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Tag: standard of living

Mintz v. Mintz – 2023 UT App 17

Mintz v. Mintz – 2023 UT App 17

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

RAYNA ELIZABETH MINTZ,

Appellant and Cross-appellee,

v.

GLEN RYAN MINTZ,

Appellee and Cross-appellant.

Opinion

No. 20200507-CA

Filed February 9, 2023

Third District Court, Silver Summit Department

The Honorable Kent R. Holmberg

No. 174500034

Julie J. Nelson and Alexandra Mareschal, Attorneys for Appellant and Cross-appellee

Thomas J. Burns and Aaron R. Harris, Attorneys for Appellee and Cross-appellant

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME and JUSTICE DIANA HAGEN concurred.[1]

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        After a lengthy marriage, Rayna and Glen Mintz[2] divorced and have since been involved in ongoing litigation regarding the distribution of marital property. Rayna and Glen now raise various issues for review, including questions about alimony, property distribution, and dissipation awards. In response to these appeals, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND[3]

¶2        Through more than twenty years of marriage, Rayna and Glen enjoyed a relatively luxurious lifestyle. During the marriage, in addition to meeting their regular expenses, Rayna and Glen invested money essentially as savings. Before 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 Glen’s employment. Historically, they spent money freely, traveled frequently, and treated themselves to a variety of entertainment—often with other people. For Rayna’s part, she often invited friends to join her on different jaunts across the globe or visits to the theater. For Glen’s part, as is relevant to this appeal, he invested both time and substantial money into an extramarital affair.

¶3        Rayna and Glen financed this lifestyle through substantial income generated by Glen’s employment as an investment advisor managing the assets and investments of various clients. As a salaried employee for his employer (Employer), Glen “did not sell . . . a client list to [Employer]”; instead, he expanded the clients he serviced by creating relationships with other employees and assisting other employees in managing their clients’ assets. As part of Glen’s compensation, Employer offered cash awards distributed as forgivable loans. For each loan, Employer provided the cash to Glen up front and then forgave Glen’s payback obligation each year, leaving Glen with a decreased payback obligation but an increased tax obligation. The cash awards were deposited directly into Glen and Rayna’s investment accounts.

¶4        When Rayna discovered Glen’s infidelity, the couple sought a divorce. Ultimately, the district court made several determinations relevant to this appeal. First, although Rayna would be awarded alimony, a monthly amount for investment would be excluded from the calculation because she presented insufficient evidence to show that the parties’ investments were “standard practice during the marriage” or that they “helped form the couple’s standard of living.”

¶5        Second, although an amount for entertainment was included as a historical expense in alimony calculations, the court “divided by four” the amount Rayna had proposed because the entertainment amount was calculated based on a time “when two minor children also lived in the home.”

¶6        Third, although the list of clients Glen serviced could be considered an asset, Glen did not own a “book of business,” and accordingly, whatever value his client list contained could not be divided between the parties.

¶7        Fourth, although Glen had admitted to dissipating $75,000 on his extramarital affair and although the court determined that Rayna should be entitled to “half” that amount, in an appendix to the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, designating the specific property distributions, the court provided no amount in the space for money awarded to Rayna because of Glen’s dissipation.

¶8        And fifth, although Rayna would receive what Glen argued was an investable property distribution, the court declined to include investment income in its alimony calculation because (1) the likelihood of a specific return was uncertain, (2) Rayna’s investment income should be left unencumbered as was Glen’s, and (3) the parties had traditionally reinvested investment income instead of living off it.

¶9        Following entry of the divorce decree, Rayna filed a motion to enforce, asserting that various investment accounts at issue in the divorce “were not divided immediately after trial and that they subsequently appreciated in value.” Accordingly, Rayna sought an order requiring Glen to transfer holdings “equivalent to her proportionate share of appreciation since trial.” However, before the hearing on that motion, Rayna filed a notice of appeal. At the hearing, the court determined that the enforcement order Rayna requested would require the court to not just enforce the order but to “read language into [the decree] and interpret [the decree] in a way that modifie[d] or amend[ed]” it. Because a notice of appeal had been filed in the case, the court determined it had been “divested of jurisdiction” to amend the decree and therefore could not provide the relief Rayna requested.

¶10      On these issues, Rayna and Glen both appeal.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶11      First, Rayna contends that the court abused its discretion through its award of alimony. Specifically, Rayna contends that (1) the court “misapplied Utah law” when it declined to award alimony consistent with historical investment and (2) the court entered unsupported findings of fact in reducing her entertainment expenses. “We review a district court’s alimony determination for an abuse of discretion and will not disturb its ruling on alimony as long as the court exercises its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set and has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 16, 452 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). However, misapplication of the law is a de facto abuse of discretion, and an alimony award based on a misapprehension of the law will not be upheld. See Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145. Moreover, an alimony award based on clearly erroneous findings of fact will be overturned, see Leppert v. Leppert, 2009 UT App 10, ¶ 8, 200 P.3d 223, as will be an incorrect determination that evidence is insufficient to support an award, see Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App 233, ¶ 14, 217 P.3d 733. “[U]nder our clearly erroneous standard, we will disturb a court’s factual findings only where the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from, or are not supported by, the evidence.” Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32.

¶12      Second, Rayna contends that the district court erred when it determined that the list of clients Glen managed as an investment advisor (the book of business) was not a divisible marital asset. “Determining and assigning values to marital property is a matter for the trial court,” and an appellate court “will not disturb those determinations absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion.” Talley v. Talley, 739 P.2d 83, 84 (Utah Ct. App. 1987).

¶13 Third, Rayna contends that the district court failed to award or reimburse her half of the amount that Glen dissipated. “Where the trial court’s conclusions of law do not properly follow from the findings of fact, those conclusions can be overturned on appeal.” Cowley v. Porter, 2005 UT App 518, ¶ 46, 127 P.3d 1224.

¶14 Fourth, Rayna contends that the court erred in determining, based on the divorce decree’s language, that it lacked jurisdiction to grant Rayna appreciation on investment account awards. We review for correctness the district court’s interpretation of a divorce decree, Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65, and the district court’s “determination on jurisdictional issues,” National Advert. Co. v. Murray City Corp., 2006 UT App 75, ¶ 11, 131 P.3d 872 (cleaned up).

¶15      Fifth, on cross-appeal, Glen contends that the district court abused its discretion when it did not “determine an amount of income that Rayna [would] be able to earn from her awarded investment account assets and . . . apply that income to her ability to pay for her marital standard of living.” As indicated above, we review the district court’s alimony determination for abuse of discretion. See Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 16.

ANALYSIS
I. Alimony

A.        Investment

¶16 Rayna contends that the district court erred in excluding from the alimony award an amount reflective of historical investment. Specifically, Rayna argues that the court misunderstood the phrases “standard practice” and “marital standard of living” as these phrases have been employed in Utah caselaw concerning the appropriateness of alimony awards that include amounts for investment or savings. Rayna argues that the parties made deposits into investment accounts as a standard practice that contributed to their marital standard of living, and she asserts that she should have received a higher alimony award to be able to continue this practice and maintain her standard of living. On appeal, we conclude that the district court erred in its application of the law on this point.

¶17      In Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, 80 P.3d 153, we indicated that “while the recipient spouse’s need to fund post-divorce savings, investment, or retirement accounts may not ordinarily be factored into an alimony determination, we cannot say that the ability to fund such post-divorce accounts may never be taken into account as part of” that analysis. Id. ¶ 16. Rather, “[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. (emphasis added); see also Knowles v. Knowles, 2022 UT App 47, ¶ 57 n.8, 509 P.3d 265; Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 58 n.8, 496 P.3d 242. Thus, 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 a given case to those definitions, and then determine whether the facts as found meet the criteria for a savings-based alimony award.

¶18      First, the district court erred in concluding that Rayna and Glen’s undisputed course of conduct did not demonstrate a standard practice. See Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16; Kemp v. Kemp, 2001 UT App 157U, paras. 3–4, 2001 WL 522413. When the Bakanowski court provided the test for appropriate consideration of savings, investment, and retirement accounts in alimony calculations, it cited Kemp v. Kemp, 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.” See 2001 UT App 157Uparas. 3–4 (emphasis added).

¶19 An event must certainly be recurring but need not be uniformly systematic to be considered “regular.” See id. at para. 3. Indeed, “something can be done ‘regularly’ if done whenever the opportunity arises, though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.” Youth Tennis Found. v. Tax Comm’n, 554 P.2d 220, 223 (Utah 1976); see also Allen Distrib., Inc. v. Industrial Comm’n, 604 P.2d 938, 940 (Utah 1979) (reciting the then-enacted workers’ compensation laws that provided that “regularly” could include employment “continuous throughout the year or for only a portion of the year” (cleaned up)); Holt v. Industrial Comm’n, 87 P.2d 686, 689 (Utah 1939) (defining “regularly employed” to include “all employees who are employed and engaged in the usual or regular business of the employer, regardless of whether they were regularly or only casually or occasionally employed” (cleaned up)). Thus, even though an activity may “occur[] at intermittent times,” it can still be a regular activity. See Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223 (cleaned up); see also B.L. Key, Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm’n, 934 P.2d 1164, 1166 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). And although “regular” could also be understood to require methodic uniformity, see Valentine v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 2006 UT App 301, ¶ 11, 141 P.3d 618 (noting that “‘regular use’ connotes use that is consistent with a recurring pattern or uniform course of conduct or dealing” and that it “embodies use that is marked by a pattern of usage or some frequency of usage”); Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223 (noting that “one of the meanings of the term ‘regular’ is: ‘Steady or uniform in course, practice or occurrence’” (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1450 (Rev. 4th Ed. 1968))), there exists no requirement that savings or investment deposits be made with uniform frequency.

¶20      Accordingly, even if savings deposits and investments do not occur on an exact timetable, such marital expenditures can be considered a standard practice, see Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16, 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 ar[ose], though the actual time sequence may be sporadic.” See Youth Tennis, 554 P.2d at 223; see also Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16.

¶21 The district court found that Rayna did not present “sufficient evidence” to show that contributing to savings and investment accounts was the standard practice during the marriage. But on appeal, neither party appears to dispute that the district court was presented with evidence that before 2014 the parties invested substantial amounts of income at least yearly and that after 2014 a substantial portion of Glen’s income was deposited directly into investment accounts at least yearly. Accordingly, for nearly a decade immediately preceding the divorce, the parties set aside substantial money for investments at least annually. This undisputed evidence established that the parties followed a regular pattern, i.e., a “standard practice,” see Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16, of investing a portion of their annual income. In other words, given these undisputed facts, we conclude the district court applied too narrow a definition of standard practice in rejecting this evidence as insufficient.

¶22 Second, 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. “Standard of living is defined as a minimum of necessities, comforts, or luxuries that is essential to maintaining a person in customary or proper status or circumstances.” Howell v. Howell, 806 P.2d 1209, 1211 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (cleaned up) (emphasis added). In other words, in the alimony context, the marital standard of living is all that the parties enjoyed during the marriage—including luxuries and customary allocations—by virtue of their financial position. See id.see also Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 15, 402 P.3d 153.

¶23 In Knowles v. Knowles, 2022 UT App 47, 509 P.3d 265, the trial court refused to include tithing expenditures as part of the alimony calculation because it was “not a necessary living expense.” Id. ¶ 57 (cleaned up). On appeal, we reversed that decision, explaining that it “ignored the requirement that [trial courts] assess the expense based on how the parties chose to spend and allocate their money while married.” Id. (emphasis added). “By failing to assess whether the parties’ expenditures were consistent with the marital standard of living, the court abused its discretion.” Id.

¶24 The marital standard of living analysis is not merely a question about what the parties spent their money on or whether they spent it at all. Rather, 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). Something may contribute to the marital standard of living even though it may not result in a direct benefit or detriment to the marital estate’s net worth.

¶25      Like the trial court in Knowles, the district court here did not fully consider how the parties chose to “allocate” their income. See id. The parties’ choice to devote a substantial portion of income to investment and savings—much like the parties in Knowles chose to devote a substantial portion of their income to tithing, see id.—contributed to the parties’ marital standard of living. The court should consider this evidence in determining the amount of investment and savings expenditures to include in its alimony calculations. See id.see also, e.g.Lombardi v. Lombardi, 145 A.3d 709, 716 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2016) (“An appropriate rate of savings can, and in the appropriate case should, be considered as a living expense when considering an award of maintenance.” (cleaned up)); Bryant v. Bryant, 534 S.E.2d 230, 232 (N.C. Ct. App. 2000) (“The trial court may also consider established patterns of contributing to savings as part of the parties’ standard of living.” (cleaned up)); In re Marriage of Stenzel, 908 N.W.2d 524, 536 (Iowa Ct. App. 2018) (“[R]etirement savings in a reasonable sum may be a part of the needs analysis in fixing spousal support.”).

¶26 Below, the district court declared that “Rayna ha[d] not convinced the court that [the couple’s] savings [practices] somehow helped form the couple’s standard of living.” The court continued, “There was no evidence that the deposits into the investment accounts were used to fund future purchases or otherwise contributed to the marital standard of living.” In making this ruling, the district court apparently relied on Kemp, where the court found that “during their marriage, the parties had made regular savings deposits to fund future major purchases, rather than making those purchases on credit.” 2001 UT App 157U, para. 3. Including saved money in the “marital standard of living,” however, does not require a party to spend it, as the parties did in Kemp. Our precedent does not exclude prudent saving from the definition of the marital standard of living. Indeed, it would be a perverse state of the law if we, as a rule, always included in an alimony calculation all sums parties spent, even imprudently, but excluded sums wisely saved.

¶27      The parties presented evidence (and on appeal the parties continue to agree) that the investments were meant to facilitate future financial growth; that during the economic recession in 2008, the parties dipped into their investments to maintain their standard of living; and that they later used investments to pay tax obligations incurred because of Glen’s compensation structure. The very fact that such a substantial amount of Glen’s income went straight to investment that then served to pay off a tax obligation represents the type of allocation that constituted part of the marital standard of living. An understanding of the marital standard of living that is restricted to direct and immediate expenses is simply too limited. Instead, the use of marital funds to cover the parties’ investments and savings—provided it was standard practice during the marriage—is a proper consideration in determining the marital standard of living. See Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 16.

¶28 In sum, the district court erred in concluding that insufficient evidence supported Rayna’s request to include amounts for investment in alimony calculations. The undisputed evidence established that it was both a standard practice to invest marital assets annually and that this pattern of investment contributed to the marital standard of living. We remand 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. See Bjarnson v. Bjarnson, 2020 UT App 141, ¶ 5, 476 P.3d 145 (“We will reverse if the court has not exercised its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set.” (cleaned up)).

B.         Entertainment

¶29 Rayna also contends that the district court “entered a factual finding that was unsupported by the evidence regarding [her] entertainment expenses.” This is so, she argues, because testimony at trial established that the amount she originally requested for entertainment as part of her living expenses was “carved out . . . for her alone” and because the evidence, including the exhibit used to calculate her living expenses, did not otherwise suggest that the amount should have been reduced as it was by the district court. We agree that the district court’s reduction of Rayna’s entertainment expenses was based on clearly erroneous findings of fact because “the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from” and are not supported by “the evidence.” See Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32, 452 P.3d 1134.

¶30      In determining the amount for entertainment expenses to include in its alimony calculation, the district court stated that the amount “presents expenses calculated for . . . years . . . when two minor children also lived in the home. Therefore, this amount should have been divided by four.” The district court reduced the amount it considered in its alimony calculation related to entertainment accordingly. However, this does not follow from the evidence presented at trial.

¶31      As an initial matter, when asked about the entertainment line item, Rayna testified that she loved “to go to concerts,” that she went “to New York City to the ballet [and] to the theater,” and that she generally hosted a friend on those trips. And testimony from Rayna’s expert on the matter explained that the amount was for “entertainment that she would normally spend on a monthly basis” and, specifically, that the amount was “what she actually spent if . . . carved out [for] her alone.” (Emphasis added.)

¶32      Glen attempts to provide support for the district court’s apparently contrary finding by suggesting that several line items on Rayna’s living-expense exhibit included a note that the amount was for “Rayna Only,” and that based on this notation, the district court “acted within its appropriate discretion” when it determined the amount requested for entertainment should be reduced because that line item did not include that note. However, in our review of the exhibit referred to by Glen, of the thirty-nine line items listed, only three specify that the amount was for “Rayna Only.” Yet some of the unmarked items reflect amounts the parties agree were spent on Rayna alone. Therefore, the absence of the “Rayna Only” notation does not necessarily reflect that those items were not for “Rayna Only.” And further, a line item for “Money Spent on Kids” specifically notes that it includes “Entertainment” expenses for those children. If Rayna’s entertainment expenses included money spent on the children, there would be no need to include a separate line item for entertainment under “Money Spent on Kids.” Moreover, we note that the district court’s determination that the amount should be “divided by four” because “two minor children also lived in the home” does not quite add up. Rayna and two children add up to three, and whether the court also included Glen or the friends Rayna often hosted is unclear from the court’s findings of fact. Either way, the justification does not appear to support the reduction.

¶33      Accordingly, the district court’s reduction of the alimony amount requested for entertainment contradicts not only the direct testimony at trial but also the very exhibit on which the court expressly based its findings. Because the court’s conclusions do not logically follow from and are not supported by the evidence, we determine that this portion of the award is based on clearly erroneous findings of fact, and we therefore remand to the district court for clarification and correction of the matter. See Leppert v. Leppert, 2009 UT App 10, ¶ 8, 200 P.3d 223; Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 32.

II. Book of Business

¶34      Rayna next opposes the district court’s determination that the book of business “was not a divisible marital asset.” However, to prevail on such a contention, Rayna would need to show that the court clearly abused its discretion, see Talley v. Talley, 739 P.2d 83, 84 (Utah Ct. App. 1987), something she has not done here.

¶35      In dealing with Rayna’s argument that Glen owned a book of business that should be a divisible marital asset, the district court first explained that the alleged book of business, comprising “a client list and the assets under management from these clients,” constituted an “asset” as a legal matter —a determination neither party appears to challenge on appeal. But the court did not stop there, determining next that this “asset” was owned not by Glen but by Employer.

¶36 The court explained its reasoning in over five pages of detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Throughout those pages, the district court explained, among other things, that although Glen had extensive experience in his field and a portion of his compensation required him to meet lofty expectations concerning the funds he managed, “[w]hen Glen began work for [Employer], he did not sell a book of business or a client list to [Employer]”; “[n]owhere within [the relevant employment documents] did [Employer] indicate that it was purchasing any client list from Glen or that Glen was selling anything at all to [Employer]”; and “Rayna ha[d] not presented any evidence that Glen sold any client list, client information, or other asset to [Employer] as a condition of his hiring.” Further, Glen “worked as an employee of [Employer]”; “ha[d] been paid a salary . . . as a W-2 employee”; and “expand[ed] the client list” by, in part, “creat[ing] relationships with other . . . employees who advise individuals that they service to place assets under Glen’s management.” The court then noted that often “Glen manages assets owned by numerous individuals and entities with whom he has no personal relationship.”

¶37 The court then described various agreements concerning Glen’s compensation and employment and highlighted portions of those agreements. One read,

All information concerning [c]lients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer], and prospective clients of [Employer] must be treated as confidential and must not be disclosed to anyone outside of [Employer.] . . . [I]n the event Employee’s employment is terminated for any reason whatsoever[,] Employee may not take any records or information referring or relating to [c]lients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer] and prospective clients of [Employer], whether originals or copies, in hard copy or computerized form.

Another read,

Employee may not directly or indirectly use, maintain, take or disclose any Confidential Information, except . . . in the course of carrying out Employee’s duties for [Employer] during Employee’s employment[.] . . . “Confidential Information” . . . includes . . . client relationships and prospective client relationships, client lists and contact information, client information (including but not limited to clients’ past and present financial conditions, investment practices, preferences, activities, objectives, and plans and other client data Employee obtained while in [Employer’s] employ)[.] . . . Employee further expressly agrees that, in the event his or her employment terminates, Employee’s use of Confidential Information, including but not limited to any information referring or relating to clients of [Employer], former clients of [Employer] and prospective clients of [Employer], must immediately cease and that Employee must immediately return, destroy or delete, any Confidential Information whether in hard copy or computerized form, including in any electronic device owned by Employee.

The court then reasoned, “[i]f the clients were clients, relationships, or contracts that Glen owned, he would not be subject to any restrictions with respect to the manner in which he stored, maintained, or utilized any of the client information, either during or after his employment with [Employer]. Similarly, if the client information was owned by Glen, he would not be subject to any restrictions.” Significantly, the court noted that “individuals and entities that own the assets under management have no contractual obligation to continue to use Glen to manage their assets; they are free to select a different . . . adviser [of Employer] at any time.” These individuals had “not contracted with Glen” but instead had “contracted with” Employer. And finally, the court reasoned that “[t]he terms Glen was offered by [Employer] were not negotiated. He did not negotiate higher pay or different terms but simply accepted employment on the terms offered by [Employer]. If Glen owned the book of business[,] he would have been in a position of greater leverage and been able to negotiate with [Employer].” In short, the district court determined that because Glen’s interactions with the book of business did not demonstrate ownership, “Glen [did] not own the book of business.”

¶38 Rayna attacks this determination primarily based on the alleged existence of alternative evidence. First, she asserts that evidence that Glen had some control over the book of business and its fruits and that the book of business included the information of some clients he had obtained before joining Employer demonstrated that Glen owned the book of business. But regardless of whether such evidence was before the district court, it would not contradict the findings the court did make— findings on which it relied to determine that, on the whole, Glen did not own the book of business. And although Rayna contends that “the evidence showed that [Employer] hopes to buy Glen’s book of business when he retires or transitions out of the industry and would facilitate the transfer of all of his clients to another advisor within [Employer],” this argument fails to acknowledge that the district court specifically considered this evidence in its findings of fact and ultimately found that the evidence did not deserve “any weight” because of a “lack of any testimony or other evidence by anyone who actually knew anything about” such a buy-out program. Indeed, “if there is evidence supporting a finding, absent a legal problem—a fatal flaw—with that evidence, the finding will stand, even though there is ample record evidence that would have supported contrary findings.” See Hinds v. Hinds-Holm, 2022 UT App 13, ¶ 28 n.4, 505 P.3d 1136 (cleaned up). And here Rayna has not demonstrated that such a flaw exists.

¶39      Because none of Rayna’s arguments on appeal show that the court clearly abused its discretion in its thorough and record-supported explanation of why Glen did not own the book of business, her contention on appeal is unavailing and we affirm the district court’s determination.

III. Dissipation

¶40 Rayna also contends that the district court erred when it included in the final distribution only half of the amount it determined Glen dissipated and failed to award Rayna any of it. Indeed, the district court found that “the amount of dissipation attributable to [Glen’s affair] is $75,000” and that “[t]hese funds were marital funds, for which Glen was entitled to half and Rayna to half.” But in the next line, the court, in seeming contradiction, stated, “Through dissipation, Glen spent half of $37,500 which Rayna was entitled to and therefore should be added to Glen’s [distribution] column.”

¶41 On appeal, the parties agree that Rayna is owed $37,500 due to Glen’s dissipation of $75,000. But the parties do not agree about the meaning of the court’s order or its associated appendix distributing the marital property. Having viewed both the court’s order, as recited above, and the appendix that purports to effectuate that order, we remand this issue to the district court for clarification.

¶42 Because the parties agree that the full amount of dissipation is $75,000 and that Rayna is thus entitled to $37,500, the only matter for us on appeal is to ensure that the order of the district court reflects that agreement. And it does not appear to do so. The court’s appendix lists three columns: one for the value of a given property item, one for Rayna’s portion of the property, and one for Glen’s portion of the property. In Rayna’s and Glen’s respective columns, a number was entered without parentheses to indicate a positive sum owed to the party, and a number was entered inside parentheses to indicate a sum to be subtracted from the ultimate distribution. For the line-item entry for dissipation, instead of $75,000, the value was listed as only $37,500. More important for our present purposes, Rayna’s column for that line item is empty whereas Glen’s contains $37,500 without parentheses, indicating a positive sum. As we read this entry, it appears that the incorrect dissipation amount was entered into the value, and instead of Rayna being awarded half of that $75,000, the amount of $37,500 was given to Glen. This was error.

¶43      On remand, the district court should correct this error and the associated appendix to indicate without ambiguity that the full amount of dissipation is $75,000 and that Rayna will be awarded $37,500 as her share of that total.[4]

IV. Property Distribution Appreciation

¶44 Rayna lastly contends that the district court “abused its discretion when it refused to award [her] a proportional share of the appreciation that accrued on the marital investment accounts” as she requested in her motion to enforce. She asserts that the court mischaracterized her motion to enforce as a motion to amend and that it accordingly erred in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to provide the relief she requested. On appeal, Rayna appears to maintain that her motion below was nothing more than a motion to enforce the decree; that the court had jurisdiction to enforce its decree; and that in determining that the order she requested would require an amendment (as opposed to mere enforcement), the court inherently “determined the decree did not already offer Rayna a proportional amount of the appreciation.” We agree with the district court that the relief Rayna sought would have required an amendment to the decree and that the court did not have jurisdiction to amend that decree once the notice of appeal had been filed.

¶45      We note that a “trial court is [generally] divested of jurisdiction upon the filing of an appeal.” Ortiz v. Crowther, 2017 UT App 133, ¶ 2, 402 P.3d 34 (per curiam). But a court may still enforce its decree even if an appeal has already been sought.[5] See Cheves v. Williams, 1999 UT 86, ¶ 48, 993 P.2d 191. Accordingly, because “Rayna filed a motion to enforce the decree,” she asserts that the court should have reached the merits of the issue she presented to it. But “[t]he substance of a motion, not its caption, is controlling.” DeBry v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co., 828 P.2d 520, 523 (Utah Ct. App. 1992). And here, although Rayna titled her motion as one “to enforce,” the requested relief does not match that title. Cf. CBS Enters. LLC v. Sorenson, 2018 UT App 2, ¶¶ 11–12, 414 P.3d 925.

¶46      The decree instructed Glen “to ‘transfer’ equities valued at the exact amounts set forth.” (Emphasis added.) But in her motion, Rayna requested not only those exact amounts but also “post-trial appreciation over and above the exact figures set forth.” On appeal, Rayna concedes that “the decree said nothing about who should receive the appreciation that accrued” post-trial. Accordingly, we agree with the district court that to award the relief that Rayna sought would require the district court to “read language into” the decree “in a way that modifie[d] or amend[ed]” it. See Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65 (“We interpret a divorce decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” (cleaned up)); see also Brady v. Park, 2019 UT 16, ¶ 53, 445 P.3d 395 (“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 . . . .” (cleaned up)).

¶47      Because Rayna filed her notice of appeal before the district court ruled on her request for post-trial appreciation of the investment distribution, the district court had been divested of jurisdiction to alter the divorce decree in the way Rayna requested. See Ortiz, 2017 UT App 133, ¶ 2. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s determination.

V. Investment Income

¶48      On cross-appeal, Glen contends that the district court abused its discretion when it did not include in its alimony calculation an amount reflecting Rayna’s ability to earn income from awarded investment accounts and apply that amount toward Rayna’s unmet needs.[6] Initially, Glen asserts that the district court “fail[ed] to consider Rayna’s ability to earn” income from these sources, but in the remainder of his argument, he proceeds to explain why the court’s actual consideration of her ability to earn income from investment accounts is based on unsupported findings or is otherwise unjustified.

¶49 For its part, the district court acknowledged Glen’s argument that Rayna would receive an investable property distribution that could provide “at least” a six percent return. While Utah “caselaw directs district courts to consider all sources of income when determining alimony, it does not dictate that all sources of income be counted as income received”—instead district courts have “broad discretion to treat sources of income as the court sees fit under the circumstances.” Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶ 21, 449 P.3d 202. The court then provided three justifications for its determination that “it would be inequitable to include interest, dividend or other unearned income potentially generated from investment assets received in the marital property award.”

¶50      First, the court explained that the “ability to obtain a 6% return is not sufficiently certain for the court to rely on.” It noted the inconsistency of historical returns, Rayna’s discretion to use her distribution for purposes other than investment, and the difficulty of projecting future investment income. Second, the court explained that “[i]t would be inequitable for Glen to be able to keep his share of the investments and retain their income stream to reinvest as he continues to generate professional income, while Rayna would retain only the investments after being compelled to expend her investment income to pay her living expenses.” The court felt that such an order would “wrongly deprive[] Rayna of the full benefit and value of” her distribution and that she should be able to “grow” any investments she would make without the obligation to use that money for providing for her own standard of living. Third, the district court explained that “[i]t was the parties’ regular practice not to spend or live off investment income, but rather to entirely reinvest that income.” Accordingly, the court refrained from applying any amount of potential investment income toward Rayna’s projected earning capacity.

¶51      In determining whether a spouse should receive alimony, the general rule is that a court should first take care of property distribution. See Batty v. Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 5, 153 P.3d 827 (“[An alimony] evaluation properly takes into account the result of the property division, particularly any income-generating property [the receiving spouse] is awarded, but alimony is not meant to offset an uneven property award. Rather, as a matter of routine, an equitable property division must be accomplished prior to undertaking the alimony determination.”). Then, depending on how the property distribution works out— especially considering income-generating property—the court considers whether alimony will be necessary for a spouse to meet demonstrated needs. See Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1170 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (“Alimony is appropriate to enable the receiving spouse to maintain as nearly as possible the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and to prevent the spouse from becoming a public charge.” (cleaned up)); see also Batty, 2006 UT App 506, ¶ 4 (“In determining alimony, the trial court must consider three important factors: (1) the financial condition and needs of the spouse claiming support, (2) the ability of that spouse to provide sufficient income for him or herself, and (3) the ability of the responding spouse to provide the support. Although a trial court is given considerable discretion in determining an alimony award, failure to consider these factors constitutes an abuse of discretion.” (cleaned up)). And as we held in Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, 449 P.3d 202, while the district court must consider all potential sources of income, it is not required to count those sources of income. Id. ¶ 21. This is nothing more than an expression of the rule that a district court has “broad discretion to treat sources of income as the court sees fit under the circumstances.” Id.

¶52      Here, contrary to Glen’s assertion, the district court did, in fact, consider Rayna’s ability to earn income from her distributed investment assets in reaching its determination that she would still require additional alimony to support herself to the level of the marital standard of living. See Dobson v. Dobson, 2012 UT App 373, ¶ 21, 294 P.3d 591 (stating that for the purposes of determining alimony, “the needs of the spouses are assessed in light of the standard of living they had during marriage” (cleaned up)). Given that the district court considered Rayna’s ability to earn income in reaching its determination that she was entitled to alimony, the question before us is whether the circumstances allowed the district court to refrain from counting any future investment income Rayna may receive in its calculation. None of Glen’s arguments attacking the court’s determination persuade us that the court exceeded its discretion here.

¶53 First, Glen argues that the court’s determination that the “ability to obtain a 6% return is not sufficiently certain for the court to rely on” contradicts its other findings. Specifically, he cites a finding that states “Glen’s income has consistently increased” and “[o]ther than general economic uncertainty, there was no evidence at trial that this trend would not continue.” He then claims that this statement contradicts the court’s determination that Rayna would not obtain a return on her investments.

¶54 However, the two findings are not comparable at their roots. Regarding Rayna’s potential income, the court was specifically discussing income resulting from a return on investments; but regarding Glen’s income, the court was noting an increase in his income as a whole, including that income derived from gainful employment and not exclusively income derived from any returns on Glen’s ongoing investments. A projection that Glen’s income as a whole, salary and all, will continue to increase is not incompatible with a determination that a return on investment income is insufficiently certain to rely on.

¶55 As part of this argument, Glen also characterizes an unrelated finding from the court’s ruling as a determination that Rayna’s relevant accounts were “not easily liquidated” and asserts that the court’s statement that Rayna may choose to liquidate a portion of these investments contradicts that finding. But this description of the court’s finding is simply inaccurate— the court noted that the “accounts [were] not liquid,” and it made no statement about whether there would be difficulty in liquidating them. And even if the accounts were difficult to liquidate, it would, again, not be incongruous with the court’s other findings, specifically that Rayna could choose to liquidate, any difficulty notwithstanding.

¶56 Further, Glen asserts that the court unjustifiably determined that both parties should “grow” their investments but that growth on Rayna’s accounts was uncertain. Again, these findings are not incongruous—the district court could reasonably find that a return was uncertain, that requiring Rayna to use any return to provide for her needs would prevent her from increasing the amount invested, and that Rayna deserved the opportunity to have her investment returns be reinvested for potential future growth.

¶57      Second, Glen asserts that the court gave Rayna freedom to reinvest her investment returns while it restricted Glen to using his investment returns to pay for both the taxes owed on his forgiven loans and Rayna’s alimony award. As to the alimony award, we note that Glen has not directed us to anywhere in the record where the district court explained that he must pay for Rayna’s alimony using investment income, and as such, Glen is free to provide for Rayna’s alimony using whatever resources he desires, whether it be his salary, proceeds from a mortgage or other loan, or, indeed, his investment income.

¶58      Third, Glen asserts that the court’s finding that “Lilt was the parties’ regular practice not to spend or live off investment income, but rather to entirely reinvest that income” contradicts its acknowledgment that Glen incurred a tax obligation from the forgiven loans. However, we note that although Glen maintains on appeal that he used the forgivable-loan investment returns to pay tax obligations, Glen has not pointed to the court ever making a finding to that effect, and thus the findings are not inconsistent. Further, although such evidence was before the court, the court also stated that “Glen did not include his own investment income in his Financial Declaration as income available to pay alimony or to otherwise meet his own need.” That fact, the court stated, “demonstrate[d] that neither party considered investment income as income to be spent or expended, but rather as a vehicle to increase savings and net worth.” While a pattern of using investment returns to pay tax obligations may not be completely compatible with a pattern of using returns to “increase savings and net worth,” we do not view this apparent inconsistency as enough to persuade us that the court abused its discretion.

¶59      In sum, Glen has not demonstrated that the court abused its discretion in refusing to count Rayna’s potential investment returns as income toward her ability to meet her living expenses. Accordingly, we affirm the district court on this point.

CONCLUSION

¶60      First, we remand to the district court to apply the correct standard to the evidence regarding investments and savings and to adjust the alimony award based on calculations that account for Rayna’s historical spending on future investments; we also remand to the district court to adjust the alimony award based on calculations that account for Rayna’s historical spending on entertainment. Second, we affirm the district court’s determination that Glen did not own the book of business. Third, we remand to the district court to ensure that Rayna is awarded the $37,500 owed to her due to Glen’s dissipation. Fourth, we affirm the district court’s determination that the relief Rayna requested in her motion to enforce would have required it to amend the decree and that it lacked jurisdiction to do so. And fifth, we affirm the district court’s decision not to include potential investment income in calculating Rayna’s actual income. On remand, we instruct the district court to engage in further proceedings as necessary to effectuate the holdings provided in this opinion.

 

[1] Justice Diana Hagen began her work on this case as a judge of the Utah Court of Appeals. She became a member of the Utah Supreme Court thereafter and completed her work on the case sitting by special assignment as authorized by law. See generally Utah R. Jud. Admin. 3‑108(4).

[2] Due to the parties’ shared surname, we employ their given names.

[3] The parties are appealing an order 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. However, we present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, n.1, 321 P.3d 200 (cleaned up).

[4] The district court’s view, which we endorse, is that Glen spent $75,000 in marital funds on his affair—not a proper marital purpose. Half of that amount was essentially his, but the half belonging to Rayna should properly be restored to her by Glen.

[5] Notwithstanding this general rule, the lower court may, in addition to dealing with motions to enforce the decree address clerical errors and other mistakes “arising from oversight or omission” that the appellate court asks it to address even after an appeal has been filed. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(a); see also Cheves v. Williams, 1999 UT 86, ¶ 45, 993 P.2d 191 (“We have also recognized exceptions to [the general] rule, in the interest of preventing unnecessary delay, where any action by the trial court is not likely to modify a party’s rights with respect to the issues raised on appeal, or where the action by the trial court is authorized by rule or statute.” (cleaned up)).

[6] Although the district court did not impute income to Rayna based on investment earnings, it did impute to her some income based on an undisputed amount of earning capacity.

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Fox v. Fox 2022 UT App 88 – alimony

Fox v. Fox 2022 UT App 88

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

DIANN SHERI FOX,

Appellant,

v.

BENJAMIN DAVIS FOX,

Appellee.

Opinion

No. 20200949-CA

Filed July 14, 2022

Fifth District Court, St. George Department

The Honorable Matthew L. Bell

No. 184500543

Lincoln Harris and Kari N. Dickinson,

Attorneys for Appellant

N. Adam Caldwell and Chantelle M. Petersen,

Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE

GREGORY K. ORME and JUSTICE DIANA HAGEN concurred.[1]

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1 DiAnn Sheri Fox appeals several aspects of a comprehensive set of rulings issued by the trial court following a two-day divorce trial, including various findings relating to the court’s alimony award, its division of marital debts, and its determination that her ex-husband, Benjamin Davis Fox, was not voluntarily underemployed. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the court’s orders.

BACKGROUND

¶2        DiAnn and Ben[2] were married in 1997, while Ben was in college and about to start medical school. After completing his training, Ben became a successful neurosurgeon with his practice centered in St. George, Utah. In the marriage’s final years, Ben was making more than $1 million per year, with his monthly pay sometimes as high as $110,000. Ben and DiAnn have six children together, four of whom were minors at the time of trial.

¶3        In keeping with Ben’s impressive income, the parties lived a lavish lifestyle during the marriage. To support that lifestyle, Ben spent a significant amount of time at work—as much as 80 to 100 hours per week. And even when he was not working, Ben was often “on call,” meaning that he had to stay within fifteen minutes of the hospital in case of a medical emergency. Ben took more “on call” shifts than any other physician in his practice. Part of the reason Ben worked such a taxing schedule—even for a neurosurgeon—was because he was qualified as both a neurosurgeon and as a neurointerventionalist, and his services were often in demand. Ben testified that, as a result, he was becoming burnt out and “physically and emotionally exhausted,” and that his work schedule was not sustainable. Due to his schedule, Ben spent comparatively little time with the children, leaving DiAnn largely responsible for their day-to-day care.

¶4        DiAnn has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and worked full-time as a teacher before the couple’s children were born. While Ben was still in medical school, however, Ben and DiAnn decided that DiAnn would not generally work outside the home but instead would care for their children full-time. At the time of trial, DiAnn was working part-time for the local school district, earning ten dollars per hour.

¶5        In 2018, DiAnn filed for divorce. As part of her petition, DiAnn sought primary physical custody of the children, child support, alimony, equitable division of the marital debts, and equitable division of the marital property. A few months later, the trial court entered a temporary order awarding DiAnn primary physical custody of the children, with Ben allowed parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-35.1. The court ordered Ben to pay $12,313 per month in child support, and $21,030 per month in alimony. The parties were also ordered to continue paying $2,500 ($1,250 each) per month to DiAnn’s father, to whom they owed a significant amount of debt.

¶6        After DiAnn filed for divorce, but prior to trial, Ben relocated to Florida and accepted employment there as a neurosurgeon. In his new position, Ben was paid less than he had been paid in St. George: instead of earning as much as $110,000 per month, Ben was now earning some $80,000 per month (nearly $1 million annually) in gross income. But in Florida, Ben had a less hectic work schedule, typically working 50 to 60 hours per week as opposed to the 80 to 100 hours per week he had often been working in St. George.

¶7        Also prior to trial, DiAnn filed a financial declaration with the trial court. In that declaration, she claimed $32,577.24 in monthly expenses, including—among other things—$16,132.24 for the mortgage payments on the parties’ large house; $1,880 for maintenance on the house; $2,000 for food and household supplies; $2,400 for utilities; $1,250 for half of the loan payments to her father; $855 for the children’s extracurricular activities; and $577.24 for travel, which included the costs associated with a timeshare condominium the couple owned in Hawaii.

¶8        Soon thereafter, the case proceeded to a bench trial, which was held over two days in September 2020. During the trial, the court heard testimony from DiAnn and Ben, as well as several other witnesses. DiAnn asked the court to find that Ben was voluntarily underemployed—because he was earning less in Florida than he had in St. George—and additionally asked that Ben’s higher St. George salary be imputed to him for the purposes of child support and alimony. In light of this request, and based on her expert’s testimony that the parties had established a standard of spending some $70,000 per month during the marriage, DiAnn asked the court to award her $11,050 per month in child support and some $35,000 per month in alimony.

¶9        In response to DiAnn’s argument that he was voluntarily underemployed, Ben called an expert to testify that, even with his reduced income, Ben’s earnings were above the 90th percentile of income for neurosurgeons in the United States. Ben thus requested that alimony and child support be calculated based on his Florida income and that the court reject DiAnn’s assertion that he was voluntarily underemployed.

¶10      We will discuss some of the particulars of the court’s ruling in more detail below, on an issue-by-issue basis. But in broad strokes, the court ruled in relevant part as follows: (a) the parties were awarded joint legal custody of the children; (b) DiAnn was awarded primary physical custody; (c) Ben was allowed parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-37; (d) Ben’s monthly income would be calculated based on his Florida income, not his St. George income; (e) DiAnn’s net income was initially set at $699 per month, but would increase to $2,915 per month after two years; (f) Ben was not voluntarily underemployed; (g) Ben was ordered to pay DiAnn $9,760 per month in child support, which would decrease as the children transitioned into adulthood; (h) Ben was ordered to pay DiAnn $15,039 per month in alimony for a period of two years, and then $12,995 per month for another 22 years, unless terminated earlier “upon the death of either party, the remarriage or cohabitation of [DiAnn], or for any other reason under Utah law”; and (i) DiAnn was assigned sole responsibility for the marital debt owed to her father.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶11 DiAnn now appeals various aspects of the trial court’s rulings, and presents three principal issues for our review.[3] First, she challenges various aspects of the court’s alimony award. We review a court’s “alimony determination for an abuse of discretion and will not disturb its ruling on alimony as long as the court exercises its discretion within the bounds and under the standards our supreme court has set and so long as the trial court has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 11, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified).

¶12      Second, DiAnn argues that the court abused its discretion when it assigned her the sole responsibility for the parties’ debt owed to her father and included the full payment for that debt in its alimony calculation. “The trial court’s division of debts is reviewed for abuse of discretion.” Boggess v. Boggess, 2011 UT App 84, ¶ 2, 250 P.3d 86 (per curiam). And because trial courts are in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions, they have considerable latitude” to equitably divide marital debt “and their actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified). “Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for an appellate court to reverse on an isolated item of property or debt distribution.” Id. (quotation simplified). “Rather, we must examine the entire distribution to determine if the trial court abused its discretion.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶13 And finally, DiAnn asserts that the court erred when it found that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. We “review the trial court’s finding of voluntary unemployment or underemployment and its calculation of imputed income for an abuse of discretion.” Christensen v. Christensen, 2017 UT App 120, ¶ 10, 400 P.3d 1219. “We will not disturb a trial court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, that is, unless they are in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence, or this court has a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Pope v. Pope, 2017 UT App 24, ¶ 4, 392 P.3d 886 (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

¶14 We begin with DiAnn’s challenge to the trial court’s alimony award, analyzing each aspect of that challenge in turn.

We then turn to DiAnn’s assertion that the court abused its discretion in assigning her the marital debt owed to her father. We conclude by examining DiAnn’s challenge to the court’s finding that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed.

I. Alimony

¶15 “Under Utah law, the primary purposes of alimony are: (1) to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage; (2) to equalize the standards of living of each party; and (3) to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge.” Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶ 14, 496 P.3d 242 (quotation simplified). “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.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶16 During their marriage, DiAnn and Ben enjoyed a high standard of living, and in an attempt to approximate that standard of living, the trial court ordered Ben to pay DiAnn more than $15,000 per month in alimony for two years, and nearly $13,000 per month for 22 years thereafter. DiAnn takes issue with this alimony award.

¶17 But in so doing, DiAnn does not challenge the court’s decision about the duration or future reduction of the award, nor does she take issue with any of the specific line-item calculations the court made in arriving at the total alimony amount. Instead, DiAnn advances two other arguments. First, she asserts that the court erred by not starting its analysis by making a separate finding regarding the parties’ “marital standard of living,” and by not taking that standard of living sufficiently into account. Second, DiAnn argues that the court abused its discretion when it included the children’s extracurricular activity expenses in its alimony calculation, and then ordered that DiAnn be responsible for those expenses. We address each of these arguments, in turn.

A.        Marital Standard of Living

¶18 DiAnn’s first challenge is an assertion that the trial court failed to properly take into account the parties’ marital standard of living. Specifically, relying on Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, 402 P.3d 153, DiAnn argues that the court failed to start its alimony analysis by making a separate finding specifically calculating the overall marital standard of living, and asserts that the court erroneously “moved straight to an arbitrary needs-based alimony analysis.” This, DiAnn asserts, contradicts the “roadmap” set out in Rule. In particular, DiAnn points to her own expert’s analysis—that the parties were spending, on average, more than $70,000 per month during the marriage—and asserts that the court should have concluded that she is entitled to half that amount in alimony, at least as long as Ben is able to pay it.

¶19      DiAnn misreads Rule. To be sure, in that case we noted that one of the purposes of alimony is “to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage,” and we categorized it as “inherently problematic for a trial court to attempt to design an alimony award that advances the overall goal of allowing the parties to go forward with their lives as nearly as possible at the standard of living enjoyed during marriage without first determining what that standard was in the first instance.” See id. ¶¶ 14, 18 (quotations simplified). But we clarified that a court appropriately takes that standard of living into account by “assess[ing] the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 19 (quotation simplified); see also id. ¶ 15 (noting that trial courts are required “to determine the parties’ needs and expenses . . . in light of the marital standard of living”). The ceiling on a recipient spouse’s alimony award is represented by that spouse’s needs, viewed in light of the marital standard of living. See id. ¶ 17 (“The receiving spouse’s needs ultimately set the bounds for the maximum permissible alimony award.”); see also Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 61, 402 P.3d 219 (stating that “in no case may the trial court award [the recipient spouse] more alimony than [his or] her demonstrated need”); Jensen v. Jensen, 2008 UT App 392, ¶ 13, 197 P.3d 117 (stating that, “regardless of the payor spouse’s ability to pay more, the recipient spouse’s demonstrated need must constitute the maximum permissible alimony award” (quotation simplified)). There is usually no need for a trial court to make a separate specific finding regarding the overall “marital standard of living” as measured by the total amount of money spent each month by the couple while they were married, and we did not intend to imply otherwise in Rule.

¶20 Indeed, in that case we made clear that we were not prescribing any deviation from the “established . . . process to be followed by courts considering an award of alimony.” See Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 19; see also id. ¶ 13 (citing the statute now codified at Utah Code section 30-3-5(10)(a), and stating that “courts must consider the statutory” alimony factors, which are “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse,” “the recipient’s earning capacity,” and “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support” (quotation simplified)). The first step in that process is for the court to “assess the needs of the parties, in light of their marital standard of living.” Id. ¶ 19 (quotation simplified). “This means that the court must determine the parties’ needs reasonably incurred, calculated upon the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.” Id. (quotation simplified). In the next step, the court must “determine the extent to which the receiving spouse is able to meet [his or] her own needs with [his or] her own income,” and if the receiving spouse “is able to meet all [his or] her needs with [his or] her own income, then [the court] should not award alimony.” Id. (quotation simplified). Finally, and only if the court determines that the recipient spouse cannot meet his or her own needs, the final step in the process is for the court to “assess whether the payor spouse’s income, after meeting his [or her] needs, is sufficient to make up some or all of the shortfall between the receiving spouse’s needs and income.” Id. ¶ 20 (quotation simplified).

¶21      The trial court followed this three-step process in this case. It made twenty-three separate line-item findings regarding DiAnn’s reasonable monthly expenses, using her requested amounts as a starting point, and it adjusted four of the line items downward and three of them upward. The court determined that DiAnn’s reasonable monthly needs, as adjusted, amounted to $25,424.61. And on appeal, DiAnn does not take issue with any of the twenty-three specific line-item findings. That is, she does not assert that any of those particular findings—for instance, her housing expenses, or her automobile expenses—are not in harmony with the marital standard of living.

¶22      The court also made findings regarding DiAnn’s ability to earn income, and determined that her net income (after taxes) was $699 per month for the first two years, and then would be adjusted to $2,915 per month. The court then subtracted her income and the child support payments from her needs, and determined that DiAnn would have a monthly shortfall of $15,039 per month for the first two years, which would narrow to $12,995 per month after that. On appeal, DiAnn does not specifically challenge these calculations, including the court’s findings regarding her ability to earn income.

¶23      Finally, the court assessed whether Ben had the ability to pay DiAnn’s demonstrated shortfall, and determined that he did, even using Ben’s Florida income rather than his St. George income, and even after paying child support and meeting his own reasonable monthly needs. DiAnn’s only complaint about this analysis is that the trial court erred by using Ben’s Florida income for the basis of its computation, as opposed to his St. George income. But DiAnn of course does not quibble with the court’s ultimate conclusion that Ben can meet every dollar of her demonstrated shortfall.

¶24 We perceive no error in the procedure the trial court employed in computing DiAnn’s alimony award. As noted, the court appropriately went through the three-step process required by applicable law. If DiAnn believed that the court inappropriately assessed any of her individual expenses, as measured in light of the marital standard of living, she had every opportunity to challenge any of the specific line-item calculations the court relied on in determining her monthly needs. See Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 20–63 (evaluating an appellant’s challenges to eleven separate line items in a trial court’s calculation of a recipient spouse’s needs). But she does not challenge any of them.

¶25 DiAnn has therefore not carried her appellate burden of demonstrating that the trial court failed to appropriately take into account the marital standard of living in calculating her needs. In this case, the court was not required to make any specific finding regarding how much total money the parties spent each month during the marriage, and it was certainly not required to presumptively award DiAnn half of any such amount as alimony. In short, we perceive no abuse of discretion in the manner in which the court assessed DiAnn’s needs or in which it took into account the parties’ marital standard of living, and on that basis we reject DiAnn’s first challenge to the alimony award.

B.        Extracurricular Activities

¶26 DiAnn next contends that the court abused its discretion when it included the minor children’s extracurricular activity expenses in its alimony award to DiAnn. Specifically, she argues that the extracurricular expenses should have been included in an increased child support award instead of the alimony award or, alternatively, that the court should have “issued a separate award equitably dividing the expenses.” We disagree.

¶27      Presumptive monthly child support payment amounts are set by statutory schedule, depending on the incomes of the parents and the precise custody arrangement between them. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-12-205, -212, -301 (LexisNexis 2018). These presumptive monthly payments are designed to include nearly all reasonable needs of children, except for items that are statutorily excluded (such as, for instance, medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses). See Davis v. Davis, 2011 UT App 311, ¶ 17, 263 P.3d 520 (noting that medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses have been “singled out” by the legislature as something that “parents are ordered to pay in addition to their regular child support obligations”). “Child-rearing expenses” that are “not statutorily distinguished from regular child support should be considered part and parcel of the child support award.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶28 In particular, we have held that “school fees” and “extracurricular activities” are presumed to be included in the “regular child support” payment amount, and ordinarily “must be satisfied, if at all, out of the parties’ combined child support obligations.” Id. ¶¶ 15, 17. Certainly, parties can agree “to share such additional expenses in the interest of their children,” but if they are unable to reach agreement on that score, such expenses “must generally be budgeted as part of child support.” Id. ¶ 15. Thus, in the present case, any expenses associated with the extracurricular activities in which the Fox children participate were designed to be budgeted as part of the $9,760 that DiAnn receives in child support each month.

¶29      Based on Davis, then, the trial court would have been on completely solid ground to decline DiAnn’s request to include a line item of $855 for “extracurricular activities” in her list of monthly expenses for purposes of the alimony calculation. But the court went ahead and included that line item in its computation of DiAnn’s monthly needs for alimony purposes anyway, effectively giving DiAnn an $855 monthly bump in alimony to which she may not have been entitled.[4]

¶30      DiAnn looks this gift horse quite squarely in the mouth and complains that the court should have given her this bonus payment in a different form: by issuing a separate award— consisting of neither child support nor alimony—commanding Ben to pay the extracurricular expenses. Apparently, she is concerned that, if she remarries, Ben’s obligation to pay these expenses will evaporate along with the other alimony line items. Certainly, the trial court could—within the wide discretion afforded trial courts in such matters—have made such an award, provided it adequately explained its reasons for doing so. See id. ¶ 17 (noting that a court can deviate from the presumptive child support guidelines and order a higher amount designed to include “school fees,” but such an order “must be supported by a specific finding on the record supporting the conclusion that use of the guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of the children” (quotation simplified)). But DiAnn falls far short of persuading us that the court abused its discretion by opting not to do so, especially given that she included this line item in her financial declaration, which was the basis for her alimony request. On this basis, we reject DiAnn’s second challenge to the court’s alimony award.

II. Marital Debt

¶31      DiAnn next asserts that the trial court abused its discretion when it divided the marital debt in such a way as to give her full responsibility for the parties’ $181,000 obligation owed to DiAnn’s father, and then included a $2,500 line item for payments servicing that debt in DiAnn’s alimony award (thereby effectively requiring Ben to pay that debt as part of his alimony obligation). We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s orders regarding the marital debt owed to DiAnn’s father.

¶32      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.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(2)(c)(i) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021). Importantly, our law requires only “a fair and equitable, not an equal, division of the marital debts.” Sinclair v. Sinclair, 718 P.2d 396, 398 (Utah 1986) (per curiam). And as already mentioned, because trial courts are in the “best position to weigh the evidence, determine credibility and arrive at factual conclusions, they have considerable latitude” in dividing marital debt, and their actions in this regard “are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified).

¶33 In the present case, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in assigning the marital debt owed to DiAnn’s father to DiAnn. By way of counterbalance, the court assigned Ben full responsibility for his medical school debts (totaling some $145,000), and made each party responsible for the debts on their respective vehicles. This division makes practical sense, because it relieves DiAnn of any responsibility for debts associated with Ben’s medical education, and it relieves Ben of any direct responsibility (aside from alimony) for debts owed to DiAnn’s father. The court recognized, however, that this distribution of debts gave DiAnn “approximately $24,000 more in debts” than it gave Ben, but the court stated that it would “use its distribution of property to equalize this imbalance of debts.” DiAnn makes no argument that the court failed to remedy this imbalance. Indeed, the court awarded the parties’ timeshare condominium in Hawaii to DiAnn alone, and it also awarded DiAnn three of the four cars owned by the parties. Additionally, the court awarded DiAnn an offset of $10,000 “to compensate her for any dissipation of the marital estate” on the part of Ben, and also awarded her $50,000 for attorney fees from any proceeds made from the sale of the marital house prior to the parties evenly splitting any remaining proceeds. Under the circumstances presented here, DiAnn has not demonstrated any inequity or abuse of discretion in the manner in which the court divided the parties’ marital debts.

¶34 Furthermore, while DiAnn was indeed assigned responsibility for the entire debt owed to her father, a line item for the $2,500 monthly payment of that debt was included in her alimony award. Thus, while the court made DiAnn responsible for that debt, it is Ben, and not DiAnn, who is (at least indirectly) paying for it. DiAnn nevertheless complains about this seemingly favorable arrangement, again expressing concern that, if she were to remarry, Ben’s obligation to front her the money to service the debt owed to her father would evaporate along with the other alimony line items. Perhaps a trial court, within the scope of its discretion, could have done what DiAnn envisions. But under the specific facts of this case, it is not an abuse of discretion for the court to have equitably divided the debt, and then to have required Ben to pay DiAnn an alimony amount that includes the debt service payments on the obligation owed to DiAnn’s father. Given the circumstances as they existed at the time of trial, DiAnn has not demonstrated that the court’s orders regarding the parties’ debt to DiAnn’s father exceeded the court’s wide discretion in such matters.

III. Voluntary Underemployment

¶35 Finally, DiAnn argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it found, for purposes of calculating child support and alimony, that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. Specifically, DiAnn asserts that because Ben took a job in Florida that paid him less than what he had been making in St. George, the court should have concluded that Ben is voluntarily underemployed and should have calculated child support and alimony based on Ben’s previous St. George salary.

¶36 As an initial matter, we note that this entire issue is irrelevant to the alimony computation, given our determination (discussed above) that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in making its alimony award. Even using Ben’s Florida salary for purposes of computing Ben’s income, the trial court found that Ben had the financial ability to make up 100% of the difference between DiAnn’s income and her reasonable needs. See supra ¶¶ 19, 23–24. Thus, even if we were to agree with DiAnn that Ben was voluntarily underemployed and that the trial court should have used his St. George salary in computing his income, DiAnn’s alimony award would not change. But because the issue could still matter to the child support calculation, we proceed to address the merits of DiAnn’s challenge to the trial court’s findings regarding voluntary underemployment.

¶37 “A court may impute income to an underemployed spouse.” Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 7, 316 P.3d 455 (quotation simplified). In order to do so, however, the court must determine that the spouse “is voluntarily . . . underemployed.” Id. (quotation simplified). We agree with DiAnn that Ben’s employment actions—in taking a new job in Florida—were voluntary. See id. (“A spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when he or she intentionally chooses of his or her own free will to become unemployed or underemployed.” (quotation simplified)). But DiAnn has not persuasively demonstrated that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that Ben was not underemployed.

¶38      The determination as to whether a party is underemployed requires examination of all the relevant circumstances, and not just whether a party’s salary has recently dropped. Indeed, a party’s “current earnings, as compared to his [or her] historical income, is merely one element in the matrix of factual issues affecting the ultimate finding of whether [a party] is underemployed.” Hall v. Hall, 858 P.2d 1018, 1026 (Utah Ct. App. 1993); see also Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 65, 402 P.3d 219 (stating that “income imputation shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings as derived from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for persons of similar backgrounds in the community” (quotation simplified)).

¶39 In the present case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Ben was not underemployed. Certainly, Ben’s income is lower in Florida than it was in St. George. And a drop in income can be an important factor in determining that a spouse is underemployed. See, e.g.Arnold v. Arnold, 2008 UT App 17, ¶ 7, 177 P.3d 89. But the mere fact that a spouse’s income has fallen does not necessarily mandate a finding of underemployment.[5] In the present case, the court was presented with ample evidence to support its determination that Ben— despite his lower salary—was not underemployed. Ben had not left his profession—he was employed as a neurosurgeon in St. George, and he was employed as a neurosurgeon in Florida. And even in Florida, Ben still made a lot of money; indeed, Ben’s expert testified that Ben’s Florida salary—nearly $1 million per year— was above the 90th percentile for neurosurgeons nationwide, not just for doctors. The trial court also credited Ben’s testimony that the work schedule he had been maintaining in St. George was not sustainable, and that he was “over-worked and burnt out.” And in Florida, Ben was still working 50 to 60 hours per week, up to half again as much as a typical full-time job. All of this evidence supports the court’s finding that Ben was not underemployed, voluntarily or otherwise.

¶40      Under these circumstances, we cannot say the court abused its discretion in finding that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. While the court’s determination was perhaps not the only permissible one under the circumstances, it is “entitled to a presumption of validity,” Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App 77, ¶ 20, 370 P.3d 1283 (quotation simplified), was supported by competent evidence, and did not constitute an abuse of discretion.

CONCLUSION

¶41      We perceive no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in its alimony award, its division of marital debts, or its determination that Ben was not voluntarily underemployed. On that basis, we reject DiAnn’s appellate challenges.

¶42 Affirmed.

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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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What is the easiest way to request alimony in a divorce?

In my jurisdiction (Utah) it would be as easy as making the request in the complaint for divorce, i.e., “Petitioner requests that he/she be awarded alimony.”

If by your question you mean to ask, “What is the best argument for seeking an award of alimony?,” then in my jurisdiction (Utah), the answer is:

  • prove that you have a financial need for alimony, e., show that without financial support from your spouse (i.e., alimony), you cannot maintain (or come as close as possible to maintaining) the standard of living to which you became accustomed during the marriage;
  • prove that your spouse has the ability to pay alimony, e., show that your spouse can maintain (or come as close as possible to maintaining) his/her standard of living to which he/she became accustomed during the marriage and at the same time provide financial support for you.
  • (if fault becomes an issue in the alimony analysis*) prove that you have not engaged in wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship.

*See Utah Code § 30–3–35(8)(c): “Fault” means any of the following wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship: (i) engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party’s spouse; (ii) knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or a minor child; (iii) knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or a minor child to reasonably fear life-threatening harm; or (iv) substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor child.

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

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-easiest-way-to-request-alimony-in-a-divorce/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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