctions: rule 26 and rule 37. These two rules, “although couched in different terms,” are both “aimed at encouraging good faith compliance with the discovery obligations imposed under the rules of civil procedure and both provide the court with the authority to sanction those who fail to live up to the requirements of those rules.” PC Crane Service, LLC v. McQueen Masonry, Inc., 2012 UT App 61, ¶ 34, 273 P.3d 396. But despite certain commonalities, the sanctions available pursuant to these rules are different and have distinct prerequisites.

¶25 The sanctions that a court may impose pursuant to rule 26(d) are narrow, but they are also “automatic and mandatory” when the prerequisites are met. See Eskamani v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 2020 UT App 137, ¶ 48, 476 P.3d 542. That rule provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(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.

(5)   If a party learns that a disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect in some important way, the party must timely serve on the other parties the additional or correct information if it has not been made known to the other parties. The supplemental disclosure or response must state why the additional or correct information was not previously provided.

Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4), (5).[3] Thus, when a party fails to comply with rule-based disclosure requirements, that party is “presumptively barred” from relying on that witness, document, or material at trial. See Dierl v. Birkin, 2023 UT App 6, ¶ 31, 525 P.3d 127, cert. denied, 527 P.3d 1107 (Utah 2023). A party seeking sanctions under rule 26(d)—usually a party whose litigation opponent has failed to timely disclose a required item—does not need to file a motion for sanctions and obtain a court order beforehand; rather, sanctions under this rule are “automatic and mandatory” and do “not require a predicate discovery order.” Eskamani, 2020 UT App 137, ¶¶ 47–48. Courts should, upon request, presumptively impose sanctions for noncompliance unless “the party seeking relief from disclosure requirements” can demonstrate that its noncompliance was harmless or excused by good cause. Keystone Ins. Agency, LLC v. Inside Ins., LLC, 2019 UT 20, ¶ 18 & n.7, 445 P.3d 434; see also Utah R. Civ. P. 26 advisory committee notes (stating that sanctions are “the usual and expected result” of noncompliance).

¶26        But the sanctions available under rule 26(d) are narrow and specific: a party who fails to comply with rule-based disclosure obligations, and who cannot show harmlessness or good cause, “may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial.” See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4). Rule 26, by itself, does not speak of or authorize any other sanction.

¶27        Rule 37, by contrast, is not self-executing: a party wishing to take advantage of its more expansive sanctions menu must first obtain a discovery order from the court. Subsection (a) of that rule allows a party to “request that the judge enter an order regarding any discovery issue.” Id. R. 37(a)(1). And subsection (b) allows a “court, upon motion, [to] impose appropriate sanctions for the failure to follow its orders.” Id. R. 37(b) (emphasis added). Interpreting the language of this rule, we have recently held that imposition of sanctions under rule 37 is available only for violation of a specific court order. See Eskamani, 2020 UT App 137, ¶ 49 (“Unlike rule 26, rule 37 conditions the availability of discovery sanctions upon the failure of a party to follow a discovery order.”).

¶28      But rule 37 offers a wide variety of sanctions options, and it allows for sanctions that can be more severe than the sanction authorized under rule 26. Where the violation in question is disobedience of a court order (as opposed to noncompliance with a rule-based disclosure requirement), rule 37 authorizes a court to (among other things) “deem [a] matter . . . to be established,” give an “adverse inference” instruction, order attorney fees, hold a party in contempt, or even dismiss a party’s claim or defense. See Utah R. Civ. P. 37(b)(1), (4)–(7). As relevant here, a court may also opt to “prohibit the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses or from introducing designated matters into evidence.” Id. R. 37(b)(2).

¶29      In imposing sanctions on Danny, the district court applied rule 37. It read subsection (b) of that rule to Danny, and then walked the parties through the sanctions options provided by rule 37(b). After discussion, and after a brief break to allow additional negotiations, the court told Danny that he would not be “permitted to refute” any evidence Amy presented regarding his income, and that he would not “be permitted to introduce [his] own evidence in support of what [he] believe[s his own] income should be.” This is one of the sanctions listed in rule 37(b). See id.

¶30      But under these circumstances, this sanction was improper. Rule 37 is properly invoked only for violation of a court order, see id. R. 37(b); Eskamani, 2020 UT App 137, ¶ 49, and Danny was not in violation of any court order. The only potentially applicable order is the pretrial order that commanded the parties to disclose their trial exhibits—including, significantly, their latest tax returns and other updated financial information—at least twenty-eight days prior to trial.[4] Danny complied with this order when he submitted his 2020 tax return on or before February 1, 2022—which was at least twenty-eight days prior to the scheduled March 1 trial date.[5] And on appeal, at least, Amy makes no argument to the contrary.[6] In the absence of any evidence that Danny was in violation of a court order, the court was not permitted to impose sanctions on Danny pursuant to rule 37.

¶31        Danny’s sin, as perceived by the district court, was not the violation of any specific court order. Instead, the court was apparently upset with Danny for waiting some two months after the belated completion of his 2020 tax return to provide a copy of that return to Amy. This action was arguably a violation of rule 26(d)(5), which commands parties to “timely” supplement their initial disclosures. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(5).[7] Courts certainly have authority to punish untimely supplementations. But such punishment must be imposed pursuant to rule 26(d) and not—in the absence of a violation of a court order—pursuant to rule 37(b).

¶32        Under rule 26(d), the court could have penalized Danny for his two-month disclosure delay, but any such penalty should have been limited to preventing Danny from “us[ing]” the 2020 tax return “at any hearing or trial.” See id. R. 26(d)(4). Even if we were to assume, for purposes of the discussion, that under rule 26(d) the court properly barred Danny from introducing that document on his own account, we are aware of no rule or authority that would allow the court to bar him from introducing other properly disclosed evidence about his income, or from attempting to rebut evidence about his income that Amy introduced at trial. In this vein, we note that, during her evidentiary presentation at trial, Amy introduced Danny’s 2020 tax return into evidence; Danny should not have been barred from engaging with that evidence once Amy voluntarily elected to introduce it. Thus, under the circumstances, the district court’s sanctions order was improper and unduly punitive.

¶33      And in this situation, the court’s improper sanctions order prejudiced Danny. Prejudice is demonstrated when a party shows that the court’s error “impacted the outcome of the dispute.” In re Western Ins. Co., 2022 UT 38, ¶ 55, 521 P.3d 851. In other words, a party is prejudiced if “there is a reasonable likelihood that, absent the error, the result would have been different.” Id. (quotation simplified). Danny asserts that his income is actually less than half of what the court found it to be after the one-sided evidentiary presentation, and he argues that, had he been able to present evidence as to his income, the court would not have made the same determination in that regard. Danny asserts that, if he had not been sanctioned, he would have presented (among other things) his earlier tax returns and evidence regarding his “necessary business expenses,” and would have been able to demonstrate that certain income had been improperly attributed to him. Danny plausibly contends that this would have likely made a difference, and here on appeal, Amy makes no argument to the contrary. And it appears that the district court more or less agreed with this notion, at one point stating that the sanctions imposed were “almost the equivalent of a default.”

¶34 In sum, then, the court entered an improper and unduly punitive sanctions order against Danny. That order prejudiced Danny because it prevented him from meaningfully engaging with the court and with Amy on the subject of his own income; absent the sanctions order, we think the court likely would have reached a different conclusion regarding Danny’s income. Accordingly, we vacate not only the court’s sanctions order but also its modification order (the order containing its findings regarding Danny’s income), and we remand this case to the district court for a new trial on Amy’s petition to modify.

¶35 Our opinion could end here. But we elect to address one of Danny’s other criticisms of the court’s handling of Amy’s petition to modify, in the hope that our guidance on this issue might prove useful on remand. See State v. Ogden, 2018 UT 8, ¶ 49, 416 P.3d 1132 (“Although it is unnecessary to our decision, we retain the authority to reach issues when we believe our analysis could prove helpful on remand.”); see also Young H2ORE LLC v. J&M Transmission LLC, 2024 UT App 10, ¶ 48, 543 P.3d 1264 (electing to “offer some guidance that we hope will prove useful” on remand where the issues in question “are certain to arise again”).

¶36 Danny asserts that the court acted improperly when it allowed Accountant to testify at trial as a “factual witness.”[8] We agree with Danny that Accountant’s testimony was improper.

¶37 After Amy made a late designation of expert witnesses (which the court eventually authorized Amy to do), Danny asked for a report from those witnesses, including Accountant, in lieu of taking their depositions. But despite certain initial incorrect representations from Amy’s attorney to the contrary, Amy never provided Danny with any report from Accountant.

¶38      Expert witnesses from whom reports have been requested should not be allowed—absent a showing of good cause or harmlessness—to testify about matters not “fairly disclosed in” the requested reports. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(B) (stating that expert witnesses “may not testify in a party’s case-in-chief concerning any matter not fairly disclosed in the report”); id. R. 26(d)(4); see also R.O.A. Gen., Inc. v. Chung Ji Dai, 2014 UT App 124, ¶ 11, 327 P.3d 1233 (stating that, “where it is undisputed that an expert witness report has been untimely filed, the proper inquiry is whether” the party’s failure to timely submit the report was “harmless” or excused by “good cause” (quotation simplified)), cert. denied, 337 P.3d 295 (Utah 2014). It follows, then, that an expert from whom a report has been requested but who has not provided one should not be allowed to testify at all, absent a finding of good cause or harmlessness, since nothing was “fairly disclosed” in any report. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(4)(B).

¶39        In this case, the district court allowed Accountant to testify, despite the fact that Accountant never provided an expert report to Danny. The court allowed this, at Amy’s request, on the ground that Accountant would not be asked to offer any expert opinion as to Danny’s income but, instead, would merely be “a factual witness” who would offer testimony about “what a line means on a tax return.” But the court never engaged in any analysis of whether Amy’s failure to provide an expert report from Accountant should be excused for “good cause.” See id. R. 26(d)(4). While Danny’s two-month delay in supplementing his initial disclosures with his 2020 tax return may have provided some cause for Accountant’s inability to timely form opinions regarding Danny’s post-2019 income, neither Amy nor the court ever offered an explanation as to why Danny’s delay in disclosing his 2020 tax return provided any cause for Accountant’s failure to provide a report containing opinions about what line items on a tax return mean.

¶40      And we are not persuaded by Amy’s effort to characterize this kind of testimony as “fact testimony.” As an initial matter, even fact witnesses have to be disclosed in a timely manner, and— although Amy did obtain permission to make a late expert designation of Accountant—Amy did not disclose Accountant as a fact witness in a timely manner. Any such disclosure should have been made in Amy’s initial disclosures, in order to give Danny the opportunity to depose (or seek other discovery from) the witness. It is not proper, absent specific leave of court, for a party to disclose a fact witness for the first time in connection with its final pretrial disclosures. After all, witnesses and exhibits disclosed in final pretrial disclosures are intended to be merely a subset of the witnesses and exhibits already disclosed earlier in the case. See Ader v. SimonMed Imaging Inc., No. CV-17­02085, 2020 WL 13442907, at *2 (D. Ariz. Sept. 22, 2020) (stating that, “[t]ogether, initial and supplemental disclosures reveal the full universe of potentially relevant evidence for every claim or defense,” and that in preparation for making final pretrial disclosures, the parties must then “sift through” that earlier-disclosed evidence to arrive at a “narrowed universe” of evidence “aimed at trial preparation”). Allowing a party to use its pretrial disclosures to introduce new evidence and new witnesses would therefore be contrary to the very purposes of rule 26. See Johansen v. Johansen, 2021 UT App 130, ¶ 18, 504 P.3d 152 (stating that where a party’s pretrial disclosures, submitted only “28 days before trial,” identified for the first time the witnesses that the party intended to rely on at trial, that disclosure was contrary to “the purpose of rule 26, which is to preclude parties from trying to gain an advantage by offering ‘surprise’ testimony at trial that has not been properly disclosed” (quotation simplified)); see also In re Morrissey, No. AP 20-2045, 2022 WL 666803, at *5 (Bankr. D. Utah Mar. 4, 2022) (noting that if a party “were permitted to treat the [pretrial disclosure] deadline as though it were the [initial disclosure] deadline, it would completely undermine the purposes of” the rule governing initial disclosures).

¶41 But more to the point, the testimony that Accountant ended up giving at trial was not fact testimony; it was expert testimony. A “fact witness” is someone “who has firsthand knowledge of something based on the witness’s perceptions through one [or] more of the five senses.” Fact Witness, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). “Lay fact testimony”—which is the type of testimony that the district court and Amy assert that Accountant provided—is “factual testimony not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge.” State v. Rothlisberger, 2006 UT 49, ¶ 11, 147 P.3d 1176; see also Warenski v. Advanced RV Supply, 2011 UT App 197, ¶ 8, 257 P.3d 1096 (stating that testimony that is “clearly based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” should be considered as “expert testimony rather than fact testimony” (quotation simplified)), cert denied, 268 P.3d 192 (Utah 2011). A fact witness is thus only allowed to “testify in the form of fact or opinion” if the testimony “is helpful to the finder of fact” and is within the witness’s “personal knowledge or perception.” State v. Sellers, 2011 UT App 38, ¶ 26, 248 P.3d 70; see also Utah R. Evid. 701.

¶42        Here, Accountant had no firsthand knowledge concerning the family in general or about Danny’s income in particular, yet he was presented with various financial exhibits, including Danny’s tax returns, and was allowed to offer testimony about them. Amy’s attorney then questioned Accountant about certain line items in those documents. At one point, for instance, Accountant explained how a wage on a W-2 form was neither for Danny nor was it “a qualified deduction” from Danny’s company, because “the income from [Danny’s] business” would be different from the amount represented in the form which “specifically calculates adjusted income for [that] specific tax deduction.” We have no difficulty concluding that this sort of testimony was expert testimony, not fact testimony, because it was based not on Accountant’s own personal observations but, instead, on his “technical” and “specialized knowledge.” See Utah R. Evid. 701.

¶43      Accountant should not have been allowed to provide this sort of testimony under these circumstances. Despite the court’s stated intention not to “apply the [discovery] rules unevenly,” in our view that is exactly what happened here. The court imposed an inappropriately severe sanction on Danny, while at the same time allowing Amy to offer undisclosed expert testimony. We trust that, on remand, these errors will be corrected.

CONCLUSION

¶44      Because Danny did not violate any discovery or disclosure order, the court’s effort to sanction him pursuant to rule 37 was improper. In addition, the court erred by allowing Accountant to offer expert testimony without having provided a requested expert report. We therefore reverse the imposition of sanctions on Danny, vacate the court’s order modifying the Decree, and remand the matter to the district court for a new trial.

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


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

[2] Prior to the trial, Amy had filed a document stating a general objection to Danny’s pretrial disclosures, asserting that some of Danny’s exhibits had not been disclosed “in a timely manner” and asking the court to enter an order barring Danny from using such exhibits at trial. Neither in that document nor at trial did Amy ask for a negative-inference sanction (at least not until after the court brought it up on its own).

[3] An earlier version of rule 37 contained a provision similar to rule 26(d)(4). See Utah R. Civ. P. 37(h) (2013). That provision was deleted in 2015, apparently because the drafters considered it redundant. See id. R. 37 advisory committee notes to 2015 amendment (“Former paragraph (h), which prohibited a party from using at a hearing information not disclosed as required, was deleted because the effect of non-disclosure is adequately governed by Rule 26(d).”). In the rules’ current iteration, this language appears only in rule 26(d)(4).

[4] Recall that the court itself—at the hearing at which it ordered a continuance of the November trial date—had been inclined to order a specific deadline for Danny’s disclosure of the belatedly prepared 2020 tax return, but ended up not doing so after both attorneys asked the court not to impose any deadline.

[5] This pretrial order was also in place in advance of the scheduled November 2021 trial date, and Danny was—at least temporarily— out of compliance with that order when he failed to hand over his 2020 tax return within twenty-eight days of the November trial date. He explained, however, that he was unable to generate the tax return because of software issues, and on that basis the court continued the November trial date, rescheduling the trial for March 2022. This continuance had the effect of curing Danny’s temporary noncompliance with the court’s pretrial order; as noted, Danny fully complied with it as it relates to the March 2022 rescheduled trial date.

[6] At trial, Amy’s attorney represented to the court that Danny’s disclosure of the 2020 tax return had been “[n]ot timely.” As discussed below, we generously interpret this as an allusion to Danny’s obligation to timely supplement his rule 26 disclosures. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(5). To the extent that this comment represented an assertion that Danny’s disclosure violated a court order, that assertion was inaccurate. Indeed, on appeal, Amy concedes that Danny produced his 2020 tax return to her “twenty-nine (29) days before trial.”

[7] 7. Conduct similar to Danny’s might, under some circumstances, also be a violation of rule 26.1(f), which provides that a party’s “[f]ailure to disclose all assets and income in the Financial Declaration and attachments” in a domestic relations action “may subject the non-disclosing party to sanctions under Rule 37.” See Utah R. Civ. P. 26.1(f). Indeed, Amy invites us to affirm the court’s sanctions order on this basis. We decline this invitation because, in our view, this alternative ground for affirmance is not apparent on the record. See Pentalon Constr., Inc. v. Rymark Props., LLC, 2015 UT App 29, ¶ 25, 344 P.3d 180 (“We will not affirm a judgment if the alternate ground or theory is not apparent on the record.” (quotation simplified)). As an initial matter, this argument is unpreserved; at trial, there was no discussion of rule 26.1 from any party or from the court, and there is no indication in the record that the court intended to base its sanction on rule 26.1(f). Moreover, it is far from apparent to us that the language of rule 26.1(f) authorizes rule 37 sanctions in the absence of a court order; certainly, Amy has not persuaded us that this is the case, especially given the plain language of rule 37(b) and our case law. See, e.g.Eskamani v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 2020 UT App 137, ¶ 49, 476 P.3d 542.

[8] Danny also complains that Amy never submitted initial disclosures, and that—despite a court order—she did not produce any documentation about a second source of income (rental properties). As near as we can tell from the record, Danny’s complaints are accurate. We see no need for further discussion of them here, however; Danny remains free to seek relief from the district court regarding these issues on remand.

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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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The Father of My Child Told Me He Can Unilaterally Give Up His Parental Rights. Can He? He Thinks This Way He Will Get Out of Child Support. Can He Do This?

There is more than one question to answer here.

First, does a parent have the unilateral power simply to “give up” his or her parental rights (and accompanying obligations)? No. The only way to terminate a parent’s parental rights and obligations is by court order after a petition to terminate that parent’s parental rights has been filed and granted.

Can a parent have his/her parental rights terminated? Yes. By court order after a petition to terminate that parent’s parental rights has been filed (either by that parent himself or herself) and granted by the court.

Does the termination of parental rights (not to be confused with merely the desire or intent to have one’s parental rights terminated) also terminate a parent’s obligations to support that child? Yes.

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

(8) The father of my child told me he is giving up his parental rights. He thinks this way he will get out of child support. Can he do this? – Quora

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If You Are Separated and She Wants Her Money for Child Support and Alimony Early Payment for the Child Support, Can She Get It by Taking You to Court?

It appears that your question is: can child support be awarded to a parent even if a divorce or child support action has not yet been filed? If that is your question, then the answer is “yes” in many jurisdictions. You’ll want to verify whether that is the case in your particular jurisdiction.

In Utah, where I practice divorce and family law, one can obtain child support without a court order by obtaining an administrative order awarding child support instead. Here is how that process works (click this link): https://ors.utah.gov/child-support/establish-child-support-orders/

Can one obtain spousal support or alimony without a court order? I can’t say as to all jurisdictions, but in Utah the answer is: no. The only order that entitles one to spousal support or alimony is a court order. Spousal support can be ordered on a temporary basis during the pendency of a divorce action before the court issues its decree of divorce.

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

https://www.quora.com/If-you-are-separated-and-she-wants-her-money-for-child-support-and-alimony-early-payment-for-the-child-support-can-she-get-it-by-taking-you-to-court-Thats-what-she-did-before-we-was-divorced

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What Can I Legally Do if My Child’s Mother Refuses to Use Car Seat When Traveling With Our Little Child?

What can I legally do if my child’s mother picks up our child in an Uber without a car seat? She is 5 years old, about 50 lbs. She is also the custodial parent with full custody rights, so she feels she can do anything she wants. Can I call the cops?

I’m old enough to remember when it was not illegal to wear a seatbelt. I’m old enough to remember when it was not illegal to permit a child to ride in a car without a seatbelt. I remember when there were no laws that children under a certain weight or height must ride in car seats when riding in cars. Most jurisdictions now have laws that require children of a certain age, weight, or height be strapped into a car seat when riding in a car.

So, the first thing you will need to do is find out whether it is illegal for your ex-wife to have your five-year-old, 50 pound child ride in a car without a car seat. You’ve mentioned that your ex-wife will often have your child picked up by Uber (a ridesharing service), and so you will want to ensure that even if there are laws that require a child to ride in a car seat when writing in a car, there are no exceptions for ridesharing services, taxicabs, buses, etc.

If, after conducting your research, you learn that it is illegal for your ex-wife to have your child ride in a car or when using a ridesharing service without having the child strapped into a car seat, then you would be well within your rights to report this to the police. just because you could do this, however, does not mean that you should, at least without first notifying your ex-wife that what she is doing is illegal and places your child in danger, and that if she refuses to comply with the law you will then report her to the police and perhaps even take the matter up with the court to get an order that requires her to secure the child in a car seat when traveling by car under circumstances when the law requires a car seat be utilized.

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

https://www.quora.com/What-can-I-legally-do-if-my-childs-mother-picks-up-our-child-in-an-Uber-without-a-carseat-She-is-5-years-old-about-50-lbs-She-is-also-the-custodial-parent-with-full-custody-rights-so-she-feels-she-can-do-anything/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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My Ex Is Coming to My Home to Pick Up My Child 30-45 Minutes Early. He Is Not Following the Custody Order. What Can I Do?

I will assume that your ex-husband (the children’s father) arriving to pick up the children earlier than his court ordered scheduled time is a hardship on, or at least an inconvenience for, you and/or for the children. Otherwise, if the father is the noncustodial parent (meaning that he spends less time with the children than you do on a weekly or monthly or even annual basis), he’s probably eager to spend as much time as possible with his children whom he loves.

But if arriving 30 to 45 minutes earlier than the court orders permit him to arrive to pick up the children is clearly causing you and or the children to suffer hardship or chronic inconvenience, you could move to have him held in contempt of court and sanctioned or contempt. Contempt of court consists of willfully violating court orders. Contempt sanctions can include fines, being jailed for a short period of time, in some cases being required to complete therapy or counseling, parenting courses, and performing community service for a certain number of hours. If you succeed on a motion to hold your ex-husband in contempt, the court may also award you your attorney’s fees incurred to bring the motion to the court (but remember, you cannot win an attorneys fee award unless you have actually incurred attorney’s fees).

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

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When an Order of Protection Gets Dismissed, Then Legally, There’s Nothing in Place Stating How We Will Share Our Son. What Do I Do Now?

Generally speaking (you will need to confer with an attorney who knows the law governing this question in the jurisdiction where you, the other parent, and the child reside), if there are no other court orders in place that govern the custodial rights of you and the other parent, then:

  • You and the other parent have co-equal custodial rights to the child, but that does not mean that there is any “default” custody schedule or custody sharing schedule that takes effect if you and the other parent cannot agree upon a schedule.
  • That means that (unless a law on the books in your jurisdiction provides otherwise) a parent can withhold contact with the child from the other parent without that constituting any kind of crime. Otherwise stated, it’s legal for a parent to do so. It’s not kind. It’s not fair, but it’s not illegal. You could call the police (as many people do) and tell them (honestly), “The other parent is refusing to let me spend any time with our child” and there is nothing that the police could do for you. Many parents are stunned to learn this when they call the police requesting and expecting help with obtaining time with their children.

o    If you and the other parent are married: you can file for a separation order or for a decree of divorce to request child custody and parent-time orders.

o    If you and the other parent are not married: you can file a child custody action or a paternity (also known as a “parentage”) action to request child custody and parent-time orders, and once the court issues those orders, you and the other parent are bound to comply with them. Failure or refusal to comply can result in A) being held in contempt of court and sanctioned for that contempt and/or B) criminal charges for custodial interference, even child kidnapping.

  • Once the court issues those orders, you and the other parent are bound to comply with them. Failure or refusal to comply can result in A) being held in contempt of court and sanctioned for that contempt and/or B) criminal charges for custodial interference, even child kidnapping.

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

https://www.quora.com/When-an-order-of-protection-gets-dismissed-then-legally-theres-nothing-in-place-stating-how-we-will-share-our-son-What-do-I-do

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Can you get a post-judgment interest rate higher than the statutory rate?

Did you know you can request a post-judgment interest rate that is higher than the default statutory rate? 

It’s true.  

While the court does not have the discretion to lower, stay, or waive statutory interest rate, it does have discretion to exceed statutory interest if equity so requires. 

Please don’t make me regret sharing this by asking for crazy amounts of interest now.  

A judgment for child support arrearages is a “judgment” within meaning of statute providing that, unless otherwise specified by contract, judgment shall bear interest at rate of 12% per annum; thus, custodial spouse is entitled to statutory rate of interest on the judgment until paid in full; although trial court may, in its discretion under divorce statute, raise statutory interest if equity so requires, court does not have the discretion to lower, stay, or waive interest. Utah Code Ann. §§15-1-4, 30-3-5(1). Stroud v. Stroud, 738 P.2d 649 (Utah Ct. App. 1987), judgment aff’d, 758 P.2d 905 (Utah 1988). Osguthorpe v. Osguthorpe, 804 P.2d 530 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). 

Interest accruing to wife on monies due from husband in property division in divorce judgment was at statutory rate, rather than the lower rate ordered by trial court. U.C.A.1953, 15-1-4. Marchant v. Marchant, 743 P.2d 199 (Utah Ct. App. 1987).  

A higher interest rate than statutorily allowed may be equitably imposed in divorce action under where, “under the circumstances, that award is reasonable,” and, second, that an increase of 2% over the statutory interest rate imposed on the amount not paid to the receiving party within six months was not an abuse of discretion. Pope v. Pope, 589 P.2d 752, 754 (Utah 1978). In divorce action, trial court did not err in ordering that if husband failed to pay wife specified sum of cash within six months of trial court’s order that such amount would bear interest at the rate of 10% per year. Pope v. Pope, 589 P.2d 752 (Utah 1978).  

Section 15-1-4 provides the “minimum interest allowable.” Id. (emphasis added). The statute “does not preclude a District Court, under [section 30-3-5] from imposing an interest rate of more than [the statutory postjudgment rate] where, under the circumstances, that award is reasonable and equitable.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, — P.3d —-, 2022 WL 130617, 2022 UT App 5 (citing Stroud v. Stroud, 738 P.2d 649, 650 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (quoting Pope v. Pope, 589 P.2d 752, 754 (Utah 1978)).  

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

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Do I need to show up for court if I was never served papers?

Do I need to show up for court if I was never served papers? I live in South Carolina.

I cannot speak for or about the jurisdiction of South Carolina because I practice law in Utah (so you need to inquire with a lawyer who is licensed to practice in South Carolina), but I can tell you a few things as a general rule of thumb: 

  • Many people are under the mistaken belief that “if they don’t give me them court papers first, the court is powerless to do anything to me”. Not true. Good faith, duly diligent efforts to effectuate service of process on you or at least—depending on the proceedings—notice to you is generally required before court action can be taken against you, but if, despite duly diligent efforts to locate you or chase you down to hand you “them court papers,” you cannot be found or served, there are other ways that a court will deem you to have been served and/or put on notice. 
  • If you hide in an effort to evade service/notice, the court will take that into account and hold that against you. No one can game the system this way. When that happens, the court can order that service on you be accomplished through alternative means. Such as? For example:
    • the court could order that notice be mailed to your last known address (if you’re not there, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • the court could order that notice be given in the form of an email or text message (to your last-known email address or phone number; if the email address or phone number used is not an address or number you use anymore, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • the court could order that notice be given in the form of an instant message to an open social media account of yours (if you don’t use it anymore, but didn’t close it, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • courts could (as they did frequently in the past, but not so much nowadays) give notice by publishing a notice in the “legal notices”” section of the newspaper (kids, for those of you too young to know what a newspaper is, you can click here) 
  • So if you think that avoiding service of process or closing your eyes and ears to notice is going to thwart the court or the opposing party, the joke’s on you. 
  • If you think you don’t have to appear in court merely because you didn’t receive service of process or notice (or more accurately, did your darnedest to ensure you didn’t get service or notice), again, the joke’s on you.

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

https://www.quora.com/Do-I-need-to-show-up-for-court-if-I-was-never-served-papers-I-live-in-South-Carolina/answer/Eric-Johnson-311 

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What is a court order and its types?

Here’s the definition from Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019): 

ordern. (16c) 1. A command, direction, or instruction. See MANDATE (1). 2. A written direction or command delivered by a government official, esp. a court or judge. • The word generally embraces final decrees as well as interlocutory directions or commands. — Also termed court order; judicial order. See MANDAMUS. 

“An order is the mandate or determination of the court upon some subsidiary or collateral matter arising in an action, not disposing of the merits, but adjudicating a preliminary point or directing some step in the proceedings.” 1 Henry Campbell Black, A Treatise on the Law of Judgments § 1, at 5 (2d ed. 1902). 

“While an order may under some circumstances amount to a judgment, they must be distinguished, owing to the different consequences flowing from them, not only in the matter of enforcement and appeal but in other respects, as, for instance, the time within which proceedings to annul them must be taken. Rulings on motions are ordinarily orders rather than judgments. The class of judgments and of decrees formerly called interlocutory is included in the definition given in [modern codes] of the word ‘order.’” 1 A.C. Freeman, A Treatise of the Law of Judgments § 19, at 28 (Edward W. Tuttle ed., 5th ed. 1925). 

What kinds of orders are common in a Utah divorce action? Again, I defer to Black’s Law Dictionary: 

- enforcement order. A court’s order issued to compel a person or entity to comply with a statute, regulation, contract provision, previous court order, or other binding authority. 

- ex parte order (eks pahr-tee) (18c) An order made by the court upon the application of one party to an action without notice to the other. 

- final order. (16c) An order that is dispositive of the entire case. See final judgment under JUDGMENT (2). 

- final judgment. (18c) A court’s last action that settles the rights of the parties and disposes of all issues in controversy, except for the award of costs (and, sometimes, attorney’s fees) and enforcement of the judgment. — Also termed final appealable judgment; final decision; final decree; definitive judgment; determinative judgment; final appealable order. 

– income-withholding order (1986) A court order providing for the withholding of a person’s income by an employer, usu. to enforce a child-support order. — Abbr. IWO. — Also termed wage-withholding order; wage-assignment order; wage assignment. Cf. attachment of wages under ATTACHMENT (1). 

- interim order. (18c) 1. A temporary court decree that remains in effect for a specified time or until a specified event occurs. 2. See interlocutory order. 

- interlocutory order (in-tər-lok-yə-tor-ee) (17c) An order that relates to some intermediate matter in the case; any order other than a final order. • Most interlocutory orders are not appealable until the case is fully resolved. But by rule or statute, most jurisdictions allow some types of interlocutory orders (such as preliminary injunctions and class-certification orders) to be immediately appealed. — Also termed interlocutory decision; interim order; intermediate order. See appealable decision under DECISION (1); COLLATERAL-ORDER DOCTRINE. 

- maintenance order. See SUPPORT ORDER. 

– support order (1948) A court decree requiring a party (esp. one in a divorce or paternity proceeding) to make payments to maintain a child or spouse, including medical, dental, and educational expenses. — Also termed maintenance order. 

- foreign support order. (1948) An out-of-state support order. 

- minute order. (1918) 1. An order recorded in the minutes of the court rather than directly on a case docket. • Although practice varies, traditionally when a trial judge is sitting officially, with or without a court reporter, a clerk or deputy clerk keeps minutes. When the judge makes an oral order, the only record of that order may be in the minutes. It is therefore referred to as a minute order. — Also termed minute entry. 2. A court order not directly relating to a case, such as an order adopting a local rule of court. • In this sense, the court is not a single judge acting in an adjudicatory capacity, but a chief judge, or a group of two or more judges, acting for a court in an administrative or some other nonadjudicatory capacity. 

- modification order (1936) Family law. A post-divorce order that changes the terms of child support, custody, visitation, or alimony. • A modification order may be agreed to by the parties or may be ordered by the court. The party wishing to modify an existing order must show a material change in circumstances from the time when the order sought to be modified was entered. See CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES. 

- pretrial order (1939) A court order setting out the claims and defenses to be tried, the stipulations of the parties, and the case’s procedural rules, as agreed to by the parties or mandated by the court at a pretrial conference.  

- emergency protective order. (1976) A temporary protective order granted on an expedited basis, usu. after an ex parte hearing (without notice to the other side), most commonly to provide injunctive relief from an abuser in a domestic-violence case; esp., a short-term restraining order that is issued at the request of a law-enforcement officer in response to a domestic-violence complaint from a victim who is in immediate danger. • A victim of domestic violence can obtain an EPO only through a law-enforcement officer. There is no notice requirement, but the abuser must be served with the order. The duration of an EPO varies from three to seven days, depending on state law. — Abbr. EPO. Cf. TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER. 

- permanent protective order. (1981) A protective order of indefinite duration granted after a hearing with notice to both sides; esp., a court order that prohibits an abuser from contacting or approaching the protected person for a long period, usu. years. Despite the name, permanent orders often have expiration dates set by state law. An order may also require the abuser to perform certain acts such as attending counseling or providing financial support for the protected person. — Abbr. PPO. 

– qualified domestic-relations order (1984) A state-court order or judgment that relates to alimony, child support, or some other state domestic-relations matter and that (1) recognizes or provides for an alternate payee’s right to receive all or part of any benefits due a participant under a pension, profit-sharing, or other retirement benefit plan, (2) otherwise satisfies § 414 of the Internal Revenue Code, and (3) is exempt from the ERISA rule prohibiting the assignment of plan benefits. • Among other things, the QDRO must set out certain facts, including the name and last-known mailing address of the plan participant and alternate payee, the amount or percentage of benefits going to the alternate payee, and the number of payments to which the plan applies. The benefits provided under a QDRO are treated as income to the actual recipient. IRC (26 USCA) § 414(p)(1)(A); 29 USCA § 1056(d)(3)(D)(i). — Abbr. QDRO. 

– restraining order (1876) 1. A court order prohibiting family violence; esp., an order restricting a person from harassing, threatening, and sometimes merely contacting or approaching another specified person. • This type of order is issued most commonly in cases of domestic violence. A court may grant an ex parte restraining order in a family-violence case if it is necessary to (1) achieve the government’s interest in protecting victims of family violence from further abuse, (2) ensure prompt action where there is an immediate threat of danger, and (3) provide governmental control by ensuring that judges grant such orders only where there is an immediate danger of such abuse. — Also termed protective order; order of protection; stay-away order. See ex parte motion under MOTION (1). 2. TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER. 3. A court order entered to prevent the dissipation or loss of property. 

- scheduling order. (1959) A court’s order that sets the time deadlines for different procedural actions in a case, such as amending pleadings, filing motions, and completing discovery. 

- separation order. (1882) A court order granting a married person’s request for a legal separation. See SEPARATION AGREEMENT (1). 

- show-cause order. (1925) An order directing a party to appear in court and explain why the party took (or failed to take) some action or why the court should or should not impose some sanction or grant some relief. — Abbr. SCO. — Also termed order to show cause (OSC; OTSC); rule to show cause; show-cause rule. 

- supervision order. (1938) Family law. A court’s order placing a child or young person under the supervision of a child-welfare agency or a probation officer in a case of neglect, abuse, or delinquency. 

– support order (1948) A court decree requiring a party (esp. one in a divorce or paternity proceeding) to make payments to maintain a child or spouse, including medical, dental, and educational expenses. — Also termed maintenance order. 

- foreign support order. (1948) An out-of-state support order. 

- temporary order. (1808) A court order issued during the pendency of a suit, before the final order or judgment has been entered. 

– temporary restraining order (1861) 1. A court order preserving the status quo until a litigant’s application for a preliminary or permanent injunction can be heard. • A temporary restraining order may sometimes be granted without notifying the opposing party in advance. Cf. emergency protective order under PROTECTIVE ORDER. 2. See ex parte injunction under INJUNCTION. — Abbr. TRO. — Often shortened to restraining order.  

- visitation order (1944) Family law.1. An order establishing the visiting times for a noncustodial parent with his or her child. 2. An order establishing the visiting times for a child and a person with a significant relationship to the child. • Such an order may allow for visitation between (1) a grandparent and a grandchild, (2) a child and another relative, (3) a child and a stepparent, or (4) occasionally, a child and the child’s psychological parent. — Also termed access order. 

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

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Why is a lawyer charging me $1,500 for a court order?

I do not know. Ask your lawyer. And ask sincerely. Feel free to be frank, but ask sincerely.

If his/her answer does not make sense (and you’re being honest with yourself and not trying to act as though you don’t understand), then say so.

If, after your lawyer takes another stab at explaining the bill, your lawyer’s answers still honestly don’t make sense, it may be that you were overcharged.

If you honestly believe you were overcharged (and you aren’t simply making false claims of being overcharged for the purpose of taking advantage of your attorney), then say so. If your attorney agrees (whether he/she will admit it or not), your attorney may reduce your bill.

If your attorney will not reduce the bill despite your complaints/requests for a reduction, then you may have good cause to take the matter up with the bar association and/or with a court.

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

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-a-lawyer-charging-me-1500-for-a-court-order/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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I have no money and a non-cooperative ex, how do I get legal help?

How can I obtain assistance in a custody matter when I have no money and my ex-husband is not following the current court order? 

In some jurisdictions there are legal services that exist for the purpose of helping the poor. They provide anywhere from discounted services to free services. Sometimes what you pay (if anything) is based upon your income (the less your income is, the less you pay). Not everyone qualifies for these reduced-fee or free services, and it should come as no surprise to that (with occasional exception), when it comes to free or cheap legal services, you get what you pay for.  

Some law schools offer some legal help in the form of clinics staffed by law students who are supervised by a lawyer or lawyers. As you can imagine, because law students are students and not yet lawyers, the legal knowledge they have is limited, as is the kinds and amounts of legal help they can give. These legal clinics usually provide help in the form of showing you how to do-it-yourself. Rarely will legal clinics staffed by law students provide you with limited or full representation in court.  

Some bar associations host legal clinics as well. Again, these are not soup to nuts outfits. They usually limit themselves to the kinds of legal questions the poor face: eviction, divorce, small claims, consumer protection issues, petty crime. These lawyers will volunteer to meet with you for a few minutes to an hour or so because a lot of people come to these clinics, so you won’t be getting all the information and advice you may want or need. And the same lawyers aren’t always at the clinics each time you show up. And some clinics may limit the amount of time you get to spend there, so that people don’t hog the free help.  

Finally, some jurisdictions have laws that provide for the possibility of your ex paying for your lawyer—while the case is pending, not after the case is over—if you can’t pay for one yourself while the case is pending. For example, in the jurisdiction where I practice law (Utah), there is this statute: 

30-3-3. Award of costs, attorney and witness fees — Temporary alimony. 

(1) In any action filed under Title 30, Chapter 3, Divorce, Chapter 4, Separate Maintenance, or Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 6, Cohabitant Abuse Protective Orders, and in any action to establish an order of custody, parent-time, child support, alimony, or division of property in a domestic case, the court may order a party to pay the costs, attorney fees, and witness fees, including expert witness fees, of the other party to enable the other party to prosecute or defend the action. The order may include provision for costs of the action. 

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

https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-obtain-assistance-in-a-custody-matter-when-I-have-no-money-and-my-ex-husband-is-not-following-the-current-court-order/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1  

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The Protective Order Deception

We all know that a protective order provides little to no substantive protection for the purported victim. The joke around the legal profession is that when a bullet, blade, bat, or fist is headed your way, just hold up the sheet of paper on which the order is printed to stop it.  

We also know that while many real victims of abuse seek protective orders for legitimate purposes, many protective orders are often sought (in my opinion most protective orders are sought) in bad faith by people to gain an ill-gotten, unfair advantage over another through a bogus protective order application. 

So if someone is truly afraid for his or her life or safety, why not have the would be protective order applicant get a gun, instead? Some real protection. Not invincibility, not even 24/7 protection, but far, far better than mere sheet of paper.  

Besides, anyone who’s truly fearing for his or her life or safety isn’t going to find any protection in a court order. As they say, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” 

Indeed, if the stories that protective order applicants told were always true (i.e., in fact every protective order applicant has already been abused, or abuse against them is/was being attempted and/or threatened), then shouldn’t the number of people stopped by a mere sheet of paper be remarkably low (i.e., why doesn’t alleged the abuser keep trying to abuse, in spite of a mere sheet of paper telling him/her not to abuse)?  

 It’s not as though a perpetrator reads the protective order after being served with it and says, “Well, as long as this piece of paper tells me I can’t kill or injure, then I have no choice but to respect the court order.” Murderers and determined abusers won’t be stopped by pieces of paper any more than they are stopped by laws already on the books that prohibit murder and abuse.[1] 

I had a client who claims that a bogus protective order was entered against him. I have no reason to doubt what he said (there was no verifiable evidence that any of his wife’s self-serving allegations—made in advance of her filing for divorce, of course—were true). There was no history of violence or abuse in his past (the only thing the wife could use against him when she made her original request for protective wardrobe is that he had received combat training when in the due course of his military service 20 years before she applied for the protective order). The protective order had been in place for 12 years when his daughter, who at that point was now an adult, engaged to be married. He wanted to attend the wedding and the reception. Utah law required that he make a request that the protective order be dismissed. His ex-wife opposed the motions, claiming that she was “still afraid” of him, even though her affidavit stated that she had had no contact or communication with him in 12 years (in other words, he had obeyed the protective order without exception).  

No contact with him in 12 years. No incidents of violence or attempted violence or even threats of violence. In 12 years. But all it took was her claim she was “still afraid”. No evidence he had in fact committed, attempted to commit, or threatened to commit any abuse. No evidence he was in fact a threat to her in any way. Indeed, all evidence was to the contrary. She said she was still scared, couldn’t explain why, but that’s all the judge needed. The protective order stayed in place (not even amended to make it possible for him to attend the ceremony or reception), and this man missed his daughter’s wedding. That’s real abuse.  

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

[1] Indeed, something can be said for the idea that falsely accusing someone of being an abuser and then ejecting him from his home and subjecting him to public ridicule and scorned maybe one of the best ways to foster abuse in situations where, but for the issuance of the ill-gotten protective order, no abuse would have ever occurred. Being falsely accused and falsely slapped with a protective order is humiliating and destroys an innocent’s faith in the legal system. Falsely-obtained protective orders create a sense of betrayal and anxiety that causes many an innocent person to reason that if innocence isn’t a protection against false allegations that kill reputations and careers and separate loving parents from children, then I might as well become what I’ve been accused of being. “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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What happens to a child support order if both parents move out of the country?

Unless the child support order provides for a change in the child support obligation or benefit in the event and due to the parents moving out of the country, then the child support order remains unchanged and remains in full force and effect. 

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

https://www.quora.com/What-happens-to-a-child-support-order-if-both-parents-move-out-of-the-country/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Can the other parent send someone I’ve never met to pickups and drop-offs for our child?

Can the other parent send someone I’ve never met to pickups and drop-offs for our child?

Can the other parent send someone I’ve never met to pickups and drop-offs for our child when custody order only lists the parents? What would I file with the court to contest this? Would the court just add that person to the order?

Before I address your questions, I suggest you honestly examine the bases for your concerns. Are you honestly worried about this situation, or do you see an opportunity to denigrate your ex and make trouble for your ex in court?

So you’re asking at least three questions here.

First, can the other parent send someone you have never met to pick up or drop off your child when the court’s order states identifies no one other than the parents as the ones who pick up and drop off the child for custody and parent-time exchanges? The answer: If the order can be interpreted or construed to provide that the parents certainly can pick up and drop off, but that permission or authorization to pick up or drop off the child is not limited solely to the parents, then a parent can have someone else to pick up or drop off the child. On the other hand, if the order can be interpreted or construed to provide that permission or authorization to pick up or drop off the child is restricted solely to the parents, then you could argue that if one of the parents fails to pick up or drop off the child personally and instead sends someone else to pick up or drop off the child, that parent is violating the court’s order.

Your next question was: what would I file with the court to contest this? Well, obviously if the court order allows for persons other than the parents to pick up or drop off the child, there would be little point to complaining to the court about it unless you could demonstrate that the person or people the other parent is designating to pick up or drop off the child is harming, attempting to harm, or threatening to harm the child in some significant way.

If the court order prohibits persons other than the parents to pick up or drop off the child, you are wise to ask whether it’s worth the time, effort, hassle, risk, and money to do so if all the other parent is likely to do is file a motion or petition to authorize people other than the parents to pick up or drop off the child. If there is no statute in your jurisdiction that prohibits persons other than parents to facilitate custody or parent-time pickups and drop-offs, if the parent can show that he or she has a legitimate need for the help with pickups and drop offs, and if the person or persons who are not parents but who are picking up or dropping off the child is or are responsible adults who are doing a good job with pickups and drop-offs and doing neither the child nor the parent any harm, you need to ask yourself whether complaining to the court is fair and reasonable for you to do. If the only reason you want to complain is because you like to stir the pot and/or try to cause your ex trouble with the court, you should re-think that position.

https://www.quora.com/Can-parent-send-someone-Ive-never-met-to-custody-drop-off-and-pick-ups-of-our-child-when-custody-order-only-lists-the-parents-What-would-I-file-with-the-court-to-contest-this-Would-the-court-just-add-that-person-to/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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

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What are marriages that are exempted from marriage license requirements?

What are marriages that are exempted from marriage license requirements?

Technically speaking, the only marriage that could be considered “exempt” from a marriage license requirement (meaning free from the requirement to obtain a marriage license as a condition of marrying) would be a common law marriage (in jurisdictions where common law marriage is still allowed and recognized).

To understand what a common law marriage is, you would need to understand what it is not. A common law marriage is not a “solemnized” marriage. A “solemnized” marriage is a marriage performed according to a formal, official, legally recognized marriage ceremony by one vested with authority by the state to perform marriages.

A common law marriage is a marriage that, unlike a solemnized marriage, which arises upon the completion of the formal, legally recognized wedding ceremony, is recognized by the law retroactively, long after two people have been living together in a conjugal relationship (i.e., living in a relationship like that of a married couple without being formally and legally and lawfully wedded). Not all states in the U.S.A. recognize common law marriage. The state where I practice family law (Utah) does.

Here are the requirements for having a relationship recognized as a common law marriage as they are provided in Utah Code § 30-1-4.5:  A marriage which is not solemnized according to this chapter shall be legal and valid if a court or administrative order establishes that it arises out of a contract between a couple where both are of legal age, capable of giving consent, legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage, have cohabited, mutually assume marital rights, duties, and obligations, and hold themselves out as and have acquired a uniform and general reputation as spouses. The determination or establishment of a marriage under this section must occur either during the relationship or within one year following the termination of that relationship.

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

https://www.quora.com/What-are-marriages-that-are-exempted-from-marriage-license-requirements/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Can a parent legally keep the other parent from the children?

Can a parent legally keep the other parent from the children? Can a parent (married or unmarried) legally keep the other parent from the children without having gone to court? Yes. It can be done under certain circumstances. In the absence of a court order to the contrary, it is not illegal for one parent to keep the children from the other parent. I know that sounds weird, but it is true. This means that—whether the parents are married or not—if:

(Example 1) Dad, say, picks up the kids from school and then takes them to his house and does not let Mom see them or pick them up to spend time with her (whether at her house or just out and about), Dad is not doing anything illegal. Even if no one accuses Mom of being a danger to the children, she cannot force Dad to let her see or spend time with the children and if she calls the police for help there is nothing they can do because what Dad is doing is not illegal.

(Example 2) Mom and Dad break up and Mom moves out with the baby, and Dad calls the police asking them to help him see or spend time with the baby, the police can do nothing because what Mom is doing is not illegal. As with many things one can do, just because parents can keep their children from the other parent does not mean parent should do such a thing. Keeping children from their other parent, when the parent is not a danger to the children, is absolutely wrong.  Now if there is a decree of divorce or other valid court order that awards shared custody and/or parent-time to a parent and the other parent withholds the children from that parent in violation of that court order, that can be both prosecuted criminally and penalized civilly as contempt of court.

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

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Can an unmarried parent legally keep the other parent from the children without having gone to court?

Can an unmarried parent legally keep the other parent from the children without having gone to court?

Yes.

In the absence of a court order to the contrary, it is not illegal for one parent to keep the children from the other parent. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.

This means that—whether the parents are married or not—if:

  • Dad, say, picks up the kids from school and then takes them to his house and does not let Mom see them or pick them up to spend time with her (whether at her house or just out and about), Dad is not doing anything illegal. Even if no one accuses Mom of being a danger to the children, she cannot force Dad to let her see or spend time with the children and if she calls the police for help there is nothing they can do because what Dad is doing is not illegal.
  • Mom and Dad break up and Mom moves out with the baby, and Dad calls the police asking them to help him see or spend time with the baby, the police can do nothing because what Mom is doing is not illegal.

As with many things one can do, just because parents can keep their children from the other parent does not mean parent should do such a thing. Keeping children from their other parent, when the parent is not a danger to the children, is absolutely wrong.

Now if there is a decree of divorce or other valid court order that awards shared custody and/or parent-time to a parent and the other parent withholds the children from that parent in violation of that court order, that can be both prosecuted criminally and penalized civilly as contempt of court.

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

https://www.quora.com/Can-an-unmarried-father-legally-keep-the-mother-from-seeing-children-for-no-reason-other-than-having-control-without-having-gone-to-court/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Rosser v. Rosser – 2019 UT App 5 – contempt of court

2019 UT App 5

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

HOLLY REBECCA ROSSER,
Appellee,

v.

RONALD LEE ROSSER,
Appellant.

Opinion No. 20170736-CA
Filed January 10, 2019

Sixth District Court, Panguitch Department
The Honorable Paul D. Lyman
No. 154600013

Steven W. Beckstrom, Attorney for Appellant
Stephen D. Spencer, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and DIANA HAGEN concurred.

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1        Ronald Lee Rosser and Holly Rebecca Rosser divorced in 2016 pursuant to a stipulated decree of divorce that was the result of mediation. One of the points of contention in their divorce case was how the parties would divide their 2015 tax obligations. At the conclusion of the mediation, the parties apparently agreed to split the 2015 tax liability equally. A few weeks later, however, both parties executed a stipulated decree of divorce that obligated Holly[1] to “pay any tax liabilities . . . for the year 2015.” Later, after Ronald refused to pay any of the outstanding 2015 tax obligation, Holly obtained an order to show cause and asked the district court to hold Ronald in contempt of court for refusing to pay his share of the 2015 taxes. The court granted Holly’s request and found Ronald in contempt. Ronald now appeals, and we agree with Ronald that the actions he was found to have taken do not constitute statutory contempt of court. Accordingly, we vacate nearly the entirety of the district court’s contempt order, and remand this case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

¶2        After twenty-five years of marriage, Holly and Ronald separated in 2014, and Holly later petitioned for divorce. Over the course of their marriage, the parties acquired various assets, including several vehicles, a residence in Panguitch, Utah, two other parcels of real property, and a number of franchise restaurants that were owned by a company in which Holly and Ronald each held a 50% stake. In addition to these assets, the parties also had certain debts, including a $29,902.71 tax obligation owed to the IRS for the 2015 tax year. The parties took opposing positions regarding the division of some of these assets and liabilities.

¶3        In an attempt to resolve their differences prior to trial, the parties agreed to participate in mediation on June 16, 2016. During that mediation session, the parties were able to come to an agreement regarding all of their issues, including the 2015 tax obligation. This consensus was memorialized in a three-page written agreement (the Mediation Agreement) that was signed by all parties immediately upon completion of the mediation. With regard to the tax obligation, the Mediation Agreement states as follows: “IRS debt from 2015, 50% Ron and 50% Holly.” The parties also agreed that Ronald would be entitled to certain “rebates” that the couple’s business received.

¶4        In the weeks following the mediation, Holly paid her half of the 2015 tax obligation. For reasons unclear from the record, Ronald did not. However, Ronald did contact the parties’ accountant and identify several additional tax deductions that he thought could potentially reduce the parties’ 2015 tax liability. Acting on Ronald’s instructions, in July 2016 the accountant prepared an amended 2015 tax return for Ronald and Holly. In preparing that return, however, the accountant mistakenly assumed that the entire previous 2015 tax obligation of $29,902.71 had already been paid, when in reality only half of it (Holly’s half) had actually been paid. As a result, the amended tax return indicated that not only did Ronald and Holly not owe any taxes for 2015, they were actually due a tax refund of approximately $7,900. Holly would later testify that, operating on the assumption that Ronald had paid his half of the pre­existing 2015 tax obligation as she had done, she believed that the amended returns were accurate and that the parties were in fact owed a refund. For his part, Ronald would later testify that he also believed the amended tax returns were accurate, but premised this belief on a different assumption: that Holly had paid the entirety of the 2015 tax obligation in consideration for other income she had negotiated from him. Apparently both under the belief that the amended returns were accurate, the parties signed those returns on or about August 22, 2016.

¶5        On or about August 4, 2016—after the amended tax returns had been prepared and reviewed, but before either party actually signed them—the parties and their attorneys all signed a Stipulated Motion for Entry of Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Final Decree of Divorce. With respect to the 2015 tax obligation, that stipulation stated—in contrast to the Mediation Agreement—that Holly “shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” A few days later, on August 8, 2016, the district court signed a Final Decree of Divorce (the Decree) in accordance with the parties’ stipulated motion. Under the terms of the Decree, Holly “shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended [2015 tax] returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” The Decree also states that Ronald is entitled to the rebates as agreed upon at the mediation.

¶6        Holly later discovered that the amended tax returns were inaccurate, and that instead of being entitled to a $7,900 refund for tax year 2015, the parties still owed $7,174.98. Under the terms of the recently-entered Decree, Holly was obligated to make this payment, but she considered that result unfair since she had already paid her half of the 2015 tax obligation, as the parties had agreed at mediation, and Ronald had not. In part because she felt as though Ronald owed her money related to the 2015 tax obligation, she declined to pass along to Ronald certain rebate checks she received to which Ronald was entitled under the terms of the Decree.

¶7        On November 21, 2016, Holly filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause, alleging that Ronald had defrauded her and asking the court to order Ronald to pay his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligations as well as her attorney fees in bringing the motion. A few weeks later, Ron filed his own Motion for Order to Show Cause, alleging that Holly had willfully failed to comply with the provision of the Decree that concerned the rebates. Eventually, the district court scheduled both motions for an evidentiary hearing. During that hearing, Holly testified that Ronald had misled her into believing that he had paid his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation assigned to him pursuant to the Mediation Agreement. Ronald, by contrast, testified that Holly was not only aware that he had not done so, but that after mediation she had agreed to pay the entirety of the tax obligation. With regard to the rebates, Holly acknowledged that she had received rebate checks to which Ronald was entitled under the Decree, but stated that she had not passed those along to Ronald because she felt that he owed her money related to the 2015 tax obligations.

¶8      At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found that Ronald deceived Holly by allowing her to believe that he had paid his share of the tax obligation, and that Holly had not in fact agreed to pay it herself. The court then found Ronald in contempt of court for “his deliberate deceit and failure to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016,” and ordered Ronald to pay Holly approximately $15,000 plus reasonable attorney fees, which were later determined to be $4,000. The court also found that Holly had “failed to make” the rebate payments to Ronald as required by the Decree, but that Holly’s conduct “did not intentionally violate the Decree” because Holly was “merely reacting to [Ronald’s] deceit.” Accordingly, the court allowed Holly to “offset” the rebate amounts she owed Ronald against the amount it determined Ronald owed her on the tax issue. After quantifying the amount of attorney fees to which it believed Holly was entitled, the court eventually entered judgment against Ronald in the amount of $18,951.11, but stated, in the judgment, that Holly “may apply” the “rebates toward the judgment and thus give [Ronald] credit” for them.

¶9        Ronald appeals from that judgment, and asks us to consider whether the district court erred in holding him in contempt. When reviewing a district court’s decision to find a party in contempt, “we review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and its legal determinations for correctness.” LD III LLC v. Davis, 2016 UT App 206, ¶ 12, 385 P.3d 689 (quotation simplified). Ronald’s chief complaint with the district court’s contempt determination is a legal one: Ronald contends that the facts alleged by Holly, even if true, cannot constitute statutory contempt of court as a matter of law.[2] This is a legal question that we review for correctness. Id.

¶10      Under Utah statutory law, a court has authority to hold a person in contempt of court for any one of twelve enumerated reasons. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301 (LexisNexis 2012).[3] Ronald contends that none of the twelve grounds apply here, and that therefore the district court was without statutory authority to hold him in contempt. We agree with Ronald.

¶11 In this case, while it is clear that the district court found that Ronald was in contempt of court, it is unclear which of the twelve statutory grounds the court relied upon. In its order, the court stated that Ronald was “in contempt, due to his deliberate deceit and failure to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016.” The court gave no other indication of the legal (as opposed to the factual) grounds for its determination that Ronald was in contempt of court.

¶12      Holly asserts that the district court implicitly relied upon two of the twelve statutory grounds for contempt: (a) the fourth one, which allows a court to find a “party to an action” in contempt for “deceit, or abuse of the process or proceedings of the court”; and (b) the fifth one, which allows a court to find a person in contempt for “disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court.” Id. § 78B-6-301(4), (5). We are not convinced that either of these grounds was appropriately invoked in this case.

¶13 The court did mention Ronald’s “deliberate deceit” as part of its reason for holding Ronald in contempt of court. But the deceit the court described in its findings was not deceit Ronald committed upon the court; rather, it was deceit Ronald apparently committed upon Holly by not telling her that he had failed to pay his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation. In this case, there is no allegation, let alone a finding, that Ronald committed deceit or fraud on the court, and in our view subsection (4) of the contempt statute must be interpreted to include only deceit committed on the court.

¶14      We reach that conclusion after reviewing the provision in context. First, subsection (4)—unlike other subsections—is by its own terms limited to the actions of “part[ies] to the action or special proceeding.” See id. § 78B-6-301(4). Second, “deceit” is part of a short list of things that might be found contemptuous under that subsection, and the other thing listed is “abuse of the process or proceedings of the court.” Id. Our supreme court requires a “commonsense approach” to statutory interpretation in which “a word is given more precise content by the neighboring words with which it is associated.” See Thayer v. Washington County School Dist., 2012 UT 31, ¶ 15, 285 P.3d 1142 (quotation simplified). Here, the entire thrust of the subsection is aimed at allowing a court to penalize deceitful misuse of judicial proceedings by parties to those proceedings. Ronald’s actions were all undertaken toward Holly, and not toward the court, and thus cannot fall within the ambit of subsection (4).

¶15 It is contemptible deceit, for example, to lie to a court under oath.[4] See Bhongir v. Mantha, 2016 UT App 99, ¶ 16, 374 P.3d 33. It is also contemptible deceit to file false documents, see, e.g. PacifiCorp v. Cardon, 2016 UT App 20, ¶ 3, 366 P.3d 1226, or to falsely testify during a divorce proceeding that one has very little money and then skip town with money which one has previously deposited under an assumed name, see Smith v. Smith, 218 P.2d 270, 271–72 (Utah 1950). But these are all actions taken toward the court, and we are aware of no case—and Holly provides us with none—in which a court held a person in contempt for deceit that occurred outside of the presence of the court, was directed towards another party, and did not involve false sworn testimony or the filing of a falsified document.

¶16 We share Ronald’s concern that, were Holly’s position governing law, there would be little to prevent any untruthful statement made by any party to anyone while litigation is pending from being punishable by contempt of court. Indeed, Holly’s contentions in this case are, in essence, that Ronald breached the Mediation Agreement and in the course of doing so made fraudulent statements—or at least committed fraudulent nondisclosure—toward Holly. In our view, it would stretch the meaning of subsection (4) of the contempt statute well beyond its intended meaning if facts like these, even if true, were determined to fall within its ambit.

¶17      Holly next contends that the district court could also have been relying on subsection (5), which allows a court to punish “disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301(5) (2012). But the district court did not reference any judgment or order that it believed Ronald disobeyed. Instead, the only document the court mentioned was the Mediation Agreement; the court faulted Ronald for failing “to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016.” It is undisputed that, as part of the Mediation Agreement, Ronald agreed to pay half of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation, and that he did not ever actually do so. But the Mediation Agreement was not an order of the court; it was just a private agreement between two parties. Breach of a private agreement that has not yet been made an order of the court cannot be a violation of subsection (5) of the contempt statute.[5]

¶18 Holly attempts to defend the court’s contempt order by asserting that Ronald was not only in violation of the parties’ private Mediation Agreement, but that he was also in violation of the Decree, and that—even though the district court made no mention of it—the district court intended to hold Ronald in contempt for failure to comply with the terms of the Decree. For support, Holly directs our attention to paragraph 9(r) of the Decree, which is the paragraph setting forth the parties’ rights and obligations regarding the 2015 tax obligation. As noted above, that paragraph states that Holly is to receive any 2015 tax refund to which the parties may be entitled, but that Holly “shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” The plain terms of the Decree (as opposed to the Mediation Agreement) obligate Holly to pay the entirety of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation, whatever that obligation might be. While Ronald’s failure to pay half of that obligation may well violate the terms of the Mediation Agreement, such failure clearly does not violate the terms of the Decree, because the Decree imposed upon Ronald no obligation to pay any of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation.

¶19      Holly argues, however, that paragraph 9(r) of the Decree is at least ambiguous, and asks us to consider parol evidence, most notably the Mediation Agreement, in construing its terms. Holly maintains that the “ambiguity” contained in paragraph 9(r) was “the presence or absence of a tax refund,” and asserts that she only agreed to the terms of the Decree because she believed that she would receive a tax refund. Holly’s argument fails, however, because the plain language of the Decree is not itself ambiguous, and clearly obligates her—and not Ronald—to pay any outstanding tax liability. A provision is ambiguous only if “its terms are capable of more than one reasonable interpretation because of uncertain meanings of terms, missing terms, or other facial ambiguities.” See Mind & Motion Utah Investments, LLC v. Celtic Bank Corp., 2016 UT 6, ¶ 24, 367 P.3d 994 (quotation simplified). If the language is not ambiguous, “the parties’ intentions are determined from the plain meaning of the contractual language, and the contract may be interpreted as a matter of law.” Id. (quotation simplified). “Terms are not ambiguous simply because one party seeks to endow them with a different interpretation according to his or her own interests.” Id. (quotation simplified). Instead, “the proffered alternative interpretations must be plausible and reasonable in light of the language used.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶20 Holly’s interpretation of the language contained in paragraph 9(r) is simply not “plausible and reasonable in light of the language used.” Id. Where the language clearly imposes upon Holly the obligation to pay whatever tax obligation the parties owed for the 2015 tax year, any interpretation that imposes that obligation, even in part, upon Ronald is simply not consonant with the plain meaning of the language used. Accordingly, Ronald’s failure to pay any portion of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation is not a violation of the plain terms of the Decree, and therefore the district court could not have properly held Ronald in contempt of court on that basis.

CONCLUSION

¶21      A statutory contempt remedy simply does not fit the facts of this case, even if we assume that Holly’s version of the facts is correct. Ronald did not commit deceit on the court, nor did he violate an order or judgment of the court. He appears to have violated the terms of the Mediation Agreement, and—although we express no opinion on the matter—he may have committed fraud or fraudulent nondisclosure upon Holly in the time period between the mediation and the entry of the Decree. But Holly’s remedy, if any, for Ronald’s actions must be found somewhere other than the contempt statute.[6] We vacate nearly the entirety[7] of the district court’s contempt order, including its order that Ronald pay attorney fees, and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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

[1] Because both parties share the same surname, we identify the parties by their first names throughout this opinion. We intend no disrespect by the apparent informality.

[2] Among other additional arguments, Ronald also takes issue with certain of the district court’s factual findings supporting its contempt determination, but because we determine that the facts as set forth by Holly cannot constitute statutory contempt as a legal matter, we need not consider any of Ronald’s other arguments, including whether the district court clearly erred in any of its factual determinations.

[3] Under Utah law, courts also have inherent (non-statutory) contempt powers. See Chen v. Stewart, 2005 UT 68, ¶ 36, 123 P.3d 416 (“A court’s authority to sanction contemptuous conduct is both statutory and inherent.”). In this case, however, Holly did not ask the district court to invoke its inherent powers and, in its order, the district court did not expressly invoke any such powers. On appeal, Holly defends the district court’s order by asserting that the court had the statutory power to issue its contempt order. Because the district court does not appear to have invoked its inherent power, and because Holly does not argue that it did, we do not address whether the district court would have had the power to hold Ronald in contempt of court pursuant to its inherent (as opposed to its statutory) authority.

[4] During the course of the hearing on Holly’s order to show cause, Ronald testified that he had a meeting with Holly in July 2016 where she agreed to pay all of the 2015 taxes. Holly denied that any such meeting ever occurred, and denied ever agreeing to pay the entirety of the 2015 tax obligation. The district court credited Holly’s version of those events, and made a finding that Ronald was “not telling the truth” in setting forth his version. However, there is no indication in the remainder of the court’s contempt order that it intended to hold Ronald in contempt for the particular statement that it found was not true. The court’s specific contempt finding lists only “deceit” in “fail[ing] to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016,” and makes no attempt to ground a contempt finding on any “deceit” associated with Ronald’s testimony about the July 2016 meeting.

[5] The district court ordered the parties to participate in mediation. However, Holly makes no claim that Ronald failed to participate in mediation, or that the district court intended to hold Ronald in contempt for violating its order that the parties participate in mediation. See, e.g., Rawlings v. Rawlings, 2008 UT App 478 ¶¶ 24-28, 200 P.3d 662 (holding that while complete failure to participate in court-ordered mediation may constitute a violation of a court order to participate in mediation in good faith, participating with no intention of making or considering any settlement offers does not), reversed on other grounds by Rawlings v. Rawlings, 2010 UT 50, 240 P.3d 754.

[6] For instance, a party in Holly’s situation could, among other options, (a) elect to file a petition to modify the Decree, asserting a substantial and material change in circumstances; (b) file a motion, pursuant to rule 60(b)(3) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking relief from the terms of the Decree on the basis of fraud; or (c) file a separate lawsuit alleging fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure, or some other appropriate cause of action, and seeking damages. We express no opinion about whether, on the facts presented here, Holly would be entitled to relief under any of these options.

[7] We do not vacate Paragraphs 20–22 of the district court’s contempt order. In those paragraphs, the district court determined that Holly had failed to comply with the provision of the Decree that required her to pass along to Ronald certain rebate checks that she might receive. Holly has not appealed those findings, and takes no issue with them in the context of Ronald’s appeal. On remand, the district court may revisit the question of whether Holly is entitled to offset her obligation to Ronald regarding the rebate checks against any other obligation Ronald may owe her, or whether a judgment in Ronald’s favor regarding the rebate checks is appropriate.

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