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Tag: financial declaration

2024 UT App 28 – Smith v. Smith

2024 UT App 28 – Smith v. Smith

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JACQUELINE P. SMITH, Appellee,  v. DANIEL H. SMITH, Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20220697-CA  Filed March 7, 2024  Third District Court, Salt Lake Department  The Honorable Robert P. Faust  No. 194902295

David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant

Deborah L. Bulkeley, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE AMY J. OLIVER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred.

OLIVER, Judge:

¶1        This divorce case illustrates why the sequence of determining alimony matters. We recently clarified the three-step procedure for alimony in Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, 515 P.3d 481, cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022). Here, the district court ordered an alimony award of more than double the receiving spouse’s demonstrated need because it accounted for the marital standard of living at the end of the analysis instead of at the beginning. Because the district court employed a backward version of the three-step procedure for alimony, we vacate and remand.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Daniel H. and Jacqueline P. Smith separated after more than thirty years of marriage. Their divorce case proceeded to a one-day bench trial that mostly addressed alimony. Daniel[1] represented himself at trial. At the trial’s conclusion, the district court took several issues, including the alimony award, under advisement and issued a memorandum decision four days later.

¶3        On her financial declaration used at trial, Jacqueline indicated her monthly net income was $3,274.55 and her monthly expenses were $5,193.79. Jacqueline listed all her line-item expenses in the “current amount” column and left the “marital expenses” column blank. Jacqueline presented no evidence at trial of the parties’ marital standard of living and no evidence that any of her listed expenses were different during the marriage than they were at the time of trial. She testified only to the reasons she sought a divorce. The district court examined the expenses and adjusted some of the amounts, finding that Jacqueline had reasonable monthly expenses of $4,184.61. This left her with an unmet need of $910.06 per month.

¶4        Daniel’s financial declaration admitted at trial indicated his monthly net income was $7,757 and his monthly expenses—all listed in the “current amount” column and none in the “marital expenses” column—were $8,280. The district court similarly examined Daniel’s expenses and made adjustments, finding that Daniel had reasonable monthly expenses of $4,013.90 plus his child support obligation of $703 for a total monthly expense of $4,716.90, leaving him with a “positive income of $3,040.10 a month.”

¶5      The district court stated that it adjusted the parties’ expenses in “an effort to put them on relatively equal footing, recognizing that the parties’ level of expenses at the time of trial are not representative of their marital standard of living.” Rather than award Jacqueline alimony in the amount of her unmet need, the district court calculated alimony by equalizing the difference between Jacqueline’s monthly negative income and Daniel’s monthly positive income. The court reasoned that “it is fair and equitable to equalize the combined disparity of $3,950.16 per month” and awarded Jacqueline $1,975 per month in alimony. The alimony award exceeded Jacqueline’s demonstrated monthly need by $1,064.94.

¶6        The district court instructed Jacqueline’s counsel to draft proposed findings and a proposed decree based on the court’s ruling. Daniel, having obtained counsel since trial, objected to the proposed findings on multiple issues, including the alimony calculation. The district court entered the findings and decree without making any changes to the alimony award.

¶7        Daniel then filed a motion to amend the findings, arguing that the district court did not make sufficient findings to support an alimony award that exceeded Jacqueline’s demonstrated need. The district court held a hearing on the motion, and Daniel asked the court to “recalculate and redetermine the alimony” because a “spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award.” The court explained the $1,975 alimony award “equalizes the net income of the parties for both of them. That keeps them akin as we can to the lifestyle to which they were accustomed during the time of the marriage.” Daniel asserted that equalization should occur only “when somebody has an excess need that the other party can’t meet.” And Jacqueline suggested the court make “some additional findings” to support what she viewed as its “appropriate” effort to consider the parties’ needs and “augment those needs with excess income.” The district court denied Daniel’s motion, leaving the alimony award at $1,975 per month.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8        Daniel challenges the district court’s alimony award.[2] “We review a court’s alimony determination for an abuse of discretion.” Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 11, 515 P.3d 481 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022). Although “we will not lightly disturb a trial court’s alimony ruling, we will reverse if the court has not exercised its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set.” Knight v. Knight, 2023 UT App 86, ¶ 17, 538 P.3d 601 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

¶9        “Under Utah law, the primary purposes of alimony are: (1) to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage; (2) to equalize the standards of living of each party; and (3) to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge.” Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 15, 515 P.3d 481 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022). An alimony award need not provide “for only basic needs but should be fashioned” in such a way “to approximate the parties’ standard of living during the marriage as closely as possible.” Id. (cleaned up). “The appropriate amount of any alimony award is governed by a multi-factor inquiry” now found in Utah Code section 30-3-5(10)(a). Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16, 496 P.3d 242. “[C]ourts must consider the statutory factors,” including “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse,” “the recipient’s earning capacity,” and “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 13, 402 P.3d 153; see also Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 94, 459 P.3d 276.

¶10      Thus, there are three steps to “the established process to be followed by courts considering an award of alimony.” Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 20 (cleaned up); see also Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 19. First, a court must “assess the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living.”[3] Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 20 (cleaned up). Second, a court “must determine the extent to which the receiving spouse is able to meet his or her own needs with his or her own income.” Id. (cleaned up). Third, a court must “assess whether the payor spouse’s income, after meeting his or her needs, is sufficient to make up some or all of the shortfall between the receiving spouse’s needs and income.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶11      Here, the district court abused its discretion when it failed to properly follow this three-step process. Instead of considering the marital standard of living at step one when calculating each spouse’s need, the district court did so at step three, when it equalized the parties’ income. While we do not fault the court for wanting to “equalize the standards of living of each party,” as it is one of the purposes of alimony, see id. ¶ 15 (cleaned up), the court did not do so in accordance with the standards Utah appellate courts have established for an alimony determination.

¶12      In step one, the district court assessed both parties’ needs “at the time of trial” rather than in light of the marital standard of living. See id. ¶ 20. But it was not an abuse of discretion to have done so because neither Jacqueline nor Daniel provided any evidence of the marital standard of living. Indeed, both of their financial declarations listed their monthly expenses in the “current amount” column with nothing listed in the “marital expenses” column, despite the instructions on the form to complete both columns if one of the parties has requested alimony. It is incumbent upon the parties to present evidence of the marital standard of living if they want the district court to consider the expenses during the marriage that differ from the expenses at the time of trial. See Clarke v. Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 62 (“If a party offers into evidence only time-of-trial expense amounts, and does not provide the court with any evidence of pre-separation expenses (to the extent they are different), that party has no right to complain when the court awards the time-of-trial amounts.”). And it is important that they provide such evidence, because step one—where the district court determines the parties’ reasonable expenses—is the place for taking the marital standard of living into account in the alimony calculation.

¶13      In step three, the district court then combined Jacqueline’s demonstrated need of $910.06 and David’s excess income of $3,040.10, “equalize[d] the combined disparity of $3,950.16,” and gave Jacqueline an alimony award of half that amount, $1,975. Daniel contends the district court should have capped the alimony award at the $910.06 monthly shortfall the district court calculated as the difference between Jacqueline’s income and her expenses. We agree with Daniel. “Regardless of the payor spouse’s ability to pay more, the recipient spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award.” Roberts v. Roberts, 2014 UT App 211, ¶ 14, 335 P.3d 378 (cleaned up); Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 17 (“The receiving spouse’s needs ultimately set the bounds for the maximum permissible alimony award.”); Barrani v. Barrani, 2014 UT App 204, ¶ 30, 334 P.3d 994 (“An alimony award in excess of the recipient’s need is a basis for remand even when the payor spouse has the ability to pay.”); Bingham v. Bingham, 872 P.2d 1065, 1068 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (“[T]he spouse’s demonstrated need must . . . constitute the maximum permissible alimony award.”). Thus, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded Jacqueline alimony in an amount greater than her demonstrated need.

¶14 We also caution district courts that they “should not calculate alimony by simply dividing the couple’s pre-separation expenses in half,” Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 57, or by “presumptively award[ing]” half of the “total money the parties spent each month during the marriage,” Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 25. In other words, the proper way to take the marital standard of living into account is at step one “by assessing a party’s claimed line-item expenses in light of that standard.” Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 59.

¶15      Here, the district court abused its discretion at step three when it took the parties’ “combined disparity of $3,950.16” per month and awarded half of that amount to Jacqueline. Regardless of how much income the payor spouse may have, the purpose of alimony is to meet the demonstrated need of the recipient spouse, not to redistribute all the income between the spouses. See Roberts, 2014 UT App 211, ¶ 14 (“[T]he core function of alimony is therefore economic—it should not operate as a penalty against the payor nor a reward to the recipient.”). And although “we accord trial courts broad discretion in dividing the shortfall and apportioning that burden” in the third step, such discretion is premised on the assumption the court “has properly determined that a shortfall exists between the parties’ resources and needs.” Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 21.

¶16 Sequence matters. See id. ¶ 22 (“Once the court has determined that there are insufficient resources to meet the baseline needs established by the marital living standard, the court should then equitably allocate the burden of the shortfall between the parties.” (emphases added)); see also Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 12, 80 P.3d 153 (holding that “attempting to equalize the parties’ income rather than going through the traditional needs analysis” constitutes an abuse of discretion). Just as it is an abuse of discretion to “skip[] over the traditional needs analysis and move[] directly to address what it perceives to be insufficient resources,” see Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 23, it was an abuse of discretion here when the district court used the marital standard of living at step three to increase the amount of the alimony award beyond the demonstrated need.

¶17      As a final note, we reiterate that it is proper for a district court to consider the marital standard of living during step one of the alimony analysis, so long as the parties have presented such evidence. We would normally vacate the alimony award and remand the matter to the district court “for the court to reassess its alimony determinations in light of the marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 32. But here, neither party presented evidence of their expenses during the marriage. Indeed, they both left the “marital expenses” column on their financial declarations blank. As a result, there is no evidence in the record from which the district court can make findings that Jacqueline’s expenses were different from what she listed. Thus, the district court’s finding that her demonstrated need was $910.06 limits “the maximum permissible alimony award” to that amount. See Wellman v. Kawasaki, 2023 UT App 11, ¶ 12, 525 P.3d 139.

CONCLUSION

¶18      The district court abused its discretion when it employed the incorrect analysis in computing Jacqueline’s alimony award. The court did not follow the three-step process required by Utah law. Accordingly, we vacate and remand the case to the district court for entry of an alimony award of $910.06 per month.

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 clarity, with no disrespect intended.

[2] Daniel also challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to amend the findings. But we need not reach this issue because we conclude the district court did not follow “the standards we have set” in its alimony calculation, see Knight v. Knight, 2023 UT App 86, ¶ 17, 538 P.3d 601 (cleaned up), and we remand the case on that basis.

[3] “The marital standard of living is that which the parties shared, and courts consider the parties as a single unit when evaluating that standard.” Knight, 2023 UT App 86, ¶ 32. In terms of alimony, “the marital standard of living analysis is about whether the parties’ proposed points of calculation are consistent with the parties’ manner of living and financial decisions.” Id. (cleaned up).

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Utah Divorce and Your Financial Declaration: Why it Matters, and How to Prepare It the Right Way

In every Utah divorce case, the parties must prepare what is known as a financial declaration. The parties to a divorce action are required by the rules of court to provide each other with their financial declarations.

With rare exception, divorce litigants struggle with preparing a complete, accurate, truthful financial declaration. We prepared this video (and an accompanying blog post) to help you 1) overcome procrastination, 2) understand the purpose of each part of your financial declaration, and 3) persuade you, we hope, not to give in to the temptation to lie on your financial declaration or try to hide anything from disclosure on your financial declaration.

  1. What is your financial declaration?

Concisely stated, your financial declaration is a document that provides information about income, assets, debts, and personal expenses.

The information in the financial declaration is used to analyze and determine questions of child support, alimony, division of marital property, and assigning responsibility for marital debts and obligations. as well as for determining an attorney’s fee or “for any other reason” (Utah Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 26.1(e)).

The specifics of what needs to be included in your financial declaration are outlined in URCP Rule 26.1. The acronym URCP means “Utah Rules of Civil Procedure,” and URCP 26.1 requires that you provide specific supporting documents with your financial declaration:

  • Your previous two years’ personal and business tax returns, including all the documents submitted with your tax returns and all documents used to prepare those tax returns
  • Pay stubs for the last 12 months before the petition for divorce was filed with the court.
  • Documents that verify the value of all real estate that the parties have an interest in (for example, your most recent appraisal, tax valuation, and refinance documents)
  • Bank statements for all financial accounts for the 3 months before the divorce was filed (this includes checking, savings, money market funds, certificates of deposit, brokerage, investment, retirement, regardless of whether the account has been closed including those held jointly, in your name, or as a trustee or guardian, or on someone’s behalf).

We also suggest that you provide documentation of your personal expenses going as far back as you can. If you don’t have this documentation, start compiling it.

  1. Is there a way to be exempt from preparing and producing a financial declaration?

No. We will not discuss this topic again. You must prepare a financial declaration, and you must prepare it within the time limits you are given to prepare it. You must give your spouse a copy of it. There is no way around it. If you refuse to provide a financial declaration, the court can and almost surely will sanction you severely. Here is what Rule 26.1 provides on that subject:

(f) Sanctions. Failure to fully disclose all assets and income in the Financial Declaration and attachments may subject the non-disclosing party to sanctions under Rule 37 including an award of non-disclosed assets to the other party, attorney’s fees or other sanctions deemed appropriate by the court.

(g) Failure to comply. Failure of a party to comply with this rule does not preclude any other party from obtaining a default judgment, proceeding with the case, or seeking other relief from the court.

  1. Do I have to give the court a copy of my financial declaration? Why?

You may be required to file a copy of your financial declaration with the court if 1) a hearing is scheduled on the subject of child support, spousal support, division of property, allocation of responsibility for debts, attorney fees awards and court costs, or 2) the court has ordered you to file it.

  1. Do I have to give my spouse a copy of my financial declaration? Why?

Yes, you do need to give your spouse a copy of your financial declaration. It is required by court rules. Rule 26.1(c), to be exact.

But the better question is why wouldn’t you give your spouse a copy of your financial declaration? Exchanging financial declarations with your spouse is a way of keeping both parties honest about income, assets, debts and obligations, and personal expenses.

There is an element of wounded pride and embarrassment associated with close examination of the details of a person’s finances. Being honest and pushing your pride aside is hard but is still better than misrepresenting or hiding your financial state.

  1. What will happen if I do not prepare and provide my spouse (and the court, when necessary or when ordered to do so) a financial declaration?

See paragraph 2 above.

And your attorney will likely withdraw as your counsel.

    1. You could be sanctioned for contempt of court. This can lead to fines, penalties, or even jail time.
    2. You could lose your rights and entitlements you would otherwise deserve when it comes to division of marital property, responsibility for marital debts and obligations, and the spousal support and child support awards.

6. Isn’t a financial declaration just busy work?

I hope that by now you can see that a financial declaration is plainly not busy work.

A clear, accurate, and complete financial declaration is one of the best ways to establish your honesty, character, and credibility overall.

A clear, accurate, and complete financial declaration is necessary to help you understand the reality of your financial situation now and what it will likely be post-divorce.

We get it. Taking a hard, honest look at your financials is scary and discouraging. But burying your head in the sand does you no good. Face up to it and get it done.

  1. I do not see the point of a financial declaration (you are lying; of course you see the point of a financial declaration).
  2. “Hey,” you may think, “I have a smart and original idea: I will lie on my financial declaration.” This is neither original nor smart.
    1. You are not the first and will not be the last person to believe that they can lie to your attorney, to the court and to your spouse and to your spouse’s attorney. People have been lying to the courts from the beginning. Sometimes it works. The odds, however, are against you.
    2. The moral thing to do is to tell the truth.
    3. If doing the right thing is not reason enough to be honest and forthright, then remember you are not as good a liar as you think, and you will be caught in your lies.
    4. Do you really believe that you are smarter than the opposing counsel, your attorney, and the court individually or combined? You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
    5. Lying can get you some big benefits if you get away with it. However, if you are caught lying, you will lose. The court can hold you in contempt, and even strike your pleadings outright and award default judgment to your spouse. If your main worry is your money, then you should disclose it. Getting caught in a lie or worse, lying under oath is usually more costly than being honest and forthcoming.
    6. Courts have seen liars lying on financial declarations forever. There is nothing new under the sun.
    7. Unless your lawyer is a crook, if you insist on lying on your financial declaration, your lawyer will be required to drop you as a client.

OK, so you’re now convinced there is no escaping the preparation of your complete and accurate financial declaration. How do I prepare my best financial declaration? Great question. Let’s start answering it by first addressing the wrong way to prepare a financial declaration.

  1. The wrong way to prepare your financial declaration
    • Guessing or estimating without 1) making it clear on your financial declaration form that you were making an estimate, and 2) making the most accurate guess/estimate you can and explaining the bases for your estimate.

Your spouse isn’t likely to cut you some slack if you guess or estimate incorrectly. No, instead your spouse will accuse you of lying. Don’t make wild guesses. Don’t make estimates without making it clear that your estimate is an estimate, not an unquestionable fact.

Sloppy guessing and estimating makes you look dishonest and/or ignorant. Courts don’t listen to liars and fools or take them seriously.

  1. Falsely claiming that you “don’t remember” and that you cannot find documents.

This is lying, and it doesn’t fool anyone. Anyone may honestly forget or misremember a few details. Sometimes documents get lost. It’s only human. But conveniently claiming “I don’t recall” and “I can’t find it” in response to crucial questions? Come on. You cannot even lie persuasively to yourself like that.

Claiming you can’t find documents doesn’t mean your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer can’t find them through other means.

  1. The right way to prepare your financial declaration.
    • The right way to fill out a financial declaration is to be as honest and thorough as possible to provide as complete and accurate a financial declaration as possible. Yes, it may hurt or embarrass you to be so honest about your financial situation, but it hurts worse to lie and be sloppy.
    • Do the necessary work. You can’t skip steps and take shortcuts and turn out a complete and accurate financial declaration. If you think you are an exception, you’re lying to yourself.
    • Don’t procrastinate. You cannot prepare a good financial declaration by waiting until the last minute. Procrastination does more damage to your ability to prepare a good financial declaration than any other bad habit. Procrastination needlessly and inexcusably makes it sadly and much harder to prepare your financial declaration.
    • Conquer procrastination. Conquer it by:
      • 1) committing to complete 3 pages per day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. There are about 14 pages in a financial declaration form. Your attorney can prepare the first 2 pages for you. That leaves 11-12 pages you need to fill out yourself. If you complete 3 pages per day (and leave yourself an extra day or two to compensate for interruptions or snags you encounter along the way), you’ll have it done—and done well—in 5 days.

2) compiling your supporting documents. Start now. Make sure you contact your banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions, HR and/or payroll department, retirement benefits administrator, and credit card companies to get the documents you need to attach to your financial declaration:

  • Tax returns for the last two years
  • Pay stubs or other proof of income for the 12 months before the petition was filed
  • Loan applications for the 12 months before the petition was filed
  • Real estate documents. Deed, most recent appraisal, tax valuation, and refinance documents (if any).
  • Financial statements for the 3 months before the petition was filed. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • checking
    • savings
    • credit cards
    • money transfer apps
    • money market funds
    • certificates of deposit
    • brokerage
    • investment
    • retirement

It can take several days for the documents to be emailed or mailed to you, so contact the sources and request them now. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you haven’t received them by the time the sources estimate or promise you’ll have them.

  1. Garbage in, garbage out. If you wait until the last minute to prepare your financial declaration, odds are your financial declaration will be mediocre, and a mediocre financial declaration is dangerous. Frankly, if you prepare a half-baked financial declaration, you deserve the natural consequences of poor preparation.

iii. Work in and for your best interest.

  1. Do the work. Do it consistently. Do it on time. There is no other way to do it right.
  2. You cannot foist the preparation of a solid financial declaration on your attorney and his assistants. Really, you can’t. Don’t try. It won’t work. It cannot work.
  3. Your attorney and his assistants cannot do it for you. It is impossible. There is information and there are supporting documents only you can provide.
  4. Your attorney and his assistants do not know more about your financial situation than you do.

iii. Your attorney is there to help you get your financial declaration in ship shape, but you have to do the work and supply information and documents that only you can provide before your attorney can be of any help to you.

  1. There is no loophole. There is no magic wand. You will have to do the work and do it consistently in order to put your best foot forward. Time wasted or squandered cannot be recovered.
  2. Explaining each part of the financial declaration and what the court and the opposing party use it for:
  3. Paragraph 1. Statement of whether you are filing a copy of your financial declaration with the court. This paragraph is fairly self-explanatory. Unless there is a hearing on the subject of alimony, child support, or attorney’s fees awards scheduled, or unless the court has ordered you to file your financial declaration with the court, you don’t file your financial declaration with the court.
  4. Paragraph 2. The documents supporting your financial declaration. Your tax returns, pay stubs, loan applications, real estate documents, and financial statements verify the information you provide in the other paragraphs in your financial declaration.
  5. Paragraph 3. Employment. You identify whether you are employed, and if you are, who your employer or employers are, how you are compensated, how often you are paid, and how much you are paid.
  6. Paragraph 4. Gross Monthly Income. You identify all sources of your pre-tax income, whether earned or unearned, and how much you receive on a monthly basis from each income source. If you don’t receive income on a monthly basis, then you identify what the average annualized monthly amount is.
  7. Paragraph 5. Monthly tax deductions. You identify what taxes are deducted from your gross monthly income and how much is deducted.
  8. Paragraph 6. After Tax Income. This paragraph is fairly self-explanatory. In this paragraph you state what your net income is after you deduct the taxes withheld from your gross monthly income.
  9. Paragraph 7. Monthly Expenses. This paragraph is fairly self-explanatory. Here you identify what your monthly personal expenses are. If you have separated and your expenses have changed since separation, then you identify the differences between your “Current” monthly personal expenses and what your previous “Marital” monthly personal expenses are.

You don’t simply state your personal expenses in paragraph 7. You need to be able to verify and justify them too. To do that, you need to provide receipts documenting these expenses as real.

Providing receipts establishes your credibility. They demonstrate that you are transparent and honest about your financial situation. Providing receipts establishes accuracy. They ensure that you do not overstate or understate your financial obligations and they prevent the court from dismissing your personal expense claims as false or inflated. Providing receipts provide context and explanations for specific expenditures.

  1. Paragraph 8. Business Interests. A business could be a marital asset that has value to be divided in divorce. Or it could be separate property. This is why you provide the information about your business interests, who owns the business interests, and the value of business assets.
  2. Paragraph 9. Financial Assets. This is where you identify where your money is kept, as well as information on other financial assets such as stocks and bonds, insurance policies, and retirement accounts.
  3. Paragraph 10. Real Estate. This is where you identify your interests in real estate, such as the marital home, vacation property, rental properties, or other interests in real estate.
  4. Paragraph 11. Personal Property. In this paragraph you identify the personal property that you own, whether you acquired it before marriage or during the marriage. Must you list every shirt and sock you own, every knife, fork, and spoon? No. A fair rule of thumb for what to list in paragraph 11 is that anything valued around $500 or more goes on the list. You can identify things worth less if you want or if you feel it is important, of course.
  5. Paragraph 12. Debts Owed. In this paragraph you identify both your separate and marital debts and obligations. The type of debt, the account number (if applicable), who the debtors are, the balance owed on the debt, and what the minimum monthly payment is (if applicable).
  6. Supporting documents for your financial declaration must be in PDF format.

The court will not accept documents in any form other than PDF, so all supporting documents must be in PDF form. Here are ways to scan and save documents as PDFs:

  1. Scanner with built-in PDF-creation functionality. Most scanners come with built-in PDF-creation functionality, so you can scan a document and automatically save it in PDF format.
  2. All-in-one multifunction machines: All-in-one machines often have scanning capabilities that allow you to scan documents to PDF files.
  3. Smartphone Apps: There are several smartphone apps that enable you to convert a photograph of a document into PDF format. This is, however, the worst option of all the others. Scanning from a smartphone is time consuming, results in the lowest quality images, and makes it hard to scan multi-page documents. Use your own scanner or have someone else scan your documents into PDF format. You and your lawyer will be glad you did.

Once you gather your supporting documents together, save complete and legible copies of them in PDF format and then email them to your attorney to serve or file them with your financial declaration.

Thank you for watching. Thank you for reading. You’re better for having done so. Because you are now better educated and better prepared to complete your financial declaration fully, accurately, and on time. We hope that watching this video and reading the associated blog post has not only impressed upon you the importance of your financial declaration but has demystified what your financial declaration is and the purposes it serves. We hope you are better prepared and more confident going forward.

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

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Completeness of Documentation By Braxton Mounteer

One of the hardest documents for a Utah divorce litigant to prepare is the financial declaration. I am amazed at the number of clients who don’t take this document and its preparation seriously.

If you file for divorce or your spouse files for divorce, your divorce case will require you to provide a lot of documentation for various purposes as your life (and the life of your spouse and children, if you have minor children) will come under the magnifying glass. To avoid being fried like an ant, you need to produce complete and completely accurate documentation in preparing your financial declaration.

How is this done? It is a little comical, but it really comes down to accounting as best as you possibly can for every penny that comes in and that goes out. Every meal out. Every oil change. Every gasoline fillup. Every utility bill. Every dollar earned from every source.
Why should you worry about every red cent? Because you will be nickeled and dimed by opposing counsel and even by the court. Opposing counsel quite often (more often than not, frankly) wants to misconstrue confuse your income, expenses, and debts for his/her client’s benefit. The court often assumes that you are lying and/or wants to side with your spouse or against you. They are looking for any reason to call your credibility into question. And if you carelessly prepare your financial declaration, fail to provide an accurate financial declaration, and fail to support your numbers with verifiable documentation, you give opposing counsel and/or the court weapons to use against you.

“Ah,” some of you say, “but I want my financial declaration to be inaccurate so that I appear a lot poorer than I really am!” That way, if I’m the one who might pay alimony, I will pay less. And if I’m the one who might receive alimony, I will get more. Truth be told, it’s possible to lie in your financial declaration and get away with it. Truth be told, it’s harder than most people think. Truth be told, most people who lie (or who don’t lie but instead provide a half-baked, crappy financial declaration) get burned by it. Better to take the hit for being honest than risk an even bigger hit for lying. And do bear in mind that being honest is not a matter of “no good deed goes unpunished”. When you are honest, thorough, complete, and accurate in your work, that builds your overall credibility in your case. The person who owns up to his/her sins and sincerely repents gets due credit more often than not. The court thinks, “He/she was scrupulously honest in his/her financial declaration (even when he/she might could have fudged and escaped detection), so he/she is probably honest about the other things he/she tells me.” That’s more valuable than you know.

Now, if being honest always “won,” nobody would lie. You may experience your spouse lying through his/her teeth and getting away with it. It can and does happen. Still, it doesn’t justify you doing wrong or taking the risk of you being the one who gets caught in a lie or who gets hurt by turning in an incomplete and inaccurate financial declaration.
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Wellman v. Kawasaki – 2023 UT App 11 – Alimony

2023 UT App 11

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

DAVID WELLMAN, Appellee, v. KRISTIN KAWASAKI, Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210265-CA

Filed February 2, 2023

Fourth District Court, Provo Department
The Honorable Christine S. Johnson
No. 174402919

Mary Deiss Brown, Attorney for Appellant

Eric M. Swinyard and Keith L. Johnson,
Attorneys for Appellee

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

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1 Kristin Kawasaki appeals various aspects of a comprehensive set of rulings issued following a two-day divorce trial and post-trial proceedings; her chief complaint relates to the trial court’s decision not to award her alimony. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the court’s orders.

BACKGROUND

¶2        David Wellman and Kristin Kawasaki married in 1999 and have three children together, two of whom were minors at the time of trial. For most of their marriage, Kawasaki did not work outside the home but instead cared for the children full-time. By the time of trial, however, Kawasaki was working full-time as a receptionist, earning $3,667 per month; Wellman, an engineer, was earning $10,833 monthly.

¶3        In November 2017, Wellman filed for divorce. Some months later, the trial court entered temporary orders, based partially on stipulation, that made Kawasaki the primary physical custodian of the minor children, and that required Wellman to pay both $2,182 per month in child support as well as, in lieu of alimony, the mortgage payment on the marital house (in the amount of $2,836 per month). Additionally, the court awarded “the temporary exclusive use and possession of” the parties’ marital house to Kawasaki.

¶4        In the three years between their separation and their eventual divorce trial, the parties’ finances and daily lives remained enmeshed due to Wellman’s changing employment and living situation. Despite the fact that Kawasaki had been awarded exclusive use of the marital house in the temporary orders, Wellman lived in the basement of the house off and on in the years leading up to trial. Wellman paid the mortgage in many of the months, but missed those payments in others, and had stopped making those payments altogether by the time of trial. And despite being ordered to make child support payments, Wellman never made a single such payment to Kawasaki prior to trial, opting instead to pay many of her bills directly or to buy groceries for the household while he was living in the marital house.

¶5        Eventually, the case proceeded to a bench trial, which was held—virtually, through a videoconference platform—over two days in late November and early December 2020. During the trial, the court heard testimony from Wellman and Kawasaki as well as several other witnesses. At the trial’s outset, before testimony began, Wellman’s counsel alerted the court that Kawasaki had failed to timely produce any financial documents (e.g., bank or credit card statements, copies of bills) to support her claim for alimony, despite the fact that the court had ordered both parties to turn over to the other side a year’s worth of bank statements prior to trial. In addition, while Kawasaki had submitted a financial declaration in 2017, at the outset of the litigation, for use during the temporary orders hearing, she had never updated that declaration. Wellman’s counsel asserted that, under applicable law, Kawasaki’s failure to provide documentation to support her alimony claim “operates as an effective bar to [Kawasaki’s] request for alimony.” Kawasaki’s counsel attempted to remedy the situation by offering to have Kawasaki read a printout of her most current (yet undisclosed) bank statement into the record, but the court refused to allow that, explaining that it would not be “appropriate” for Kawasaki to use evidence at trial that had not been timely disclosed. But the court did not view Kawasaki’s failure to produce an updated financial declaration or supporting financial documents as a complete bar to her alimony claim; indeed, the court stated that the parties “can address alimony with documents that are already in the record,” and later allowed both parties to offer testimony regarding certain aspects of Kawasaki’s alimony claim.

¶6        During her trial testimony, Kawasaki provided few concrete financial details; in particular, she made no attempt to tie her testimony to any previously filed financial declaration, and she did not submit any such declaration for the court’s consideration at trial. The only specific dollar amounts Kawasaki testified about were the amounts Wellman was ordered to pay in connection with the temporary orders and the wage she earned when she later obtained employment. She testified that, at the time of trial, her net income each month was $2,800 but that, due to expenses, “most months [she goes] into the negative” and has to rely on her “overdraft.” However, she offered no concrete expense numbers to substantiate this assertion. She offered her belief that an apartment in her area suitable for her and the children would cost “about $2,000,” but did not know what the other expenses associated with such an apartment would be.

¶7        At one point, Kawasaki’s counsel even acknowledged that she was “having trouble establishing [her] client’s needs . . . because of disclosure problems,” but asserted that “there are ways of establishing [Kawasaki’s] needs by establishing [Wellman’s] needs.” To this end, counsel attempted to draw on figures Wellman had put together before trial and to press him on how much is “enough for a single person to live with three children.” But counsel did not question Wellman about the line-item expenses on his financial declarations, and did not submit any of those declarations for the court’s consideration. Wellman did admit, however, in response to a general question about how much it would “cost to live with three kids,” that “$1,000 to $1,500 [monthly] for daily activities and food” was not “unreasonable.”

¶8        After considering all of the evidence presented, and after taking into account the closing arguments from the attorneys, the court took the matter under advisement, and later issued a written ruling. In that ruling, the court awarded Kawasaki sole physical custody of the minor children, allowing Wellman parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-35. The court ordered Wellman to pay Kawasaki $1,578 per month in child support, calculated by using the sole custody worksheet and assessing Wellman’s monthly gross income at $10,833 and Kawasaki’s at $3,667. The court also ordered Wellman to pay Kawasaki $76,370 in child support arrears, in light of the fact that Wellman had not made any direct child support payments pursuant to the temporary order. The court awarded title of the marital house to Wellman, but ordered that the equity in the house be divided equally within one year, either through a sale or a refinance. With regard to all other marital debts, including debt from a loan taken out during the marriage on a Thunderbird vehicle the parties had purchased during the marriage, the court ordered that the parties “be equally responsible for” them.

¶9        With regard to alimony, however, the court declined Kawasaki’s request in its entirety. The court noted that the party requesting alimony bears the burden to establish entitlement to it, including the burden of establishing that party’s financial need. The court found that Kawasaki “did not present any bank statements whatsoever, nor did she submit a financial declaration or any documentary evidence regarding her income, expenses, or debts.” And the court found that Kawasaki’s testimony about her financial need “was inconsistent and missing critical information” and was not enough, in the absence of any documentary evidence, to “persuade the Court that alimony should continue.”

¶10      After the ruling, Kawasaki filed a post-trial motion, chiefly to ask the court to order either (a) that the marital house be sold right away rather than within one year, or (b) that Kawasaki be allowed possession of it until the sale or refinance. Among other requests, Kawasaki also asked the court to amend its order so that she would not have to share in paying off the debt relating to the Thunderbird, asserting that Wellman had gifted the car to her and then later destroyed it. But Kawasaki did not ask the court to amend its alimony ruling. Following a hearing on the motion, the court reiterated that Kawasaki was liable for her share of the Thunderbird debt because “the debt was attributable to the parties’ IRS debt,” which was a joint debt, and the court declined Kawasaki’s request to materially amend its order regarding the marital house.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶11 Kawasaki now appeals, and asks us to review the trial court’s decision not to award her any alimony.[1] “We review a court’s alimony determination for an abuse of discretion,” Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 11, 515 P.3d 481 (quotation simplified), and “as long as the court exercises its discretion within the bounds and under the standards our supreme court has set and so long as the trial court has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions,” we “will not disturb its ruling on alimony,” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 11, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

¶12      “Under Utah law, the primary purposes of alimony are: (1) to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage; (2) to equalize the standards of living of each party; and (3) to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge.” Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 14 (quotation simplified). “The core function of alimony is therefore economic,” and “regardless of the payor spouse’s ability to pay more, the recipient spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award.” Roberts v. Roberts, 2014 UT App 211, ¶ 14, 335 P.3d 378 (quotation simplified).

¶13 In evaluating a party’s alimony claim, “courts must consider the statutory alimony factors,” which include “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse, the recipient’s earning capacity, and the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 20 (quotation simplified). These three factors are often called the “Jones factors” because they date back to Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072 (Utah 1985); they have since been codified in Utah Code section 30-3-5(10)(a)(i)–(iii), and they remain the first three factors of a “multi-factor inquiry” that governs a court’s alimony determination. See Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16.

¶14 “A party seeking alimony bears the burden of demonstrating to the court that the Jones factors support an award of alimony.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 95, 459 P.3d 276. The most common way for a party to satisfy this burden is for the party to “provide the court with a credible financial declaration and [supporting] financial documentation to demonstrate that the Jones factors support an award of alimony.” Id. ¶ 96. And in most cases, that is what the parties do; indeed, our current rules of civil procedure require parties in domestic cases to turn over to the other side, at the outset of the case, “a fully completed Financial Declaration, using the court-approved form,” along with “attachments,” including recent bank statements and tax returns as well as “copies of statements verifying the amounts listed on the Financial Declaration.” See Utah R. Civ. P. 26.1(c). The court-approved form includes a table where parties are expected to set forth, in line-item fashion, their monthly expenses. See Financial Declaration, Utah State Courts, 6-7, https://legacy.utcourts.gov/ho wto/family/financial_declaration/ docs/1352FA_Financial_Declar ation.pdf [https://perma.cc/K77G-Y99V]. And these disclosures, like other required disclosures, must be timely supplemented in the event things materially change. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(5). At trial, parties seeking alimony often use the line-item expense categories listed in their financial declarations as a template for the “needs” portion of their alimony request, offering testimony about the items in the declaration and seeking admission into evidence of the applicable documents (bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, etc.) that support the various expense categories. See, e.g.Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 20–63 (analyzing separate challenges to eleven of the forty-five expense line items in a trial court’s alimony award).

¶15      In this case, however, Kawasaki did not follow this course of action. She did submit a financial declaration in 2017, at the outset of the case, and it was used in connection with the temporary orders hearing. But she did not ever supplement that declaration in advance of the trial held some three years later; she did not testify about that declaration at trial; she failed to produce—even after the court ordered her to do so—any financial documentation supporting her alleged expenses; and she failed to gain admission of either her declaration or any specific financial documentation into evidence at trial.[2]

¶16 Litigants who bring alimony claims but fail to support them with the usual documentation put trial courts in a very difficult spot. On the one hand, trial courts are trained to be sensitive to the potential unfairness of a litigant—in particular one who has spent years, perhaps even decades, out of the workforce while raising children—being left without sufficient support, especially where that litigant’s spouse is able to live comfortably. Indeed, alimony is supposed to allow the recipient spouse to enjoy, as much as possible, the marital standard of living, and is designed “to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge.” Id. ¶ 14 (quotation simplified). In this context, as is often the case in family law, trial courts have wide discretion to fashion remedies that fit the situation faced by the family at issue. See Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 41, 402 P.3d 219 (“Trial 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.” (quotation simplified)).

¶17      In particular, trial courts are vested with discretion to “impute figures” for a recipient spouse’s needs analysis, even where complete documentation is lacking, as long as there is sufficient evidence to support such imputation. See Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 116 (stating that courts “may impute figures” (emphasis added)). In cases where an alimony claimant fails to provide sufficient documentation, courts may find adequate support for the imputation of particular expenses in, for instance, the opposing party’s documentation, see id. (stating that “the district court could have . . . imputed a figure to determine [the recipient spouse’s] financial need based . . . on . . . [the opposing party’s] records of the parties’ predivorce expenses”), or in updated financial declarations supported not by timely disclosed financial documents but instead by the sworn testimony of witnesses, see Munoz-Madrid v. Carlos-Moran, 2018 UT App 95, ¶ 10, 427 P.3d 420 (upholding a trial court’s imputation of some of a recipient spouse’s expense items, despite the spouse’s “fail[ure] to provide supporting documentation with her financial declaration,” because the spouse had provided an updated financial declaration and another witness had offered specific testimony at trial about the spouse’s rent and utilities expenses that was “consistent with [the] financial declaration”).

¶18      But on the other hand, trial courts’ discretion in this arena is not unlimited, and courts that go too far in trying to help litigants who haven’t sufficiently supported their alimony claims risk abusing their discretion. Courts that make alimony awards “must support [those] determinations with adequate findings,” see Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 22, 402 P.3d 153, including specific findings regarding a recipient spouse’s reasonable monthly needs. Where trial courts attempt to make alimony awards in the absence of specific findings, supported by evidence in the record, regarding a recipient spouse’s actual needs, those courts have often been reversed. See, e.g.Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶¶ 36–40, 449 P.3d 202 (reversing as inadequately supported a trial court’s alimony award that, on its face, exceeded the recipient spouse’s monthly needs but was apparently designed to vaguely bring her more into line with “the marital standard of living,” and stating that “[w]ithout the district court more precisely spelling out the amount that [the recipient spouse] realistically requires . . . to enjoy the marital standard of living, we are unable to discern whether the alimony award, in fact, exceeds her needs”); Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶¶ 11– 13, 80 P.3d 153 (reversing where “the trial court engaged in an effort to simply equalize income . . . rather than going through the traditional needs analysis,” and concluding that “the trial court abused its discretion by failing to enter specific findings on [the recipient spouse’s] financial needs and condition”).

¶19 In this case, the trial court determined that the evidence Kawasaki presented at trial was insufficient to allow the court to make the findings necessary for an alimony award. In its ruling, the court noted that Kawasaki “did not submit a financial declaration” at trial, nor did she present any “bank statements” or other “documentary evidence regarding her . . . expenses” The court—presumably in an effort to locate admitted evidence upon which it could rest an imputation of some of Kawasaki’s expenses—then noted that Wellman had not submitted a financial declaration at trial either, nor had he provided bank statements or any “detailed testimony regarding either of the [parties’] monthly financial obligations.” Finally, the court discussed Kawasaki’s own testimony at trial, but concluded that her “testimony regarding . . . her monthly expenses . . . was inconsistent and missing critical information,” and therefore “did not persuade the [c]ourt that alimony should continue.”

¶20 Under the circumstances presented here, we discern no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in reaching this conclusion. As already noted, Kawasaki’s attempt to place into evidence undisclosed bank statements was denied, and after that Kawasaki made no real effort to provide the court, at trial, with any concrete evidence of her monthly expenses. She did not attempt to submit her 2017 financial declaration for the court’s consideration at trial, and she did not attempt to provide any testimony about the line-item expenses on that declaration. And although she had in her possession, at trial, a copy of Wellman’s financial declaration, she asked Wellman only a few general questions about it, and did not attempt to ask him any specific questions about the expense line items. The only categories of expenses that she even generally discussed, through questioning of witnesses, were housing—as to which she testified that she thought a suitable apartment would cost “about $2,000” per month—and a vague category her counsel referred to as how much it would “cost to live with three kids”— as to which Wellman offered his view that “$1,000 to $1,500 [per month] for daily activities and food” would not be “unreasonable.” Against the backdrop of this evidence, we consider it far from an abuse of the trial court’s discretion for the court to conclude that Kawasaki had failed to carry her burden of demonstrating a need for alimony.

¶21      Kawasaki resists this conclusion on two grounds. First, she asserts that the trial court misinterpreted applicable law by refusing to even consider her alimony claim after the court ruled that the untimely disclosed bank statements were inadmissible. Kawasaki correctly argues—as we have explained above—that a party’s failure to provide documentation supporting an alimony claim is not necessarily fatal, so long as other evidence in the record can support imputation of the necessary expenses, and so long as a trial court is willing to exercise its discretion to make such imputations. And we acknowledge that certain statements by the trial court, during the pretrial discussion about the bank statements, may have left the impression that the court was refusing to consider Kawasaki’s alimony claim altogether. For instance, at one point Wellman’s attorney stated that his understanding of Dahl was “that a failure to supply bank statements prevents the [c]ourt from actually evaluating” Kawasaki’s alimony claim, and the court responded by stating that counsel’s argument was “consistent with [its] understanding of Dahl.” But later, the court noted that “if there are other documents” that could be used to “substantiate [Kawasaki’s] finances, then you can use those,” and told Kawasaki that she could “address alimony with documents that are already in the record” and that “if there are records of some kind that would support a claim for alimony, then [Kawasaki] can go forward” with that claim. And in its written ruling, the court clearly did not perceive Kawasaki’s alimony claim as entirely barred by her failure to provide documentation; instead, the court evaluated that claim against the backdrop of the evidence that had been presented at trial. Kawasaki is simply incorrect when she asserts that the trial court refused to consider her alimony claim.

¶22      Second, Kawasaki asserts that the trial court could have, and should have, made findings regarding her monthly needs from the evidence available in the record. We disagree that the evidence could have supported imputation of the full list of Kawasaki’s expenses; with regard to most of them, there was simply no evidence admitted whatsoever. For instance, there was no specific discussion at trial of utility expenses, automobile or transportation expenses, entertainment expenses, or clothing expenses. Had the trial court attempted to make findings regarding such unsupported expenses, it likely would have exceeded its discretion.

¶23 But a trial court, on this record, could perhaps have exercised its discretion to impute to Kawasaki a housing expense of $2,000 and a food expense of, say, $1,000. After all, housing and food are universal needs, and those figures were discussed at trial by both Kawasaki and Wellman and appeared to have been more or less undisputed. But while the court perhaps could have exercised its discretion to impute these two discrete expenses, we are not prepared to say that it was an abuse of discretion not to do so; after all, the evidence supporting these figures was vague at best and unsupported by any documentation. And in any event, even if the court had made these two imputations, that would have resulted in a determination that Kawasaki’s demonstrated monthly expenses were $3,000, a conclusion that would not have resulted in an alimony award given that Kawasaki’s net income was $2,800 per month and that Wellman had been ordered to pay Kawasaki $1,578 per month in child support. See Roberts v. Roberts, 2014 UT App 211, ¶ 14, 335 P.3d 378 (stating that, “regardless of the payor spouse’s ability to pay more, the recipient spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award” (quotation simplified)). Under these circumstances, even if the court had reached to assist Kawasaki by making these two specific imputations, that effort would not have resulted in any alimony award to Kawasaki.

¶24      In some cases, the evidence is solid enough, even without proper documentation from the alimony claimant, for a court to be able to exercise its discretion to impute at least some of the claimant’s expenses, especially basic universal ones like housing and food. See Munoz-Madrid, 2018 UT App 95, ¶ 10; see also Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 116 (stating that “courts may impute figures” (emphasis added)). Indeed, in keeping with the purposes of alimony, courts should attempt to do so where the evidence and equity permit. But in other cases—including this one—the evidence is simply not strong enough to support imputation of enough expenses to justify an alimony award. See Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶¶ 108–09 (stating that, where the claimant “provided no financial declaration, no supporting financial documentation, and no expert testimony,” her “unsubstantiated testimony did not satisfy her burden of showing her financial need”). We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s conclusion that, on this record, Kawasaki had not borne her burden of demonstrating entitlement to alimony.

CONCLUSION

¶25      As the party seeking an alimony award, Kawasaki bore the burden of showing her financial need for such an award. The trial court determined that Kawasaki had failed to meet that burden, and that conclusion was not an abuse of the court’s discretion.

¶26 Affirmed.

 

[1] In her brief, Kawasaki also challenges the trial court’s failure “to compensate [her] for Wellman’s post-separation destruction of her separate property, the Thunderbird.” We agree with Wellman, however, that this precise issue was not properly presented to the trial court and is therefore unpreserved. See State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 15, 416 P.3d 443 (“When a party fails to raise and argue an issue in the trial court, it has failed to preserve the issue, and an appellate court will not typically reach that issue.”). At trial, the Thunderbird was discussed only as a negative asset, due to the loan the parties had taken out on the vehicle to pay marital debts. The only question the parties put before the court, as concerned the Thunderbird, was which of them (or both) should bear the responsibility for paying off the debts associated with the vehicle. Kawasaki did not make an argument that the Thunderbird had any positive equity, let alone an argument that any such value should be awarded to her as her separate property. Consequently, Kawasaki’s current claim to that effect, here on appeal, is not preserved for our review, and we do not discuss it further.

[2] As noted, the trial court excluded some of Kawasaki’s offered evidence on the ground that the documents had not been timely disclosed to Wellman. On appeal, Kawasaki does not challenge the court’s ruling excluding her undisclosed evidence.

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 18

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

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Declaration (utcourts.gov) 

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

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

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Declaration (utcourts.gov)

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What are the Steps for Getting Divorced in Utah?

What are the Steps for Getting Divorced in Utah?

To start the divorce process, you must begin by filing what is called a complaint or a petition for divorce with the court. This means you are suing your spouse for a divorce. Don’t let the term “suing” frighten you or your spouse. “To sue” means to institute legal proceedings against your spouse. That’s all.

Then your complaint or petition for divorce is served on (or officially delivered to) your spouse, usually by a law enforcement officer or a private process server. You can also waive personal service by a law enforcement officer or process server and just accept service by signing a simply accepting the documents without the need for personal service.

If you and your spouse agree to the terms of your divorce, also known as an “uncontested divorce,” the issue of “service of process” doesn’t come up because you submit voluntarily to the jurisdiction of the court by signing and filing with the court your divorce settlement agreement and other documents that indicate you recognize you are subject to the to the jurisdiction of the court.

If you’re the one seeking a divorce and the one who filed for divorce, your spouse has 21 days to respond to the complaint for divorce or 30 days to respond if your spouse is served outside of the state of Utah.

The name for the response to a complaint for divorce is an “answer”. If you wish to countersue your spouse for divorce after you get served with a petition or complaint for divorce, you can file an “answer and counterclaim”.

How the case proceeds from this point could take various routes:

  • At any point during the pendency of the case, as long as the trial has not concluded and the court issued its decree and orders, you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement.
  • After the complaint and answer or answer and counterclaim are filed, the parties have to exchange some initial financial information and information about the evidence each party has and what witnesses the parties might call to testify at trial.
  • Then the parties have 180 days to conduct discovery. The purpose of discovery is to obtain facts and information that will reveal the truth in a matter and help both parties and the court determine what’s truly in dispute and what is not. After discovery closes, then the case is almost ready to take to trial, but not quite.
  • Before a divorce case can go to trial in Utah the parties must first to go mediation and try to settle the case (if the parties don’t want to go to mediation they can ask the court to waive the mediation requirement “for good cause,” but it’s not easy to get the court to find good cause to waive mediation. Most couples go to mediation, even if they think it won’t work, if for no other reason than to check the “we went to mediation” box, so that they can get to trial.
  • After discovery closes and mediation is completed, either party can certify the case as read for trial.
  • Then the court schedules one or more pretrial conferences to prepare for trial, set a trial date, the number of day the trial will take, and other matters.
  • After trial, the court can take up to 60 days to issue its decision on the case, after which one of the parties’ respective attorneys is ordered to prepare the Decree of Divorce for the court’s signature.

That’s the Utah divorce process in a nutshell.

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

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Utah Divorce Case Timeline Summary

Utah Divorce Case Timeline Summary

The greatest influence on how long a divorce case takes is usually how much and how severely the parties fight over the issues. The more they fight and the more things they fight over, the longer and more expensive the divorce process is. But here is a general timeline for a Utah divorce, step by step.

Bottom line: Generally speaking, a contested divorce will likely take between 15 months to 24 months. Bitterly contested divorce cases can take many years. An uncontested divorce can take as little as 45-60 days to complete from the date of filing, if the parties agree on everything.

Timeline

What happens first?

  1. Complaint or petition for divorce is filed (“complaint for divorce” and “petition for divorce” are interchangeable terms). The person who files is the “petitioner”.

What happens next?

  1. Your spouse is served with the summons and a copy of the complaint/petition for divorce. Your spouse is the “respondent”.

When?: The respondent has 21 days to file an “answer” to your complaint. Your spouse will likely not only answer your divorce complaint but also counters through you which is known as a counterclaim.

You will then have 21 days to respond to the counterclaim after it is served on you (and if you have an attorney the counterclaim will be sent to your attorney, and your attorney should provide you with a copy of it).

What happens next?

  1. Financial declaration and initial disclosures. After the complaint have been filed with the court and served on your spouse and after the parties have responded to each other’s respective complaint and counterclaim for divorce they have to exchange what are known as financial declarations and initial disclosures.

Financial declaration. The financial declaration requires you to identify

      • Whether you are employed and if so, by whom and what you earn from employment.
      • Other forms of income other than income from a job (unearned income).
      • Monthly expenses
      • Business interests, if you have any
      • Financial Assets. A description of your financial assets
      • Real Estate. Identifying any interests in real estate that you own
      • Personal Property. A description of your personal property, such as vehicles, boats, trailers, major equipment, furniture, jewelry, and collectibles
      • Debts Owed. A list of your debts and obligations, what you owe, and who your creditors are.

Initial Disclosures. Your initial disclosures require you to disclose:

      • each individual likely to have discoverable information supporting your claims or defenses
      • each fact witness you may call at trial
      • a copy of all documents, data compilations, electronically stored information, and tangible things in your possession or control that you may offer at trial
      • a copy of all documents to which you refer in your pleadings

When?: The petitioner must serve her financial declaration and initial disclosures 14 days after the answer is filed (that’s a lot of work in a fairly short time, so don’t dillydally if you’re the petitioner). The respondent is required to serve his financial declaration and initial disclosures 28 days after the answer is filed.

What happens next?

  1. Temporary orders. After the answer and counterclaim have been filed with the court, it is typical for the parties to request what are known as “temporary orders” from the court. Temporary orders are put in place to ensure that the leaves and affairs of the family are maintained during the pendency of the divorce action. So temporary orders can include things like responsibility for the mortgage and other expenses associated with the house and family. They can include temporary orders of child custody and parent time and child support and spousal support. Temporary orders can include other provisions as well, depending upon the circumstances and needs of your family.

When?: You soonest you could file for temporary orders is when you file your petition/complaint for divorce. Most people file after the petition/complaint for divorce is filed.

After the motions are file the court usually schedules a hearing within 1 to 3 months of the date the motion was filed.

What happens next?

  1. Discovery. Discovery is the process By which the parties request documents and other evidence from each other to help them get a better understanding of the issues, and to determine what issues are really disputed and which ones aren’t or can’t be disputed. Discovery is used to help the parties gain a better understanding of the issues and to help each party build its strongest case against the other party.

When?: You are allowed 180 days for discovery. The discovery period starts the day after the last day that initial disclosures and financial declarations are due from the respondent.

If you have children and you and your spouse are fighting over child custody: a custody evaluation may be ordered. A custody evaluation is supposed to take 4 months. They almost always take longer. Sometimes the custody evaluation won’t be completed by the time discovery closes. Be prepared for this possibility.

What happens next?

  1. Divorce Orientation and Education Courses. If the divorcing couple has minor children then divorce orientation and education courses are mandatory for both parties. You can learn about and sign up for those courses using this link: https://www.utcourts.gov/specproj/dived/

When?: You can take the divorce orientation and education courses any time, even before you file for divorce. Most people sign up for and complete the courses around the time after the answer and the reply to counterclaim have been filed and served.

You cannot obtain a decree of divorce without completing the divorce orientation and education courses or having the requirement to attend them waived (and for most people it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to try to get the courses waived).

What happens next?

  1. Mediation. You must go to mediation before the case can go trial. Most divorce actions settle and most settle in mediation. If neither party wants to go to mediation or there are circumstances (such as domestic violence) that would not make mediation feasible or worthwhile, the parties can move to waive the mediation requirement.

When?: You can go to mediation any time, even before you file for divorce, although if you go to mediation before you or your spouse file(s) for divorce the court may make you go to mediation again before you will be allowed to go to trial.

So bear in mind that you can go to mediation at any point in the case.

You cannot obtain a decree of divorce without engaging in mediation or having the mediation requirement waived (and for most people it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to try to get the courses waived).

What happens next?

  1. Trial. If the parties do not settle their case (whether in mediation or on their own), then the case goes to trial.

When?: After discovery has closed (after 180-day discovery period has elapsed), then the case can be certified for trial.

It usually takes at least 2 or 3 months from the time a party requests a trial date to get a trial date. All told, it takes about a year to a year and a half to go from filing for divorce to trial.

It usually takes at least 2 or 3 months from the time a party requests a trial date to get a trial date.

All told, it takes about a year to a year and a half to go from filing for divorce to trial.

What happens next?

  1. After trial, the court will make its decisions as to the issues that were argued over and “tried” in court and then the Decree of Divorce is prepared and the court signs it.

When?: Usually 30 to 60 days after trial.

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

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Can you legally allow a relative to live in a property you own, rent-free, for years?

Can you legally allow a relative to live in a property you own, rent-free, for years?

Today’s question is (and I’m serious, it’s a real question from a real person; I didn’t make this up): Can you legally allow a relative to live in a property you own, rent-free, for years?

My answer: Yes, of course. How could that be illegal? How could you wonder that it might be illegal?

https://www.quora.com/Can-you-legally-allow-a-relative-to-live-in-a-property-you-own-rent-free-for-years/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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A real client’s questions about divorce settlement and mediation

Here is a real client’s questions about divorce settlement and mediation. Don’t worry, I’ve removed the names and changed out the details to protect confidentiality. This client asked a lot of questions that frequently come up, so the client’s e-mail was particularly well-suited for a blog post.

I think you’ll really benefit from seeing what real people ask me and what my responses are.

The client’s e-mail and the client’s questions are in the left column below, and my responses to the client’s questions are in the right column:

Client asks:

My responses:

Eric,

I have a hodgepodge of questions…

What comes next and what are you needing me to prepare for and how to get “it” ready for you? I know I need an appraisal… do I notify [my spouse] this is coming out of the funds? …and what is the appraisal used for? Other than getting the appraisal, I don’t anticipating needing anything from you between now and the mediation date. But if anything comes up, I will notify you immediately.

The appraisal helps us get a neutral, professional opinion as to the true, market value of your house, so that you and [your spouse]—who aren’t really in any position to speak authoritatively on the value of the house—don’t have to argue about its value.

I’d e-mail [your spouse] with something simple, like this:

[your spouse],

My attorney suggested that, to get an accurate idea of the value of the house, we get an appraisal between now and our mediation date. I suggest we pay for a mutually chosen, neutral appraiser to conduct the appraisal and share the costs of the appraiser equally. How does that sound to you?

[Client]

Do you need me to still provide bank statements, paycheck subs? [my spouse] is the primary on the [credit card] and I don’t have the ability to see what is being charged or paid on that card anymore. It’s only under his login and password now. He was going to send me the rest of December [credit card] statement…but didn’t. Do you still need that from me, and do I press for it with [my spouse]? Yes, press for it. Gently, but firmly.

Press for the email password he changed too.

Even if [your spouse] never sends it, pressing for it (in a classy, non-nagging way) shows that you did you part to get it and that [your spouse] withheld it.

Should I start making plans with [my spouse] to arrange the exchange of property in dividing up the household and personal items. Do you recommend this done before mediation? Sure. If you and he can start working out the division of your personal property by agreement, start making overtures. Start seeing if you and he can agree.

It would be great if you could get this at least started before mediation. The more you can discuss or agree upon before mediation the less time and money you’ll spend in mediation. And if you can get it done before mediation, that’s great too.

Make sure that you understand that once something leaves your possession, it will be nigh on to impossible to get it back, if you want it back.

I don’t have any more money in the [my checking account with X bank]. I have no need to keep this account open, but I identified it in my Financial Declaration, so do you recommend to leave it open until the divorce is finalized? If you do say it’s ok to close and stop the account, what documentation is needed to be provided to the court in closing that account? Do you see any need for it to remain open? Any harm it would do [your spouse] if you closed it? If not, go ahead and close it, e-mail [your spouse] and tell him you closed it because there was no money left in it. You need to be able to document that you notified [your spouse] that you closed the account. If he gives you a hard time about closing the account, let me know, but I doubt he will.
Have you heard back about taxes, and how do I prepare… either way? [my spouse] has always gotten his taxes in early… I have e-mailed his attorney again about your desire to file a joint return. That’s about all we can do for now. Their failure to respond isn’t doing them any favors. You are free to inquire with [your spouse] about this too. I would, if I were you. Since we will be meeting in mediation before the filing deadline for income taxes, we can discuss this at mediation. If [your spouse] files before then, we can move the court to award you half of any refund you would have gotten had you filed jointly. Whether the court will grant that motion is not known, but the odds favor you.
Has his lawyer sail mailed his accounts statements documents?  He has always had full access and quick retrieval of all his accounts updates. Just recently he was able to quickly send me [credit card X] statements in the past few weeks.

 

The manner in which [my spouse] turned in his financial declaration and his supporting documents has me confused and baffled… as long as I have known him… he is most concerned about how he appears and is perceived by others. This has always been of highest priority to him. Do I say anything about the way he filled out his paperwork?

Nothing more than what we received the first time. You’ve seen my e-mails to his attorney asking for the supplementation/updates, but he’s ignoring me (this is normal for most divorce attorneys—not right, but normal).

Please send me anything [your spouse] has sent you by way of supplementation.

Don’t hassle [your spouse] directly about his financial declaration and supporting documents. Tell me, and let me hassle him through his attorney. His financial declaration is a joke, and his attorney knows better.

What does mediation look like? Will [my spouse] have to be here in person? [my spouse] had emailed me stating: Most divorce cases settle. Your odds of settling in your particular are good, in my opinion.

Most cases today settle in mediation.

Warning: mediators love to tell people how wonderful it is. Take this with a grain of salt.

Here is basically how mediation works:

The Mediation Process

The mediator will ask you to sign an agreement that acknowledges that what’s is discussed in mediation is confidential and not admissible in court, that the mediator cannot be called as a witness, and that you agree to pay the mediator’s fee.

At mediation you will usually start speaking with the mediator and provide background information about your marriage, your family, and what the issues are.

You’ll then meet in a conference room or office where the mediator will explain what you can expect from the process. For example, the mediator may tell you that everyone will be in the same room for the entire mediation or that you’ll meet in separate rooms (this is known as shuttle mediation) so that the mediator can get the views or positions of the parties in private and discuss their ideas and concerns openly, without the other party there to hear you.

If you reach agreement, either as to all issues or as to some, either the mediator or one of your attorneys will write a settlement agreement for the parties to sign. The settlement agreement is contractually binding. The terms of the settlement agreement will be incorporated into the Decree of Divorce.

(https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/divorce-mediation-basics-36180.html)

If you want a good laugh, do a search on YouTube for “divorce mediation” for some of the worst acting you’ve ever seen and some of the most contrived mediation depictions. Still, you might learn a little useful information about the setting and the process, so either way, it’s worth a look.

“Regarding mediation, my plan will be to approach the meeting with an agreed upon amenable divorce so we don’t have to come prepared try to use the venue to air out the personal damages we caused each other.  I will share perspectives if you choose to go down that path but hopefully we will walk into the room with lift regarding personal matters and focus on how we will address agreed upon finances.

“I think you can see that I am doing my best to give when it comes to financial matters.  If you will do the same when it comes to the length of alimony payments asked for, this meeting could be brief and less traumatic on the already fragile lives we are living out.”

[your spouse] is a real bag of wind.

The more you can discuss in advance the more productive mediation will be.

DO NOT agree to anything with [your spouse], either orally or in writing, without consulting me first.

If you agree to anything with [your spouse], either orally or in writing, outside of mediation that may (in the case of an oral agreement) still be binding upon you (certainly in the case of a written agreement). Even just sending emails back and forth can constitute a written agreement. Don’t believe there can’t be a written agreement without there being a “formal” contract that is signed in ink. No, no.

This leads me to believe he may try engage in conversation about these matters. I have had a bare minimum interaction on as little topics as possible, because of his emails. I am needing to have more interaction on other topics of straightening out of some of our accounts. Go ahead and converse as much as you wish. Just don’t ever agree to anything with him without first consulting me.
Should I see if he’ll go ahead and give me the password to our family email? Absolutely.
Should I pay off my [credit card Y] bill I’m paying you on? If he has to pay my legal fees, would it look better to have the debt still unpaid as opposed to having them paid?? Make the monthly payment, if you like, or pay the whole balance off. I don’t think it will make any difference either way. Remember, most of the time the court does not award attorney’s fees, or if it does, it awards a fraction of what you incurred. I’m talking like 10 cents on the dollar.
More mediation questions:
What topics should I be preparing for…?? All issues raised by the pleadings of you and [your spouse].
How detailed in the personal aspects should I be ready for?? Negotiation is all business. Personal feelings and such really aren’t what mediation can help. It’s not a grievance airing session or therapy. It’s a business deal: “you get this, I get that, I trade this for that, you do this, and I’ll do that.”
[my spouse] has expressed his concern about how public the information is in mediation to me and others… so how public is it? Stupid question on his part. Mediation is private, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss your divorce with others.
How does [my spouse’s attorney] run his mediation?…and since [my spouse’s attorney] suggested the mediator, is there any concerns I need to be aware of??? Mediators have no power. They can make you do nothing. They make no report to the court. They can tell no one what goes on in mediation.

The mediator is not the key to a settlement. You could have a cardboard cutout serve as mediator.

Good mediators can help negotiations and may pull back from the brink a negotiation that is teetering on the edge of failure, but what makes for successful mediation and negotiation is YOU knowing what matters to you most and at what point you would say, “This and no further. If you won’t accept these terms, I’ll see you in court.”

We’re required to go to mediation, but frankly I have yet to see a “master” of mediation who can magically bring parties together.

I have no problem with our choice of mediator. I’ve used [the selected mediator] myself before. She’s good but no one special. She’s not a ringer for [my spouse’s attorney].

I do have questions about understanding alimony… for me those questions would work better in a conversation as to what our options are? What judgments can be made or set up from the beginning similar to civil judgments at that time, if any can be made similar to other civil judgments regarding money? Such as garnished wages, and other means that civil cases use? You will almost certainly not get as much alimony as you want or think you deserve.

You can have alimony awarded to be paid on a monthly basis. You can ask for a “lump sum” alimony award.

If [your spouse] does not pay child support as ordered, you can garnish his bank accounts and pay checks to ensure you get paid. The process of garnishing alimony is the same as for garnishing to collect a judgment.

I would be happy to meet with you again over lunch for an hour to discuss alimony and only alimony for the entire hour. Please call Phillip to schedule.

Thank you,

Client

You’re welcome. If you have any other questions, please ask.

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

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