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Tag: debt

Divorce Mediation – To Good to Be True (For Most People)

I know you want to believe that divorce mediation is the trick to a fast, easy, cheap, amicable divorce. I know you want to believe this, and we know why. But if it sounds to good to be true, it likely is. So it is with mediation.

Divorce mediation won’t work unless you and your spouse trust each other to negotiate in good faith and honor any settlement agreement reached. You cannot get out of mediation any more than you put into it.

Divorce mediation was a good idea that the legal profession spoiled by making it mandatory.

Divorce mediation is a good idea when it’s done at the beginning, but divorce lawyers put it off until they’ve squeezed a hefty profit out of their clients through a bunch of pretrial motions and discovery. Thus, mediation typically “succeeds” because by the time the parties get to mediation they’re so emotionally and financially spent that they settle out of resignation and exhaustion; “think win-win” had nothing to do with it.

Mediation worked well when it was voluntary and between two people who both believed they might reach an agreement they trusted each would honor. Now mediation is just one more of the “dumb [and expensive] things I gotta do” before I can get divorced.

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

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Why Don’t All Divorced Wives Get Half of Their Husbands’ Property?

Because divorce is not about a spouse (man or woman) getting “half of everything”.

Depending upon whether a state is a “community property” state or an “equitable distribution” state, here is how property is divided between spouses in a divorce:

A community-property state is state in which spouses hold property that is acquired during marriage (other than property acquired by one spouse by inheritance, devise, or gift) as community property. Otherwise stated, all property that is acquired during the marriage by either spouse (other than property acquired by one spouse by inheritance, devise, or gift) or by both spouses together is jointly and equally owned and will be presumed to be divided in divorce equally between the divorcing spouses. Nine states are community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

An equitable distribution state seeks to divide property in divorce in a fair, but not necessarily equal, manner. An equitable property state court can divide property between the spouses regardless of who holds title to the property. The courts consider many factors in awarding property, including (but not limited to) a spouse’s monetary contributions, nonmonetary assistance to a spouse’s career or earning potential, the efforts of each spouse during the marriage, the length of the marriage, whether the property was acquired before or after marriage, and whether the property acquired by one spouse by inheritance, devise, or gift. The court may take into account the relative earning capacity of the spouses and the fault of either spouse (See Black’s Law Dictionary, 11th ed.). Equitable distribution is applied in the non-community property states.

So, does a spouse “get half of everything” in divorce? Possibly, but not always, and now you know why.

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

Why don’t all divorced wives get half of their husbands’ property? – Husbands and wives – Quora

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

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

Opinion
No. 20190543
Filed October 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

ORME, Judge:

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¶12      Jerry appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

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

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

ANALYSIS

  1. The Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Pre-decree Expenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do I owe my spouse of just a few months anything in divorce?

When a young couple divorces after only a month of marriage, should there ever be an expectation that one party owes anything to the other, even if they lived with one set of parents and never had their own place?

I will answer this question for the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law: Utah. The answer is: almost (almost) certainly not, in most cases, although one could dream up many, many scenarios in which the argument for one spouse having to pay the other money due to and in association with the divorce.

For example, it is possible for alimony to be owed even for a marriage of one month. Extraordinarily unlikely, but there’s nothing in the law that requires one to be married beyond a certain period of time before one qualifies for alimony. One way this could happen is if, during the very short marriage, one spouse brutally abused the other spouse (whether physically or even emotionally) or transmitted to the innocent spouse sexually transmitted disease, such that the court deems it necessary to award alimony to compensate and help to rehabilitate the affected/damaged spouse.

Scenarios that are more likely to result in one spouse having to pay the other incident to divorce:

  • Let’s say one of you totaled the other’s car (or other property) during the marriage, a car that was owned pre-marriage (i.e., separate property of one spouse and not marital property). It’s possible for the court to order the spouse who wrecked the car (or other property) to compensate the owner of the car for the loss.
  • If you were married only a month or so, but in that month one of you drained the marital bank account(s) wasting the money on gambling or illegal drug use, or running up credit card bills buying unnecessary stuff, it is possible for the court to order the spouse who dissipated the assets to reimburse the other for the loss.

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

https://www.quora.com/When-a-young-couple-divorces-after-only-a-month-of-marriage-should-there-ever-be-an-expectation-that-one-party-owes-anything-to-the-other-even-if-they-lived-with-one-set-of-parents-and-never-had-their-own-place/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Are prenuptial agreements used only to avoid divorce settlements?

Are prenuptial agreements used only to avoid divorce settlements?

Prenuptial agreements are used primarily to avoid the expense, the misery, and the waste of time divorce actions can (and usually do) cause by agreeing in advance what the separate property and debts of the parties is now (so that there will be no confusion or argument over ownership and liability after marriage), what property and earnings acquired during the marriage will be considered separate property (instead of automatically being marital property, as it would be in the absence of a prenuptial agreement) in the event of divorce or death.

I generally dislike prenuptial agreements between young, penniless couples who wed for the first (and, it is hoped, the last) time because a prenuptial agreement in such circumstances sends the wrong message, i.e., “I don’t have faith our marriage will last, so I have an exit plan in mind already!” But for people who are already divorced or widows/widowers, a prenuptial agreement is not only a good idea but may be necessary to ensure that your property goes to your chosen heirs and not in full or in part to your new spouse.

Depending on jurisdiction, prenuptial agreements can address and resolve in advance the issues of alimony and child custody and support. Some states allow a couple to address and resolve these issues contractually between themselves, other jurisdictions provide that a court has the ultimate discretion over the resolution of such issues, even if a prenuptial agreement provides differently from what the court rules.

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

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Burggraaf v. Burggraaf – 2019 UT App 195 – imputing income, vacating alimony

2019 UT App 195

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

CAROL BURGGRAAF, Appellee,

v.

BRIAN JOSEPH BURGGRAAF, Appellant.

Opinion No. 20180405-CA

Filed November 29, 2019

Second District Court, Ogden Department

The Honorable Camille L. Neider

No. 154902227

Julie J. Nelson, Erin B. Hull, and Benjamin G. Larsen, Attorneys for Appellant

Suzanne Marelius, Attorney for Appellee

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

APPLEBY, Judge:

¶1 In April 2018, Brian Joseph Burggraaf and Carol Burggraaf divorced after nearly twenty-two years of marriage. Following a bench trial, the district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and granted a decree of divorce. Joseph[1] contends the court erred when it (1) imputed income to him for the purpose of calculating child support and alimony, (2) determined he owed unpaid child support, (3) found the majority of his student loans to be separate debt, and (4) set his budget for the purpose of calculating alimony. Joseph also contends the court’s overall property distribution was inequitable. We affirm in large part but vacate the modest alimony award.

BACKGROUND[2]

Education and Work History

¶2 Joseph and Carol married and had five children. A few years into the marriage, Joseph decided to pursue a medical degree and the family moved to Colorado for his studies. Joseph has a learning disability that hinders his ability to “process[] new information,” and as a result he struggled academically during medical school. With testing accommodations, he was able to pass the first two medical board exams, but only after attending a tutoring program in Illinois. The parties agree that it cost approximately $4,000 each time Joseph attended the program, but they disagree as to whether the medical school or Joseph’s student loans paid for it, though Joseph offered no evidence to show the medical school had paid for the program. Joseph graduated with a medical degree and approximately $260,000 in student loan debt.

¶3 After graduating from medical school, Joseph did not obtain a full-time residency but was able to secure a temporary position in the state of Washington. He was not offered a permanent position there and was unemployed for one year. Joseph returned to the Illinois tutoring program as a preemptive measure for the third and final board exam, passage of which is required to become a licensed practicing physician. Although he finished the tutoring program, Joseph did not immediately take the exam. Instead, he obtained another temporary residency in Georgia but was fired after thirteen months. Joseph then took the final board exam and failed. He returned to Illinois for the tutoring program but ultimately did not retake the exam because he decided he “would not likely pass.” After considering these facts, the district court determined Joseph “chose to abandon his pursuit of work in the medical field.”

¶4 During Joseph’s medical school and residency pursuits, Carol was “mostly a stay at home mother” who occasionally taught piano lessons to earn extra money. At trial she testified that the family’s frequent moves made it difficult for her to maintain a consistent client base for these lessons. While Joseph was in medical school and residency, the family received government and charitable assistance to make ends meet. At the time of trial, Carol earned approximately $1,100 per month.

¶5 Since deciding to forgo becoming a licensed physician, Joseph’s employment history was sporadic. He was a substitute teacher earning $82 per day for a short time before starting his own business funded by a $16,500 loan from his father. The business failed after a few months; Joseph recouped the investment, but he earned nothing more. He then took seasonal contracting work, earning between $1,863 and $2,900 per month for six months. After that, he sold insurance for a few months; in his “best month” he earned about $900. At the time of trial, Joseph was earning $1,200 per month at a river “tubing” business, working ten-to-twenty hours per week during the off-season and seventy-to-eighty hours per week in the summer. Joseph testified that he also was attending school in pursuit of a master’s degree, which put his student loans in deferment.

The Divorce

¶6 The parties separated following a domestic violence incident, and Carol was granted temporary custody of their five children. Joseph later pled no contest to the criminal charges and was convicted of a class B misdemeanor.[3] Approximately six months later, Joseph began paying Carol $200 per month for child support, which he calculated on his own without a court order.

¶7 The divorce was finalized three years after the date of separation following a four-day bench trial. After hearing evidence from both parties, the court determined Joseph was willfully underemployed and imputed his income for the purposes of calculating child support and alimony, granted Joseph and Carol joint physical and joint legal custody of the children, determined Joseph owed Carol unpaid child support, found the majority of Joseph’s student loans to be separate debt, and awarded Carol alimony. The court also distributed the marital property and debts, accounting for offsets and credits as necessary.

Income Imputation

¶8 Both parties asked the district court to impute the other’s income because each claimed the other was willfully underemployed and his or her claimed income did not reflect his or her employment potential.

¶9 The court determined Carol was not willfully underemployed and, using her previous three years’ tax returns, imputed to her a monthly salary of $1,750. But the court found Joseph was willfully underemployed and had “substantially undermined the financial stability” of the family. The court noted Joseph’s history of being secretive about his finances and said he had “lacked candor with [Carol] and the Court.” The court found it significant that Joseph did not “pursue[] employment associated with his medical degree” and that his “choices of employment [were] significantly different, without believable explanation, depending on if the parties were together or separated.” Further, Joseph did not provide the court with information about “all of his financial accounts” and “ha[d] been untruthful about the true nature of his income and assets.” Joseph also failed to provide evidence of “his current paycheck being deposited.”

¶10 Although Carol asked the court to impute a medical doctor’s salary to Joseph, the court declined to do so, as it was too speculative. Because neither party presented evidence to show what a person in Joseph’s situation—holding a medical degree but not being a licensed physician—could earn in the local area, the court was left to cobble together an average monthly income using Joseph’s earnings when he owned his business and did contracting work as “the most credible evidence of [his] potential income.” The court found it “equitable and just to impute” to Joseph a monthly income of $3,421.

Child Support and Child Custody

¶11 The district court granted Carol and Joseph joint physical and joint legal custody of their five children. In its order, the court gave the two eldest children “broad discretion to exercise parent time in whatever amount they fe[lt was] appropriate with either parent,” although they were “not obligated to exercise said parent time.” The court also recommended the three eldest children “participate in reunification therapy” with Joseph, which they “may attend if they so desire but will not be forced.” With regard to the three youngest children, the court gave Joseph overnight parent-time every other weekend and one weeknight every other week and, during the other weeks, one non-overnight midweek visit. Carol was given “all other regular parent time not awarded to” Joseph, with the parties sharing statutorily prescribed holiday time and summer vacation.

¶12 In determining Joseph’s child support obligation, the court acknowledged the parties stipulated to joint physical custody but noted Carol was in reality the “primary custodial parent” and thus “responsible for all of the day-to-day out-of-pocket expenses for the children while they are with [her].” Joseph also testified he never had more than every other weekend with the two eldest children and Carol testified their middle child “often chose[] to do other things” than stay with him. Although Joseph calculated his child support obligation on his own to arrive at his $200 monthly figure, he failed to take into account the fact that only the two youngest children were with him for 142 nights, or more than thirty percent of the year.[4] Because of this, the court used the sole custody worksheet to determine Joseph’s child support obligation.

¶13 The court gave Joseph credit for paying $200 per month (a total of $4,847.50) but, because it decided Joseph’s child support obligation was actually $1,138 per month during that period, he owed Carol more than $40,000 in unpaid child support.

Student Loans

¶14 At trial, Joseph argued his student loans, which were “in excess of $260,000,” should be considered a marital debt. He claimed only $59,551.34 of the money was used for medical school tuition and the rest was used for family expenses. He testified that the medical school paid for all books, laboratory coats, and equipment, such as stethoscopes. Carol denied this and testified that not only was the family using government assistance and charitable donations to pay their living expenses, but Joseph kept the money from his student loans in a separate account to which Carol had no access. Evidence also showed Joseph incurred “extra costs” such as “equipment, study aids, tutoring resources and [the Illinois] preparation course based on his perceived need due to his processing/learning disorder that were above and beyond the tuition expenses.” To dispute this, Joseph offered into evidence bank statements from two months showing a total of $3,308 in student loan money was deposited into the couple’s joint account, which was used for “living expenses, to pay the rent . . . utility bills . . . [and] kid expenses.”

¶15 The district court determined Joseph’s student loan debt was his separate obligation, with the exception of the $3,308 deposit into the joint checking account. In making this determination, the court found Joseph was not “credible in his representation that of $260,000 in student loans, only 25% was needed for actual school related costs.” The court noted Joseph “is the only one that may ever receive any benefit of his medical degree if he ever chooses to utilize it” and that he “solely decided to abandon his plans to be a licensed medical doctor.” Because of this, the court concluded “it would be unjust to require” Carol to share in the responsibility for the student loans.

Alimony

¶16 In preparation for trial, Carol and Joseph each submitted to the court estimated monthly budgets. Joseph’s total monthly budget was $4,706 and included a line item for “education (self)” of $1,500. Carol’s monthly budget was $5,476, including a line item for “extra-curricular activities (children)” of $850.

¶17 Each testified extensively about their monthly expenses. Joseph did not produce documentation to support his contention that he paid $1,500 per month for his current educational pursuits. But he testified that his medical school student loans were in deferment because he was attending school. The parties each testified that, during the marriage, they struggled financially. At one time, they lived with Joseph’s parents, and they often received institutional charity, government aid, and help from their families.

¶18 In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the district court adjusted Carol’s budget and removed anything it found to be “discretionary and not reasonable necessary expenses,” including the children’s extra-curricular activities. The court determined Carol’s reasonable monthly budget to be $2,855, which, after calculating child support and her imputed income, left “her with a shortfall of $86 per month.”

¶19 The court declined to give Joseph a line item for his student loans because they were in deferment and he was not making payments on them. He also did not get a line item for his current educational expenses. The court said it omitted these items from Joseph’s submitted budget as discretionary and unnecessary “[b]ased on the testimony of the parties and the verifying documents presented at trial,” noting “none of [Joseph’s] documents reflect any student-aid, loans[,] or other assistance or expenses related to his current course of study” and Joseph “claimed to be paying approximately $1,500 per month in educational expenses for himself . . . with no documentation.”

¶20 In determining Joseph owed Carol alimony, the court considered:

[T]he financial condition and needs of [Carol], [her] earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for the children, the length of the marriage, whether [she] has custody of the minor children requiring support, and whether [she] directly contributed to any increase in [Joseph’s] skill by enabling [him] to attend school during the marriage.

The court found each factor supported an award of alimony. The court also noted “there was credible evidence that [Joseph] knowingly and intentionally caused physical harm to [Carol] and [Joseph] substantially undermined the financial stability of” the family, which the court said further supported the alimony award. Because the court imputed a monthly income of $3,421 to Joseph, after subtracting what it deemed his reasonable monthly expenses, the court determined he had an excess of $446 per month.

¶21 Using the budgets the court set and the parties’ imputed income, the court determined Joseph had an unpaid alimony obligation of $5,580, to be deducted from his share of the proceeds generated from the sale of their house, a marital asset. The court also determined Joseph’s ongoing alimony obligation to Carol would be $86 per month to account for her shortfall.

Property Distribution

¶22 Joseph and Carol had a marital home that they sold before the divorce for $205,374.05, the proceeds of which were kept in a trust account. The district court began the property division by allocating half of the proceeds to each party. It then determined the value of certain items of disputed property and to whom the items should be awarded. As it did this, the court gave the non-receiving party an offset from the recipient’s house proceeds. For example, Carol was awarded a grand piano, valued at $11,907, and Joseph was thus awarded a $5,953.50 offset from Carol’s share of the house proceeds. The court used this same method to divide the marital debts and to reimburse Carol for half of the children’s medical, dental, and orthodontic bills she had incurred on her own. Because the court found Joseph owed Carol unpaid child support and unpaid alimony, those amounts also were deducted from his share of the house proceeds. In addition to his student loan debt, Joseph was deemed solely responsible for the $16,500 loan from his father and $4,000 he had charged on the joint credit card for attorney fees related to his criminal case. The court divided the remaining debts equally.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶23 Joseph raises five issues on appeal. First, he claims the district court’s imputation of his income to calculate his child support and alimony obligations was in error because the court failed to apply the statutory guidelines. “We review the [district] court’s interpretation of statutory requirements for correctness.” Busche v. Busche, 2012 UT App 16, ¶ 7, 272 P.3d 748. The court’s ultimate imputation of income is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Pulham v. Kirsling, 2019 UT 18, ¶ 41, 443 P.3d 1217.

¶24 Second, Joseph contends the district court erred when it calculated his child support obligation and found he owed unpaid child support. “Because [district] courts have broad discretion to award child support, we will not disturb such decisions absent an abuse of discretion.” Reller v. Argenziano, 2015 UT App 241, ¶ 15, 360 P.3d 768 (quotation simplified).

¶25 Third, Joseph contends the district court erred when it determined the majority of his student loan debt to be his separate obligation. “There is no fixed formula for determining the division of debts in a divorce action. We require only that the district court’s allocation of debt be based on adequate factual findings. And we will not disturb those findings absent an abuse of discretion.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 139 (quotation simplified).[5]

¶26 Fourth, Joseph alleges the district court erred when it set his budget for the alimony calculation. District “courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25, 367 P.3d 1036 (quotation simplified).

¶27 Finally, Joseph claims the district court’s overall distribution of property is inequitable. District courts have “considerable discretion” in this area as well, and we will uphold the district court’s decision concerning property distribution “unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Gerwe v. Gerwe, 2018 UT App 75, ¶ 8, 424 P.3d 1113 (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

I. Income Imputation

¶28 Joseph contends the district court erred when it imputed his income, alleging the court did not follow Utah Code section 78B-12-203 regarding (1) gross annual income, (2) self-employment income, and (3) the factors for imputing income. Income may be imputed to a party if, “in contested cases, a hearing is held and the judge . . . enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(8)(a) (LexisNexis 2018).[6] Because the parties each wanted the other’s income imputed, the district court heard evidence related to their incomes.

A. Gross Annual Income

¶29 Utah Code section 78B-12-203 establishes the method by which district courts may impute gross income. Section 78B-12-203(5)(a) directs courts, “[w]hen possible,” to compute income “on an annual basis and then recalculate[] to determine the average gross monthly income.” As Joseph points out, “courts frequently average several years of income.” (Citing Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 17, 379 P.3d 890; Tobler v. Tobler, 2014 UT App 239, ¶¶ 8, 28, 337 P.3d 296; Dobson v. Dobson, 2012 UT App 373, ¶ 2, 294 P.3d 591.) He claims the court erred because it took his “few highest earnings months out of the last several years and made that the imputation number.” (Quotation simplified.) But this does not necessarily constitute error. The statute says courts must compute an annual income “when possible.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(5)(a) (emphasis added). Because Joseph had not held a consistent job and failed to provide “copies of all of his financial accounts,” proof of his current income being deposited, or his tax documents (even after the court requested them), it was well within the court’s discretion, under the circumstances, to impute Joseph’s income as it did, and doing so did not constitute a “misunderstanding or misapplication of the law.” Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 19, 414 P.3d 1069 (quotation simplified); see also Dole v. Dole, 2018 UT App 195, ¶ 7, 437 P.3d 464 (upholding imputation when “the actual income of [a spouse] is impossible to determine due to [his or her] dishonesty to [the district court], to [his or her] unaccountable income, and to his [or her] failure and refusal to obtain traditional employment” (quotation simplified)). Thus, we do not disturb the court’s imputation of Joseph’s income by averaging his monthly income from owning his own business and performing contracting work.

B. Self-Employment Income

¶30 Joseph next argues the district court failed to follow statutory procedures for imputing income for a self-employed individual. If a party is self-employed or operates his or her own business, Utah law directs courts to “subtract[] necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation from gross receipts.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(4)(a). Joseph started his own business with a $16,500 loan and operated it for three months, during which time he recouped the investment but earned nothing more. When imputing his income, the district court divided $16,500 by three and determined Joseph was capable of earning $5,500 per month. Joseph argues this was in error because he “earned nothing” during that period after subtracting necessary business expenses, which he identified as a computer, scanner, insurance, and travel. But Joseph did not provide any evidence of business expenses, and the court recognized his history of being “secretive about his finances” and his lack of candor. The court merely used this figure as a “high water mark” as evidence of his “potential income.” In these circumstances, the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion.

C. Statutory Factors

¶31 Finally, Joseph asserts the district court failed to follow the factors identified in Utah Code section 78B-12-203(8)(b). A court may not impute income to a party in contested cases unless “a hearing is held and the judge . . . enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” Id. § 78B-12-203(8)(a). The court “shall” base the imputation on ten factors, “to the extent known.” Id. § 78B-12-203(8)(b). These factors are “(i) employment opportunities; (ii) work history; (iii) occupation qualifications; (iv) educational attainment; (v) literacy; (vi) age; (vii) health; (viii) criminal record; (ix) other employment barriers and background factors; and (x) prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community.” Id.

¶32 Joseph claims the district court “failed to acknowledge the factors that are most important here,” namely employment opportunities, work history, health, criminal record, other employment barriers and background factors, and prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community. But the record is clear that the court did consider these factors; the factors simply did not weigh in Joseph’s favor. For instance, Joseph argues the court should have considered his learning disability and criminal record, which it dId. The court found Joseph “still very employable even considering those obstacles” and pointed to Joseph’s own testimony, which “emphasized his ability to work hard, long hours and across many fields of employment.” Joseph did not provide support for his assertion that his class B misdemeanor was the reason he could not obtain more lucrative employment. The court also considered Joseph’s work history. It noted his “choices of employment have been significantly different, without believable explanation, depending on if the parties were together or separated” and found that “his current and historical income during the parties’ separation is a deliberate attempt to minimize his financial obligations.” It also found it incredible that Joseph—an individual with a medical degree—was earning “barely more than minimum wage.” Thus, the record shows the court considered the statutory factors, and the conclusions it drew from its consideration of them were therefore well within its broad discretion.

II. Child Support

¶33 Joseph next argues the district court erred when it (1) used the sole custody worksheet to calculate his child support obligation and (2) determined he owed Carol unpaid child support. For the reasons detailed below, these arguments fail.

A. Sole Custody Worksheet

¶34 In Utah, “child support obligations are generally calculated using a worksheet in cases of joint physical custody. Moreover, for purposes of calculating child support, the designation of ‘joint physical custody’ or ‘sole physical custody’ is not as important as whether the custody arrangement exceeds the statutory threshold for joint physical custody.” Stephens v. Stephens, 2018 UT App 196, ¶ 29, 437 P.3d 445 (quotation simplified). District courts are given broad discretion in decisions regarding child support. Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 21, 414 P.3d 1069. If a court deviates from the statutory guidelines, it must make a finding that following them “would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of a child.” Gore v. Grant, 2015 UT App 113, ¶ 13, 349 P.3d 779 (quotation simplified).

¶35 The district court noted Carol and Joseph had agreed upon joint physical custody, but it nevertheless used the sole custody worksheet to determine Joseph’s child support obligation. The court supported its determination by making findings that Carol actually had the three eldest children overnight at her house for more than 70% of the time. Joseph’s own testimony supports this determination: only the two youngest children spent a standard parent time schedule with him. Thus, Carol had sole physical custody—defined in terms of overnights, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-102(15) (LexisNexis 2018)—of three of the children, and the parties shared joint physical custody of two of the children. Under these unique circumstances, we see no abuse of discretion in the district court’s decision to apply the sole custody worksheet.

B. Unpaid Child Support

¶36 Joseph also claims the district court erred when it found he owed thirty-six months’ worth of unpaid child support, based upon his imputed income, dating back to the filing of the divorce petition. He argues the court was without authority to ascribe unpaid support to him retroactively because Carol never asked the district court to enter a temporary order establishing the appropriate amount of child support to be paid during the pendency of the divorce case. But Joseph has not identified any statute or caselaw to support his position. See Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 21, 367 P.3d 1036 (“Where the contentions on appeal are asserted without the support of legal reasoning or authority, this court will not assume the appellant’s burden of argument and research.” (quotation simplified)). Moreover, “child support is a basic and unalienable right vested in the minor,” Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 39 (quotation simplified), and “[e]very child is presumed to be in need of the support of the child’s mother and father. Every mother and father shall support their children,” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-105(1) (LexisNexis 2018). Joseph was aware of his duty to support his children, as evidenced by his $200 monthly payments to Carol. Simply because he chose an arbitrary—and low—amount does not absolve him of the responsibility to fully support his five children.

¶37 Because Joseph failed to point us to statutory or other authority to instruct us otherwise, we decline to conclude that the district court abused its discretion in awarding Carol unpaid Burggraaf v. Burggraaf 20180405-CA 17 2019 UT App 195 child support, dating back to the date the divorce petition was filed, even in the absence of a temporary order.

III. Student Loans

¶38 Joseph challenges the district court’s determination that the majority of the student loan debt was his separate obligation. “Neither spouse is personally liable for the separate debts, obligations, or liabilities of the other . . . contracted or incurred during the marriage, except family expenses.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-2-5 (LexisNexis 2018). “There is no fixed formula for determining the division of debts in a divorce action. We require only that the district court’s allocation of debt be based on adequate factual findings. And we will not disturb those findings absent an abuse of discretion.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 139 (quotation simplified).

¶39 We see no abuse of discretion in the court’s finding that, in these unique circumstances, the majority of the student loan debt should be considered Joseph’s separate obligation. The court determined that Joseph alone had made the decision to “abandon his plans to be a licensed medical doctor” and that he should therefore be responsible for repaying the vast majority of the student loans associated with obtaining his medical degree. The court supported its conclusion by reviewing the parties’ testimonies about the loans and determining Carol to be the most credible. “Credibility determinations are within the province of the [district] judge, who is uniquely equipped to make factual findings based exclusively on oral testimony due to his or her opportunity to view the witnesses firsthand, to assess their demeanor and to reconsider their testimonies in the context of the proceeding as a whole.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, ¶ 34, 321 P.3d 200 (quotation simplified).

¶40 The court did not find Joseph’s testimony about using approximately $200,000 of his student loans for family expenses credible. Joseph provided no evidence to support his claim, other than two bank statements showing $3,308 was deposited into their joint account; the rest was kept in a separate account to which Carol had no access. Conversely, the court found Carol’s testimony “about the resources she utilized from teaching piano lessons, welfare from the parties’ church, family help and government assistance . . . credible and believable.” The court also noted Joseph’s testimony about “the extras that he needed in order to successfully complete medical school course work and the licensing tests,” but indicated Joseph “did not acknowledge any were above and beyond the tuition amount.” In these circumstances, the court’s findings were not an abuse of its broad discretion.

IV. Alimony

¶41 Joseph argues the budget the district court set for him in calculating his alimony was arbitrarily low, because it (1) failed to give him a line item for either his student loan debt or his current educational expenses, (2) failed to calculate his alimony obligation using the marital standard of living, and (3) supported its alimony award by finding Joseph at fault. District “courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Osborne v. Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25, 367 P.3d 1036 (quotation simplified). Because we agree with Joseph that the district court should have given him a line item in his budget for either his student loan debt or tuition payments to keep the loan in deferral, we do not address the marital standard of living or fault arguments.

¶42 When deciding whether to award alimony, a district court must consider seven statutory factors, including “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(8)(a)(iii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019). In determining Joseph’s alimony obligation, the court took each party’s proposed monthly budget and adjusted it to remove discretionary expenses. It did not include a line item for Joseph’s claimed $1,500 in educational expenses for himself. The court also declined to give him a line item for his student loan debt, because it was in deferment and he was not currently making payments on it. Although the court weighed statutory factors such as “the financial condition and needs of [Carol]; [her] earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for the children, the length of the marriage, whether [Carol] ha[d] custody of the minor children requiring support, and whether [she] directly contributed to any increase in [Joseph’s] skill by enabling [him] to attend school during the marriage,” see Id. § 30-3-5(8)(i), (ii), (iv), (v), (vii), the court failed to consider an additional mandatory factor, namely Joseph’s ability to pay, Id. § 30-3-5(8)(iii).

¶43 We conclude the court’s failure to consider Joseph’s ability to pay alimony was a “clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion.” Osborne, 2016 UT App 29, ¶ 25 (quotation simplified). Because the district court found the majority of Joseph’s student loan debt to be his sole obligation, it should have included a line item in his budget either for his student loan payments or for tuition payments that would keep the loan repayment in deferral. We acknowledge Joseph is not currently making student loan payments, but because he was found solely responsible for the loan debt and his share of the house proceeds are insufficient to pay off that debt, we cannot see on this record how he would not be entitled to a line item in his budget to account for either student loan payments or tuition payments.[7]

Although Joseph has a $446 excess in his court-determined budget, a line item for even half of his requested educational expenses would eliminate said excess. This would certainly affect his ability to pay the most modest alimony award. We therefore vacate the award of alimony.

V. Property Distribution

¶44 Finally, Joseph argues the district court’s overall property distribution was inequitable. “Generally, district courts have considerable discretion concerning property distribution in a divorce proceeding and their determinations enjoy a presumption of validity. Thus, we will uphold the decision of the district court on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 119, (quotation simplified). Joseph contends he received “93% of the total debt [but only] 25% of the liquid assets.” But as he points out, we cannot “consider[] the property division in a vacuum.” (Quoting Newmeyer v. Newmeyer, 745 P.2d 1276, 1279 n.1 (Utah 1987).) Because the debt division Joseph cites includes both his student loan debt, the majority of which the court found was not marital debt, and the loan Joseph received from his father, which the court also found to be separate debt, the percentages he cites are artificially inflated. In reality, the court split the marital debts equally and did the same with the house proceeds. This does not constitute “a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion.” Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 119 (quotation simplified).

CONCLUSION

¶45 Because the district court did not exceed its considerable discretion in imputing Joseph’s income, calculating child support, finding the student loans to be separate debt, and in its overall property distribution, we affirm its decisions on those points. But we vacate the modest alimony award because Joseph does not have the ability to pay it in light of his student loan debt.

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

[1] Because both parties share a last name, we use their given names “with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.” Smith v. Smith, 2017 UT App 40, ¶ 2 n.1, 392 P.3d 985.

[2] “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the [district] court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard” and “present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, n.1, 321 P.3d 200 (quotation simplified).

[3] Joseph denies the allegation and claims the conviction prevents him from obtaining meaningful employment.

[4] “‘Joint physical custody’ means the child stays with each parent overnight for more than 30% of the year, and both parents contribute to the expenses of the child in addition to paying child support.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-102(15) (LexisNexis 2018).

[5] Our practice is to provide a parallel citation to reported Utah appellate opinions. For reasons unknown, this opinion has not found its way into the Pacific Reporter, third series, in the four years since it was issued.

[6] Although this statute “addresses imputation for the purposes of child support, it is also relevant to imputation in the alimony context.” Fish v. Fish, 2010 UT App 292, ¶ 14 n.5, 242 P.3d 787. Because the material provisions cited have not changed, we cite the current version of the Utah Code.

[7] It is theoretically possible that Joseph could be the recipient of a scholarship or other financial aid that would allow him to attend school and thereby keep the student loan debt in deferment without actually making any out-of-pocket payment.

But there was no such evidence presented at trial, and the district court made no findings to this effect. Joseph’s testimony that he paid $1,500 per month to finance his current education stands unrefuted. And such a situation would in any event be relatively temporary; at some point in the near future, Joseph will be compelled to begin making payments on $260,000 of student loan debt that the district court assigned solely to him. Some provision must be made in Joseph’s budget to account for this expense.

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My bank account was subpeonaed. Will the bank share business account transactions or only personal account?

My bank account was subpeonaed. Will the bank share business account transactions or only personal account?

In Utah, where I practice law, here’s how the bank will respond to the subpoena (if the subpoena was properly issued and bank obeys the law and follows the court rules governing subpoenas):

  1. the bank will object to any part of the request if it believes there are grounds for objecting;
  2. if the bank sees no reason to object to some or part of the subpoena, then it will produce the documents that it has in its possession that are described in the subpoena, but the bank should not (and will not want to) produce any documents not requested.

So if the subpoena asked only for personal account documents, the bank should only produce those documents, no more, no less.

If the bank objects to some or part of the subpoena, or if you (or another party to the case) requests an order to protect some or all of the documentation subpoenaed from disclosure, the court may quash or modify the subpoena, or order compliance upon specified conditions. An order compelling compliance shall protect the person subject to or affected by the subpoena from significant expense or harm.

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

https://www.quora.com/The-family-court-subpoenaed-my-bank-Will-the-bank-share-business-account-transactions-or-only-personal-account

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