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Tag: marital property

How Often Do Mothers Get Full Custody of Their Children After Divorce?

Always? No.

Frequently? Yes.

Usually. Yes.

Whether they deserve it or not? Usually, yes.

Are mothers awarded custody of children as much as they used to be a generation or two ago? No?

So, what’s going on?

Volumes have been written on the subject of how custody of children should be awarded to divorced or separated/unmarried parents, but to summarize the history of how that question has been resolved:

There was a time when fathers were awarded custody of children back when men controlled all the property and wealth and when men were either more self-sufficient than women or were paid far more than women. The idea then was essentially an economic one: award custody to the parent who was in the better position to support the children financially.

Then the pendulum swung the other way with the “tender years doctrine,” defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as follows:

Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019), tender-years doctrine

tender-years doctrine (1954) Family law. The doctrine holding that custody of very young children (usu. five years of age and younger) should generally be awarded to the mother in a divorce unless she is found to be unfit. • This doctrine has been rejected in most states and replaced by a presumption of joint custody. See MATERNAL-PREFERENCE DOCTRINE; PRIMARY-CAREGIVER DOCTRINE.

You’ll note that in the Black’s Law Dictionary definition quoted above that it states, “[The tender-years doctrine] has been rejected in most states and replaced [nowadays] by a presumption of joint custody.” That’s not entirely true.

While the trend is moving toward a presumption that, where practicable, parents should exercise joint physical custody of children don’t be fooled into believing this trend is sweeping the nation like wildfire. The pace is slower than that. The trend is undeniable, but some jurisdictions have been quicker to adopt the joint physical custody presumption than others. Some jurisdictions are more resistant to adopting the presumption than others. Even in jurisdictions that claim to adopt a presumption of joint custody, the actual practice in the courts is often starkly at odds with law on books.

This means that while it is truly easier than it’s been in more than a hundred years for fathers to obtain an award of joint custody of their children, it’s by no means guaranteed. The tender-years/maternal-preference doctrine is deeply entrenched in the culture, as is the belief that men as naturally inferior parents. Fit, loving, devoted fathers who want to be there for their children as much as possible still generally (generally, not in all cases) have a very difficult time persuading courts that joint custody is not only in the best interest of the children but in the best interests of the family members collectively. If you are a father hoping to be awarded joint custody of your children, be prepared to fight ten times harder for it that you imagine. I mean it. No, really, I’m not exaggerating. I mean it. Forewarned is forearmed.

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

Eric Johnson’s answer to How often do mothers get full custody of their children after divorce? – Quora

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Can My Spouse Take out a Loan Using Our House as Collateral After I File for a Divorce?

This is a good question and one that often comes up in divorce cases.

I cannot speak for the law in all jurisdictions, but as this question applies in the jurisdiction where I practice law (Utah), these are my observations (my discussion of a general question on Quora does not constitute legal advice, so anyone who has this particular question needs to consult with an attorney personally):

In Utah, can a spouse take out a loan using the marital home as collateral after the other spouse files for a divorce?

First, we need to know what “marital home” means in this context. Even if the house is in your spouse’s name alone, if the house was purchased by one spouse during the marriage, it is (unless the spouses contracted otherwise) still considered marital property because it was purchased by your spouse while he/she was married to you.

So, is it possible for your spouse to borrow against the marital home after a divorce action has been filed in Utah? Yes, but not likely, and even if the loan/credit was made, a Utah court would almost surely void the loan/credit contract.

Yes, if by “possible” we mean that your spouse was able to find a lender who is willing to contract with your spouse to borrow against the marital home’s value without your consent. This does not mean that the loan/credit contract is necessarily enforceable. This does not mean that the loan/credit contract could not be set aside by the divorce court as a fraudulent conveyance under the right circumstances (see below).

Not likely because 1) I don’t know of an institutional lender who would agree to accept as collateral all or a portion of a marital home without obtaining the consent of both spouses first; 2) such unilateral action on the part of your spouse to encumber marital property without your consent could be set aside as a fraudulent conveyance (See Bradford v. Bradford, 993 P.2d 887, 1999 UT App 37 (Court of Appeals of Utah 1999)); and 3) Utah Rules of Civil Procedure 109 provides, in pertinent part:

Rule 109. Injunction in certain domestic relations cases. Effective: 1/1/0021

(a) Actions in which a domestic injunction enters. Unless the court orders otherwise, in an action for divorce, annulment, temporary separation, custody, parent time, support, or paternity, the court will enter an injunction when the initial petition is filed. Only the injunction’s applicable provisions will govern the parties to the action.

(b) General provisions.

(1) If the action concerns the division of property then neither party may transfer, encumber, conceal, or dispose of any property of either party without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or to provide for the necessities of life.

And so, if your spouse attempted, after a divorce action was filed, to encumber marital property without your written consent, the court would likely void the transaction as fraudulent and/or penalize your spouse for violating the Rule 109(b) prohibition against a spouse encumbering marital property without his/her spouse’s written consent.

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

(61) Can my spouse take out a loan using our house as collateral after I file for a divorce? – Mother-in-Law Mysteries and Conflicts – Quora

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Holding Marital Property Hostage During a Divorce Just Makes You Look Petty By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

You may have the idea that you can leverage his or her favorite or most valued things to get a more favorable outcome in your divorce. Holding property that rightfully belongs to the other party (like her jewelry or his tools) makes you look bad any way that you spin it. You may see the situation as a delicate hostage negotiation in order to get what you believe that you deserve, but in reality, if you behave this way, it reveals you as the petty and vengeful spouse you are.
During your divorce, you will be required to divide the marital property between your spouse and yourself and it cannot be avoided. Property division is a major and often, though not always, contentious issue between divorcing parties, getting only more complex the longer the marriage has lasted and the more affluent parties are the. Purposely delaying the division of marital property only makes you look bad and drags out your already expensive divorce.
Every time that you do something just to “get a jab in” on your former spouse, you only look petty and childish. You and your spouse end up making more work (and more profit) for your attorneys and slow the irritating, painful, and angst-inducing process of divorce down.
Be as equitable as possible. Do you really need that specific item of personal property, or are you just trying to be spiteful? If you cannot agree on who should get an item of significant value, or there are not enough items of or there are not enough items (such as a house or a car), or if there are not enough items of property to divide value equally, then sell the item(s) and split the profit.
Take a cool headed and business like approach to the division of property.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277
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On What Basis Should the Couple Share Half of Property in Divorce if One Contributes Significantly More Than the Other? How Is It Fair?

It’s fair. It’s not fair. Frankly, reasonable minds can differ on this question.

The governing principle in the USA is still (though it’s subtly and slowly changing) in most jurisdictions in the USA that I know of (if not all jurisdictions in the USA) is that property acquired during the marriage by the couple should be divided equally is because a marriage is an “e pluribus unum”-style principle: out of two, one. A married couple is considered to be one when it comes to the ownership of property the couple acquired during the marriage, even if that means that each spouse did not contribute an equal amount of money or effort to the purchase/acquisition of the property.

If the property was purchased with money earned or otherwise acquired by one or primarily by one of the spouses or in exchange for “sweat equity” that one spouse contributed more than the other, the idea is that “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine—it’s all ours.”

Equitable distribution and community property are two different approaches to dividing marital property between spouses in divorce.

Community property states treat all property acquired during the marriage to be owned equally owned by the spouses, and so they, unless exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise, divide the marital property equally between the spouses. Equitable distribution states generally presume that an equal division of marital property is equitable, but an equitable division of property is not necessarily an equal division. In Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), for example the rule of equitable distribution is articulated this way:

Labon v. Labon, 517 P.3d 407, 2022 UT App 103, ¶¶25 – 27 (Utah Court of Appeals 2022; I removed the references to caselaw for the sake of making it easier to read and understand the principles articulated):

In making this division [i.e., and equitable division of property and debts and obligations] the court should engage in a four-step process: (1) distinguish between separate and marital property, (2) consider whether there are exceptional circumstances that overcome the general presumption that marital property should be divided equally between the parties, (3) assign values to each item of marital property, and (4) distribute the property in a manner consistent with its findings and with a view toward allowing each party to go forward with his or her separate life.

And in making the equitable distribution, the court should generally consider the amount and kind of property to be divided. As concerns the type of property, in situations where the marital estate consists primarily of a single large asset, such as a business or stock, a common acceptable approach for the court to take is to award the asset to one party and make a cash award to the other party. Doing so avoids the obviously undesirable situation that forces former spouses to be in a close economic relationship which has every potential for further contention, friction, and litigation, especially when third parties having nothing to do with the divorce will also necessarily be involved.

Moreover, a court should consider the tax consequences associated with the division of marital property if one of the parties will be required to liquidate assets to pay marital debts. But the court is under no obligation to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences. Thus, when settling property matters, the trial court may decline to consider the speculative future effect of tax consequences associated with sale, transfer, or disbursement of marital property. In other words, there is no abuse of discretion if a court refuses to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences of a property division made pursuant to a divorce.

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

https://www.quora.com/On-what-basis-should-the-couple-share-half-of-property-in-divorce-if-one-contributes-significantly-more-than-the-other-How-is-it-fair/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Does an ex-spouse have claims to properties purchased during the marriage but name is not on deed, deed states married man and no mention of the property or distribution in the divorce?

I can answer this question in the context of the law of Utah, which is the jurisdiction where I am licensed to practice divorce and family law. To learn the answer to the question for another state, you would need to consult the law of that jurisdiction and/or consult with an attorney who is licensed in that state.

If your question is, “Do I have a claim to property my spouse purchased during the marriage but did not disclose the existence of during the divorce proceedings (meaning that I discovered its existence only after the decree of divorce was entered by the court)?”, then the answer is (in Utah):

Yes, you may have a claim. Now that means you have an argument for an award of some or all of (or a money judgment for some or all of the value of) that undisclosed property to you. You do not have an automatic right to any such award, but you may have a strong argument for it. If you want to pursue your claim, you should almost always pursue as soon as you possibly can. Delays in asserting and prosecuting a claim can weaken your claim.

Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 26.1 provides, in pertinent part:

(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.

Note: separate property usually remains separate property in a divorce. Separate property has three (which is basically two) different forms in a marriage: 1) property one owned (and “property” in this sense includes money you owned) before marriage (premarital property) and 2) property purchased with separate property funds. Separate property also includes money or property you obtained during the marriage if you obtained it by gift from someone other than your spouse and it also includes money or property you inherited during the marriage. So if, while married, you inherited a house from your parent, that house would be your separate property. Now one can convert (the legal term is “transmute”) separate property into marital property (by transferring title from yourself to you and your spouse jointly, or by spending money you inherited by adding a room to the marital home, or by spending your inheritance on a fancy cruise for you and our spouse—you get the idea), but if the separate property is not transmuted, it usually (usually) remains your separate property, although Utah law permits a court to award separate property to the other spouse, if circumstances warrant it.

Elman v. Elman (245 P.3d 176, 2002 UT App 83 (Utah Court of Appeals 2002):

¶ 18 Generally, trial courts are . . . required to award premarital property, and appreciation on that property, to the spouse who brought the property into the marriage. See Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1320 (Utah Ct.App.1990); see also Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988).

¶ 19 However, separate property is not “totally beyond [a] court’s reach in an equitable property division.” Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1169 (Utah Ct.App.1990). The court may award the separate property of one spouse to the other spouse in “‘extraordinary situations where equity so demands.’” Id. (quoting Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308); see also Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 263 (Utah Ct.App.1993) (“‘Exceptions to this general rule include whether … the distribution achieves a fair, just, and equitable result.’” (quoting Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314 at 1320)).

And there are these authorities too:

“The general rule is that equity requires that each party retain the separate property he or she brought into the marriage, including any appreciation of the separate property.” Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1320 (Utah Ct.App.1990). Such separate property can, however, become part of the marital estate if (1) the other spouse has by his or her efforts or expense contributed to the enhancement, maintenance, or protection of that property, thereby acquiring an equitable interest in it, or (2) the property has been consumed or its identity lost through commingling or exchanges or where the acquiring spouse has made a gift of an interest therein to the other spouse. (Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988) (citation omitted)).

Premarital property, gifts, and inheritances may be viewed as separate property, and in appropriate circumstances, equity will require that each party retain separate property brought to marriage; however, the rule is not invariable. Burke v. Burke, 733 P.2d 133 (Utah 1987).

A material misrepresentation or concealment of assets or financial condition as a result of which alimony or property awarded is less or more than otherwise would have been provided for is a proper ground for which the court may grant relief to the party who was offended by such misrepresentation or concealment, absent other equities such as laches or negligence…. However, before relief can be granted, it must be determined that the alleged misrepresentation or concealment constitutes conduct, such as fraud, as would basically afford the complaining party relief from the judgment. (Clissold v. Clissold, 30 Utah 2d 430, 519 P.2d 241, 242 (1974) (citations omitted), overruled in part on other grounds by, St. Pierre v. Edmonds, 645 P.2d 615, 619 n. 2 (Utah 1982); accord Boyce v. Boyce, 609 P.2d 928, 931 (Utah 1980) (noting that “[c]learly, a court should modify a prior decree when the interests of equity and fair dealing with the court and the opposing party so require”); Reid v. Reid, 245 Va. 409, 429 S.E.2d 208, 211 (1993) (ruling that “[o]nce the amount of spousal support is determined, the statutes and case law specifically limit the divorce court’s authority to retroactively modify that amount, absent fraud on the court ”) (emphasis added).

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

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Must trial courts consider the tax consequences in divorce?

Generally: It appears that the law in Utah is that the trial court is not required to consider hypothetical and/or future tax consequences of the disposition of the marital estate. See Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1214 (Utah Ct.App. 1991).

There is no abuse of discretion if a court refuses to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences of a property division made pursuant to a divorce (Alexander v. Alexander, 737 P.2d 221, 224 (Utah 1987)). Tax consequences in this case were speculative as to whether they could be avoided or delayed, and as to amount. The court heard testimony and evidence regarding possible tax implications, but did not err in refusing to adjust property distribution because of those theoretical consequences.

And see Rothwell v. Rothwell, ¶53, 531 P.3d 225 (Utah Ct.App. 2023), 2023 UT App 50:

[T]he district court’s decision not to tax-effect the businesses is consistent with Utah law. “We do not generally expect courts to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 97, 507 P.3d 385 (quotation simplified) (rejecting the argument that a wife’s property award should be decreased based on possible transaction costs the husband would incur if he liquidated the business), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022); see also Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 690 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (explaining that courts are under “no obligation to speculate about hypothetical future tax consequences” (quotation simplified)), cert. denied, 860 P.2d 943 (Utah 1993). The sale of a business has tax consequences only if the business is actually sold, which may be long in the future when tax laws have changed or may not happen at all. Cf. Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1213–14 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (rejecting an argument that the tax associated with selling real property should have been deducted from the value of the property because such taxes were speculative), cert. denied, 817 P.2d 327 (Utah 1991).

Yet there is this distinction from the case of Labon v. Labon (517 P.3d 407, 413 (Utah Ct.App. 2022) 2022 UT App 103, ¶27):

[A] court should consider the “tax consequences” associated with the division of marital property if one of the parties “will be required to liquidate assets to pay marital debts.” Morgan v. Morgan, 795 P.2d 684, 690 (Utah Ct. App. 1990)

Even so, if the tax implications of the division and disposition of the marital are important, they should be made specific trial issues, and the parties should expressly ask that the court consider and should minimize adverse tax consequences incidental to the disposition of the marital estate. Many treatises and practice guides recommend that every argument at the motion and trial level address the tax implications of the argument in detail, backed by not only the documentary evidence but the expert explanations, analyses, and opinions of an accountant.

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

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Clark v. Clark – 2023 UT App 111 – divorce, exhibits, dissipation

Clark v. Clark – 2023 UT App 111

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

SUSAN JEANNE CLARK,

Appellee,

v.

RICHARD LEE CLARK,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210713-CA

Filed September 28, 2023

Fourth District Court, Heber Department

The Honorable Jennifer A. Brown

No. 184500153

Karra J. Porter and Kristen C. Kiburtz, Attorneys for Appellant

Julie J. Nelson, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE AMY J. OLIVER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES

MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and RYAN D. TENNEY

concurred.

OLIVER, Judge:

¶1        Richard Lee Clark appeals from the district court’s decision following a two-day divorce trial. Clark challenges several aspects of the court’s ruling, including a discovery sanction for his failure to timely disclose his trial exhibits under rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure; findings relating to his claim that his ex-wife, Susan Jeanne Clark, dissipated the marital estate; and the court’s division of the marital property. We affirm the district court’s ruling with the exception of one aspect of the district court’s marital property determination, which we vacate and remand for additional findings.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Richard and Susan[1] married in 2002, when Richard was in his sixties and Susan was in her fifties. Richard was retired from military service and from employment as an attorney with the Department of Justice. Susan owned a wallpaper business when she met Richard but quit working shortly after they married. For the next six years, Richard and Susan lived off Richard’s retirement income from both the Army and the Department of Justice.

¶3        In 2008, Richard came out of retirement to work for a government contractor in Afghanistan, where he lived for thirty-eight months. During that time, Richard’s retirement and employment income of $814,627 was deposited into a joint account that Susan controlled. Richard returned home to find “probably about $100,000 . . . had been saved” in the joint bank account—much less than he expected—yet he said nothing to Susan at that time.

¶4        Three years after his return, Richard moved into the basement of the marital home. The following year, in 2016, Susan transferred approximately $78,000 from their joint account into her personal account, prompting Richard to confront her about what he viewed as missing money from his time in Afghanistan. Two years later, in 2018, Susan filed for divorce. Shortly afterward, Richard purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with financing, which he paid off in 2020.

¶5        At the time of their divorce, Richard and Susan owned two real properties—a condo in Norfolk, Virginia (Mooring Drive), and a home in Kamas, Utah (Ross Creek). Richard had purchased Mooring Drive before the marriage for approximately $205,000. In 2003, Richard added Susan to the title of Mooring Drive, which allowed her to vote at the condominium association’s meetings and to join the board. The following year, Richard and Susan used equity loans on Mooring Drive to finance the purchase and construction of Ross Creek. From 2009—when Susan moved to Utah and Richard was in Afghanistan—until June 2019, Richard rented Mooring Drive out to others and the revenues were deposited into his separate account that was designated to pay for the property’s expenses.

¶6        During their marriage, the parties took out an equity loan on Ross Creek that matured, along with one of the equity loans from Mooring Drive, in 2019. With the divorce still pending, Susan agreed to refinance Ross Creek’s mortgage to pay off the two equity loans that were due, but only if Richard would stipulate that Mooring Drive and Ross Creek were marital property and were subject to equitable division in their pending divorce. Richard agreed, and the parties stipulated that “the Ross Creek and Mooring Drive properties shall remain marital property and shall be subject to equitable division in the parties’ divorce notwithstanding that the Ross Creek home and Mooring Drive property will no longer be jointly titled.”

¶7        In April 2019, the Mooring Drive tenants’ lease expired. Richard decided he could only offer the tenants a month-to-month lease until his divorce was over. When the tenants declined to renew and moved out in June, Richard withdrew $30,000 from the joint bank account, claiming that he needed the funds to cover Mooring Drive’s expenses. After a hearing, the court entered temporary orders in December 2019, permitting Richard to access equity in Ross Creek to pay off debt on Mooring Drive but denying his “request for financial relief based on the loss of rental income because [Richard] ha[d] not made any attempt to secure new renters.”

¶8        Trial was originally scheduled for June 2020, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and courts were required to hold bench trials virtually, Richard declined to proceed with a virtual trial, and it was continued without a date. In February 2021, the court held a pretrial scheduling conference and rescheduled the trial for May 2021. The court’s pretrial order stated the parties must produce pretrial disclosures on or before April 26, 2021, pursuant to rule 26(a)(5)(B) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure.

¶9        Richard missed the deadline. A week after it passed, he requested a continuance to hire trial counsel. Richard had been representing himself as a pro se litigant despite being eighty-four years old and not having practiced law since 1988. According to Richard, health issues arose that made him “no longer physically and mentally capable of representing” himself. The court granted the motion, rescheduling the trial for June. The new deadline for pretrial disclosures became May 24, but Richard did not submit his pretrial disclosures until June 10—eleven days before trial.

¶10      The two-day trial began with Susan’s objection to Richard’s untimely pretrial disclosures. Susan contended that Richard had “ample opportunity” to produce his pretrial disclosures given the multiple continuances of the trial. In response, Richard claimed his failure to meet the disclosure deadline was harmless because he had previously produced as discovery responses the 339 pages of financial documents—including check registers, paystubs from 2008 to 2009, and bank account information from 2011 to 2012— that he sought to admit as exhibits 2 through 8. Yet Richard did not file certificates of service for those responses, and neither party’s counsel could confirm whether Richard had previously sent the documents in exhibits 2 through 8 to Susan, leaving the district court with only Richard’s testimony to support the claim that he had previously disclosed the exhibits. The district court sustained Susan’s objection as to exhibits 2 through 8, excluding them from trial.

¶11      Both Susan and Richard testified at trial. Susan testified Richard had transferred $30,000 from their joint account to his personal account in June 2019 and contended she was entitled to half of that amount. Susan also testified about her exhibits that provided recent balances in her bank and retirement accounts.

¶12      On cross-examination, Susan admitted she had not looked for work and was unemployed despite the court’s urging in 2020 for her to seek employment. Richard then peppered Susan about numerous expenditures during his time in Afghanistan, to which Susan replied that it “was a number of years ago” and she “ha[d] no recollection at all” of the transactions. Susan did state, however, that when Richard left for Afghanistan, she recalled they “had very large credit card balances” that Richard instructed her “to start paying off” while he was away.

¶13 First testifying as Susan’s witness, Richard answered questions about some of the marital property. He testified about a recent appraisal of Mooring Drive that valued it at $390,000, his three life insurance policies that all list Susan as the beneficiary, and his purchase of the Harley-Davidson in May 2019. Susan then introduced a pleading Richard had filed with the court in November 2019 that stated, in relevant part, he had “owned three motorcycles, selling the last one when [he] moved to Norfolk,” but he has “never ridden a Harley-Davidson.” Richard replied that he had “misstated the fact,” both in that pleading and at a hearing the same month when he told the court he did not own a Harley-Davidson. Richard testified he should receive three-fourths of the equity in Mooring Drive because he purchased it before the marriage. Unable to provide a figure for what the property was worth when he married Susan, Richard claimed that “the[] prices have gone up and gone down a great deal” since their marriage, but his best guess was that Mooring Drive appreciated from $205,000 to $350,000 between 2000 and 2002. Richard continued to do some impromptu math on the stand to clarify how much equity he felt he was owed, asserting that since Mooring Drive was recently appraised at $390,000 and had been worth $350,000 in 2002—by his best guess—there is $40,000 of equity for them to divide, but then he admitted such valuation “is something I’m just not knowledgeable about.”

¶14      As his own witness, Richard testified about Susan’s alleged dissipation during his time in Afghanistan. Richard’s excluded exhibits went to the issue of dissipation, so without the financial documents from that period, Richard sought to prove Susan “dissipated money while [he] was in Afghanistan” through his testimony about his earnings and typical expenses during that time frame. Using the excluded exhibits to refresh his recollection, Richard estimated their monthly expenses before he left were approximately $10,000 to $11,000. Richard also challenged Susan’s testimony about credit card balances, claiming that “there weren’t any large credit card balances before [he] left.”

¶15      At the conclusion of trial, the district court asked both parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in lieu of closing arguments. After issuing an oral ruling, the district court memorialized its decision in written findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court found that Richard’s “testimony was insufficient to establish his [dissipation] claim” and that Richard had “failed to meet his burden of demonstrating dissipation.” The court also found “problems with the credibility of both parties,” specifically finding that Susan’s “credibility was lacking with regards to the dissipation issue” and Richard’s “credibility was lacking with regards to his motorcycle purchase.” Susan was awarded Ross Creek’s equity, and Richard was awarded Mooring Drive’s. The court awarded Susan $2,500 per month in alimony and an offset of $43,474 (from Richard’s purchase of the Harley-Davidson and his $30,000 withdrawal from the joint account) “to achieve an equitable division of the estate.” The court found Richard “withdrew $30,000 from the joint account without [Susan’s] knowledge or consent and deposited it into his own personal account,” but it made no findings as to how Richard spent the $30,000.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶16      Richard raises three main issues for our review. First, Richard challenges the district court’s exclusion of his exhibits for his failure to comply with rule 26(a)(5) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. A district court “has broad discretion regarding the imposition of discovery sanctions,” and when we apply “the abuse of discretion standard to the district court’s imposition of a particular sanction, we give the district court a great deal of latitude.” Bodell Constr. Co. v. Robbins, 2009 UT 52, ¶ 35, 215 P.3d 933 (cleaned up).

¶17 Second, Richard contends the district court erred in its application of the burden of proof on Richard’s dissipation claim. A district court’s “allocation of the burden of proof is . . . a question of law that we review for correctness.” Salt Lake City Corp. v. Jordan River Restoration Network, 2018 UT 62, ¶ 20, 435 P.3d 179.

¶18      Finally, Richard challenges the district court’s division of the property, including the court’s finding that the marital estate included Mooring Drive and the Harley-Davidson, and its decision to deduct from the marital estate the $30,000 Richard withdrew from the parties’ joint account. A district court “has considerable discretion considering property division in a divorce proceeding, thus its actions enjoy a presumption of validity,” and “we will disturb the district court’s division only if there is a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law indicating an abuse of discretion.” Beckham v. Beckham, 2022 UT App 65, ¶ 6, 511 P.3d 1253 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I. Pretrial Disclosures

¶19      Richard asserts the district court abused its discretion in excluding his exhibits 2 through 8 for failure to comply with rule 26(a)(5) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure because he “produced the documents that comprised the exhibits” during discovery and any “technical non-compliance with that rule” was “harmless.” We disagree.

¶20      Rule 26 governs “disclosure and discovery” in civil matters and requires parties to provide “a copy of each exhibit, including charts, summaries, and demonstrative exhibits, unless solely for impeachment, separately identifying those which the party will offer and those which the party may offer . . . . at least 28 days before trial.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(5). A party who fails to timely disclose exhibits “may not use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at . . . trial unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.” Id. R. 26(d)(4). A district court “has broad discretion in selecting and imposing sanctions for discovery violations under rule 26,” and “appellate courts may not interfere with such discretion unless there is either an erroneous conclusion of law or no evidentiary basis for the district court’s ruling.” Wallace v. Niels Fugal Sons Co., 2022 UT App 111, ¶ 26, 518 P.3d 184 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1267 (Utah 2023).

¶21      Richard does not dispute that he failed to timely disclose exhibits 2 through 8. Instead, Richard argues he produced the documents in those exhibits to Susan in earlier discovery responses, so his failure to timely file pretrial disclosures was harmless, and he further argues that it was Susan’s burden to prove she had not received them. In response, Susan asserts it was Richard’s burden, not hers, to prove that he produced the documents earlier in discovery, and the failure to file his pretrial disclosures pursuant to rule 26(a)(5) was not harmless. We agree with Susan on both fronts.

¶22 First, “the burden to demonstrate harmlessness or good cause is clearly on the party seeking relief from disclosure requirements.” Dierl v. Birkin, 2023 UT App 6, ¶ 32, 525 P.3d 127 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 527 P.3d 1107 (Utah 2023). Second, Richard failed to carry his burden of demonstrating harmlessness. Although Richard “assured [his counsel] that he [had] produced records related to this 2008-to-2012 timeframe,” he did not file the required certificates of service. See Utah R. Civ. P. 26(f) (requiring a party to file “the certificate of service stating that the disclosure, request for discovery, or response has been served on the other parties and the date of service”). Thus, Richard failed to prove that the documents had previously been produced.

¶23 But even if he had proved prior production, excusing pretrial disclosures if the documents were produced earlier in discovery would “eviscerate[] the rule that explicitly requires parties to” serve a copy of the documents they intend to use “in their case-in-chief at trial.” Johansen v. Johansen, 2021 UT App 130, ¶¶ 19, 26, 504 P.3d 152 (rejecting argument to follow the spirit of rule 26 rather than “the plain language of rule 26” regarding pretrial disclosures); see also Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(5)(A)(iv) (requiring pretrial disclosure of “each exhibit” the party will or may offer at trial). And expecting a party to sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of documents that were produced earlier by the other side during discovery and then expecting the party to predict which ones the opposing party might seek to admit at trial would be harmful and would violate the intent of rule 26.

¶24 Ultimately, “a court’s determination with respect to harmlessness . . . . is a discretionary call,” and our review of it “is necessarily deferential.” Johansen, 2021 UT App 130, ¶ 11 (cleaned up). Thus, the district court was well within its “broad discretion” to exclude Richard’s exhibits 2 through 8 under these circumstances. See Wallace, 2022 UT App 111, ¶ 26 (cleaned up).

II. Dissipation

¶25 Richard claims the district court erred in finding that he failed to meet the burden of proof on his dissipation claim. We disagree.

¶26      “The marital estate is generally valued at the time of the divorce decree or trial.” Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 49, 299 P.3d 1079 (cleaned up). “But where one party has dissipated an asset,” the “trial court may, in the exercise of its equitable powers,” “hold one party accountable to the other for the dissipation.” Id. (cleaned up). A court’s inquiry into a dissipation claim may consider “a number of factors,” such as “(1) how the money was spent, including whether funds were used to pay legitimate marital expenses or individual expenses; (2) the parties’ historical practices; (3) the magnitude of any depletion; (4) the timing of the challenged actions in relation to the separation and divorce; and (5) any obstructive efforts that hinder the valuation of the assets.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 69, 507 P.3d 385 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022).

¶27 The burden of proof for dissipation initially falls on the party alleging it. See Parker v. Parker, 2000 UT App 30, ¶ 15, 996 P.2d 565 (stating that a party seeking to assert dissipation must make an “initial showing of apparent dissipation”). The district court correctly concluded that Richard bore the “burden of demonstrating dissipation.” To meet the “initial showing of apparent dissipation,” the party alleging dissipation must first show evidence of dissipation. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. Only after “present[ing] the trial court with evidence tending to show that [Susan] had dissipated marital assets” does the burden shift to Susan “to show that the funds were not dissipated, but were used for some legitimate marital purpose.” Id. ¶ 13.

¶28 Richard’s documentary evidence on this issue had been excluded by the court, so the only evidence he presented was his testimony in 2021 that his income while in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2012 exceeded the estimated historical marital expenses from before 2008, some thirteen years earlier. Richard asserts that his testimony alone should suffice for an initial showing of dissipation. In Parker v. Parker, 2000 UT App 30, ¶ 15, 996 P.2d 565, the husband “presented the trial court with evidence” that detailed how the wife had dissipated marital assets—exact beginning and ending balances for eight bank accounts, the marital expenses during the time in question, and specific checks the wife wrote to herself—thus shifting the burden to the wife. Id. ¶ 13. But Richard, like the wife in Parker, only “testified in conclusory and cryptic terms,” and thus “wholly failed to meet [his] burden.” Id. ¶ 14.

¶29      Therefore, the district court was well within its discretion to decide that Richard’s uncorroborated testimony about Susan’s spending that occurred many years before either party contemplated divorce[2] was insufficient evidence to meet his initial burden of proving dissipation. Accordingly, the district court did not err in its finding that Richard failed to meet his burden of proof on the dissipation claim.

III. Marital Property

¶30      Richard presents three challenges to the district court’s division of the marital property. First, Richard asserts he is entitled to his premarital contribution to Mooring Drive. Second, he alleges the Harley-Davidson he purchased during the pendency of the divorce is his separate property. Third, Richard claims the court should not have deducted from the marital estate the $30,000 that he withdrew from the joint account in June 2019.

We affirm the district court’s decision on Richard’s first two challenges and vacate the decision on the third, remanding the matter for additional findings.

A.        Mooring Drive

¶31      Although the district court awarded Richard the equity in Mooring Drive when it divided the marital estate, it did not also award Richard any premarital equity in the property for three reasons. First, it found that Richard “formally stipulated that Ross Creek and Mooring Drive were marital property subject to division in this divorce action.” Second, it found that “through a series of refinances, [Richard] transferred equity from Ross Creek to Mooring Drive, and paid expenses associated with both properties with marital funds.” Third, it found that Richard “formally conveyed the property to himself and [Susan] in 2003” when he added Susan’s name to the title. Because we affirm the district court’s decision not to award Richard any premarital equity on the basis of the parties’ stipulation, we do not address the other two reasons the district court relied upon.

¶32 Richard and Susan stipulated that “the Ross Creek and Mooring Drive properties shall remain marital property and shall be subject to equitable division in the parties’ divorce, notwithstanding that the Ross Creek home and Mooring Drive property will no longer be jointly titled.” Richard now claims that despite the language of the stipulation, he “never agreed that he should not be compensated for his premarital and separate contributions to Mooring Drive before the property became marital.” Furthermore, Richard argues, “nowhere in the stipulation did he agree that he was waiving his premarital equity in that property.”

¶33 Richard’s argument is flawed. “Parties to a divorce are bound by the terms of their stipulated agreement.” McQuarrie v. McQuarrie, 2021 UT 22, ¶ 18, 496 P.3d 44. And according to the “ordinary contract principles” that govern “contracts between spouses,” see Ashby v. Ashby, 2010 UT 7, ¶ 21, 227 P.3d 246 (cleaned up), “if the language within the four corners of the contract is unambiguous, the parties’ intentions are determined from the plain meaning of the contractual language,” Green River Canal Co. v. Thayn, 2003 UT 50, ¶ 17, 84 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). See also Mind & Motion Utah Invs., LLC v. Celtic Bank Corp., 2016 UT 6, ¶ 24, 367 P.3d 994 (holding that “the best indication of the parties’ intent is the ordinary meaning of the contract’s terms”); Ocean 18 LLC v. Overage Refund Specialists LLC (In re Excess Proceeds from the Foreclosure of 1107 Snowberry St.), 2020 UT App 54, ¶ 22, 474 P.3d 481 (holding that where the “contract is facially unambiguous, the parties’ intentions are determined from the plain meaning of the contractual language . . . without resort to parol evidence” (cleaned up)).

¶34      Richard essentially argues that the district court erred when it refused to go beyond the stipulation’s language and infer his intention from what he omitted. But the district court was correct when it interpreted the parties’ intentions by what the plain language of the stipulation does say and not by what it does not. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it abided by the parties’ stipulation and included Mooring Drive as marital property, “subject to equitable division.”

B.        The Harley-Davidson

¶35      “Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, all property acquired by parties to a marriage is marital property, owned equally by each party.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 126, 456 P.3d 276. Thus, the presumption is that property acquired during the pendency of a divorce is marital, not separate. Richard failed to rebut this presumption regarding the Harley-Davidson motorcycle he purchased because he failed to present evidence that he used separate funds.

¶36 Richard argued that he purchased the Harley-Davidson from separate, rather than marital, funds in his proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.[3] To be clear, Richard does not assert that the Harley-Davidson is separate property because he purchased it after the parties separated or after Susan filed for divorce. Instead, he argues the only funds available to him to purchase the motorcycle came from his “separate premarital retirement income.” Richard’s argument fails for two reasons. First, Richard did not present evidence to support his argument that the funds he used to purchase the motorcycle came from separate, not marital, funds. Instead, Richard essentially places his burden on the district court by asserting, on appeal, that “[t]here was no marital account identified by the district court from which [Richard] could have made that purchase.” But Richard, not the court, bears the burden of identifying where the funds came from that he used to purchase the motorcycle.

¶37      Second, the district court found credibility problems with Richard’s testimony about the Harley-Davidson, concluding that Richard’s “credibility was lacking with regards to his motorcycle purchase.”[4] A district court “is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses and is free to disbelieve their testimony” or “disregard such testimony if it finds the evidence self-serving and not credible.” Ouk v. Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14, 348 P.3d 751 (cleaned up).

¶38      In sum, as “property acquired during [the] marriage,” the Harley-Davidson is presumptively “marital property subject to equitable distribution.” Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 26. Richard bore the burden of proof to rebut the presumption that the funds he used to purchase the Harley-Davidson were not marital, and he presented no credible evidence to the district court to support that position. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion by including the motorcycle in the marital estate.

C.        $30,000 Offset

¶39      Finally, Richard challenges the district court’s decision to include in the marital estate the $30,000 he withdrew from the joint account. The district court agreed with Susan that because Richard had made a unilateral withdrawal from the joint account during the pendency of the divorce, he should be held accountable for that withdrawal. Richard, on the other hand, claims he used the money for marital expenses, paying costs associated with Mooring Drive. Susan argues the money could also have been spent on personal items including travel and motorcycle payments and accessories. “How the money was spent, including whether [the] funds were used to pay legitimate marital expenses or individual expenses,” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 69, 507 P.3d 385 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022), is a critical question that needs to be resolved.

¶40 Divorce cases often require district courts to make numerous findings of fact. And generally speaking, “for findings of fact to be adequate, they must show that the court’s judgment or decree follows logically from, and is supported by, the evidence” and such findings “should be sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” Armed Forces Ins. Exch. v. Harrison, 2003 UT 14, ¶ 28, 70 P.3d 35 (cleaned up). Moreover, when it comes to the “unequal division of marital property,” a district court must “memorialize[] in . . . detailed findings the exceptional circumstances supporting the distribution.” Bradford v. Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 27, 993 P.2d 887 (cleaned up). “Without adequate findings detailing why [one spouse] should be entitled to such an unequal split of the marital estate, we cannot affirm the court’s award.” Fischer v. Fischer, 2021 UT App 145, ¶ 29, 505 P.3d 56; see, e.g.Rothwell v. Rothwell, 2023 UT App 50, ¶ 57, 531 P.3d 225 (concluding that “we simply do not have enough information” to rule on whether the funds were marital or separate, “let alone to conclude that the district court

. . . erred”).

¶41      We face the same dilemma here. The district court made no findings as to how Richard spent the $30,000. The written ruling merely states, “In June 2019, [Richard] withdrew $30,000 from the joint account without [Susan’s] knowledge or consent and deposited it into his own personal account.” “We will not imply any missing finding where there is a matrix of possible factual findings and we cannot ascertain the trial court’s actual findings.” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1025–26 (Utah Ct. App. 1993). Without “adequate findings” on whether Richard used the funds for marital expenses or not, “we cannot affirm,” nor properly review, the court’s decision to offset the $30,000 against Richard in its division of the marital estate. See Fischer, 2021 UT App 145, ¶ 29. Therefore, we vacate this portion of the decision and remand the matter to the district court for it to enter findings on how the funds were spent.

CONCLUSION

¶42 The district court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded Richard’s exhibits for failure to comply with rule 26(a)(5) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court also did not err in its conclusion that Richard failed to meet the burden of proof for his dissipation claim nor did it abuse its discretion in how it divided the marital estate with respect to Mooring Drive and the Harley-Davidson. We vacate the district court’s decision to offset the $30,000 against Richard when it divided the marital estate and remand the matter for the district court to enter additional findings and to alter its conclusion as may be necessary.


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

[2] Susan invites us to join some other states in drawing a bright-line rule concerning the timing of a dissipation claim and limit pre-separation dissipation claims to those occurring (1) in contemplation of divorce or separation or (2) when the marriage is in serious jeopardy or undergoing an irretrievable breakdown. Under our caselaw, the district court is empowered to consider the “timing of the challenged actions in relation to the separation and divorce” as one of several factors when determining “whether a party should be held accountable for the dissipation of marital assets.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 33, 440 P.3d 757 (cleaned up). We see no need to alter this approach. Assessing timing as one factor among many provides the greatest flexibility to the district court to consider all the circumstances in a particular case, and we believe the district court is in the best position to evaluate the importance of such evidence on a case-by-case basis.

[3] Because the district court directed the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in lieu of closing arguments, Richard’s argument was preserved for our review.

[4] Indeed, in its oral ruling, the court stated that Richard “lied to the Court about the purchase of the motorcycle.”

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Knight v. Knight – 2023 UT App 86 – trusts and alimony

Knight v. Knight – 2023 UT App 86

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JARED M. KNIGHT,

Appellee,

v.

REBECCA B. KNIGHT,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210080-CA

Filed August 10, 2023

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Robert P. Faust

No. 184902185

Julie J. Nelson, Taylor Webb, and Stephen C. Clark,

Attorneys for Appellant

Bart J. Johnsen and Alan S. Mouritsen,

Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which

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

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        After a trial on cross-petitions, the district court entered

findings of fact and conclusions of law and a final decree divorcing Rebecca and Jared Knight. Rebecca[1] appeals several aspects of the divorce decree, including the court’s determination that she had no interest in a trust Jared’s father established before the marriage and several of the court’s calculations related to alimony. We affirm the district court’s ruling with respect to Jared’s trust, and we affirm in part and reverse in part with respect to the alimony calculations.

BACKGROUND

¶2        In October 1994, Jared’s father, L. Randy Knight, created the RKF Jared M. Knight Trust (the Trust), an irrevocable trust. Randy named Jared as the sole beneficiary of the Trust and transferred a significant interest in RKF, LLC—an Arizona limited liability company formed in 1994 by Randy—to the Trust. The trust agreement for the Trust (Trust Agreement) specified that the Trust would be governed by Arizona law. The Trust Agreement also contained a “spendthrift provision” declaring that Jared lacked the “right to assign, transfer, encumber, or hypothecate his . . . interest in the principal or income of the [T]rust in any manner.” Additionally, the Trust Agreement granted Jared a power of withdrawal over the Trust principal such that Jared could withdraw up to one-fourth of the principal at age 30 (June 2002), up to one-third of the principal at age 35 (June 2007), and all the principal at age 40 (June 2012). To exercise this power, Jared would need to make “a request in writing.”

¶3        In October 1995, Jared and Rebecca were married. During their marriage, the parties enjoyed a lavish lifestyle funded, in part, by the wealth of Jared’s family.

¶4        In March 2008, Rebecca and Jared executed a “Property Agreement” (the Property Agreement), which stated, “All property which is now owned by JARED or by REBECCA, individually, . . . is hereby declared to be, and hereby is, the community property of JARED and REBECCA.” The Property Agreement specified that “to the extent necessary, JARED and REBECCA each hereby gives, grants, conveys and assigns to the other an interest in his or her property . . . so as to transmute[2] such property into the community property of JARED and REBECCA.” The Property Agreement further declared, “All property hereafter acquired by JARED and REBECCA, or either of them, . . . shall be deemed to be, and hereby declared to be, the community property of JARED and REBECCA.” However, the Property Agreement carved out an exception: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, any property received by JARED and REBECCA by gift or inheritance after the date of this [Property] Agreement shall be the sole and separate property of the person receiving it, unless that person declares otherwise in writing.” The Property Agreement is, like the Trust, governed by Arizona law.

¶5        In 2016, the Trust was decanted[3] into a new trust. The new trust named Jared as sole initial trustee and therefore permitted Jared to distribute to himself, “upon his written request, up to the balance of the principal of his trust at any time.”

¶6        In April 2018, Jared filed for divorce. Rebecca ultimately filed an amended counterclaim alleging that the principal of the Trust was marital property and therefore subject to equitable distribution under the terms of the Property Agreement.

¶7        Jared filed a motion for partial summary judgment on this point, arguing that the Property Agreement “did not transmute assets held by the [Trust]” into marital property. Jared asserted that the Property Agreement did not apply to the Trust because, at the time he entered into the Property Agreement, he did not own the Trust principal under Arizona law. He pointed to the statute in effect in 2008—the year the parties entered into the Property Agreement—which stated that “if the trust instrument provides that a beneficiary’s interest in principal is not subject to voluntary or involuntary transfer, the beneficiary’s interest in principal shall not be transferred.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14­7702(a) (2008). The statute further specified that a court may not order the satisfaction of a money judgment against a beneficiary until “[a]fter an amount of principal becomes immediately due and payable to the beneficiary.” Id. § 14-7702(b). It explained that “[i]f an amount of principal is due and payable only at a future date, or only on the occurrence of a future event, whether the occurrence of that event is within the control of the beneficiary, the amount of the principal is not immediately due and payable to the beneficiary.” Id. Jared asserted that the Trust’s “disbursement mechanism squarely fit[] within the framework of Arizona Revised Statute Section 14-7702(B) as it was written in 2008” because the Trust’s requirement that Jared submit a written request for disbursement of the Trust principal rendered the principal “not immediately due and payable.” See id. And Jared argued that, because he never submitted a written disbursement request or withdrew any principal of the Trust, “[a]s a matter of Arizona law as it existed at the time that the Property Agreement was executed in 2008, no amount of the Trust principal is ‘now owned’ or ‘hereafter acquired’” by Jared, so the Property Agreement did not apply to the Trust.

¶8        Rebecca opposed Jared’s motion and filed her own motion for partial summary judgment. Rebecca argued that Jared’s beneficial interest in the Trust was a property interest that Jared owned at the time of the Property Agreement. She also asserted that Jared’s power of withdrawal gave him an ownership interest in the Trust principal that he was eligible to withdraw as of the date of the Property Agreement. She said, “Consistent with the common understanding of ‘property’ as comprising a set of rights (a ‘bundle of sticks’ in the law-school formulation), if among those rights a person has the right to control the disposition of an asset, that asset is his property, and he has ownership of the property.” Rebecca further avowed that “[t]he Arizona statute on which Jared relies . . . has nothing to do with the question before this [c]ourt” because it applies to “the rights of ‘creditors’ to access property held in trust for a beneficiary when the trust features a ‘spendthrift’ clause” and Rebecca was not a creditor. Accordingly, Rebecca claimed that the Trust’s spendthrift clause “did not limit Jared’s ability to transmute his property interest in the Trust or its underlying assets into community property, and he plainly did so by signing the Property Agreement.” Rebecca argued that the Restatement (Third) of Trusts instead applied and made it “clear that trust assets subject to an exercisable power of withdrawal are ‘property.’” (Citing Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 56 cmt. b. (Am. L. Inst. 2003) (“Trust property subject to a presently exercisable general power of appointment (a power by which the property may be appointed to the donee, including one in the form of a power of withdrawal), because of the power’s equivalence to ownership, is treated as property of the donee.” (emphasis added))).

¶9        The court denied Rebecca’s motion for partial summary judgment and granted Jared’s. The court reasoned that “the legal position taken in [t]he Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 56 was not the law in Arizona until 2009, when it [was] partially codified as part of the Arizona Trust Code,” and it rejected Rebecca’s argument that “the spendthrift clause specifically disengages for purposes of the exercise of a power of withdrawal [and] expressly allows a trustee to transfer withdrawn property to a beneficiary.” The court determined, instead, that Arizona Revised Statutes section 14-7702 applied because—regardless of whether Rebecca was a “creditor”—“that statute . . . define[d] when an amount is due and payable and separately define[d] the rights of creditors.”

Accordingly, the court concluded that “[n]o amount of the Trust principal is due or payable within the meaning of that statute, and it is therefore protected against . . . the disbursement sought by [Rebecca].” The court thus ruled that because Jared’s interest in the Trust principal was “not subject to voluntary or involuntary transfer,” see Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14-7702(a) (2008), it could not be transferred through the Property Agreement.

¶10 The parties then proceeded to trial on the other issues involved in their divorce, including distribution of the marital estate and alimony. The district court entered its order, later entering its findings of fact and conclusions of law and issuing the divorce decree. As relevant to this appeal, in its alimony calculations, the court made several reductions to Rebecca’s claimed expenses.

¶11      First, the court made several modifications to the expenses Rebecca submitted related to home maintenance. The court eliminated the snow removal expense of $175 per month, stating, “The parties never paid for snow removal during the marriage[,] and this expense was not part of the marital [lifestyle].” It eliminated the monthly “[p]ool/[s]pa maintenance” expense of $373.33, reasoning that “[t]he parties did not have pool maintenance expense[s] during the marriage as the pool was maintained by the parties” and “[t]his new expense was only incurred after separation and because [Rebecca] is not cleaning the pool despite acknowledging she is capable of doing so.” And it eliminated the monthly landscaping expense of $414.66 because “[t]his was not an expense that was incurred during the marriage as the yard work was done by the parties themselves.” It continued, “[Rebecca] further acknowledged that she is capable of yard work. Also, [Jared] has not requested that he [have] third parties do his yard maintenance.”

¶12      Next, the district court modified several of Rebecca’s expenses related to health and personal care. It reduced Rebecca’s health care insurance expense from $757 per month to $411 per month, explaining,

[Rebecca] is not incurring this expense but is covered under the parties’ current policy. In addition, no written evidence was provided as to the costs for health care coverage for [Rebecca]. [Rebecca] acknowledged the $757 was for a policy with no deductibles[,] which is not the same level of policy the parties currently have in place, which has [an] $8,000 a year deductible. Further, the [c]ourt has received evidence in other cases that health care coverage for a single person can be obtained in the $400 to $500 a month range. Therefore, the [c]ourt adjusts [Rebecca’s] coverage to be consistent with [the] current known expense of health care of the parties and which [Jared] established at $411 a month.

The court also reduced Rebecca’s expense for personal grooming from $949.83 per month to $500 a month. It stated,

[Rebecca’s] evidence of getting a haircut twice a year and having her nails and eye lashes done monthly to every six (6) weeks did not establish this claimed and requested expense of $11,397.96 a year for personal expenses. [Jared] did not ask for any personal grooming as part of his expenses relating to the marital standard of living[,] and he [is] not getting the $500 [Rebecca] is being awarded.

¶13 Finally, the court made several adjustments to Rebecca’s claimed expenses related to savings. The court eliminated Rebecca’s “[s]avings [p]lan contribution” of $2,500 per month. The court explained,

[Rebecca] admitted that this amount was only an estimate on her part in that she thought the parties may have saved $30,000 a year. [Jared’s] testimony was the parties did not contribute to any savings plan for the parties in any amount on a monthly or regular basis. Rather, the parties would save money as they had it in differing amounts and when there were sufficient funds to purchase what they wanted, the parties would spen[d] the money on cars and other purchases. No savings program was done during the marriage. In addition, [Jared] has not requested a savings plan as part of his expenses, and he is entitled to the same marital standard as [Rebecca].

The court eliminated “[r]etirement deposits” of $500 per month, stating,

The evidence adduced at trial established the parties never saved $500 a month for retirement. Further, [Jared] did not ask for retirement as part of his expenses relating to the marital standard of living[,] giving further credibility to this fact. The evidence was any retirement amounts for the parties was only set aside and deposited in three (3) of the twenty-seven (27) years of marriage.

The court eliminated Rebecca’s “additional capital/investment funds” of $7,279 monthly because “[t]he testimony and evidence established there never was any such capital or investment funds like this during the marriage. Further, no testimony was provided as to how this figure was arrived at to be claimed in the first place.” The court declared that “[t]his is simply a request, which is unfounded and which the [c]ourt finds is an attempt to inflate [Rebecca’s] expenses.”

¶14      Rebecca now appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶15 Rebecca presents three issues on appeal. First, she asserts that “the district court erred when it determined, on summary judgment, that Rebecca had no interest in [the] Trust.” “When an appellate court reviews a district court’s grant of summary judgment, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, while the district court’s legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment are reviewed for correctness.” Massey v. Griffiths, 2007 UT 10, ¶ 8, 152 P.3d 312 (cleaned up).

¶16 Second, Rebecca argues that even “if the district court’s interpretation and application of Arizona law to the Trust and the Property Agreement were correct, it nonetheless abused its discretion when it refused to divide the Trust on equitable grounds.” “District courts have considerable discretion concerning property distribution in a divorce[,] and we will uphold the decision of the district court unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Gerwe v. Gerwe, 2018 UT App 75, ¶ 8, 424 P.3d 1113 (cleaned up).

¶17      Third, Rebecca contends that “the district court erred in its calculation of alimony.” “A district court’s award of alimony is reviewed for abuse of discretion.” Id. ¶ 9. “Although trial courts have broad latitude in determining whether to award alimony and in setting the amount, and 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,” including if the court commits legal error. Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I. Rebecca’s Interest in the Trust

¶18      Rebecca argues that the district court erred in ruling that she was not entitled to an equitable share of the Trust. Rebecca first asserts that the court erred in applying the 2008 Arizona Trust Code (the 2008 Code) because the 2009 Arizona Trust Code (the 2009 Code) applied retroactively and indicated that Jared’s power of withdrawal gave him an ownership interest subject to transmutation under the Property Agreement. She also argues, alternatively, that even if the 2008 Code applies, Jared’s interest in the Trust was marital property. Jared counters that the 2008 Code applies, that his “interest in the Trust principal was bound by a valid spendthrift provision” at the time of the Property Agreement, and that it was therefore not transferrable through the Property Agreement.

¶19 We agree with Jared and uphold the district court’s decision on this issue. First, we conclude that the 2009 Code does not retroactively modify the nature of Jared’s interest in the Trust at the time of the Property Agreement.[4] Even if application of the 2009 Code would have the effect Rebecca claims, we cannot apply that version of the code.

¶20      Arizona law indicates that “beginning on January 1, 2009[,] . . . [the 2009 Code] applies to all trusts created before, on or after January 1, 2009.” Act of Dec. 31, 2008, ch. 247 § 18(A)(1), 2008 Ariz. Sess. Laws 1179, 1179 (2nd Reg. Sess.). The parties entered the Property Agreement in March 2008. Because this date predates January 1, 2009, the 2009 Code had not taken effect at the time the parties signed the Property Agreement and therefore had no application to the Trust. Indeed, the Arizona Legislature did not leave this point ambiguous but rather included a specific provision stating that “[a]n act done before January 1, 2009[,] is not affected by this act.” Id. Arizona caselaw has interpreted this exception to mean that the preexisting law governed until January 1, 2009. See Favour v. Favour, No. 1 CA-CV 13-0196, 2014 WL 546361, ¶ 30 (Ariz. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2014) (stating that a previous statute “governs actions taken by a trustee prior to implementation of the Arizona Trust Code . . . on January 1, 2009,” and that the earlier statute “recognized the trustee’s investment and management authority,” so “as a matter of law, [the trustee] had the authority to invest, trade, diversify, and manage trust assets prior to January 1, 2009” (cleaned up)); In re Esther Caplan Trust, 265 P.3d 364, 366 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2011) (“The past principal distributions are not governed by [the 2009 Code]. That statute became effective after the challenged distributions were made. The predecessor statute . . . merely required a trustee to keep the beneficiaries of the trust reasonably informed of the trust and its administration. The record establishes that [the appellee] complied with these relatively minimal requirements.” (cleaned up)).

¶21      Accordingly, at the time the parties signed the Property Agreement, the 2008 Code was in effect. If the parties had signed the Property Agreement on, say, January 2, 2009, the 2009 Code could retroactively apply to the Trust—though it was created in 1994—to govern its terms. But because the Property Agreement was signed before the 2009 Code went into effect, the 2009 Code’s retroactivity provision also had no effect. Therefore, Jared’s interest in the Trust for the sake of the Property Agreement was whatever existed under the 2008 Code, and any restrictions of the Trust as of March 2008 had full effect and were not modified by the 2009 Code. Put another way, Jared could not give an interest in property in 2008 that he did not have the right to transfer.

¶22 Under the 2008 Code, the Trust’s spendthrift provision prevented Jared from transmuting his interest in the Trust into marital property.[5] The 2008 Code specified that “if [a] trust instrument provides that a beneficiary’s interest in principal is not subject to voluntary or involuntary transfer, the beneficiary’s interest in principal shall not be transferred.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14-7702(a) (2008). The Trust was subject to a spendthrift provision, declaring that Jared lacked the “right to assign, transfer, encumber, or hypothecate his . . . interest in the principal or income of the [T]rust in any manner.” Consequently, Jared’s interest in the Trust was “not subject to voluntary or involuntary transfer,” so his interest was not eligible for transfer. See id.see also In re Indenture of Trust Dated Jan. 13, 1964, 326 P.3d 307, 312 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2014) (“A valid spendthrift provision makes it impossible for a beneficiary to make a legally binding transfer.” (emphasis added) (cleaned up)).

¶23      In an effort to avoid the restrictive effect of the Trust’s spendthrift provision, Rebecca argues that “[t]ransmuting property is distinct from transferring property” and therefore “Jared did not transfer any interest” when he allegedly transmuted his interest in the Trust through the Property Agreement. Citing State ex rel. Industrial Commission of Arizona v. Wright, 43 P.3d 203 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2002), Jared responds that Arizona caselaw rejects this argument:

[In Wright], the court explained that the term “transfer” “includes any transaction in which a property interest was relinquished.” Because transmuting a property interest from separate property to community property surrenders the transferor’s entitlement to half of his or her separate property, the court reasoned, such a transmutation qualifies as a “transfer” of that property.

(Citations omitted.) Rebecca responds that the holding of Wright applies “only in the specific context of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act.”

¶24 In Wright, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered a premarital agreement that was fraudulently modified after a husband fell subject to a workers’ compensation claim. Id. at 204. The modification stated that separate earnings would be community property, thus attempting to evade a judgment against the husband’s earnings. Id. The court held that the transmutation of the husband’s earnings constituted a transfer under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act:

Before the modification, [the husband] held a sole interest in the entirety of his future earnings. The effect of the modification was to transfer that entire interest to the community. [The wife] would have a right to dispose of those earnings now dedicated to the community that she did not have when they were [the husband’s] separate property. Additionally, upon dissolution of marriage, [the husband] would have surrendered all entitlement to half of those earnings. Hence, [the husband] has transferred an asset within the meaning of [the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act].

Id. at 205. While the Wright court did conclude that the parties’ actions satisfied the broad statutory definition of a transfer under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act, see id., and while Rebecca is correct that the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act is not at issue here, the court’s analysis is still useful. If we accept Rebecca’s argument that the Property Agreement transmuted Jared’s interest in the Trust, then—like in Wright—before the Property Agreement, Jared’s interest in the Trust was solely his and the Property Agreement served to “transfer that entire interest to the community.” See id. And upon divorce, Jared “would have surrendered all entitlement to half of” his interest in the Trust. See id. Accordingly, while we are not applying the definition of “transfer” from the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act, we conclude that a transmutation here would have been a transfer. In terms of the bundle of sticks formulation that Rebecca referenced in her motion for partial summary judgment, Jared would be giving Rebecca access to and an interest in whatever sticks he was holding at the time he signed the Property Agreement—sticks that she did not previously hold.[6]

¶25      Our conclusion that Jared’s purported transmutation of the Trust into marital property would have constituted a transfer is supported by the language of the Property Agreement itself. The Property Agreement indicated that “to the extent necessary, JARED and REBECCA each hereby gives, grants, conveys and assigns to the other an interest in his or her property . . . so as to transmute such property into the community property of JARED and REBECCA.” (Emphasis added.) This language belies Rebecca’s argument that the transmutation only changed the nature of—but did not affect a transfer of—Jared’s interest. And this language also runs up against the language in the Trust’s spendthrift provision forbidding Jared from “assign[ing], transfer[ing], encumber[ing], or hypothecat[ing] his . . . interest in the principal or income of the [T]rust in any manner.” Accordingly, we agree with the district court that the Property Agreement had no effect on the Trust and that, therefore, Rebecca does not have a legally cognizable interest in the Trust.

II. Equitable Grounds for Dividing the Trust

¶26 Rebecca contends, alternatively, that “[r]egardless of whether the Property Agreement granted Rebecca a legally cognizable interest in the Trust itself, the district court was required to consider the Trust as part of the marital property for the sake of equity.” She asserts that “[d]istrict courts must equitably divide the marital estate” and quotes Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, 459 P.3d 276, for the propositions that “Utah law presumes that property acquired during a marriage is marital property subject to equitable distribution” and “[t]o the extent that the Trust corpus contains marital property, Utah has a strong interest in ensuring that such property is equitably divided in the parties’ divorce action.” Id. ¶ 26. Rebecca points us to Endrody v. Endrody, 914 P.2d 1166 (Utah Ct. App. 1996), in which a husband’s parents had established a trust after the parties were married and had named the wife as one of the beneficiaries. Id. at 1167–68. This court affirmed a district court’s ruling that the trust assets were not available for distribution as marital assets but that the husband’s shares in the trust were marital property, an equitable share of which should be placed in a constructive trust for the wife’s benefit. Id. at 1170. Rebecca concludes, “In short, Jared’s interest in the Trust was marital property. And even if the Trust assets were not available for distribution, the court was required to consider the Trust as part of the marital property for equitable purposes.”

¶27      Rebecca’s argument misses the mark. We have concluded, as did the district court, that Jared’s interest in the Trust was not marital property or part of the marital estate subject to distribution. This is a distinct conclusion from one stating that trust funds are marital property but the trust principal is not available for distribution. Therefore, caselaw addressing equitable distribution of trust funds that are marital property is inapposite. And Rebecca provides no support for the position that she should be awarded an equitable portion of the value of the Trust’s principal despite a holding that she is not entitled to any portion of Jared’s interest in the Trust.[7] Accordingly, we uphold the district court’s decision that Rebecca is not entitled to any portion of or equivalent sum for Jared’s interest in the Trust.

III. Alimony

¶28      Rebecca next contends that the court erred in its alimony calculations when it made several deductions to Rebecca’s claimed expenses. Rebecca insists that she “does not raise a factual challenge” but instead “challenges the district court’s method of reduction and justification for doing so.” She asserts that the district court “misconstrued Utah law” when it adjusted her expenses.

¶29 Under Utah law, courts must consider in alimony determinations the factors listed in Utah Code section 30-3-5, including “(i) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse; (ii) the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for a child of the payor spouse; [and] (iii) the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Utah Code § 30-3-5(10)(a); see also Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072, 1075 (Utah 1985); English v. English, 565 P.2d 409, 411–12 (Utah 1977). “An alimony award should also advance, as much as possible, the primary purposes of alimony.” Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14, 402 P.3d 153 (cleaned up). Alimony is intended “(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.” Jensen v. Jensen, 2008 UT App 392, ¶ 9, 197 P.3d 117 (cleaned up).

¶30      We have previously explained,

Alimony is not limited to providing for only basic needs but should be fashioned in consideration of the recipient spouse’s station in life in light of the parties’ customary or proper status or circumstances, with the goal being an alimony award calculated to approximate the parties’ standard of living during the marriage as closely as possible.

Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14 (cleaned up); see also Davis v. Davis, 749 P.2d 647, 649 (Utah 1988) (“The ultimate test of the propriety of an alimony award is whether, given all of these factors, the party receiving alimony will be able to support him- or herself as nearly as possible at the standard of living enjoyed during marriage.” (cleaned up)); Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1205 (Utah 1983) (“One of the chief functions of an alimony award is to permit the parties to maintain as much as possible the same standards after the dissolution of the marriage as those enjoyed during the marriage.”). And “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 (i.e., the historical allocation of their resources).” Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 24, 525 P.3d 534, cert. denied, 523 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

A.        Home Maintenance

¶31      Rebecca alleges that the district court improperly reduced her claimed expenses related to home maintenance, including expenses for snow removal, pool and spa maintenance, and landscaping. She argues that Jared took care of these tasks during the marriage and she should now be compensated for the cost of hiring other individuals to accomplish these tasks. In her words, “Rebecca’s marital standard of living was that someone else did the pool maintenance, snow removal, and landscaping. Since that person has moved out, she is left without the standard of living to which she was accustomed.”

¶32 Rebecca’s argument on this point is fatally flawed. A court’s inquiry in evaluating historical expenses to determine alimony involves the marital standard of living—not a separate standard of living for each person within the marriage. See Davis, 749 P.2d at 649 (describing “the standard of living enjoyed during marriage” (cleaned up)); Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14 (considering “the parties’ standard of living during the marriage” (cleaned up)); Jensen, 2008 UT App 392, ¶ 9 (discussing the “standard of living that existed during the marriage” as one but the “the standards of living of each party” after divorce as two (cleaned up)). The marital standard of living is that which the parties shared, and courts consider the parties as a single unit when evaluating that standard. We can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if divorcing partners could expense every task their former spouses previously performed.[8] Instead, we reemphasize that “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 (i.e., the historical allocation of their resources).” Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 24. Rebecca admits that the couple did not historically allocate funds to these expenses while the parties were married, so they cannot be considered part of the marital standard of living. And the court found as much, stating, “[t]he parties never paid for snow removal during the marriage[,] and this expense was not part of the marital [lifestyle]”; “[t]he parties did not have pool maintenance expense[s] during the marriage as the pool was maintained by the parties”; and landscaping “was not an expense that was incurred during the marriage as the yard work was done by the parties themselves.” Therefore, the court was correct in reducing Rebecca’s claims for these categories when calculating her expenses for the sake of alimony.[9]

¶33 However, Rebecca did provide evidence that the parties had historically paid some amount for bark replacement and lawn aeration. In a financial declaration, she listed a monthly expense of $126.66 for “[b]ark for the year,” and she indicated that “[t]his [was] based on an actual historical expense of $3,040.00 every 2 years.” She also listed a monthly expense of $5 for aerating and stated that “[t]his [was] based on an actual historical expense of $30 paid twice per year.” Additionally, she testified that the parties had historically replaced bark and that doing so was “quite costly.”[10] Jared, in a memorandum submitted to the court, admitted that bark was an expense that the parties had previously paid and did not contest the aerating expense. Therefore, the costs associated with bark replacement and lawn aeration were part of the marital standard of living such that they were not properly excluded from consideration in the court’s alimony calculations. Accordingly, because the facts are otherwise undisputed on this issue, we reverse on this point and instruct the court to enter expenses for Rebecca of $5 per month for lawn aeration and $126.66 per month for bark replacement.

B.        Health and Personal Care

1.         Health Insurance

¶34      Rebecca asserts that the district court abused its discretion in reducing her claimed expense for health insurance. At trial, she informed the court that she was still on Jared’s family’s health insurance plan but explained her claimed cost of $757 monthly: “This was a quote that I sought out. . . . It does not have any deductible. . . . [H]istorically our deductible [was] put on an HSA card that was covered by the Knight Group.” Both parties agreed that the historical deductible, which had been paid by the Knight Group, was around $8,000.

¶35 The court reduced Rebecca’s health insurance expense to $411 per month, the number Jared gave as the historical amount the parties paid for health care services through an HSA card. The court explained, “[N]o written evidence was provided as to the costs for health care coverage for [Rebecca]. [Rebecca] acknowledged the $757 was for a policy with no deductibles[,] which is not the same level of policy the parties currently have in place, which has [an] $8,000 a year deductible.” The court indicated that its adjustment was “consistent with current known expense[s] of health care of the parties and which [Jared] established at $411 a month.”

¶36 This conclusion was in keeping with the court’s determination that monetary support from the Knight family qualified as gifts and could not be considered in determining the marital standard of living or the parties’ expenses. It noted, “[I]n this case . . . a large portion of these things the parties were enjoying was the result of the generosity and the benefits of others. When there’s . . . no guarantee or no requirement to have those additional funds come in . . . to have this lifestyle, you know, they’re not going to be able to have it.” The court again said, “You can’t count gifts . . . that were given at the discretion of other individuals to say you’re entitled to continue to receive those gifts and have those funds coming in to you to maintain a standard of living that you may have [had] when you received those gifts . . . .”

¶37 The court’s stance on this issue is correct: the gifts from Jared’s family, despite being a regular feature of the marriage, may not be properly considered in calculating Rebecca’s needs or Jared’s ability to pay alimony. See Utah Code § 30-3-5(10)(a). The alimony factors refer only to the finances of the spouses, not those of outside parties. Id.see also Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072, 1075 (Utah 1985). Additionally, we have enunciated previously that past gifts are not to be considered in the alimony calculus: “[T]he court could not base its prospective order on past gifts that have no assurance of being continued because [a donor] has no legal obligation to continue providing the monetary support that she has in the past.” Issertell v. Issertell, 2020 UT App 62, ¶ 26, 463 P.3d 698.

¶38      Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that Rebecca did not provide qualifying evidence of her future health insurance expenses because she submitted only a quote for a plan without a deductible. The parties both testified that they had a deductible during the marriage, and Rebecca is not entitled to a health insurance plan better than the one the parties had during the marriage. The fact that the parties’ deductible was historically paid by the Knight Group does not impact our analysis because those payments were “past gifts that have no assurance of being continued because [the Knight Group] has no legal obligation to continue providing the monetary support that [it] has in the past.” See id. And without evidence from Rebecca on which it could rely, the court did not abuse its discretion in accepting the amount Jared put forth as the parties’ historical health insurance cost.[11] See Sauer v. Sauer, 2017 UT App 114, ¶ 10, 400 P.3d 1204 (“Once the court determined that there was no evidence that was both credible and relevant regarding [the recipient spouse’s] reasonable housing needs, it was appropriate for the court to impute a reasonable amount based on other evidence provided by the parties. . . . We therefore see no impropriety in the trial court’s decision to impute housing needs to [the recipient spouse] in the same amount as [the payor spouse] had claimed was reasonable . . . .”). We affirm on this point.

2.         Personal Grooming

¶39      Rebecca also asserts that the court abused its discretion in reducing Rebecca’s claimed expense for “personal grooming.” The court stated that it was “reduc[ing] personal grooming by $449.83, from $949.83 to $500 a month,” because Rebecca’s “evidence of getting a haircut twice a year and having her nails and eye lashes done monthly to every six (6) weeks did not establish this claimed and requested expense of $11,397.96 a year for personal expenses.” The court also stated that Jared “did not ask for any personal grooming as part of his expenses relating to the marital standard of living[,] and he was not getting the $500 [Rebecca was] being awarded.”

¶40 Rebecca takes issue with the court’s findings and reasoning, asserting,

[T]his was not the evidence. She testified that she gets her eyelashes and nails done every two weeks, not “monthly to every six (6) weeks.” She testified that in addition to getting her hair cut, she also gets a perm. She testified that she gets a full body wax. She also testified that she has costs for “toenails.” She also testified that she has “maintenance” costs. She stated that to reach this number she “went through [her] credit card statements and added up for a year’s worth of” these expenses. She testified that “obviously this is historically . . . what I spent.”

Opposing counsel did not dispute Rebecca’s expenses, but simply opined that he thought “the maximum would be . . . $500 a month. $6000 a year for personal grooming is quite a nice budget.” But what opposing counsel thinks qualifies as “quite a nice budget” is not the test in Utah. Instead, the test is the marital standard of living, and Rebecca’s testimony—unchallenged by contrary evidence— was that she spent $949.83 per month.

Second, the district court reduced Rebecca’s personal grooming expenses because Jared “did not ask for any personal grooming as part of his expenses relating to the marital standard of living and he was not getting the $500 [Rebecca] is being awarded.” That is irrelevant. If Jared spends nothing on personal grooming, or if he has no monthly expenses because the Knight family pays for them all, that does not mean that Rebecca’s estimated expenses are inaccurate.

¶41      We agree with Rebecca on all fronts. The court would have acted within its discretion if it had found Rebecca’s evidence unreliable or had determined that Rebecca’s claimed expenses were unreasonable in light of the couple’s marital standard of living. See Woolums v. Woolums, 2013 UT App 232, ¶ 10, 312 P.3d 939 (“The district court’s evaluation of and reliance on [one spouse’s] testimony, along with its own determinations of the reasonableness of the claimed expenses, fell squarely within its broad discretion to determine an appropriate alimony award.”). But that is not what it did. It disregarded Rebecca’s evidence of historical spending and substituted a figure provided by Jared’s counsel with no evidentiary basis. Jared’s counsel’s thoughts on what makes “quite a nice budget” are irrelevant. The court’s inquiry should have been rooted in Rebecca and Jared’s marital standard of living, as indicated by their historical spending. See Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 24, 525 P.3d 534, cert. denied, 523 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

¶42      A court’s inquiry into the marital standard of living must evaluate the specific circumstances of that couple, and expenses that are unreasonable in light of one couple’s marital standard of living may be reasonable in light of another couple’s marital standard of living. “Indeed, we have explained that alimony is not limited to providing for only basic needs but should be fashioned in consideration of the recipient spouse’s station in life in light of the parties’ customary or proper status or circumstances.” Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14, 402 P.3d 153 (cleaned up). And “the goal” of the inquiry is “an alimony award calculated to approximate the parties’ standard of living during the marriage as closely as possible.” Id.see also Davis v. Davis, 749 P.2d 647, 649 (Utah 1988) (“The ultimate test of the propriety of an alimony award is whether, given all of these factors, the party receiving alimony will be able to support him- or herself as nearly as possible at the standard of living enjoyed during marriage.” (cleaned up)); Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1205 (Utah 1983) (“One of the chief functions of an alimony award is to permit the parties to maintain as much as possible the same standards after the dissolution of the marriage as those enjoyed during the marriage.”). Rebecca testified that the marital standard of living included significant spending on her personal grooming. The court acted improperly when it discarded this evidence and substituted another amount without properly concluding that Rebecca’s evidence was inadequate or her expenses were unreasonable in light of the marital standard of living.

¶43      It was also improper for the court to base its determination, in part, on Jared’s lack of submission for this budget line item. There is no need for courts to limit one party’s expenses to those the other party also claims. See Utah Code § 30-3-5(10)(a) (including as a factor in determining alimony “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse”). In fact, doing so increases the risk of gamesmanship between the parties. There is already a risk that divorcing spouses may inflate their claimed expenses in an effort to sway the alimony calculation in their favor: payor spouses might attempt to minimize their ability to provide support by claiming high expenses, while recipient spouses might inflate their expenses to claim that their needs are great. See id. But limiting a recipient spouse’s potential expenses to only those categories claimed by the payor spouse dangerously alters this already-thorny calculation. In situations where a payor spouse’s ability to pay is unlikely to be an issue, the payor spouse would face a significant incentive to omit many expenses and thereby drastically reduce the receiving spouse’s needs. But the danger is not just in these situations. In any case, a payor spouse would be incentivized to identify categories for which the recipient spouse would likely have higher expenses and omit those. In other words, payor spouses could significantly undercut alimony awards by strategically omitting expenses. Accordingly, we caution courts not to apply such faulty reasoning when calculating alimony. Instead, courts should base their findings on expenses that are reasonable in light of the couple’s unique marital standard of living. See Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 24.

¶44      On this front, we clarify that a couple’s marital standard of living may include disparate spending by the parties on various categories during the marriage. Throughout the marriage, one spouse may spend more—even significantly more—than the other on personal grooming, entertainment, travel, or any number of other expense categories. A partner may embrace the age-old adage’s modernized mantra of “happy spouse, happy house,” may derive independent pleasure from a spouse’s purchases, or may observe a spouse’s spending habits—whether for monthly follicle support treatments or Jazz tickets only one spouse actually uses—through gritted teeth. But for the sake of calculating alimony, we assume that the parties agreed on their household expenditures such that whatever was historically spent by the parties during the marriage constitutes the couple’s marital standard of living, even if the spending was lopsided—or, indeed, one-sided—within a given expense category. See Davis, 749 P.2d at 649; Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14. Consequently, whether Jared truly spent nothing on personal grooming historically or he simply elected to omit his expenses in that category, the court erred in limiting its acceptance of Rebecca’s personal grooming expenses based on Jared’s lack of submission.

¶45      The court abused its discretion when it applied the wrong legal standard to Rebecca’s claimed expenses for personal grooming. Because the court did not find Rebecca’s evidence unreliable or determine that Rebecca’s claimed expenses were unreasonable in light of the couple’s marital standard of living, we reverse its decision on this point and instruct it to modify its findings to include the $949.83 per month consistent with the parties’ marital standard of living.

C.        Savings and Other Funds

1.         Savings Plan

¶46      Rebecca asserts that the court wrongfully entirely rejected her expense for a “[s]avings [p]lan” of $2,500 per month. First, she points to the court’s statement that “[Jared] has not requested a savings plan as part of his expenses, and he is entitled to the same marital standard as [Rebecca].” As we have discussed, such a consideration has no place in the alimony analysis under Utah law. Additionally, the court summarized the evidence related to a savings plan:

[Rebecca] admitted that this amount was only an estimate on her part in that she thought the parties may have saved $30,000 a year. [Jared’s] testimony was the parties did not contribute to any savings plan for the parties in any amount on a monthly or regular basis. Rather, the parties would save money as they had it in differing amounts and when there were sufficient funds to purchase what they wanted, the parties would spen[d] the money on cars and other purchases.

From this, the court concluded that “[n]o savings program was done during the marriage.” But in so concluding, the court misapplied Utah law on this subject.

¶47      In Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, 525 P.3d 534, cert. denied, 523 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023), we considered a similar question of whether “the district court erred in excluding from the alimony award an amount reflective of historical investment” where a couple had a habit of investing money “essentially as savings.” Id. ¶¶ 2, 16. There, the parties’ testimonies established that “[b]efore 2014, they made deposits into investment accounts ‘when money was left over after normal marital spending,’ and after 2014, they made direct deposits into investment accounts as part of [the husband’s] employment.” Id. ¶ 2. We reiterated that, in situations like these, “[t]he critical question is whether funds for post-divorce savings, investment, and retirement accounts are necessary because contributing to such accounts was standard practice during the marriage and helped to form the couple’s marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 17 (quoting Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16, 80 P.3d 153). We noted that “when the Bakanowski court provided the test for appropriate consideration of savings, investment, and retirement accounts in alimony calculations, it cited” another case “in which the court reasoned that because the parties had made regular savings deposits, including savings in the alimony award could help maintain the recipient spouse’s marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 18 (cleaned up). Then we clarified that “an event must certainly be recurring but need not be uniformly systematic to be considered ‘regular.’ Indeed, something can be done ‘regularly’ if done whenever the opportunity arises, though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.” Id. ¶ 19 (cleaned up). So, we explained,

Even if savings deposits and investments do not occur on an exact timetable, such marital expenditures can be considered a standard practice in those infrequent and unusual circumstances where a party can produce sufficiently persuasive evidence that savings deposits and investments were a recurring marital action whenever the opportunity arose, though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.

Id. ¶ 20 (cleaned up). And we concluded that the parties’ testimonies that they made substantial deposits into investment accounts “at least annually” “established that the parties followed a regular pattern, i.e., a standard practice, of investing a portion of their annual income.” Id. ¶ 21 (cleaned up).

¶48 We then considered the question of whether the parties’ standard practice of investing contributed to their marital standard of living, because “to justify an alimony award that includes an amount for investment, the parties’ acts of investing must also contribute to the ‘marital standard of living.’” Id. ¶ 22 (quoting Bukunowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16). We concluded that the parties’ standard practice of investing did contribute to their marital standard of living, so we remanded “the case to the district court to recalculate alimony based on the amount that the couple’s historical investment contributed to the marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 28. The same is true for savings: a court must determine whether a couple’s standard practice of saving contributed to their marital standard of living to incorporate savings into an alimony award. See id.

¶49 Here, such a conclusion is less apparent from the district court’s findings than was true in Mintz. The court’s description of Rebecca’s testimony of annual savings and of Jared’s testimony that the parties would save to fund large purchases certainly suggests that savings may have been a standard practice during the marriage that contributed to the marital standard of living. See id. ¶¶ 20–22; Bukunowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16; Kemp v. Kemp, 2001 UT App 157U, paras. 3–4. But the court’s findings regarding the regularity of the couple’s savings habits are insufficient for us to hold that this standard is clearly met. Still, the court’s conclusion that “[n]o savings program was done during the marriage” does not clearly follow from its other findings, given our caselaw on this topic. The court’s focus strictly on monthly savings habits is myopic and at odds with precedent, and the court provides no explanation for its interpretation of Jared’s testimony that the parties did not save on a “regular basis.” Therefore, we conclude that the court exceeded its discretion on this matter insofar as it applied the incorrect legal standard. See Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145 (“We will reverse [an alimony award] if the court has not exercised its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set . . . .” (cleaned up)). We remand this matter for the court to make additional findings as to the regularity of the parties’ savings deposits. On remand, “the court should, as a legal matter, ensure it employs the correct legal definitions of standard practice and marital standard of living, apply the facts of [this] case to those definitions, and then determine whether the facts as found meet the criteria for a savings-based alimony award.” Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 17.

2.         Retirement

¶50      Rebecca also asserts that the court erred in entirely rejecting her submitted expense for “[r]etirement deposits” of $500 per month. The court explained that “[t]he evidence adduced at trial established the parties never saved $500 a month for retirement. . . . The evidence was any retirement amounts for the parties was only set aside and deposited in three (3) of the twenty-seven (27) years of marriage.” The court again improperly discussed the point that “[Jared] did not ask for retirement as part of his expenses relating to the marital standard of living,” but rather than relying on this point to deny Rebecca’s claim for a retirement savings provision in the alimony award, the court stated that this point gave “further credibility to th[e] fact” that the parties did not regularly save for retirement. More importantly, and unlike for the savings category, the court’s conclusion that there was no standard practice of saving for retirement flows from its findings on the irregularity of the parties saving for retirement while married.

¶51 Furthermore, Rebecca does not argue on appeal that the court applied the wrong legal standard here. She explains that Jared did not submit a retirement expense because he “is worth literally millions of dollars and Rebecca, when she was married, also anticipated having millions of dollars available for retirement.” She argues that “[t]o even come close to approximating the marital standard of living, Rebecca must start to save for retirement.” But this is not in line with our caselaw. Again, we look to the parties’ “historical allocation of their resources” to determine their marital standard of living, id. ¶ 24, and Rebecca does not argue that the parties historically allocated their resources by saving regularly for retirement. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that saving for retirement was not a feature of the marital standard of living and, accordingly, removing that claimed expense when calculating alimony. We affirm on this point.

3.         Additional Capital/Investment Funds

¶52 Finally, Rebecca contends that the court was wrong to reject her expense for “additional capital/investment funds” of $7,279 monthly. The court did so because “[t]he testimony and evidence established there never was any such capital or investment funds like this during the marriage. Further, no testimony was provided as to how this figure was arrived at to be claimed in the first place.” The court declared that “[t]his is simply a request, which is unfounded and which the [c]ourt finds is an attempt to inflate [Rebecca’s] expenses.” Rebecca argues on appeal that this “is incorrect” and that her “[f]inancial [d]eclaration provide[d] a detailed explanation of how the figure was computed: ‘This is an amount based on funds the parties historically had available from [Jared’s] family wealth for discretionary investments . . . .’” This argument does not prevail. As we have explained, past gifts are excluded from the alimony calculus. See Issertell v. Issertell, 2020 UT App 62, ¶ 26, 463 P.3d 698. The funds that were historically available for investment were gifts, and as such, they are not properly considered as a standard practice contributing to the marital standard of living. See id.Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶¶ 20–22. Therefore, the court was acting within its discretion as to this item, and we affirm its decision in this respect.

CONCLUSION

¶53      The district court did not err in determining that Rebecca had no interest in the Trust, and it did not abuse its discretion in deciding against dividing the Trust on equitable grounds. We affirm in this respect.

¶54 As to alimony, the court exceeded its discretion when it applied the wrong legal standard when calculating several of Rebecca’s expenses. Accordingly, we reverse the court’s decision with respect to Rebecca’s personal grooming expenses and the expenses associated with lawn aeration and bark replacement. We also remand the matter for further factual findings as to the regularity of the parties’ savings deposits and a determination of whether, applying the law correctly, the parties’ savings habits constituted a standard practice contributing to the marital standard of living. We affirm the remainder of the court’s alimony determinations.

 

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

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2023 UT App 62 – Cox v. Cox – Adequacy of Court Findings

2023 UT App 62 – Cox v. Cox

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

BLANCHE COX,

Appellee,

v.

JAMES A. COX,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210455-CA

Filed June 8, 2023

Fourth District Court, Provo Department

The Honorable Lynn W. Davis

The Honorable Robert C. Lunnen

No. 124402230

Brett D. Cragun, Attorney for Appellant

Jarrod H. Jennings, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN D. TENNEY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and JOHN D. LUTHY concurred.

TENNEY, Judge:

¶1 James and Blanche Cox were married for over 20 years, during which time they had 10 children and acquired a large number of marital assets. In September 2012, Blanche filed for divorce.[1] After 4 years of pretrial litigation and then 14 days of trial, the district court issued a 35-page divorce ruling that settled various issues relating to child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of the marital estate.

¶2        James now appeals, arguing that many of the court’s rulings were not supported by adequate findings. We agree with James with respect to each challenged ruling. We accordingly vacate those rulings and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

¶3        James and Blanche Cox were married in 1990. During their marriage, they had 10 children and acquired a large number of assets. In September 2012, Blanche filed for divorce. After 4 years of litigation, the case went to trial, and that trial occurred over the course of 14 days between December 2016 and May 2017. In January 2017 (while the trial was proceeding), the court issued a bifurcated divorce decree granting Blanche’s request for a divorce and reserving other issues for further hearings and determinations.

  1. The Ruling

¶4        In October 2017, the court issued a 35-page Ruling and Memorandum Decision (the Ruling) that entered findings of fact and legal determinations regarding many issues related to child custody, child support, alimony, and the valuation and division of the marital estate. This appeal implicates the court’s findings and determinations regarding essentially three groups of issues: the parties’ marital properties, alimony and child support, and marital debts.[2]

Marital Properties

¶5        The court found that James and Blanche “enjoyed the benefit or acquired” five properties during their marriage: (1) the Hildale Home, (2) the Henderson Home, (3) the Eagle Mountain Home, (4) the Rockville Property, and (5) the Cedar Highlands Lots. The court then entered findings and made rulings regarding how to divide the parties’ marital interest in each property.

¶6        The Hildale Home: The court found that James built this home (located, as our reference would suggest, in Hildale, Utah) before his marriage to Blanche. The court found that James, Blanche, and their children lived in this property until 2010, after which they moved to a different residence. The court heard testimony that title to the Hildale Home was held by the United Effort Plan Trust (the Trust). But the court then concluded that no evidence had been presented of the value of James’s interest in the Trust and that “establishing the value of a beneficial interest in property of the [Trust]” would be “practically and legally impossible.” The court acknowledged that Blanche had submitted an appraisal of the Hildale Home at trial (which, according to the record on appeal, estimated its value as being around $200,000), but the court concluded that the appraisal was deficient because it failed to account for costs and fees associated with the Trust ownership. From all this—and without any further explanation— the court then ruled that Blanche was “entitled to an award of $100,000” based on the home’s value.[3]

¶7        The Henderson Home: The court found that this home was purchased by James in 2004 for $420,000. It found that after the parties fell behind on mortgage payments, at which point they still owed around $288,000, the house was “lost in a short sale in 2013 for $225,000.” The court made a finding that the fair market value of the home at the time, according to Zillow, was $323,861.

¶8        But the court also heard competing testimony from the parties about whether the loss of the home could have been avoided. From Blanche, the court heard testimony that the home “could have been rented out” but that James refused to sign papers that would have modified the loan and, theoretically, allowed the parties to avoid losing it. From James, however, the court heard testimony that maintaining or leasing the home wasn’t actually possible for several different reasons.

¶9        From this, the court found that “[t]he parties would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity to split if they had kept” the Henderson Home and “rented it as suggested by [Blanche] numerous times.” The court then ruled that James “should be responsible to, and give [Blanche] credit for, $50,000 in equity representing her share of the lost asset dissipated by him.”

¶10 The Eagle Mountain Home: The court found that James and Blanche bought this home in 2009 and made a $120,000 down payment on it, $80,000 of which was borrowed from James’s mother. The court found that they moved into the home sometime in 2010 and began using it as their primary residence. James testified that he had at one point intended to sell the Eagle Mountain Home in an effort “to cover all the debts” on the parties’ credit cards but that Blanche refused to cooperate with him on the sale. Evidence presented at trial suggested that the home was sold in 2015 by a bankruptcy trustee for $520,000, with the parties still owing $292,000 at that time. Without citing any specific piece of evidence, the court found that if the Eagle Mountain Home had “not been lost to a forced sale, [Blanche] would have been able to receive at least another $25,000 today because of the current market value of $606,000,” and the court then ruled that she was “entitled to that sum.”

¶11      The Rockville Property: The court described this as a “7.5 acre parcel of farm property” located near Rockville, Utah. In its ruling on how to divide the marital interest in this property, the court referred to evidence it had received indicating that the parties were “forced to sell” the property for $270,000 after falling behind on the mortgage payments, as well as evidence showing that the parties still owed around $190,000 on the property when it was sold.

¶12      But the court then referred to several sources of evidence it had received that suggested that this property had a higher value and could have been sold for more. For example, it referred to evidence that a realtor had listed what the court thought was a similar 11.4 acre parcel for $1,195,000 (though the court then acknowledged that it was “debatable” whether this comparison provided an accurate valuation for the Rockville Property). The court also noted testimony that a realtor had valued the property at “approximately $900,000” due to “28 [shares of] water rights [that were] attached to it.” And the court referred to an “analysis from Zillow” that suggested the property’s value was $1,195,000.

¶13      From all this, the court then found that the forced sale of the property for $270,000 was a loss that “cost the parties at least $450,000 each,” and the court awarded Blanche “damages of $450,000 offset by monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000.”

¶14 The Cedar Highlands Lots: The Cedar Highlands Lots were “two lots down by Cedar City,” one of which was around 2 acres and the other around 2.5 acres. The court found that the lots were purchased for $40,000 each sometime in 2003 but that they were later “lost” through a forced sale because of the parties’ ongoing failure to pay various taxes and fees.

¶15 At trial, there was conflicting evidence and argument about the amount of the loss suffered by the parties because of the sale of these lots. James testified that the parties lost $60,000, while Blanche claimed that they lost somewhere between $153,000 and $280,000 (with her estimate being largely based on the lots’ appreciation in value since the time that the parties had purchased them—and, thus, the parties’ loss of potential equity by virtue of the forced sale). The court ultimately found that the parties’ inability to “pay the property taxes and Homeowners Association fees . . . resulted in [an] $80,000 loss to the parties.” The court did not explain how it had arrived at the $80,000 amount, nor did it explain how this loss was to be distributed between the parties.

Alimony and Child Support

¶16 Blanche’s Income: Under an initial subheading of the Ruling that was entitled “The Parties[’] Income,” the court found that Blanche is “an experienced bookkeeper with QuickBooks who has elected to be employed by About Faceology,” but that she was currently a “self employed Uber/Lift driver and has been so since 2015.” Under a subsequent subheading entitled “Income of the Parties,” however, the court then determined that “[f]or child support purposes [Blanche’s] income cannot be imputed at more than [the] minimum wage of $1,257 per month.” Elsewhere in the Ruling, and without explanation for the discrepancy, the court found that Blanche’s imputed minimum wage income was actually $1,260 per month (rather than $1,257). The court included no explanation for its conclusion that Blanche’s income could not be imputed at more than the minimum wage.

¶17 Child Support: At the time of the Ruling, the parties had five minor children. The court initially ordered James to pay $3,781 per month in child support. Elsewhere in the Ruling, however, and again without explanation, the court stated that it was ordering James to pay $3,336 per month in child support.

¶18      Alimony: Turning to alimony, the court noted that under the controlling statute, it should consider a number of factors. One of the factors it considered was Blanche’s “financial condition and needs.” With respect to this factor, the court opined that Blanche’s “needs have been overstated in her financial declarations,” but the court made no ruling about Blanche’s financial condition and what her needs actually were. With respect to Blanche’s earning capacity, the court again noted that Blanche “claim[ed] she earns just a little better than minimum [wage] even though she is an experienced and sophisticated bookkeeper with many years of experience having run, managed, overseen and monitored millions of dollars in income and expenses that ran through the parties[’] businesses.” But the court made no further findings about her particular earning capacity as it related to a potential alimony award. The court also noted that there were “minor children in the home,” five of whom were “younger than eighteen years of age or have not yet graduated from high school with their expected class.” But the court made no findings about how (or how much) these children impacted Blanche’s earning capacity. Finally, with respect to James’s ability to pay alimony, the court found that James was a “voluntarily under employed” electrician, and it then opined that “[t]here is no question that [Blanche] claims that her needs exceed hers and [James’s] monthly incomes.” Considering these factors together, the court then ordered James to pay $8,286 per month in alimony.

Marital Debts

¶19 Finally, the court made certain findings concerning the “business debt” that was “incurred” by the parties during the marriage. While the divorce proceedings were pending, James filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. In the Ruling, the court found that, after the bankruptcy proceedings had begun, James incurred $30,000 in debt while purchasing stock in his business and business-related property from the bankruptcy trustee. Since the court determined that Blanche was “entitled to 50% of [the] value” of the business, the court then concluded that she was entitled to an award of $15,000 as a result of this debt.

¶20      The court also noted that Blanche had “received financial compensation from the sale of assets and the conversion of assets into cash.” But the court opined that it was “difficult, if not impossible, to decipher whether each expenditure was personal, business related, or partially business-related.” From this, and without further explanation, the court awarded Blanche “judgment against [James] in the amount of $50,000.”

  1. Motions for Clarification

¶21      James and Blanche were both dissatisfied with the Ruling, and in January 2018, they each filed a motion requesting clarification. Each motion raised a host of issues regarding alleged errors.

¶22      Of note here, in her motion, Blanche asked for clarification “as to whether or not” she was entitled to $25,000 for the Eagle Mountain Home or, instead, “another amount.” She argued that an award of $25,000 “seem[ed] incorrect mathematically” because if the fair market value of the Eagle Mountain Home was $606,000, and the home sold for $520,000, the “resulting equity would have been $86,000, which if divided equally would result in [Blanche] receiving judgment for $43,000,” as opposed to $25,000. Blanche also requested clarification as to the court’s determination “that the loss to the parties” concerning the Cedar Highlands Lots was $80,000. She argued that, based on the evidence presented at trial, the loss was $280,000. Blanche also requested clarification regarding the court’s determination of marital debts, specifically, whether the $15,000 was “to be added to the $50,000 for a total of $65,000” or whether “there [was] another number the court considered.” Finally, Blanche requested clarification of the court’s order regarding child support, given that in one portion of its Ruling the court ordered James to pay child support in the amount of $3,781 per month, and in another portion it altered that amount to $3,336 per month.

¶23 In his motion, James likewise requested clarification of various aspects of the Ruling. Among other things, he asked the court to “enter supplemental, amended, and or additional findings” regarding its ruling that Blanche was “entitled to $100,000” concerning the Hildale Home, explaining that he was “unaware of any evidence upon which the [court] could have relied in finding the $100,000 in equity the [court] awarded” Blanche. James also asked for clarification on the court’s findings concerning the Henderson Home, Eagle Mountain Home, and Rockville Property, asserting that the court had not “identified the facts upon which it relied” in making its calculations. Regarding the Henderson Home, James alleged that the court’s finding that “the parties would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity if the home had been rented” for the years 2013 through 2017 “fail[ed] to account for the costs of managing a rental property from a long distance, the likelihood of vacancies, the cost of utilities, maintenance, repairs, property taxes” and other related fees. Regarding the Eagle Mountain Home, James argued that the Ruling did not “accurately account for the additional $25,000” that Blanche received from the bankruptcy trustee “in addition to the $102,486.28 she received” from the sale. Regarding the Rockville Property, James requested clarification as to what facts the court relied upon to conclude that “the parties owned 28 shares of water,” given that the evidence “actually showed,” in his view, that they owned only 19 shares of water. Additionally, James requested clarification as to the court’s comparison of the Rockville Property to a parcel of “11.4 acre[s] of land with Virgin River frontage that was listed for $1,195,000.” Finally, with respect to the marital debts, James asked the court to “enter supplemental, amended and or additional findings” that would “identify the facts upon which [the court] relied in awarding [Blanche] $15,000 representing [the business’s] hypothetical equity or value.”

¶24 In the meantime, the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) intervened in the case based on its obligation to provide child support enforcement services. ORS filed a memo in response to Blanche’s motion for clarification in which it likewise requested clarification of the child support amount. After recounting its view of the evidence, ORS recommended that if Blanche’s income was imputed at minimum wage, and if James’s income was imputed at $18,500 per month, James should be ordered to pay $3,236 per month for the five minor children.

¶25      In August 2018, the court issued a ruling on James’s and Blanche’s motions. With respect to the child support amount, the court now ordered that James’s monthly obligation be $3,236 per month, thus apparently adopting ORS’s recommendation. With respect to the properties, the court now ruled—without explanation—that Blanche was entitled to $25,000 in relation to the Eagle Mountain Home and $40,000 for the Cedar Highland Lots. And with respect to the marital debts, the court found— again without explanation—that “[t]he $15,000 amount awarded is to be added to the $50,000 amount awarded for a total of $65,000” to be awarded to Blanche.

¶26 The court ordered Blanche’s counsel to prepare the final findings of fact and conclusions of law. In a November 2018 filing, however, Blanche alleged that she was unable to do so without “additional findings” regarding, among others, the marital debts. In May 2019, the court heard additional oral arguments. After the parties filed additional objections and motions, the case was reassigned from Judge Lynn Davis—who had heard the trial testimony and had issued both the Ruling and the rulings on the motions for clarification—to Judge Robert Lunnen. Judge Lunnen then heard oral arguments on the parties’ objections and outstanding motions.

  1. The Supplemental Decree

¶27      In April 2021, the court (through Judge Lunnen) issued a “Supplemental Decree of Divorce” (the Supplemental Decree).[4]

¶28 The Supplemental Decree reiterated and incorporated many of the findings and determinations from the Ruling. As in the Ruling, for example, the court awarded Blanche $100,000 for the Hildale Home, $50,000 for the Henderson Home, and the (clarified) amount of $40,000 for the Cedar Highlands Lots. But without explanation, the court altered the order regarding the Eagle Mountain Home, awarding Blanche $43,000 as opposed to the $25,000 that was previously ordered. Also without explanation, the court altered the order regarding the Rockville Property, first concluding that Blanche’s offset should be $38,000, not $42,000, and now awarding Blanche $412,000 from this property as opposed to the $408,000 that had previously been awarded.

¶29      The court also determined that Blanche’s income should be imputed at minimum wage for a total of $1,260 per month. Based on its findings about the parties’ incomes, it then ordered James to pay $3,236 per month in child support, and it again ordered him to pay $8,286 per month in alimony.

¶30 Finally, the court awarded Blanche $65,000 relating to the marital debts. The court explained that $15,000 of that amount “represent[ed] her interest” in various purchases made by James from the bankruptcy trustee and that the remaining $50,000 represented “her interest in other assets, business and otherwise.”

¶31      James timely appealed.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶32 James argues that the district court issued “inadequate” fact findings to explain its rulings regarding the marital properties, child support and alimony, and marital debts. “We review the legal adequacy of findings of fact for correctness as a question of law.” Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 4, 427 P.3d 1221 (quotation simplified); see also Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262 (“We review the legal sufficiency of factual findings—that is, whether the trial court’s factual findings are sufficient to support its legal conclusions—under a correction-of-error standard, according no particular deference to the trial court.” (quotation simplified)).[5]

ANALYSIS

¶33 A district court’s “[f]indings of fact are adequate . . . only when they are sufficiently detailed to disclose the steps by which the district court reached its ultimate conclusion on each issue.” Oldroyd v. Oldroyd, 2017 UT App 45, ¶ 5, 397 P.3d 645. When assessing a challenge to the adequacy of a district court’s findings, we look to whether the court “adequately disclosed the analytic steps” it took in reaching its conclusions. Keiter v. Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 21, 235 P.3d 782. In this sense, the court’s findings of fact must show that its “judgment or decree follows logically from, and is supported by, the evidence.” Id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified). “This obligation facilitates meaningful appellate review and ensures the parties are informed of the trial court’s reasoning.” Shuman v. Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 5, 406 P.3d 258; see also Fish v. Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22, 379 P.3d 882 (explaining that findings “are adequate when they contain sufficient detail to permit appellate review to ensure that the district court’s discretionary determination was rationally based”). While “unstated findings can be implied if it is reasonable to assume that the trial court actually considered the controverted evidence and necessarily made a finding to resolve the controversy, but simply failed to record the factual determination it made,” Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22 (quotation simplified), we “will not imply any missing finding where there is a matrix of possible factual findings and we cannot ascertain the trial court’s actual findings,” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1025–26 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (quotation simplified).

¶34 James argues that a number of the court’s findings were inadequate. His arguments address three groups of findings— namely, findings regarding (I) marital properties, (II) child support and alimony, and (III) marital debts. We address each group in turn.[6]

  1. Marital Properties

¶35 James first challenges the adequacy of the findings that supported the rulings about how to value and distribute the parties’ marital properties. We recognize at the outset that district courts “have considerable discretion in determining property distribution in divorce cases.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 11, 440 P.3d 757 (quotation simplified). But while a district court “does not have to accept [a party’s] proposed valuation” of an item in the marital estate, the court “does have to make findings sufficient to allow us to review and determine whether an equitable property award has been made.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 53, 379 P.3d 890. In ruling on such a claim, we will uphold a district court’s “valuation of marital assets” if “the value is within the range of values established by all the testimony, and as long as the court’s findings are sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” Wadsworth v. Wadsworth, 2022 UT App 28, ¶ 64, 507 P.3d 385 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1259 (Utah 2022).

  1. The Hildale Home

¶36 James first argues that the court’s findings regarding the Hildale Home were inadequate. In James’s view, the court “simply concluded that $100,000 was an appropriate amount of an award without providing factual findings” supporting “the appropriateness” of that award. We agree.

¶37 The court’s discussion of the Hildale Home spans roughly two pages of the Ruling. Much of the discussion concerns the ownership of the home. The court found that the home’s title is held by the Trust, that James’s interest in the home is that “of a beneficiary” to the Trust, and that Blanche, by contrast, is “not a legal beneficiary” of the Trust. But the court then found that “[n]o evidence was presented to the court of the value [of] [James’s] beneficial interest” in the Trust and that “establishing the value of a beneficial interest in property of the [Trust] is practically and legally impossible[,]” in part, because “the Trust is not receptive to, nor responsive to, legal inquiries.” The court also recognized that Blanche submitted an appraisal of the home, but it then concluded that the appraisal was not an adequate mechanism for establishing the home’s value because the appraisal failed to account for “title to the home being in the [Trust], the costs of getting the [Hildale Home] conveyed from the [Trust], or the thousands of dollars owed to the [court] appointed Trustee of the [Trust] which the Trustee is owed for administering the [Trust’s] assets.” After discounting its ability to rely on either James’s interest in the Trust or Blanche’s appraisal, the court ruled that the property was “a marital asset” to some “narrow extent.” Without further explanation, it then ruled that while it couldn’t grant title to Blanche, she was “entitled to an award of $100,000.”

¶38      We recognize the difficulties that the court faced with this trial in general—as should be clear by now, this was a very complicated divorce with a lot of things to decide and divide. And as evidenced by the preceding paragraph, the nature of parties’ apparent interest in the Hildale Home made the question of how to divide that interest particularly complicated. But even so, we see nothing in the Ruling that “adequately disclosed the analytic steps” the court took, Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 21, when deciding that Blanche was entitled to $100,000. The court clearly explained what it thought it couldn’t rely on, but it didn’t explain what it thought it could rely on or how it arrived at this particular amount. Without such an explanation, James has no meaningful way to challenge that $100,000 award, nor do we have any meaningful way to assess whether it was legally warranted in light of the “matrix of possible factual findings” on this issue that are apparent from the record. Hall, 858 P.2d at 1025 (quotation simplified). We accordingly vacate this determination.

  1. The Henderson Home

¶39 James next argues that the court “did not provide any analysis” as to how it determined there was $100,000 in equity in the Henderson Home and that, as a result, the $50,000 award to Blanche was based on inadequate findings. We agree.

¶40      The court found that the home was purchased by James in 2004 for $420,000. It explained that by August 2012, James and Blanche were “months behind in their [mortgage] payment” and that they owed $288,000 when the home was “lost in a short sale in 2013 for $225,000.” The court made a finding that the fair market value of the home at the time—according to Zillow—was $323,861.[7] The court found that James and Blanche “would likely have had at least $100,000 in equity to split if they had” managed to keep the home, but because James “ignored” Blanche’s suggestions to rent the home out, which in theory would have prevented them from losing it, it then ruled that James “should be responsible to, and give [Blanche] credit for, $50,000 in equity representing her share of the lost asset dissipated by him.” It appears the court thus based the $50,000 award on its finding that “the parties could likely have rented and made money as shown or just maintained [the Henderson Home] and sold it for profit presently.”

¶41      James’s initial argument here is that it’s unclear how the court arrived at the $100,000 in equity that it then divided. In response, Blanche suggests that this amount could have been derived from the court’s apparent acceptance of the home’s fair market value as being $323,861 (a value derived from Zillow— which, again, neither party has challenged on appeal as being improper), an amount that is approximately (though, we note, not precisely) $100,000 more than the parties received in the short sale. We have some concern that Blanche is asking us to do too much inferential work on our own, and we could vacate on this basis alone. But in any event, the court’s division of the apparent equity also seems to have been based on a dissipation (or, perhaps, a waste) determination stemming from James’s conduct. Assuming this was so, the court’s findings about James’s conduct, whether the home could actually have been rented out, what the parties could have received in rent, and whether this unspoken amount would actually have prevented them from losing the home were all either missing or decidedly cursory. We’ve previously held, however, held that when a court rules that a party “should be held accountable for the dissipation of marital assets,” the court must support the ruling with “sufficiently detailed findings of fact that explain the trial court’s basis” for that ruling, and we’ve also laid out a number of factors that “may be relevant to” and could support such a ruling. Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶¶ 19–21, 316 P.3d 455 (quotation simplified). While that list is not mandatory or exhaustive, we still have an inadequate findings-based foundation here from which we could review what seems to have been an implicit dissipation determination. When coupled with the lack of explanatory findings about the basis for the equity determination, we conclude that the findings about this home are, as a whole, legally inadequate to support meaningful appellate review of this ruling. We accordingly vacate them.

  1. The Eagle Mountain Home

¶42      James argues that the court’s findings regarding the Eagle Mountain Home were legally inadequate. We agree.

¶43 In the Ruling, the court (through Judge Davis) initially awarded Blanche $25,000 for this home. But the court failed to explain the analytic steps it took to arrive at that amount. The court did enter a few findings about this home—namely, that the parties made a $120,000 down payment when they purchased the home in 2009 ($80,000 of which was borrowed from James’s mother), that they were forced to sell it in 2015 in conjunction with James’s bankruptcy, and that, as a result of that sale, Blanche received “one half” of its equity. But the court made no findings about the sale price or how much equity the parties had in the home at the time of the sale. And then, without any explanation, the court opined that “[h]ad it not been lost to a forced sale,” Blanche “would have been able to receive at least another $25,000 today” because of the home’s “current market value.” The court provided no basis for the $25,000 amount, and we see no reasonable basis in its findings for inferring one.

¶44      Of note, the court (through Judge Lunnen) then changed the awarded amount in the Supplemental Decree, now awarding Blanche $43,000 for it. But the court didn’t explain why it increased this award from the award that had previously been entered in the Ruling. And while Blanche suggests on appeal that the court had now accepted a new valuation of the home that she offered in her motion for clarification, the court never said that it was doing so, nor did it provide any other explanation for why it increased this award at all, let alone by this particular amount.

¶45      In light of this procedural history, it’s unclear to us what analytic steps led the court to first award Blanche $25,000 for this home and what caused the court to later change that award to $43,000. As a result, the findings with respect to this home are legally inadequate and are therefore vacated.

  1. The Rockville Property

¶46      James argues that the court’s findings about the Rockville Property are legally inadequate because it’s “not clear” how the court “reached its valuation of the Rockville Property” or how it divided that value as part of its division of the marital estate. We agree.

¶47 In the Ruling, the court explained that the Rockville Property was a “7.5 acre parcel of farm property” owned by James and Blanche near Rockville, Utah. As for its value and how to determine that value, the court pointed to three options: (1) it noted that a realtor had listed a similar 11.4 acre parcel for $1,195,000, though the court opined that this valuation was “debatable”; (2) the court noted that Blanche “discussed” its value with a realtor who “indicated back then” (which, though unsaid by the court, seems from context to have been in 2013) that the “lot was worth approximately $900,000, due to the 28 water rights attached to it”; and (3) the court pointed to a “[c]urrent market value analysis from Zillow” that “estimate[d]” the property’s value at $1,195,000. The court then found that the parties were “forced to sell” the property in December 2013 for $270,000 due to financial troubles. And the court apparently faulted James for this, determining that at the time of the forced sale, the parties “only owed approximately $190,000” on the property, that it could have been refinanced, and that it was James’s fault that they did not do so. From this, the court found that the forced sale “cost the parties at least $450,000 each,” and it accordingly awarded Blanche “damages of $450,000 offset by monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000.”

¶48 From an adequacy-of-the-findings perspective, the initial problem here is that the court never stated whether it was accepting $1,195,000 or $900,000 as the property’s value. Given that the property’s value would be the numerator for any division of it as a marital asset, this omission is, of course, significant. And while Blanche invites us to engage in some loose math that would account for both possibilities and arrive at the same endpoint, the difference between the two initial valuations might matter if James wished to mount a sufficiency of the evidence challenge. Moreover, to the extent that the court’s determination about how to divide the property’s value turned on an implicit dissipation determination, we again note that the court failed to support such a determination with adequate findings. And finally, while the court offset the award to Blanche by “monies she did receive in the amount of $42,000,” an amount that it later changed to $38,000 in the Supplemental Decree, the court didn’t explain the basis for either amount in either ruling.[8]

¶49 Given the unanswered questions about how the court valued both this property and the offset, we have no basis for conducting a meaningful review of this award. We accordingly vacate it.

  1. The Cedar Highlands Lots

¶50 James’s final property-related challenge is to the findings regarding the Cedar Highlands Lots. In James’s view, the court improperly failed to “indicate . . . how the $80,000 was calculated.” We again agree.

¶51      In the Ruling, the court found that James and a business partner had purchased the two lots for $40,000 each, that Blanche had “controlled the book-keeping for the marital businesses,” and that the lots “were lost when the parties were unable or could not pay the property taxes and Home Owners Association fees,” thus “result[ing] in [an] $80,000 loss to the parties.” In a subsequent ruling, the court determined that this loss should now result in an award of $40,000 to Blanche, and that award was later confirmed in the Supplemental Decree.

¶52 From the court’s findings, it’s unclear why the court determined that there was an $80,000 loss. The court seems to have assumed that the lots were completely lost with no return in value, but the court never said so. And more importantly, even assuming that this was the implicit finding, the court never explained why it concluded that Blanche should receive an award of $40,000 as the result of this particular loss to the marital estate of $80,000. Without such an explanation, we have no meaningful basis for reviewing the ruling. As a result, we vacate it.

  1. Child Support and Alimony

¶53 James challenges the adequacy of the findings relating to child support and alimony. James’s challenges here fall into two groups: first, he challenges the adequacy of the findings relating to Blanche’s income (which, as explained below, matter to both child support and alimony); and second, with respect to the alimony determination, he challenges the adequacy of the court’s findings relating to Blanche’s financial condition and needs.

  1. Blanche’s Income

¶54      James argues that the court’s findings regarding Blanche’s income were inadequate because they failed to “provide any reasoning for disregarding [Blanche’s] earning capacity.” We agree.

¶55      A party’s income matters to a determination of both child support and alimony. First, with respect to child support, a “noncustodial parent’s child support obligation is calculated using each parent’s adjusted gross income.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 34, 509 P.3d 806 (quotation simplified); see also Utah Code §§ 78B-12-202, -301 (establishing guidelines for child support awards). Importantly, the court “is required to enter detailed and specific findings on all material issues which must be considered when making a child support award.” Breinholt v. Breinholt, 905 P.2d 877, 881 (Utah Ct. App. 1995) (quotation simplified). But “so long as the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached are apparent, a trial court may make findings, credibility determinations, or other assessments without detailing its justification for finding particular evidence more credible or persuasive than other evidence supporting a different outcome.” Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 6 (quotation simplified). Second, with respect to alimony, a court must examine, among other factors, “the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified). And a court must in “all cases . . . support its alimony determinations with adequate findings . . . on all material issues,” and “failure to do so constitutes reversible error, unless pertinent facts in the record are clear, uncontroverted, and capable of supporting only a finding in favor of the judgment.” Id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified).

¶56      Of note, when “there is insufficient evidence of one of the statutory alimony factors, courts may impute figures.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 98, 452 P.3d 1134 (quotation simplified). For example, a “court may impute income to a former spouse for purposes of calculating alimony after finding that the former spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed.” Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 15. And it “is not unusual for courts to impute income to a spouse who has not worked during the marriage (or who has not worked for a number of years preceding the divorce) but who is nevertheless capable of producing income.” Petrzelka v. Goodwin, 2020 UT App 34, ¶ 26, 461 P.3d 1134 (emphasis in original). But when a court imputes income, the “imputation cannot be premised upon mere conjecture; instead, it demands a careful and precise assessment requiring detailed findings.” Christensen v. Christensen, 2017 UT App 120, ¶ 22, 400 P.3d 1219 (quotation simplified); see also Reller v. Argenziano, 2015 UT App 241, ¶ 33, 360 P.3d 768 (“Before imputing income to a parent, the trial court must enter findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” (quotation simplified)).

¶57      Income can likewise be imputed as part of a child support determination. See Utah Code § 78B-12-203(8). But, as with an alimony award, a court must support such an imputation with adequate findings. See id. § 78B-12-203(8)(a) (explaining that in contested cases, “[i]ncome may not be imputed to a parent unless,” after an evidentiary hearing on the matter, the court “enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis or the imputation”); id. § 78B-12-203(8)(b) (detailing the evidentiary bases upon which a court may impute income for child support purposes); see also Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 10 (“Imputation cannot be premised upon mere conjecture; instead, it demands a careful and precise assessment requiring detailed findings.” (quotation simplified)).

¶58 Here, the court determined that although Blanche was currently working as a “self employed Uber/Lift driver,” her “income cannot be imputed at more than minimum wage of $1,257 per month.” In a different portion of the Ruling, however, the court found that Blanche’s “gross income” should actually be imputed at “$1,260 per month.”

¶59 On appeal, James doesn’t focus on this three-dollar discrepancy. Rather, James argues that the court erred by failing to explain why Blanche’s income should be imputed at minimum wage at all. As James points out, the court elsewhere found that Blanche is “an experienced bookkeeper with QuickBooks who has elected to be employed by About Faceology,” and it further found that she was “an experienced and sophisticated bookkeeper with many years of experience having run, managed, overseen and monitored millions of dollars in income and expenses that ran through the parties[’] businesses.”

¶60      Having reviewed the Ruling, we see no explanation for the court’s determination that, although Blanche is an experienced bookkeeper with the skill set to manage millions of dollars in income for a company, her income should still be imputed at minimum wage. In an attempt to justify this on appeal, Blanche points to a passing statement from the alimony portion of the ruling in which the court noted that the parties “have ten children, five of which are younger than eighteen years of age or have not yet graduated from high school with their expected class.” But as James points out in response, the parties had even more minor children at home during the years in which Blanche was working as a bookkeeper with responsibilities for “millions of dollars in income.” And while it’s possible that the court believed that something had now changed that would prevent Blanche from still doing this work (such as her new status as a post-divorce single parent), the court never said this or entered any findings to support such a determination, it never explained why it was implicitly determining that Blanche could work as an Uber/Lyft driver but not as a bookkeeper, and it entered no findings to explain why her current employment as an Uber/Lyft driver would result in an income imputation of minimum wage.

¶61      To be clear: as with the other issues in this appeal, we express no opinion about the proper resolution of any of these questions. But without an explanation from the district court, James has no basis for properly challenging the decision about Blanche’s income, nor do we have an adequate basis for reviewing it. Given the importance of Blanche’s income to both child support and alimony, we accordingly vacate those rulings.

  1. Blanche’s Financial Condition and Needs

¶62 As part of its alimony determination, the court was also required to consider Blanche’s “financial condition and needs.” Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified). James argues that the court failed to enter adequate findings to support this assessment. We agree.

¶63 In the Ruling, the court noted that Blanche had claimed that she had “monthly needs of $18,565,” but it then concluded that these needs were “overstated.” And while Blanche had also suggested that she needed the alimony award to account for “over $200,000 in credit card and business debts,” the court suggested that this debt was either accounted for by other portions of its ruling or had “been discharged in the bankruptcy case.”

¶64 But even so, while the court then concluded that James “simply does not make sufficient money to satisfy all of [Blanche’s] claims” about what “she reasonably needs to support herself,” the court did not make any determination about what Blanche’s needs actually are. As James correctly points out, the absence of such an explanation prevents us from conducting a meaningful review of how this factor should weigh into the court’s alimony award, a problem that is compounded by the failure discussed above to adequately explain its determination about Blanche’s income.

¶65 We accordingly vacate the alimony award to allow the court to enter more detailed findings and, “if necessary, recalculat[e] . . . appropriate alimony.” Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, 2005 UT App 67U, para. 6 (quotation simplified); see also Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶¶ 39–40, 449 P.3d 202 (faulting a district court for not “spelling out” “how much more [the petitioner] actually needs each month to pay down her debt and elevate herself to the marital standard of living,” thus leaving the appellate court “unable to discern whether the alimony award, in fact, exceeds her needs”).

III. Marital Debts

¶66 Finally, James challenges the adequacy of the court’s findings with respect to the parties’ marital debts. We agree that these findings are inadequate.

¶67      “In issuing a divorce decree, a trial court must include an order specifying which party is responsible for the payment of joint debts, obligations, or liabilities of the parties contracted or incurred during marriage.” Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 32, 515 P.3d 481 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022); see also Utah Code § 30-3-5(3)(c)(i). Utah law “requires only a fair and equitable, not an equal, division of the marital debts.” Fox, 2022 UT App 88, ¶ 32 (quotation simplified). A district court is in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions”; as a result, a district court’s division of marital debts is “entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified). But, again, the district court must enter findings of fact that are “sufficiently detailed to disclose the steps by which [it] reached its ultimate conclusion on each issue.” Oldroyd, 2017 UT App 45, ¶ 5.

¶68 Here, the court found that the “parties incurred business debt while married.” James challenges the adequacy of the findings with respect to two of those debts.

¶69      First, the court found that as a result of James’s bankruptcy, James took on $30,000 in debt to finance the purchase of his business’s stock and other business-related property. In the court’s view, Blanche was “entitled to 50% of [the] value” of the business, which meant, in its view, that she was also entitled to $15,000. But the court never explained why it concluded that Blanche was entitled to this amount. While it’s possible, as Blanche now suggests, that the court thought that James had drawn the $30,000 from marital assets—and, thus, that $15,000 of it belonged to Blanche—the court didn’t say this, and its reference to this as “$30,000” in “debt” that James had incurred is somewhat at odds with this inference. In the absence of any explanation, we vacate this ruling.

¶70      Second, at the close of the “Marital Debts” section of its ruling, the court found that Blanche had “received financial compensation from the sale of assets and the conversion of assets into cash.” But it then opined that it was “difficult, if not impossible, to decipher whether each expenditure was personal, business related, or partially business-related.” Without any further explanation, the court then held that Blanche

was “awarded judgment against [James] in the amount of $50,000.”

¶71                   It’s entirely unclear to us what the basis for this $50,000

award was. So far as we can tell, the court seems to have concluded that Blanche had already received some prior distributions from marital assets and that she should now receive $50,000 more. But there’s no explanation for how the court arrived at this particular amount, what the amount was linked to, or why it would be listed alongside an analysis of “Marital Debts.” Without any such explanation, we vacate this award.

CONCLUSION

¶72 We agree with James’s assertion that the challenged findings were not legally adequate and that these inadequacies impaired both his ability to challenge the court’s various rulings and our ability to review them. We accordingly vacate the above rulings and remand the case with instructions for the court to enter more detailed findings and then alter any of its rulings as may be necessary.

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

 

[1] Because the parties share the same last name, we’ll follow our normal practice and refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.

[2] In this Background, we’ll recount the main findings regarding each ruling at issue on appeal, but in some instances, additional relevant findings will be discussed in the Analysis below.

[3] With respect to some (though not all) of the dollar amounts included in the rulings at issue, the court added “.00” signifiers. For readability, those have been omitted throughout this opinion.

[4] As noted above, the court had previously entered a bifurcated divorce decree while the trial on the parties’ assets and the like was still ongoing.

[5] As evidenced by the passages quoted above, there’s something of a disconnect in how we’ve referred to this kind of argument in past cases. In some cases, we’ve described it as an argument about the “legal adequacy” of the district court’s findings, see, e.g.Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 20, 427 P.3d 1221, but in others, we’ve described it as an argument about the “legal sufficiency” of the findings, see, e.g.Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262. For consistency’s sake, it might be better if bench and bar alike settled on a single usage. And on reflection, we suggest that such an argument should be described in adequacy terms.

The reason for this is to reduce the potential for confusing this kind of argument with the similar sounding but substantively distinct “sufficiency of the evidence” argument. At the risk of over-simplification: a sufficiency of the evidence argument asserts that there was insufficient evidentiary support for a particular factual finding. As detailed more fully below, however, the argument at issue here—a challenge to the adequacy of the findings—asserts that the court’s findings did not adequately explain the basis for the court’s rulings, thereby impairing our ability to review those rulings (for sufficiency of the evidence or anything else).

[6]Two notes are warranted at the outset—one about our usage patterns regarding the rulings at issue, and one about a threshold argument made by Blanche.

First, as discussed above, there are two decisions that largely drive the various arguments in this case: the Ruling and the Supplemental Decree. The Ruling was issued by Judge Davis, who heard the trial evidence, while the Supplemental Decree was issued by Judge Lunnen, who was assigned to the case after the Ruling was issued. At one of the hearings in the intervening period, Judge Lunnen responded to a party’s argument by stating that “[t]he findings, they’re set in stone. So all this is . . . a result of the findings.” As noted, however, Judge Lunnen did alter a few of the Ruling’s legal determinations in the Supplemental Decree. In consequence of how this all played out, the Supplemental Decree recites many of the findings that were issued in the Ruling, though not with the same level of detail. It instead essentially incorporates the bulk of the Ruling by implicit reference. For this reason, the parties’ arguments on appeal have largely focused on whether the findings from the Ruling were adequate, and we’ll follow suit. To avoid redundancy, we won’t repeatedly mention whether we think the findings from the Supplemental Decree were likewise inadequate (even if they were reiterated in the Supplemental Decree); instead, we’ll discuss the Supplemental Decree only in those instances where it differs in some meaningful way from the Ruling (usually because of an altered legal determination).

Second, in her opening brief, Blanche argues that James did “not comply with Utah’s marshaling requirement” in his briefing on appeal. But the marshaling requirement applies when a party “seeks to prevail in challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a factual finding or a verdict on appeal.” State v. Nielsen, 2014 UT 10, ¶ 40, 326 P.3d 645; see also State v. Wall, 2020 UT App 36, ¶ 53, 460 P.3d 1058; Wilson v. Sanders, 2019 UT App 126, ¶ 17, 447 P.3d 1240. As noted, however, James is not arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support any particular finding. Rather, James is arguing that the findings were inadequate to explain the court’s various rulings. As we’ve explained, an argument about the adequacy of the findings presents a legal question. Because of this, “marshaling is not required.” Jensen v. Jensen, 2009 UT App 1, ¶ 8 n.3, 203 P.3d 1020; see also Woodward v. Fazzio, 823 P.2d 474, 477–78 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (“There is, in effect, no need for an appellant to marshal the evidence when the findings are so inadequate that they cannot be meaningfully challenged as factual determinations. . . . Rather, appellant can simply argue the legal insufficiency of the court’s findings as framed.”).

 

[7] While a topic at oral argument, neither party raised on appeal the issue of whether the district court could appropriately rely on Zillow for its valuation of the property, as opposed to evidence submitted at trial. For this reason, we do not address the issue here.

[8] It seems possible (if not probable) that this offset was intended to reflect a determination that the parties received $80,000 in equity when they sold the property for $270,000 while still owing $190,000 on it. But if this was the determination, (1) the court didn’t say so, and (2) it also didn’t explain the basis for initially deviating upward by $2,000 to arrive at $42,000, nor did it explain the basis for subsequently deviating downward by $2,000 to arrive at $38,000.

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How do you get pet custody after a breakup?

I cannot speak on what the law is in every jurisdiction, but according to Utah (Utah is where I practice divorce and family law), the answers are: 

If by “breakup” you mean the breakup of a marriage by divorce: 

Pets are property, and so they are treated like property, although because they are living creatures they are not treated as a coffee table or money in a bank account would be, obviously. 

And usually pets are not an asset but are more of a liability. In other words, while I can sell a used coffee table and while I can spend my half of the money I was awarded out of the joint marital bank account, owning and caring for a pet costs money. If one spouse is willing to take on the liability associated with caring for a pet and the other spouse is not, then who gets the dog or cat or iguana won’t be in dispute. 

But if both spouses love the dog and both of them want to keep the dog for himself/herself, then who is awarded this particular piece of property can lead to a vicious and expensive fight. We can’t split the dog in half, as we could with money in the bank. But we could award one spouse the dog and then compensate the other spouse with an award of other marital property equal to the value of the dog. That often happens. 

But what about the intangible factors of pet ownership? While I can go out and buy a replacement coffee table if my spouse gets in divorce the one we bought together, it’s not as easy simply to buy a replacement dog. People become emotionally attached to pets and certain kinds of pets (especially dogs, I hear), and that emotional bond is often unique to that animal. Just as losing a child is not “cured” simply by adopting a “new” one, the relationship one formed with a pet is sometimes impossible to replace like one would replace a lightbulb. 

Still, there is only so much a court can do when faced with who gets Fido. What options are there? 

If the court decides that one spouse must be awarded the sole ownership and control of the pet, then the court will usually award the pet to one spouse and award the other spouse marital property of equal value. 

If the court decides that the parties to the divorce will “share custody” of the pet as if it were a child who spends time in the custody of both parents, the court can do that too. The court could order that Fido spends a week with ex-wife, then a week with ex-husband (or impose some other schedule). 

If by “breakup” you mean the breakup of a cohabitant (unmarried) relationship: 

If two people cohabit (that means “live together and have a sexual relationship without being married”), and if during that relationship: 

  • the couple both contribute money toward the purchase of a dog (or cat, or iguana, etc.) so that it’s a joint purchase and they are co-owners, and then the couple breaks up and they can’t agree who gets to keep the dog, then they could go to court to have the matter resolved. The judge could either order the dog sold and the proceeds of sale divided equally between the owners or award the dog to one of the parties and order that party pay the other half the value of the dog. 

OR 

  • one member of the couple buys a dog to which the other member of the couple becomes attached, and then the couple breaks up, the other member of the couple has no ownership rights in the pet. 

Had the couple been married when the pet was purchased—even if it was not a joint purchase—then because the couple was married when the property (i.e., the pet) was acquired, the pet is marital property. But when a couple is not married, if one member of the couple purchases something in his/her individual/separate capacity, then that person is the only owner. It’s not “joint” property. 

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

https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-get-pet-custody-after-a-breakup/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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When are my ex’s things deemed abandoned?

I was awarded the house in the divorce. My ex’s things are still here and he/she won’t pick them up. When are they deemed abandoned? 

Utah Code § 67-4a-201 provides, in pertinent part that property is presumed abandoned if the property is unclaimed by the apparent owner “the earlier of three years after the owner first has a right to demand the property or the obligation to pay or distribute the property arises.” 

Utah Code § 67-4a-208 (Indication of apparent owner interest in property) provides, in pertinent part: 

(1) The period after which property is presumed abandoned is measured from the later of: 

(a) the date the property is presumed abandoned under this part; or 

(b) the latest indication of interest by the apparent owner in the property. 

(2) Under this chapter, an indication of an apparent owner’s interest in property includes: 

(a) a record communicated by the apparent owner to the holder or agent of the holder concerning the property or the account in which the property is held; 

(b) an oral communication by the apparent owner to the holder or agent of the holder concerning the property or the account in which the property is held, if the holder or the holder’s agent contemporaneously makes and preserves a record of the fact of the apparent owner’s communication; 

(c) presentment of a check or other instrument of payment of a dividend, interest payment, or other distribution, or evidence of receipt of a distribution made by electronic or similar means, with respect to an account, underlying security, or interest in a business association; 

(d) activity directed by an apparent owner in the account in which the property is held, including accessing the account or information concerning the account, or a direction by the apparent owner to increase, decrease, or otherwise change the amount or type of property held in the account; 

(e) a deposit into or withdrawal from an account at a banking organization or financial organization, including an automatic deposit or withdrawal previously authorized by the apparent owner other than an automatic reinvestment of dividends or interest; 

(f) any other action by the apparent owner which reasonably demonstrates to the holder that the apparent owner knows that the account exists; and 

(g) subject to Subsection (5), payment of a premium on an insurance policy. 

(3) An action by an agent or other representative of an apparent owner, other than the holder acting as the apparent owner’s agent, is presumed to be an action on behalf of the apparent owner. 

(4) A communication with an apparent owner by a person other than the holder or the holder’s representative is not an indication of interest in the property by the apparent owner unless a record of the communication evidences the apparent owner’s knowledge of a right to the property. 

(5) If the insured dies or the insured or beneficiary of an insurance policy otherwise becomes entitled to the proceeds before depletion of the cash surrender value of the policy by operation of an automatic premium loan provision or other nonforfeiture provision contained in the policy, the operation does not prevent the policy from maturing or terminating. 

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

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Why is it so easy to get married, and so hard to get divorced?

Why is it so easy to get married, and so hard to get divorced? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? 

This is a perceptive question. 

It would not not be that hard to get divorced if you were to give up everything in the divorce. If you told your spouse, “I want a divorce so bad I’ll make this as easy for, and as advantageous to, you as possible by waiving any and all rights to the marital assets, spousal support, the kids, everything,” you could get divorced relatively quickly and without having to incur any attorney’s fees. Heck, your spouse might gleefully pay an attorney to draw the “my spouse is giving away the farm” divorce action and settlement agreement. Of course, while getting the divorce that way would be fast, easy, and cheap, you’d pay a dear personal price—in both the short and the long run—in almost every other aspect.  

When you think about it, there are many endeavors that are easy to enter but prove to be very difficult to finish or exit (or at least to finish or exit comfortably): 

  • college (easy to enroll, get loans), hard to finish, hard to pay off student loans, especially if you drop out and still have to pay the loans off 
  • business (easier to get into than to stay in, and brutal to experience a business failure) 

And marriage is another. The longer one is married, the harder a divorce usually is due to so much having been invested in a marriage of long duration. It’s easier for two single, childless people to marry than for two married people to divorce who acquired property/assets and incurred debt and who may have begotten minor children (to say nothing of the disruption divorce inflicts on the physical and emotional reliance upon each other that spouses develop over time). With this in mind, it’s hard to conceive a way by which we could reasonably and responsibly make easier than marrying the dividing the property/assets, apportioning responsibility for marital debts and obligations, and determining the custody of minor children in divorce.  

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

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If you get a divorce but everything is in your name, do you have to split it?

If you get a divorce but everything is in your name, do you get to keep everything or do you have to split it? 

I will answer your question in the context of the law of the jurisdiction where I practice divorce law (Utah): 

First, a short answer to your question: whether property acquired in the individual name of a spouse during a marriage (other than by gift or inheritance) does not somehow shield that property from being awarded in whole or in part to the other spouse in divorce. 

Second, it will be helpful to understand a few terms that are key to understanding property in divorce (See Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)): 

– marital property. Property that is acquired during marriage and that is subject to distribution or division at the time of marital dissolution. • Generally, it is property acquired after the date of the marriage and before a spouse files for separation or divorce. The phrase marital property is used in equitable-distribution states and is roughly equivalent to community property. — Also termed marital estate; matrimonial property. 

– separate property. 1. Property that a spouse owned before marriage or acquired during marriage by inheritance or by gift from a third party, and in some states property acquired during marriage but after the spouses have entered into a separation agreement and have begun living apart or after one spouse has commenced a divorce action. — Also termed individual property. 

– community property. Assets owned in common by husband and wife as a result of their having been acquired during the marriage by means other than an inheritance by, or a gift or devise to, one spouse, each spouse generally holding a one-half interest in the property. • Only nine states have community-property systems: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. A community-property regime is elective in Alaska. 

– quasi-community property. Personal property that, having been acquired in a non-community-property state, would have been community property if acquired in a community-property state. • If a community-property state is the forum for a divorce or administration of a decedent’s estate, state law may allow the court to treat quasi-community property as if it were community property when it determines the spouses’ interests. 

– equitable distribution (1893) Family law. The division of marital property by a court in a divorce proceeding, under statutory guidelines that provide for a fair, but not necessarily equal, allocation of the property between the spouses. • With equitable distribution, when a marriage ends in divorce, property acquired during the marriage is divided equitably between the spouses regardless of who holds title to the property. The courts consider many factors in awarding property, including a spouse’s monetary contributions, nonmonetary assistance to a spouse’s career or earning potential, the efforts of each spouse during the marriage, and the length of the marriage. The court may take into account the relative earning capacity of the spouses and the fault of either spouse. Equitable distribution is applied in 47 states (i.e., all the states except California, Louisiana, and New Mexico, which are “equal division” community-property states). — Also termed equitable division; assignment of property. 

Utah is an equitable distribution state in the context of divorce. Here is how Utah defines the difference between separate and marital property, and what a divorce court is empowered to do with separate and marital property. See Lindsey v. Lindsey, 392 P.3d 968 (Utah Ct.App. 2017), 2017 UT App 38: 

When distributing “marital property in a divorce proceeding, the overriding consideration is that the ultimate division be equitable—that property be fairly divided between the parties.” Granger v. Granger, 2016 UT App 117, ¶ 15, 374 P.3d 1043 (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). To that end, a trial court must first “identify the property in dispute and determine whether it is marital or separate.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 121, ––– P.3d –––– (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). Marital property ordinarily includes “all property acquired during marriage,” “whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1317–18 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Separate property ordinarily includes premarital property, gifts, and inheritances, including any appreciation that may accrue during the marriage. SeeDahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 143, ––– P.3d ––––; Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988). 

¶ 32 The presumption is that marital property will be divided equally while separate property will not be divided at all. See Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 121, ––– P.3d ––––; Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1323. Married persons have a right to separately own and enjoy property, and that right does not dissipate upon divorce. SeeMortensen, 760 P.2d at 308. Thus, equity generally requires that “each party retain the separate property he or she brought into the marriage, including any appreciation” thereof. Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320, 1323; accordDahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 143, ––– P.3d ––––; Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308. 

¶ 33 But separate property “is not totally beyond a court’s reach.” Elman v. Elman, 2002 UT App 83, ¶ 19, 45 P.3d 176 (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). Before carving property out of the marital estate, a trial court must consider whether circumstances warrant an equitable override of the separate-property retention rule. See Henshaw v. Henshaw, 2012 UT App 56, ¶ 15, 271 P.3d 837. Three circumstances have been identified under Utah law as supporting an award of separate property at the time of divorce. These exceptions are when separate property has been commingled; when the other spouse has augmented, maintained, or protected the separate property; and in extraordinary situations when equity so demands. SeeMortensen, 760 P.2d at 308; Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320. 

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

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Knowles v. Knowles – UT App 47

Knowles v. Knowles – UT App 47 

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS 

DUANE CROFT KNOWLES,
Appellant,
v.
CELIA FERN KNOWLES,
Appellee. 

Opinion 

No. 20200032 

Filed April 7, 2022 

Second District Court, Farmington Department 

The Honorable David R. Hamilton 

No. 174700123 

Julie J. Nelson and Alexandra Mareschal, Attorneys
for Appellant 

Emily Adams and Sara Pfrommer, Attorneys
for Appellee 

JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and DIANA HAGEN concurred. 

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge: 

¶1 In 2016, Duane Croft Knowles and Celia Fern Knowles separated after nearly thirty years of marriage. During their separation, the district court awarded Celia1 temporary alimony and, after a bench trial, entered a final alimony award. Duane now appeals those awards, arguing the court abused its discretion in (1) declining to award him credit for purported overages he paid in temporary alimony, (2) calculating the parties’ expenses in determining the final alimony award, and (3) selecting the date to value the retirement accounts. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand. 

BACKGROUND2  

¶2 Duane and Celia were married in December 1989. They remained married for twenty-nine years, during which time they had six children. For the duration of the marriage, Duane worked as an optometrist and supported the family financially. 

¶3 In 2016, Duane and Celia separated. At that time, only two of the children were minors.3 Upon the parties’ separation, Celia remained in the marital home, which was paid off. Each month Duane used his income to pay the family’s bills and any remaining funds were then divided between the parties; in the initial months following their separation, Celia received $200 more per month than Duane, after which the excess was split 50/50. After several months of this informal arrangement, both parties filed motions for temporary orders, supported by financial declarations. 

¶4 In Celia’s financial declaration, she reported a nominal monthly income of $103.52 from her massage therapist side business but requested the court impute the minimum wage for full-time employment to her in the amount of $1,257 per month. Celia also declared that her monthly financial needs were $8,476.91. This total included, among other things, orthodontic expenses for one of the parties’ minor children and a monthly donation for tithing to Celia’s church. 

¶5 In Duane’s financial declaration, he reported a net monthly income of $9,671.08 from his job as an optometrist. Duane calculated his monthly expenses as $5,054.70 and included in those expenses a line-item for a tithing donation to his church. 

¶6 The competing motions for temporary orders were reviewed before a commissioner in September 2017. Duane was ordered to pay Celia $3,797 in alimony each month, beginning in July 2017. The commissioner noted that “the issue of retroactive alimony prior to July 1, 2017,” would be “reserve[d]” and that Duane “shall receive credit for amounts he has paid [Celia] or on behalf of [Celia] during this time.” In calculating temporary alimony, the commissioner adjusted the stated monthly expenses for both parties, including eliminating the claimed monthly expense for tithing. The commissioner did not exclude, however, Celia’s claimed orthodontic expenses for the parties’ minor children. 

¶7 Duane objected to the commissioner’s alimony recommendations, arguing that the commissioner had improperly calculated the parties’ needs by failing to “equalize the parties[’] standards of living” and “by failing to consider the parties[’] historical standard of living.” In addition, he argued that the temporary award should cover only the actual expenses of the parties and not “projected expenses” such as possible orthodontics for the parties’ ten-year-old child who did not yet have braces. 

¶8 Following briefing and argument on Duane’s motion, the district court sustained the commissioner’s recommendations as to the parties’ temporary expenses and incomes. In particular, the court noted that including the orthodontic expenses in calculating Celia’s needs “was not erroneous” because “[e]ven if orthodonti[cs] is not presently involved, it could occur in the immediate future.” However, the court agreed with Duane that some of Celia’s expenses were inflated and that alimony should be adjusted accordingly. The court then reduced the temporary alimony award from $3,797 to $2,809, with payments set to begin on July 1, 2017, the same day set by the commissioner in his initial order.4  

¶9 In 2019, two years after Duane filed for divorce, the parties went to trial. During the course of the two-day bench trial on financial issues, both parties testified, along with their respective experts. 

¶10 Duane first challenged the district court’s award of temporary alimony, arguing that Celia’s financial declarations were not adequately supported and that she had failed to prove the marital standard of living and her actual needs. In support of this argument, Duane called as an expert a forensic accountant to testify regarding the parties’ marital standard of living. The expert first testified that prior to the parties’ separation in 2016, the monthly marital expenses for both parties together were $9,338, or $4,669 each. He then explained that Celia had requested $8,476.91 in her financial declaration but had been spending only around $4,755.02 per month. He also opined that, based on the parties’ historical spending, tithing donations to their church were part of the marital standard of living. 

¶11 In addition to challenging the amount of alimony, Duane asked the court to credit him $64,000 for what he characterized as an “overage” he paid in temporary alimony. In essence, Duane argued that the temporary alimony figure he had paid for approximately two years had been too high and asked the court to adjust that figure retroactively and award him the difference between what he had paid and what he should have paid. He argued that Celia had “intentionally dissipated the marital estate by overspending,” “over-inflat[ing] her needs,” and “refusing to work” despite having “the ability to work full time.” 

¶12 Following trial, the district court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on its analysis of the parties’ income and needs, the court awarded Celia $2,770 in permanent alimony per month moving forward. 

¶13 In reaching that amount, the court first analyzed each party’s income. It calculated Duane’s monthly net income at $9,368, after averaging the prior four years of his annual income as stated in his tax returns. The court also imputed a monthly net income of $1,874 to Celia, finding that “she is voluntarily underemployed” and “capable of employment.” 

¶14 The court then analyzed the needs of each party. It first declined to “award any donations or tithing for either party.” It reasoned that the tithing payments were “a religious preference” and “not a necessary living expense.” 

¶15 Next, after examining Celia’s multiple financial declarations and other relevant evidence, the district court found that her post-divorce living expenses would be $5,382 per month. To reach this amount, the court excluded some of Celia’s claims for expenses, finding the supporting evidence “lacking, remote in time[,] and remote in detail.” But the court also added additional expenses for a future mortgage and for health insurance, which had not been included in Celia’s financial declarations. 

¶16 Finally, the court examined Duane’s financial declarations and supporting evidence and determined that his monthly post-divorce living expenses, excluding child support, would be $5,833. In so doing, the court excluded only “the expense of donations,” finding Duane’s other expenses “to be appropriate.” 

¶17 After setting the amount of permanent alimony, the district court addressed both parties’ claims regarding alimony arrears and overpayments. Without addressing the merits of the parties’ arguments, the court summarily concluded that both parties had failed “to provide or to carry the weight of the evidence in their respective favor” and declined to credit Duane for any overpayments of temporary alimony. 

¶18 With respect to the parties’ retirement accounts, the court awarded each party “one-half of the value of the marital portion of the retirement accounts, . . . with a valuation date of August 2, 2019,” the date on which the court announced its oral ruling. 

¶19 Following the district court’s oral ruling, Duane filed a document requesting further clarification on a number of issues, including, as relevant here, his taxpayer filing status and the valuation date of the retirement accounts. As to his taxpayer filing status, Duane noted that his “ability to pay should be reduced by $224/month as his taxable income will be higher” because of the change in his filing status following the divorce. As to the valuation date of the retirement accounts, Duane noted that the division date “should be the date of separation” and not the date of divorce. 

¶20 In response to Duane’s request, the district court issued an order rejecting both arguments. First, it declined to change Duane’s taxpayer filing status, reasoning that Duane had not provided sufficient evidence to rebut its previous ruling. Second, it declined to change the valuation date of the retirement accounts. It acknowledged that “typically the date of division of retirement accounts is the date of divorce” but, due to the “totality of the circumstances” presented in this case, determined to use August 2, 2019 as the “date of division,” noting that the parties had not made “sufficient argument about a different division date being used.” 

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW 

¶21 Duane now appeals and raises three issues for our consideration. First, he contends that the district court erred “by failing to correct for overage paid in temporary alimony.” “District courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated.” Burggraaf v. Burggraaf, 2019 UT App 195, ¶ 26, 455 P.3d 1071 (quotation simplified). 

¶22 Second, Duane contends that the district court erred in calculating the amount of the permanent alimony award. Specifically, he argues that the court miscalculated the parties’ expenses by failing to include the tithing contribution each paid to their church, by “including an ongoing expense for orthodonti[cs],” and by “miscalculating [Duane’s] tax obligation.” We review a district court’s alimony determination for an abuse of discretion. See id. In determining alimony, a court exceeds its discretion if its alimony award “lacks a reasonable basis.” Redden v. Redden, 2020 UT App 22, ¶ 15, 461 P.3d 314. 

¶23 Third, Duane contends that the district court erred by “setting an arbitrary valuation date for the retirement accounts rather than the date of separation.” “The [district] court in a divorce action is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 4, 316 P.3d 455 (quotation simplified). “Thus, we will not disturb a court’s distribution of marital property unless it is clearly unjust or a clear abuse of discretion.” Goggin v. Goggin, 2013 UT 16, ¶ 44, 299 P.3d 1079 (quotation simplified). 

ANALYSIS

I. Overpayment of Temporary Alimony

¶24 Duane first contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to credit him for what he considers to have been excess payments made to Celia pursuant to the court’s temporary alimony order. Duane argued below, and argues now on appeal, that the temporary alimony award was erroneous because Celia obtained it by submitting inflated and unjustified need claims that the district court rejected after hearing the evidence at trial. Specifically, he argues that the temporary award underestimated the amount of income to be imputed to Celia, relied on an inflated estimate of Celia’s needs, and included a triple award for the children’s medical expenses. 

¶25 Celia first responds that Duane failed to preserve this issue below, with the exception of his claim regarding the triple award of medical expenses. She then asserts that Duane’s argument fails on the merits because his comparison of the temporary and final awards fails to account for changes in her circumstances during the two-year period between separation and trial. We turn first to the preservation argument and then address the merits. 

A. Preservation

¶26 Celia asserts that Duane’s overpayment argument regarding her expenses and income is unpreserved because the argument Duane raised in the district court is based on an “entirely distinct legal theory” from the argument he raises on appeal. (Quotation simplified.) In the district court, Duane argued that he paid too much in temporary alimony because Celia had “dissipated the marital estate by overspending” and had refused to work. Celia asserts these arguments are distinct from the argument Duane raises here, which is that the temporary alimony award was overinflated because of adjustments to Celia’s alimony award made by the district court at the time of trial. We disagree with Celia’s characterization of the arguments and conclude that the issue was properly preserved. 

¶27 “Our preservation requirement is well-settled: we require parties to have raised and argued before the district court the issue that they raise and argue before us on appeal, and if a party does not, it has failed to preserve the issue.” True v. Utah Dep’t of Transportation, 2018 UT App 86, ¶ 23, 427 P.3d 338 (quotation simplified). “An issue is preserved for appeal when it has been presented to the district court in such a way that the court has an opportunity to rule on it.” State v. Rogers, 2020 UT App 78, ¶ 20, 467 P.3d 880 (quotation simplified). A party asserting error on appeal must have raised the issue before the district court “specifically, in a timely manner, and with support by evidence and relevant legal authority.” True, 2018 UT App 86, ¶ 24. “New arguments, when brought under a properly preserved issue or theory,” may be properly considered on appeal. Id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified). “Such arguments include citing new authority or cases supporting an issue that was properly preserved.” State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 14 n.2, 416 P.3d 443. 

¶28 The arguments Duane raised repeatedly in the district court are, in fact, based on the same facts and legal theories as those he raises here. In the proceedings on temporary orders, Celia filed a financial declaration stating that her monthly need was $8,476.91, which was only $1,000 short of Duane’s entire net income. At that time, Celia was working a de minimis amount and had no expenses for health insurance or housing since she was residing in the paid-off marital home and receiving health insurance through Duane’s employment. The commissioner reduced some of Celia’s claimed expenses and imputed income to her based on full-time work at a minimum wage income and then recommended that Duane pay temporary alimony in the amount of $3,797 per month. 

¶29 Duane objected to the commissioner’s recommendation, arguing that Celia’s requested amount far exceeded the marital standard of living. Duane requested that the district court immediately correct the inflated temporary alimony because he was concerned that the court would decline to correct it retroactively. The court agreed that some of Celia’s expenses were inflated and reduced the temporary award to $2,809. Dissatisfied with the court’s resolution of the issue, Duane filed a petition for interlocutory appeal with this court, again making the argument that the temporary alimony award was excessive because Celia’s claimed expenses were excessive. His petition was denied. 

¶30 Having been only partially successful in urging the district court to reduce the temporary award before trial, Duane again challenged the temporary award at trial. Indeed, Duane maintains that much of his motivation to take the case to trial— rather than to settle out of court—was to have the temporary alimony award corrected. Duane filed a trial brief in which he argued that he should be credited for any overage he had paid in temporary alimony and that temporary alimony should be “reduced retroactively as it was incorrectly applied.” Specifically, Duane argued that Celia had “over-inflated her needs” and “misled the [c]ourt with her financial declaration.” After the district court announced its preliminary oral ruling, Duane argued in post-trial briefing that the court should award him a judgment for “alimony that was over-paid during the temporary orders.” And at oral argument on the post-trial issues, Duane again argued that “[t]he temporary order created a substantial inequity between the parties” and that he should be given a judgment for the amounts he overpaid. The court noted Duane’s argument but declined to analyze the merits of his arguments or credit him for any overpayment. 

¶31 In short, Duane repeatedly argued below that the temporary alimony award was wrong for two broad reasons. First, he claimed that it was wrong due to Celia’s allegedly overstated expenses. Second, he claimed that it was wrong due to Celia’s allegedly understated earning capacity. Duane sought credit for these overages based on his argument that the evidence presented at trial failed to support the temporary award. This is the same argument that Duane advances here. The fact that Duane now illustrates the issue by pointing to the discrepancies between the temporary alimony order and the final alimony award (and noting the adjustments made to the final award to account for Celia’s increased expenses for housing and health insurance) does not change the essence of Duane’s argument. We therefore conclude that Duane adequately preserved the issue for our consideration. 

B. Temporary Awards

¶32 Utah Code section 30-3-3(3) authorizes an award of temporary alimony “to provide money, during the pendency of the action, for the separate support and maintenance of the other party and of any children in the custody of the other party.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-3(3) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). Although orders providing for temporary support are operative during the pendency of the divorce proceeding, they are not final orders from which an appeal of right may be taken. Rather, as interlocutory orders, they are subject to continuing review and modification by the district court until the issuance of a final judgment. See IHC Health Services, Inc. v. D & K Mgmt., Inc., 2008 UT 73, ¶ 27, 196 P.3d 588 (recognizing the broad discretion of district courts to reconsider and modify interlocutory rulings before final judgment). 

¶33 Although district courts have discretion in fashioning temporary orders, temporary alimony is subject to the same requirements as a regular alimony award. See Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶¶ 85–98, 459 P.3d 276 (describing factors applied to temporary alimony and concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying temporary alimony when wife failed to provide documentation of her needs). As is the case with awards of permanent alimony, temporary alimony awards must “follow[] logically from, and [be] supported by, the evidence.” Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 13, 80 P.3d 153 (quotation simplified). 

¶34 Because of their nature, however, temporary awards are often based on limited evidence. Typically recommended by a domestic relations commissioner after a brief proffer hearing based largely on the financial declarations submitted by the parties, see Utah R. Jud. Admin. 6-401(2)(H), such temporary orders may result in awards that are not supported by the more substantial evidence presented at a later trial. For this reason, district courts have the authority to revisit temporary orders and, if warranted, retroactively modify them in the final divorce decree. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-3(4); id. § 30-3-5(4); id. § 78B12-112(4) (2018); Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 101, 496 P.3d 242; McPherson v. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶¶ 12, 17, 23, 265 P.3d 839. 

¶35 This court’s opinion in McPherson illustrates this point and is instructive here. There, husband appealed the district court’s denial of his request for a retroactive modification of his temporary alimony obligation. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶ 10. The court had based its initial temporary award on the recommendation of the domestic relations commissioner who, in turn, had based it on husband’s salary at the time of the initial support hearing. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5. When the court entered the temporary award, it was unaware that husband had since been fired from his job. Id. ¶ 5. Husband thereafter moved to amend the temporary order to recalculate his child support and alimony obligations in accordance with his then-decreased salary. Id. ¶ 7. The court denied the motion, reasoning that husband’s decreased salary was likely the result of his voluntary underemployment. Id. Following a bench trial, however, the court reversed course, finding that husband was not voluntarily underemployed. Id. ¶ 19. It therefore reduced husband’s future support obligations. Id. But it nevertheless denied husband’s request for a retroactive modification of his temporary support obligations, reasoning there was “no basis in law, fact, or equity to retroactively reduce the amounts.” Id. (quotation simplified). 

¶36 On appeal, this court reversed and remanded with instructions for the district court to modify the temporary alimony award retroactively. Id. ¶ 24. While recognizing the considerable discretion district courts possess in determining alimony, we emphasized that such awards must be supported by an explanation based on the evidence. Id. ¶ 23. Because the temporary alimony award was based on the erroneous assumption (later rejected by the district court) that husband was voluntarily underemployed, there was no justification for the higher award. Id. ¶ 21. This court held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to retroactively modify husband’s temporary support obligations, reasoning that “[e]ven if the commissioner’s recommendations seemed well founded at the time of the hearings, once the premise of that decision was proved inaccurate, there was no reasoned basis to impose temporary support obligations that were mathematically impossible for [h]usband to pay.” Id. ¶ 23. 

¶37 Like the husband in McPherson, Duane argues the district court abused its discretion when it failed to credit him for temporary alimony payments that were higher than the amount the court determined was appropriate after hearing the evidence at trial. We therefore consider whether the district court’s refusal to modify the temporary alimony award was supported by its factual findings and rulings at trial. 

¶38 Duane identifies $62,627 in alleged discrepancies between the district court’s award of permanent alimony based on the trial evidence and its award of temporary alimony based on the proceedings before the commissioner. These consist of discrepancies between (1) Celia’s imputed income ($16,255 in overage); (2) Celia’s needs ($38,250 in overage); and (3) the amount awarded for medical expenses ($8,152 in overage). While Celia argues that these discrepancies are readily explainable, the district court offered no such explanation. Despite Duane’s request for reimbursement of what he argued was excessive temporary alimony, the court summarily declined to reconcile the differences, stating only that “neither party submitted sufficient evidence for arrears or overages.” But the district court’s summary refusal to consider the merits of the issue on the basis of insufficient evidence does not suffice, because the evidence supporting Duane’s request for reimbursement of asserted overages was the very same evidence that supported the court’s award of permanent alimony.5 Indeed, the court’s explanation for its refusal to address the discrepancies between the temporary and final award is no more sufficient than the McPherson court’s conclusory statement that there was “no basis in law, fact, or equity to retroactively reduce the amounts.” See 2011 UT App 382, ¶ 19 (quotation simplified). We therefore turn to the alleged discrepancies Duane identifies. 

  1. Celia’s Imputed Income

¶39 An alimony award must account for the ability of the recipient spouse to support themselves. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9)(a)(ii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). At the temporary stage, the court imputed $1,225 in net income to Celia. But at trial, the court agreed with Duane and found that Celia was “voluntarily underemployed” and “capable of employment.” Based on the testimony presented at trial, the court imputed to Celia $1,874 per month in net income, which represented an increase of $649 per month over the amount imputed in the temporary award. And the court made no finding suggesting that Celia could not have earned that amount during the pendency of the proceedings, or otherwise justifying the discrepancy between the temporary order and its findings at trial. The court should have considered whether Celia had the same earning capacity during the separation. 

  1. Celia’s Needs

¶40 An alimony award also must account for the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse. See id. § 30-3-5(9)(a)(i). At the temporary stage, when Celia was residing in the paid-off marital home and receiving health insurance through Duane’s employment, the court found that Celia had monthly expenses (needs) of $5,370. After imputing a monthly net minimum wage of $1,225 to Celia and giving Duane credit for $1,336 in monthly child support payments, the court entered a temporary alimony award of $2,809 per month. 

¶41 At trial, however, the court found that evidentiary support for Celia’s expenses was “lacking, remote in time,” “remote in detail,” and “artificial.” It therefore disallowed many of her claimed expenses. It then added a monthly mortgage expense of $1,015 to account for the fact that Celia would be required to refinance the marital home to cash out Duane’s equity. It also added a monthly health insurance expense of $503 because Celia would no longer be eligible for insurance through Duane’s employer after the divorce. Following these adjustments, the court made a finding that Celia’s monthly post-divorce expenses were $5,382. Excluding the post-divorce adjustments for housing and health insurance, the permanent award based on the trial evidence was $1,530 per month less than the temporary award or a total of $38,250 over the twenty-five months that Duane paid support pursuant to the temporary order. Duane argues that the district court erred in failing to award him this overage. 

¶42 Celia argues that this court should reject Duane’s argument because he failed to marshal the evidence supporting the district court’s permanent award. She argues that Duane disregarded the evidence supporting her need for support after “the collapse of her 27-year marriage where she was largely a stay-at-home parent.” But marshalling is not required, because Duane has not raised a sufficiency argument or challenged the district court’s factual findings. And Celia has not explained why the length of the marriage or her status as a stay-at-home parent justifies the discrepancies in the amount of the temporary and final awards, since these issues are properly considered in determining the length of the alimony award and the level of income to impute to the receiving spouse. See id. § 30-3-5(9)(a)(ii), (iv). 

¶43 Celia next argues that Duane is committing a logical fallacy of false equivalence by comparing the temporary and final alimony awards because there are significant differences between the two kinds of awards. She posits that a spouse’s needs, ability to produce income, and support of minor children may change from the time a court orders temporary alimony to the time of the final award and suggests that this is the explanation for the discrepancies here. She asserts that she was able to earn more income as time went on because her children were growing and their medical needs had decreased. She therefore suggests the district court determined she could earn more after the divorce was final than during its pendency. A court could conceivably find that a party is able to earn more at the time of trial than at the time of temporary orders. But the court made no such finding here, and we note that at no point during the temporary proceedings did Celia argue that the children’s medical needs prevented her from working. Indeed, the commissioner imputed her minimum wage for full-time work, and the district court found that Celia was voluntarily underemployed and flatly rejected her argument that she could not work because of the children’s medical needs. 

¶44 Finally, Celia argues that Duane’s line-by-line comparison 

of the temporary and permanent awards is misleading because an alimony award is based on a more generalized determination of the amount necessary for both parties to maintain the standard of living that they enjoyed prior to the divorce. Because the temporary award ($2,809) was only $39 higher than the final award ($2,770), Celia maintains that the court’s failure to make an adjustment could not have been an abuse of discretion. But this argument ignores the adjustment made to the temporary award to account for mortgage and health insurance expenses.6 And more importantly, it is at odds with the district court’s express finding that evidentiary support for Celia’s claimed expenses was “lacking, remote in time,” “remote in detail,” and “artificial.” The court should have considered the merits of Duane’s arguments regarding these discrepancies to determine whether a modification of the temporary alimony award was in order. 

  1. Medical Expenses

¶45 Duane also argues that the temporary alimony award erroneously included a triple award of medical expenses. The temporary orders awarded Celia approximately $400 per month for medical expenses for the parties’ children, as well as half the funds in the parties’ health savings account (HSA). In addition, the temporary orders required that Duane pay for half the children’s medical costs. Duane reasons that Celia should not have been awarded the $400 per month for medical expenses and half of the HSA account, because he was already required to pay for half of the children’s medical costs. And he argues this inequity was exacerbated at trial when the court awarded Celia an additional lump sum for orthodontic expenses and miscellaneous out-of-pocket medical expenses. Duane seeks a credit in the total amount of $8,152. 

¶46 Celia disputes Duane’s claim, arguing that Duane has failed to demonstrate that the money she was awarded for medical expenses exceeded the actual needs of the family. She also points to the district court’s finding that she had established the amount of the medical expenses with receipts and testimony not refuted by Duane, and that the award was to be paid from the HSA, not in addition to it. 

¶47 Duane responds that Celia is confusing the district court’s award for medical expense arrearages with the ongoing expenses included in calculating Celia’s need. He explains the court included approximately $400 per month in medical expenses in calculating Celia’s expenses, awarded Celia half the HSA account, and then duplicatively ordered Duane to pay for half the children’s medical expenses during the temporary orders period. After trial, Celia was awarded $150 per month in health care expenses and Duane was awarded the entire HSA amount. As was the case with Duane’s claim to recover overages associated with Celia’s allegedly inflated expenses and underemployment, the district court did not engage with Duane’s arguments that the temporary alimony award was $541 too high, stating only that it “had previously ruled that [Celia] is entitled to an award of medical expenses” and that it would “not modify its previous ruling.” There was no legal justification for the court’s refusal to examine the merits of Duane’s claim. 

  1. Remand

¶48 Temporary support orders are interlocutory in nature and therefore subject to continuing modification by the district court through the date of the final decree. Because they are often based on proffers that may differ from the actual evidence presented at trial, such temporary orders may result in awards that are not supported by the evidence presented at a later trial. For this reason, district courts have not only the authority, but the obligation, to revisit temporary orders when requested and, if warranted, to “true-up” or retroactively modify them to comport with the evidence. 

¶49 While district courts retain broad discretion in fashioning support orders in divorce proceedings, they are obligated to analyze a timely claim by a party seeking to true-up a temporary support order with the evidence received at trial. This true-up process consists of a two-part exercise. If a true-up is timely requested, the court should first make factual findings relevant to the temporary award to determine whether it was supported by the evidence. If the court finds, after hearing all the evidence presented at trial, that the temporary order was inappropriate, then the court should proceed to the second step: determining whether a true-up is warranted in the case at hand. In many cases, a party who has demonstrated that a temporary order was inappropriate and unsupported by the more comprehensive evidence presented at trial will be entitled to a retroactive modification of that order. See McPherson v. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶¶ 21–24, 265 P.3d 839. But in some cases, a court may find that such retroactive modification is inappropriate or inequitable, notwithstanding an inaccuracy or error in the temporary order. In making the determination whether to order a true-up, a court should identify the considerations bearing on its decision and should enter careful findings explaining the basis for that determination. 

¶50 Here, Duane was entitled to have the district court engage on the merits in determining whether he was entitled to a true-up. As we have discussed, Duane repeatedly asked the district court to consider his contention that the temporary alimony award was too high and timely sought an offset based on the evidence presented at trial. At trial, the court concluded that Celia should be imputed more income than was included in calculating the temporary alimony. It also found that Celia’s claimed expenses were lacking in evidentiary support. But it failed to analyze, explain, or reconcile the discrepancies between the numbers used to calculate the temporary and final alimony orders. It similarly failed to engage in or analyze Duane’s claim that both the temporary and final alimony orders had duplicated the award for the children’s medical expenses. This was an abuse of its discretion. We therefore remand the matter to the district court to complete the first step of the true-up process by making appropriate factual findings relevant to the temporary award to determine whether it was supported by the evidence. If the court finds the temporary order was overinflated, it must then determine whether a true-up is warranted. And it should also consider Duane’s claim that both the temporary and final alimony awards included a triple award of the children’s medical expenses.

II. Calculation of the Final Alimony Award

¶51 Duane next contends that the district court erred, in three ways, in calculating the final alimony award: (1) it did not consider tithing paid to the parties’ church as consistent with the marital standard of living, (2) it failed to consider Duane’s post-divorce tax bracket, and (3) it included orthodontics as a permanent expense. We address each argument in turn. 

A. Tithing

¶52 Duane argues that the district court miscalculated his ability to pay alimony by excluding expenses that it deemed unnecessary. According to Duane, the court analyzed whether the parties’ claimed expenses were “necessary,” rather than whether they were consistent with the “marital standard of living.” (Quotation simplified.) After doing so, it determined that tithing paid to the parties’ church was not a necessary obligation and therefore excluded it from Duane’s list of expenses, thus inaccurately increasing his ability to pay. 

¶53 When setting an alimony award, the district court must consider a number of statutory factors, including “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse,” “the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income,” and “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-35(9) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). “Furthermore, the award should advance, as much as possible, the purposes of alimony by assisting the parties in achieving the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, equalizing the parties’ respective standards of living, and preventing either spouse from becoming a public charge.” Hansen v. Hansen, 2014 UT App 96, ¶ 6, 325 P.3d 864 (quotation simplified). 

¶54 In adhering to these principles, this court has described the proper process to be followed by courts when awarding alimony: 

First, the court must assess the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living. Next, the court must determine whether the receiving spouse is able to meet [their] own needs with [their] own income. If the court finds that the receiving spouse is unable to meet [their] own needs with [their] own income, the court must then assess whether the payor spouse’s income, after meeting [their own] needs, is sufficient to make up some or all of the shortfall between the receiving spouse’s needs and income. 

Redden v. Redden, 2020 UT App 22, ¶ 21, 461 P.3d 314 (quotation simplified). If the court determines after conducting this analysis “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.” Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 22, 402 P.3d 153. 

¶55 As an initial matter, the court must assess the needs of the parties not by applying its own sense of which expenses are truly necessary but, instead, by examining whether their claimed expenses are consistent with the standard of living the parties established during the marriage. See id. ¶ 15. This assessment is fact-sensitive and individualized and must be limited to a determination of whether the claimed needs are “based on the parties’ historical standard of living.” See Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 12, 80 P.3d 153; see also Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 31, 414 P.3d 1069 (defining “standard of living as a minimum of necessities, comforts, or luxuries that is essential to maintaining a person in customary or proper status or circumstances” and “disavow[ing] the notion that standard of living is determined by actual expenses alone” (quotation simplified)). Indeed, it is not the job of the district court to “appl[y] its own sense of what was reasonable under the circumstances.” See Dobson v. Dobson, 2012 UT App 373, ¶ 29, 294 P.3d 591. 

¶56 In comporting with this principle, this court has upheld alimony awards that included unique expenses—even expenses some observers might deem frivolous or unnecessary—where such expenses were consistent with the marital standard of living. See, e.g., Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 22, 26, 44, 496 P.3d 242 (awarding receiving spouse, among other things, $1,000 per month for “tennis-related expenses,” $625 per month for “entertainment,” and $5,000 per month for horse care and maintenance where each expense was a historical marital expense supported by the evidence). Moreover, courts may infer that “the parties’ current expenses were based on the marital standard of living when the majority of the expenses in the [payor spouse’s] current financial declaration are identical in amount to those identified as marital expenses in the [receiving spouse’s] current financial declaration.” Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶ 48, 449 P.3d 202 (quotation simplified); see id. (finding that receiving spouse’s request for $300 per month for donations and gifts was reasonable “[i]n light of the fact that the court allocated the same amount for each party to spend on donations and gifts”). Accordingly, as long as a party’s claimed expenses are consistent with the marital standard of living, are based on sufficient factual findings, and advance, as much as possible, the purposes of alimony, such expenses should be included in the “needs” calculation. 

¶57 The district court did not follow this process here, however. In setting the alimony award, the court did not analyze whether the parties’ tithing payments were an expenditure consistent with the marital standard of living. Instead, the court declined to “award any donations or tithing for either party” based on its finding that “tithing is a donation and . . . not a necessary living expense.” We agree with Duane that in so doing, the court eliminated the expense based on a subjective needs judgment that ignored the requirement that it assess the expense based on how the parties chose to spend and allocate their money while married. See Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 12. And here, the parties presented evidence that their historical standard of living consistently included paying tithing to their church.7 By failing to assess whether the parties’ expenditures were consistent with the marital standard of living, the court abused its discretion. Accordingly, we reverse the court’s determination on this point and remand for the court to reassess the tithing expense following the process detailed above. The court should make a finding as to whether tithing was included in the parties’ marital standard of living and, if it was, should account for that expense in calculating alimony.8 If inclusion of tithing in the calculation results in a shortfall, the shortfall should be equitably allocated between the parties. 

B. Tax Status

¶58 Duane next argues that the district court miscalculated his ability to pay because it failed to consider his post-divorce tax obligation. When awarding alimony, the district court must consider “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support,” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9)(a)(iii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021), which “includes consideration of the payor spouse’s tax obligations,” McPherson v. McPherson, 2011 UT App 382, ¶ 13, 265 P.3d 839. 

¶59 The court calculated Duane’s ability to pay by averaging “the last four years” of his net income as listed in his historical tax returns. Based on those returns, the court determined that Duane’s tax obligation would be $24,335.77. In making this determination, the court failed to consider that during each of those years the parties’ filing status was married filing jointly, but that after the divorce Duane’s filing status would—at least for a time—be single or head of household, which would increase his tax obligation. Because the court failed to properly consider Duane’s tax obligation, we reverse and remand for it to recalculate Duane’s post-divorce tax obligations. 

C. Orthodontics

¶60 Duane next argues that the district court “mistakenly included $112 per month for orthodonti[cs] in the alimony award.” He contends that this award is improper because (1) no evidence supported an orthodontics expense “that will endure for the entire . . . length of the alimony,” (2) he already pre-paid orthodontics as part of temporary alimony, and (3) he was already ordered to pay half the children’s medical expenses. As previously discussed, the temporary alimony award included $167 per month for orthodontic expenses for the parties’ ten-year-old child who was not yet wearing braces. Duane sought an offset for this amount against the final alimony award and further argued that the alimony award for orthodontic expenses was duplicative in light of the court’s separate order that Duane pay half of the children’s medical expenses. But the district court declined to address Duane’s arguments. Because we have remanded these issues for further consideration, we need not resolve at this juncture Duane’s claims regarding the orthodontics expenses. Rather, we direct the district court to reexamine the issue and articulate the factual and legal basis for its decision.9  

III. Valuation Date for the Retirement Accounts 

¶61 Finally, Duane argues that the district court abused its discretion by assigning a valuation date to the parties’ retirement accounts that was “long after the date of separation, yet not the date of divorce.” 

¶62 “Generally, the marital estate is valued at the time of the 

divorce decree or trial.” Jacobsen v. Jacobsen, 2011 UT App 161, ¶ 39, 257 P.3d 478 (quotation simplified). However, “a court has broad discretion to value the parties’ marital assets at a different time, such as that of separation, if it determines that the circumstances so warrant.” Petrzelka v. Goodwin, 2020 UT App 34, ¶ 47, 461 P.3d 1134. “[A]ny deviation from the general rule must be supported by sufficiently detailed findings of fact that explain the [district] court’s basis for such deviation.” Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 262 (Utah Ct. App. 1993). 

¶63 In this case, the parties separated on May 24, 2016. In 2019, the matter proceeded to a multi-day bench trial that took place between January and April. The court delivered its oral ruling on August 2, 2019. In that ruling, the court addressed the division of the parties’ retirement accounts, ordering that they “be divided . . . 50/50 to each party, effective . . . today, . . . August the 2nd.” Approximately four months later, on December 11, 2019, the court reduced its oral ruling to writing. 

¶64 Duane contends that the valuation date set by the district court is “arbitrary” and not supported by sufficient findings. He maintains that the court should have set the valuation date as the date of separation. We disagree. 

¶65 The valuation date was not arbitrary; it was in fact consistent with the general rule that “the marital estate is valued at the time of the divorce decree or trial.” See Jacobsen, 2011 UT App 161, ¶ 39 (quotation simplified). Here, the court set the valuation date as August 2, 2019—the same date on which it delivered its oral ruling at the close of trial. Because the court followed the general rule of setting the valuation date at the time of trial, it was not required to articulate any additional findings of fact explaining its decision. See id. 

¶66 Moreover, the district court was not presented with sufficient evidence to justify a departure from the general rule. After the court’s oral ruling, Duane filed a motion to alter or amend arguing, among other things, that the date of separation should be used as the valuation date because Celia did not contribute to the retirement accounts during the period between the separation and the date of the divorce and therefore should not benefit from the increase in its value. 

¶67 The court considered Duane’s motion and issued an order upholding its choice of valuation date. It explained that “due to the totality of the circumstances a firm date of August 2nd, 2019 is the date of division of the retirement assets. The Court finds that there was not sufficient argument about a different division date being used.” Given the lack of argument as to an alternative valuation date, the court had no option other than to set the date as the date “of the divorce decree or trial.” See id. (quotation simplified). Duane does not persuade us that the district court acted outside the bounds of its discretion in setting the valuation date for the retirement accounts. 

CONCLUSION 

¶68 The district court abused its discretion by failing to meaningfully address Duane’s argument that based upon the court’s own post-trial findings, he was entitled to an offset for overages paid in temporary alimony, including offsets arising from the amount of Celia’s imputed income and inflated expenses. The district court similarly erred in failing to consider Duane’s arguments regarding the award of medical expenses, including orthodontics. The district court also abused its discretion when calculating Duane’s ability to pay permanent alimony by excluding tithing as part of the marital standard of living and by underestimating Duane’s post-divorce tax obligation. But we affirm the court’s valuation date for the parties’ retirement accounts. We therefore reverse the district court’s alimony award and remand the matter to the court for reconsideration of the alimony award in accordance with this opinion. 

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Nakkina v. Mahanthi – 2021 UT App 63 – joint equal custody, marital property, attorney fees

Nakkina v. Mahanthi – 2021 UT App 63
THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

SIREESHA NAKKINA, Appellee,
v.
PRODEEP KUMAR MAHANTHI, Appellant.

Opinion
No. 20190750-CA
Filed June 17, 2021
Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Barry G. Lawrence
No. 164903563

Eric K. Johnson, Attorney for Appellant
Kelli J. Larson, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE JILL M. POHLMAN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and DIANA HAGEN concurred.
POHLMAN, Judge:

¶1 Prodeep Kumar Mahanthi and Sireesha Nakkina divorced in August 2019. Mahanthi appeals the trial court’s decree of divorce, challenging the court’s division of parent-time and its award of certain personal property and attorney fees to Nakkina. He also appeals the court’s denial of his motion to amend its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

¶2 We conclude that the court acted within its discretion in denying the motion to amend. But we conclude that the court exceeded its discretion in not dividing parent-time equally between Mahanthi and Nakkina. We also conclude that the court erred in its personal property determination and that its attorney fees award was not supported by sufficient findings.

Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate the attorney-fees award and award of certain personal property, and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND[1]

¶3 Nakkina and Mahanthi married in India in December 2005. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to the United States for Mahanthi’s employment. The couple lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a few months before relocating to Atlanta, Georgia.

¶4 After becoming pregnant with their first child, Nakkina returned to India in 2006, where the child was born. Nakkina eventually returned to the United States but again travelled to India in 2010 while pregnant with the couple’s second child. Nakkina took the first child with her, and she remained in India for two and a half years with the two children. Mahanthi occasionally visited Nakkina and the children during their time in India but otherwise remained in the United States for his employment.

¶5 Nakkina returned to the United States with the children in 2012 and joined Mahanthi who had moved back to Utah. The couple separated in 2016, and Nakkina filed for divorce shortly thereafter. From the time of their separation until the trial court finalized the divorce decree—nearly three years—Nakkina exercised temporary primary physical custody of the children while Mahanthi exercised his allotted statutory parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-35.

¶6 At trial, Nakkina testified that Mahanthi’s employment prevented him from spending quality time with their children. She explained that when the children were very young, Mahanthi regularly traveled for work and was away from home for days at a time. She further alleged that while she was in India with the children, Mahanthi’s visits were infrequent and he did not spend much time with the family even when he was present. She also testified that she was the primary caregiver for the children, performing tasks such as bathing and feeding them. In general, Nakkina claimed that Mahanthi was an absent father.

¶7 Mahanthi largely denied Nakkina’s allegations. He testified that although he used to travel a lot for his employment and would occasionally stay up late working to accommodate his employer’s operations overseas, he participated in raising the children, performing all the tasks Nakkina claimed she managed alone. Mahanthi further testified that he quit his travelling job several years prior and that his new job did not interfere with his parent-time.

¶8 Regarding the couple’s personal property, Nakkina testified about pieces of jewelry she claimed Mahanthi gave her as gifts during the marriage. She described a diamond necklace, a pair of earrings, and another necklace and set of earrings, which, according to Nakkina, have a combined estimated value of between $15,000 and $18,000.[2]

¶9 Finally, Nakkina testified that she had borrowed about $61,000 from friends and family that she used, in part, to pay the attorney fees she incurred in litigating the divorce. Nakkina admitted that there was no formal agreement to repay this money. However, she testified that her friends and family still expected to be repaid. In calculating her monthly expenses for alimony, Nakkina included $1,000 per month for payments associated with this debt.

¶10 Following trial, the court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law and ordered the parties to prepare a final decree for the court’s review. Invoking “rules 52 and 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure,” Mahanthi filed a motion to amend certain of the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court denied Mahanthi’s motion, stating that it viewed the “Motion to Amend as a motion for the Court to reconsider its recent Findings, which the Court will not do.” It subsequently issued a Final Order and Decree.

¶11 In its Final Order and Decree, the trial court awarded the parties joint physical custody with a parent-time schedule close to equal time: Nakkina was awarded eight out of every fourteen days with the children and Mahanthi was awarded six out of every fourteen days (6/14 schedule). The court stated that the “6 out of 14 schedule provides an equitable balance and adequately considers all of the facts and, ultimately, is in the best interest of the children.” While the court acknowledged that many factors supported “equal time, or close to equal time, for both parents,” it reasoned that two related factors justified the less-than-equal division of parent-time for Mahanthi: (1) that the “family unit relies heavily on [Mahanthi’s] income” and (2) that “the demands of [Mahanthi’s] job are, and will likely always be, greater than any of the demands of [Nakkina’s] job.”

¶12 Next, the trial court awarded the jewelry exclusively to Nakkina and “decline[d] to award [Mahanthi] anything for [it].” Consistent with Nakkina’s testimony, the court found that Mahanthi had gifted the jewelry to her during the marriage and that it was worth “about $15,000.” The court further concluded that the jewelry “need not be divided” because “gifts given during the marriage are not marital property.”

¶13 Lastly, the trial court ordered Mahanthi to pay Nakkina her attorney fees in the amount of $40,600, crediting Mahanthi for his prior payments. The court rejected Nakkina’s $1,000 monthly expense “in debt payments to family and friends for the alleged loan” for attorney fees because she presented no evidence that she was legally obligated to pay her friends and family back. Still, it justified awarding attorney fees in a subsequent order, stating,

[Nakkina] has a demonstrated monthly need that will be addressed, at least in part, by an award of child support and alimony. In calculating [Nakkina’s] need, the Court did not address her attorney’s fees, which were above and beyond her monthly expenses—which she is unable to meet. Accordingly, [Nakkina] has a demonstrated need associated with any and all fees she has incurred in this matter.

(Cleaned up.)

¶14 Mahanthi now appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶15 On appeal, Mahanthi raises four issues. First, he contends that the trial court erred in not awarding him equal parent-time. We review a trial court’s parent-time determination for abuse of discretion. Blocker v. Blocker, 2019 UT App 82, ¶ 8, 444 P.3d 541.

¶16 Second, Mahanthi contends that the trial court erred in awarding Nakkina the jewelry Mahanthi gave her as gifts during the marriage. “We will not disturb a property award unless we determine that there has been a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error, the evidence clearly preponderates against the findings, or such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion.” Jensen v. Jensen, 2009 UT App 1, ¶ 6, 203 P.3d 1020 (cleaned up).

¶17 Third, he contends that the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees to Nakkina. “We review a trial court’s attorney fees award in divorce proceedings for abuse of discretion.” Id. ¶ 7. “An award for attorney fees must be based on sufficient findings, and the failure to make such findings requires remand for more detailed findings by the trial court.” Leppert v. Leppert, 2009 UT App 10, ¶ 25, 200 P.3d 223 (cleaned up).

¶18 Fourth, he contends that the trial court improperly refused to reconsider its findings of fact and conclusions of law. “As long as the case has not been appealed and remanded, reconsideration of an issue before a final judgment is within the sound discretion of the district court.” Ross v. Short, 2018 UT App 178, ¶ 10, 436 P.3d 318 (cleaned up). Thus, we will reverse a trial court’s denial of a motion to reconsider “only if there is no reasonable basis for the decision.” Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 16, 163 P.3d 615 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I. Parent-Time

¶19 Mahanthi first contends that the trial court erred by awarding him less than equal parent-time. When determining what is in the children’s best interest regarding parent-time, the decision “turns on numerous factors, each of which may vary in importance according to the facts in the particular case.” See Sanderson v. Tryon, 739 P.2d 623, 627 (Utah 1987). Generally, parent-time should be awarded “at a level consistent with all parties’ interests.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-32(1) (LexisNexis 2019). “Absent a showing by a preponderance of evidence of real harm or substantiated potential harm to the child,” it is in the children’s best interest “to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing” time with each parent. Id. § 30-3-32(2)(b)(i). In addition, each parent is entitled to “frequent, meaningful, and continuing access” with the children. Id. § 30-3-32(2)(b)(ii).

¶20 Even though we afford the trial court broad discretion when weighing these factors, a parent-time award “must be firmly anchored on findings of fact that (1) are sufficiently detailed, (2) include enough facts to disclose the process through which the ultimate conclusion is reached, (3) indicate the process is logical and properly supported, and (4) are not clearly erroneous.” See Marchant v. Marchant, 743 P.2d 199, 203 (Utah Ct. App. 1987). “Findings of fact are clearly erroneous if it can be shown that they are against the clear weight of evidence or that they induce a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Maughan v. Maughan, 770 P.2d 156, 159 (Utah Ct. App. 1989). Additionally, the trial court “cannot act arbitrarily, or on supposition or conjecture as to facts upon which to justify its [parent-time] order.” See Iverson v. Iverson, 526 P.2d 1126, 1127 (Utah 1974).

¶21      Mahanthi argues that the trial court’s order awarding him less-than-equal parent-time is not firmly anchored in the findings of fact because it is based on speculation, conjecture, or supposition. He asserts that there is no evidence to support the trial court’s finding that he cannot simultaneously maintain his employment and exercise equal parent-time. In contrast, Nakkina argues that the trial court sufficiently articulated its findings, justifying the 6/14 schedule, and that such a decision was within the trial court’s discretion. We agree with Mahanthi. Although we are mindful of the court’s discretion and appreciate the careful way it articulated its findings in support of a 6/14 schedule, the court’s rationale is not supported by the evidence.

¶22 In addressing the statutory factors for determining parent-time in section 30-3-10 of the Utah Code, the trial court found that the factors “favorably support a joint arrangement giving each parent equal, or close to equal, time with the [children].” For example, the court found it was “important for both parents to have a relationship” with the children and there “was certainly nothing to suggest that maximum time with either parent would be harmful to . . . either of the children.” Also, the court concluded that the children “have good relationships with each of their parents” and “there is no legitimate argument that the [children] would be endangered by broadening [Mahanthi’s] parent time from 5 to 6 or 7 days every two weeks.”

¶23 But after highlighting the many reasons that justified an award of equal parent-time, the court ultimately rejected a 50/50 split for two related reasons. First, the court explained, “the reality is that this family unit relies heavily on [Mahanthi’s] income. It is imperative that he continue with his work.” “Second, the demands of [Mahanthi’s] job are, and will likely always be, greater than any of the demands of [Nakkina’s] job, whatever that may be.” Thus, the court awarded Mahanthi less than equal parent-time to “reduce [his] burden” and provide some “flexibility in his schedule to accommodate his work demands.” While the court meant well, its findings lack evidentiary support.

¶24 The testimony at trial was that years ago, while the children were still very young, Mahanthi’s job required that he travel several nights every week and, occasionally, work late to accommodate his employer’s operations. But there was no evidence that Mahanthi’s work continued to be so demanding.

Instead, he testified that his schedule did not interfere with his parent-time, and the court even expressed its lack of concern about Mahanthi’s “availability as a parent going forward.” Further, although Nakkina opposed a 50/50 split for a variety of reasons, she made no complaints about his work schedule, and she expressed no concern over Mahanthi’s ability to accommodate both his job and his children.

¶25 In sum, the trial court has broad discretion in awarding parent-time. But limiting Mahanthi’s parent-time based on unsubstantiated concerns about his work demands “does not follow from the findings stated.” See Nebeker v. Orton, 2019 UT App 23, ¶ 39, 438 P.3d 1053. We therefore reverse the trial court’s award of parent-time with instructions to award equal parent-time.

II. Jewelry

¶26 Mahanthi next contends that the trial court erred in awarding Nakkina the jewelry Mahanthi gave her during the marriage. In distributing property in a divorce proceeding, “[t]he presumption is that marital property will be divided equally while separate property will not be divided at all.” Lindsey v. Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 32, 392 P.3d 968. Thus, a trial court “must identify the property in dispute and determine whether each item is marital or separate property.” Stonehocker v. Stonehocker, 2008 UT App 11, ¶ 15, 176 P.3d 476. Mahanthi contends that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard to conclude that his gifts to Nakkina are not marital property subject to division. We agree.

¶27 Citing Burke v. Burke, 733 P.2d 133 (Utah 1987), the trial court concluded that “gifts given during the marriage are not marital property and need not be divided in the event of divorce.” But Burke involved an inheritance received by one spouse during the marriage, not a gift from one spouse to the other purchased with marital funds. See id. at 134–35. As a general rule, courts “award property acquired by one spouse by gift and inheritance during the marriage (or property acquired in exchange thereof) to that spouse, together with any appreciation or enhancement of its value,” unless the property has been commingled or the other spouse has acquired an equitable interest in the property by contributing to its enhanced value. Mortensen v. Mortensen, 760 P.2d 304, 308 (Utah 1988). Gifts and inheritance to an individual spouse are treated as separate property because they are “not acquired through the joint efforts of the parties.” See Preston v. Preston, 646 P.2d 705, 706 (Utah 1982) (cleaned up); see also Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 307 (explaining that “property which comes to either party by avenues other than as a consequence of their mutual efforts owes nothing to the marriage and is not intended to be shared” (cleaned up)).

¶28 But this rule applies only to gifts received during the marriage from an outside source. It does not apply when one spouse uses marital funds to purchase property, regardless of whether those purchases are designated as a “gift” from one spouse to another. See Morris v. Morris, 2005 UT App 435U, para. 3 (holding that the district court acted within its discretion in valuing “gifts” from one spouse to another as marital property when one spouse “purchased the gifts during their marriage, using marital funds to do so”). In such circumstances, both the gifting and receiving spouse have a pre-existing right of ownership in the marital assets used to acquire the property. A purchase financed with marital funds already belonging to both spouses is not a “gift” in the sense used in our case law.

¶29      In light of this precedent, it was error for the trial court to conclude, as a matter of law, that the jewelry Mahanthi gave Nakkina during the marriage was necessarily Nakkina’s separate property and not subject to division in the divorce. The property was acquired during the marriage, with marital funds, and as such was presumptively marital. See Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 31 (“Marital property ordinarily includes all property acquired during marriage, whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” (cleaned up)). We therefore vacate the court’s award of the jewelry and remand to give the trial court the opportunity to reconsider its award and, if necessary, to amend its order awarding the jewelry in its entirety to Nakkina.[3]

III. Attorney Fees

¶30 Mahanthi next argues that the trial court erred in awarding Nakkina attorney fees. Pursuant to section 30-3-3(1) of the Utah Code, a party in a divorce proceeding may be required to pay the attorney fees “of the other party to enable the other party to prosecute or defend the action.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3­3(1) (LexisNexis 2019). The party to be awarded attorney fees under this section has the burden to prove (1) that the payee spouse has a financial need, (2) that the payor spouse has the ability to pay, and (3) that the fees requested are reasonable. Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 168, 459 P.3d 276. On appeal, Mahanthi challenges only the first element of the test: whether Nakkina had a financial need for the award of attorney fees. “When determining the financial need of the requesting spouse, [courts] generally look to the requesting spouse’s income, including alimony received as the result of a divorce decree; the property received via the property distribution award; and his or her expenses.” Id. ¶ 170 (cleaned up).

¶31 Mahanthi argues that the court erred in awarding Nakkina her attorney fees because those fees have already been paid. Nakkina argues that this is irrelevant because attorney fees may still be awarded based on need if a party borrowed funds to pay those fees. Nakkina has a point. Utah courts have recognized that “[p]arties to a divorce action often incur debt to retain counsel,” id., and that “the very existence of indebtedness to fund legal services may tend to show need,” Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App 233, ¶ 46, 217 P.3d 733. Likewise, Nakkina argues that she incurred debt to pay her fees, and that the friends and family who lent her funds “expected to be repaid eventually and it would detrimentally impact her relationships if she did not repay them.”

¶32      We acknowledge that indebtedness to friends and family, while not determinative, may tend to demonstrate a need sufficient to satisfy section 30-3-3(1). See id. (holding that it is the existence of indebtedness to fund legal services that tends to show need regardless of whether the debt is owed to an attorney, a bank, family, or a friend). This is true “especially if [the spouse] is expected to repay his [or her] family in due course, even if the family members are disinclined to commence a collection action to enforce such repayment.” Id. ¶ 48. But it is unclear if Nakkina’s indebtedness, or something else, was the basis for the court’s finding that she had a need for assistance to pay her attorney fees.

¶33 In finding that Nakkina had an unmet need, the court stated that she “has a demonstrated need associated with any and all fees she has incurred in this matter” and incorporated the need-related “findings made in [the court’s] principal set of [Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law].” But in those findings, the only mention of Nakkina’s attorney fees was in the court’s expression of “concern[] with the reliability of some of” her claimed expenses. In particular, the court did not accept Nakkina’s claimed expense of $1,000 a month “in debt payments to family and friends for the alleged loans” used to pay her attorney fees. The court rejected Nakkina’s claim that she was “legally indebted to family members” because her testimony on the “topic was ambiguous” and because it was not supported by any “corroborating documents.”

¶34 Unfortunately, these findings do not reveal the steps the trial court took to find that Nakkina had demonstrated an unmet need. See Jensen v. Jensen, 2009 UT App 1, ¶ 18, 203 P.3d 1020 (“When awarding attorney fees in divorce cases, the trial court is required to make explicit findings regarding the financial need of the receiving spouse . . . .” (cleaned up)). The court stated that Nakkina “is unable to meet” her attorney fees expenses, which “were above and beyond her monthly expenses,” but this finding does not appear to account for the fact that Nakkina’s fees had already been paid and that the court rejected Nakkina’s claims of indebtedness to her family and friends, at least for purposes of determining alimony. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s attorney fees award and remand for reconsideration and entry of sufficient findings of fact thereon.[4]

IV. Motion to Amend

¶35 Lastly, Mahanthi appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion to amend the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mahanthi contends that his motion was properly filed under rule 59 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and that the court erred in rejecting it as a motion to reconsider. We disagree.

¶36 “Motions to reconsider are not recognized by the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure,” and “trial courts are under no obligation to consider [them].” Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 15, 163 P.3d 615; see also A.S. v. R.S., 2017 UT 77, ¶ 28, 416 P.3d 465. Although Mahanthi takes no issue with this general principle, he contends that the court erred in “recast[ing]” his motion to amend as a motion to reconsider. Mahanthi argues that his motion “was appropriately titled as a Rule 59 motion to amend and contained all the elements required by the rule.” (Cleaned up.) But Mahanthi’s motion was not a rule 59 motion simply because he labeled it as such.

¶37 Rule 59 allows a party to seek to alter or amend a judgment. See Utah R. Civ. P. 59(e) (“A motion to alter or amend the judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after entry of the judgment.”); see also Ron Shepherd Ins., Inc. v. Shields, 882 P.2d 650, 653 (Utah 1994) (“Rule 59, according to its plain language, applies only to motions for new trials or amendments of judgments.”). Mahanthi’s motion did not seek to amend a judgment; rather, Mahanthi sought to amend the court’s pre-judgment findings of fact and conclusions of law.[5] Thus, because Mahanthi’s motion preceded the judgment, the court did not err in construing it as a motion to reconsider, and Mahanthi has not shown that the court abused its discretion in denying it as such.

V. Fees on Appeal

¶38      Nakkina requests an award of her attorney fees incurred in defending this appeal. “In divorce actions where the trial court has awarded attorney fees and the receiving spouse prevails on the main issues, we generally award fees on appeal.” Jacobsen v. Jacobsen, 2011 UT App 161, ¶ 17, 257 P.3d 478 (cleaned up). Although Nakkina was awarded fees by the trial court, we have vacated that award and remanded for reconsideration. Further, even if that award is ultimately sustained by the trial court, because Nakkina has prevailed only on the motion to amend issue and not the others, she is not entitled to an award of attorney fees on appeal.

CONCLUSION

¶39 The trial court erred by not awarding equal parent-time because the award was not firmly anchored on findings of fact. Thus, we reverse the ruling, and we order the court to award equal parent-time. The court also erred by awarding Nakkina the jewelry based on a misunderstanding of the law. We therefore vacate the award and remand with instructions to divide the jewelry using the appropriate standard. Next, the court erred by awarding Nakkina attorney fees because it failed to make adequate findings regarding her need related to receiving attorney fees. Thus, we vacate the attorney fees award and remand for reconsideration and entry of sufficient findings of fact thereon. Lastly, the court did not err by dismissing Mahanthi’s motion to amend because when his motion was filed there was no final order or judgment to be reviewed under rule 59. We therefore affirm the court on this issue.

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

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

[2] Nakkina estimated that the jewelry was worth about $18,000 and could be sold for “maybe” $15,000. Her estimation that the jewelry could be sold for $15,000 was struck for lack of foundation, but that is the value the court gave the jewelry in its final decree. Neither party challenges that valuation.

[3] Nakkina invites us to affirm the trial court’s award on alternative grounds, arguing that even if the jewelry is “a marital asset eligible for division between the parties, the court still has broad discretion in making an award of the personal property and the court was well within its right to award the jewelry to [Nakkina].” We decline this invitation because it is not for us to exercise that discretion on behalf of the trial court. The court may determine it is appropriate, for another reason, to award the jewelry to Nakkina. But that is a decision for the trial court to make in the first instance.

[4] 4. Mahanthi also complains that he is entitled to a credit for an alleged overpayment of attorney fees in the amount of $10,000. He argues that Nakkina’s lawyer was paid $64,000 in fees, but because the court awarded Nakkina only $54,600, he should receive a credit for some of the fees he already paid. Mahanthi has not demonstrated that he preserved this issue for appeal, and we reject it on that basis. See Allen v. Allen, 2021 UT App 20, ¶¶ 37–38, 483 P.3d 730, petition for cert. filed, May 21, 2021 (No. 20210355). But even if the issue had been preserved, it does not appear that any amount would be due Mahanthi. The trial court found that Nakkina reasonably incurred $54,600 in attorney fees, and it ordered Mahanthi to pay $40,600 after crediting him $14,000 for fees he already paid. The fact that Nakkina may have paid her attorney more than $54,600 does not entitle Mahanthi to a credit.

[5] Mahanthi expressed some confusion about whether the court’s findings and conclusions constituted its final judgment in the case. But the court’s order directed Mahanthi’s counsel to draft a “Final Order and Decree in accordance with these findings and conclusions.” Further, subsequent proceedings made clear that the court expected to enter a decree to effectuate its findings and conclusions, and the court later entered a Final Order and Decree.

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Do courts make awards in divorce to “punish” adultery?

Do courts make awards in divorce to “punish” adultery? Great question.  

Adultery is considered a fault-based ground for divorce and a factor that can be considered when the trial court decides matters of alimony, property division, and child custody.  

I will answer this question according to what Utah statutory and case law provides.  

Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(b) provides, “The court may consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.”  

Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(c) states that “‘Fault’ includes engaging in sexual relations with an individual other than the party’s spouse, if such wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship.  

Most recently, the Utah Supreme Court discussed this very question in the divorce case of Gardner v. Gardner (Volume 425 Pacific Reporter 3rd, page 1134, decided in 2019. In that decision the Supreme Court stated: 

[C]ourts should keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of any property division or alimony award is to “achieve a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties.” For this reason, courts should consider fault only in an attempt to balance the equities between the parties. In other words, where one party’s fault has harmed the other party, the court may attempt to re-balance the equities by adjusting the alimony award in favor of the party who was harmed by that fault.[footnote 56] 

Footnote 56 states: 

We note that some Utah courts have struggled to articulate an appropriate role of fault in alimony determinations in light of our case law suggesting that the purpose of alimony is not to punish. See Mark v. Mark, 2009 UT App 374, ¶ 17, 223 P.3d 476 (“[I]f a trial court uses its broad statutory discretion to consider fault in fashioning an alimony award and then, taking that fault into consideration, adjusts the alimony award upward or downward, it simply cannot be said that fault was not used to punish or reward either spouse by altering the award as a consequence of fault.”). But other Utah courts have concluded that fault may be considered without constituting punishment if it is used only to rectify the inequity caused by the fault. See Christiansen v. Christiansen, 2003 UT App 348, 2003 WL 22361312 at *2 (“Fault may correctly be considered by the trial court without penalizing the party found to be at fault.”); see also [Wilson v. Wilson, 5 Utah 2d 79, 296 P.2d 977, 979 (1956)], 296 P.2d at 980 (explaining that equitable factors often cause courts to impose permanent alimony on “erring” spouses); [Riley v. Riley, 138 P.3d 84 (Utah Ct. App. 2006)], 2006 UT App 214, ¶ 24, 138 P.3d 84 (affirming the district court’s consideration of a husband’s fault as an important “factor in fairness to [Wife]” (alteration in original)). As this latter line of cases suggests, fault may be considered as long as it is used as a basis to prevent or rectify an inequity to the not-at-fault spouse. So in reviewing an alimony determination involving fault, Utah appellate courts should focus on whether a fault-based modification of an alimony award helped “achieve a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties” rather than on whether it was punitive in nature. [Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 168, ––– P.3d ––––], 2015 UT 79, ¶ 25, ––– P.3d –––– (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). 

With this in mind, could a court (a court, not all courts) award more alimony, divide marital property unevenly, or restrict custody or parent-time due to one of the spouse’s adultery to punish adultery? Yes, of course, even if the court went to great pains (sincerely or not) to articulate the alimony decision as not being punitive in nature.  

Some judges (some, not all) allow their personal antipathy for an adulterous spouse their impartiality and justify disregarding the law in favor of doing what the judge “feels is right” instead. And yes, it can happen to you. 

Bottom line: If you are in adulterer, and a serial and/or un repentant adulterer at that, it should come as no surprise to you that your adultery will do you no favors when it comes to the way the court can and may treat you in a divorce action. Fair or not, that is the nature of the way many people (and judges are people) view and treat adulterers. Does this mean that if you are in adulterer you should expect to be treated unfairly by a court? I think your odds are about 50-50, in my professional opinion. Do those odds mean that you should lie about adultery, if you believe you can get away with it? No, and for two reasons: 1) it is wrong to lie; and 2) if you commit adultery, then compound the problem by lying about it and get caught, you only increase your odds of being mistreated by the court. And odds are that if you lie about adultery you will be caught. 

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

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What are ways divorcees reach a mutual agreement when splitting up their assets?

What are ways divorcees reach a mutual agreement when splitting up their assets?

What they often do (but shouldn’t): rationalize and justify their greed and pettiness in advancing their “arguments”* for why they should get what they want. This results in claims for obviously lopsided divisions of marital property and to false and fatuous claims that what is marital property is actually “my separate property” and “that was a gift from my parents to us, so now that we are divorcing, it’s mine.” Being greedy and petty in the division of marital assets is self-defeating because it often leads to wasting more time, effort, and money than the property is worth.

What they could—and usually should—do: 1) think like your divorce court judge will think and do what the law requires your judge to do, i.e., divide all marital property equally (meaning an equal division of the value of the property), unless there are clearly evident exceptional circumstances that equitably warrant an uneven division of marital property.

*the definition of the word “argument” is not what many people believe. An argument is not the same as a quarrel. An argument is “a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.”

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

https://www.quora.com/What-are-ways-divorcees-reach-a-mutual-agreement-when-splitting-up-their-assets/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

 

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What are ways divorcees reach a mutual agreement when splitting up their assets?

What are ways divorcees reach a mutual agreement when splitting up their assets?

What they often do (but shouldn’t): rationalize and justify their greed and pettiness in advancing their “arguments”* for why they should get what they want. This results in claims for obviously lopsided divisions of marital property and to false and fatuous claims that what is marital property is actually “my separate property” and “that was a gift from my parents to us, so now that we are divorcing, it’s mine.” Being greedy and petty in the division of marital assets is self-defeating because it often leads to wasting more time, effort, and money than the property is worth.

What they could—and usually should—do: 1) think like your divorce court judge will think and do what the law requires your judge to do, i.e., divide all marital property equally (meaning an equal division of the value of the property), unless there are clearly evident exceptional circumstances that equitably warrant an uneven division of marital property.

*the definition of the word “argument” is not what many people believe. An argument is not the same as a quarrel. An argument is “a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.”

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

https://www.quora.com/What-are-ways-divorcees-reach-a-mutual-agreement-when-splitting-up-their-assets/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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

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

Opinion
No. 20190543
Filed October 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

ORME, Judge:

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¶12      Jerry appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

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

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

ANALYSIS

  1. The Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Pre-decree Expenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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