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Tag: Utah

I Bought a House, Then Got Married. Me and My Partner Then Divorced. Can She Take the House? This Is in NY.

I am not licensed to practice law in the state of New York, but I will answer your question according to the law of the jurisdiction where I do practice law (Utah) because that may give you an idea of how the issue is treated in Utah. You will need to consult with a knowledgeable New York family law attorney to know the correct answer to your question as it applies under New York law.

The decision in the Utah case of Lindsey v. Lindsey (392 P.3d 968, 833 Utah Adv. Rep. 16, 2017 UT App 38) is a perfect explanation of the circumstances under which a spouse’s separate property can be awarded to the other spouse in a divorce case, so I will cite excerpts from that decision below (I did not include the footnotes from the decision):

ANALYSIS

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

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

¶33 But separate property “is not totally beyond a court’s reach.” Elman v. Elman, 2002 UT App 83, ¶ 19, 45 P.3d 176 (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). Before carving property out of the marital estate, a trial court must consider whether circumstances warrant an equitable override of the separate-property retention rule. See Henshaw v. Henshaw, 2012 UT App 56, ¶ 15, 271 P.3d 837. Three circumstances have been identified under Utah law as supporting an award of separate property at the time of divorce. These exceptions are when separate property has been commingled [the Lindsey v. Lindsey case did not treat the commingling exception, so I will provide some information on that in a footnote to this answer[1]]; when the other spouse has augmented, maintained, or protected the separate property [the contribution exception]; and in extraordinary situations when equity so demands. See Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308; Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320. The latter two exceptions are at issue here.

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¶35 Under the contribution exception, a spouse’s separate property may be subject to equitable distribution when “the other spouse has by his or her efforts or expense contributed to the enhancement, maintenance, or protection of that property, thereby acquiring an equitable interest in it.” Mortensen, 760 P.2d at 308. This exception may be satisfied when one spouse brings assets into the marriage and the other spouse’s prudent investment of those assets substantially increases their value, see Dubois v. Dubois, 504 P.2d 1380, 1381 (Utah 1973), or when marital funds are expended or marital debt is incurred for the benefit of one spouse’s separate property, see Schaumberg v. Schaumberg, 875 P.2d 598, 602-03 (Utah Ct. App. 1994). In addition, this court has contemplated that the exception might apply when one spouse works for a business owned by the other spouse but is not “paid a wage or salary,” see Rappleye v. Rappleye, 855 P.2d 260, 262-63 (Utah Ct. App. 1993), or when a spouse elects to forgo salary or related compensation that would have benefited the marriage so that those funds may be reinvested in his or her separate business, see Keyes v. Keyes, 2015 UT App 114, ¶ 30, 351 P.3d 90. Under such circumstances, one spouse’s effort or investment may render the other spouse’s underlying asset, its appreciated value, or some portion thereof subject to equitable distribution. See, e.g., Schaumberg, 875 P.2d at 602-03.

¶36 While spouses often contribute to one another’s financial success in a variety of ways, Utah law draws a line between contributions that qualify as “enhancement, maintenance or protection” of a spouse’s separate property and those that do not. See Jensen v. Jensen, 2009 UT App 1, ¶¶ 11, 16, 203 P.3d 1020 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under Utah law, perhaps the most common type of spousal assistance-taking on some measure of household or family responsibilities to allow the other spouse to spend time enhancing the value of his or her separate property-has been rejected as a standalone basis for awarding separate property under the contribution theory. See id. ¶ 16.

¶37 As this court concluded in Jensen, one spouse’s efforts to “maintain[] the household,” provide childcare, and run a part-time business that “contributed to [the] family finances” were insufficient to justify awarding even “part” of the appreciated value of the other spouse’s interest in the corporation of which he was president. Id. ¶¶ 4, 10-11, 15-16 (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the wife’s efforts may have enabled her husband to devote his attention to his employment, she had not sufficiently contributed to the increase in value of the corporation’s equity: “Wife did not assist in running the business nor contribute in any way to its increase in equity. Moreover, it [was] unclear whether the increase in equity was due to anything other than inflation.” Id. ¶ 16. Likewise, in Kunzler v. Kunzler, the contribution exception was not triggered by one spouse’s assumption of household responsibilities, which allowed the other spouse “to focus his time and energy on preserving and increasing the value” of his separate property. 2008 UT App 263, ¶¶ 19 & n.5, 32, 37, 190 P.3d 497.

¶38 The division of labor among married parties may take any number of forms, and the give-and-take often inherent in marital relationships is generally not a sufficient basis for judicially rewriting title to property. The presumption that parties retain their separate property at divorce would be rendered largely irrelevant if rebutted by any spousal effort that freed the other spouse to work on his or her separate property. Thus, for purposes of this exception, direct involvement with or financial expenditures toward a spouse’s separate property appear to be key.

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  1. The Extraordinary Circumstances Exception

¶46 Under Utah law, a spouse’s separate property may be awarded to the other spouse “in extraordinary situations where equity so demands.” Elman v. Elman, 2002 UT App 83, ¶ 19, 45 P.3d 176 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The bar for establishing an extraordinary situation is high, traditionally requiring that “invasion of a spouse’s separate property” is “the only way to achieve equity.” Kunzler v. Kunzler, 2008 UT App 263, ¶ 35, 190 P.3d 497. A quintessential extraordinary situation arises when a spouse owns separate property but lacks income to provide alimony; in that circumstance, “an equitable distribution of the [separate property] would be well within the trial court’s discretion.” See id. ¶ 37; see also Burt v. Burt, 799 P.2d 1166, 1169 (Utah Ct. App. 1990) (“The court may award an interest in the inherited property to the non-heir spouse in lieu of alimony.”). An extraordinary situation has also arisen under “very unique” circumstances in which, absent the exception, a husband would have shared in profits his wife created as to their marital property, but she would not have shared in profits he created-and which she enabled him to create-with respect to his separate property. Elman, 2002 UT App 83, ¶ 24 & n.5.

¶47 Depending on the facts of a specific case, a court might take into account the rate of return earned on separate property during the marriage when determining whether an extraordinary situation exists or in calculating the amount of any such award. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 20, 26, 29-30 (affirming an award of “a small share of the appreciation on [the husband’s] partnership interests,” which was “only above a reasonable rate of appreciation”). But an award of separate property may also be independent of any rate of return earned on the property during the marriage. See Henshaw v. Henshaw, 2012 UT App 56, ¶ 20 n.7, 271 P.3d 837 (rejecting the argument that, because the spouse’s separate property declined in value during the marriage, the other spouse could not receive an equitable interest under the “extraordinary situations” exception (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). If a court were to award separate property due to a spouse’s inability to pay alimony, for example, that award could well be made irrespective of the rate of return earned on the property during the marriage.

[1] On the commingling exception:

See Dahl v. Dahl, 459 P.3d 276 (Utah 2015), 2015 UT 79

¶143 “Generally, premarital property, gifts, and inheritances [are considered] separate property, and the spouse bringing such … property into the marriage may retain it” in the event of a divorce. Keiter v. Keiter, 2010 UT App. 169, ¶ 22, 235 P.3d 782 (internal alterations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). But premarital property may lose its separate character where the parties have inextricably commingled it with the marital estate, or where one spouse has contributed all or part of the property to the marital estate with the intent that it become joint property. Dunn, 802 P.2d at 1320. Courts look to a party’s actions as a manifestation of a spouse’s intent to contribute separate property to the marital estate. Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App. 233, ¶ 28, 217 P.3d 733.

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

(15) Eric Johnson’s answer to I bought a house, then got married. Me and my partner then divorced. Can she take the house? This is in NY. – Quora

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Can the Non-custodial Parent Consent to a Tattoo for His/Her Minor Child?

Can my non-custodial parent consent to a tattoo for me? I’m a minor and my mom has full custody of me. She’s thought about allowing a tattoo but has never gone through with it. My dad would be for me getting a tattoo as long as it wasn’t stupid.

First, my personal opinion, then my professional opinion, if you don’t mind.

Personal opinion: Tattoos are a bad idea for many reasons, but basically, they make people less attractive than they were without them. Even the beautifully executed tattoos (and there are some tattoos that are aesthetically stunning) lose their appeal sooner than later and eventually make people look worse for them (self-indulgent, trendy, insecure, trashy). Some people get tattooed without caring what others think about them, but even then, a tattoo strikes me as an odd way to enjoy your time, money, and art (especially if you’re tattooed where you can’t see the tattoo). If you feel you must get a tattoo, less is more. Some might say, “But lots of people come up to me and tell, ‘I like your tattoo’” as a form of proof that people like the look of tattoos, but that is misleading. The socially acceptable thing is to say something complimentary or to say nothing at all. For everyone who says, “I like your tattoo” there are more who, out of courtesy, won’t tell you they find it ugly and off-putting.

Don’t tattoo a minor child. Let him or her make that decision when he or she is mature enough to be responsible for the consequences of his or her own choices.

Professional opinion (I am basing my answer on the law where I practice family law (Utah), so be sure to consult the law as it applies in your particular jurisdiction).

Utah has a statute on the subject of tattoos for minors:

76-10-2201. Unlawful body piercing and tattooing of a minor — Penalties.

(1) As used in this section:

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(b) “Consent of a minor’s parent or legal guardian” means the presence of a parent or legal guardian during the performance of body piercing or tattooing upon the minor after the parent or legal guardian has provided:

(i) reasonable proof of personal identity and familial relationship; and

(ii) written permission signed by the parent or legal guardian authorizing the performance of body piercing or tattooing upon the minor.

(c) “Minor” means a person younger than 18 years of age who:

(i) is not married; and

(ii) has not been declared emancipated by a court of law.

(d) “Tattoo” means to fix an indelible mark or figure upon the body by inserting a pigment under the skin or by producing scars.

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(3) A person is guilty of unlawful tattooing of a minor if the person performs or offers to perform a tattooing:

(a) upon a minor;

(b) without receiving the consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian; and

(c) for remuneration or in the course of a business or profession.

(4) A person is not guilty of Subsection . . . (3), if the person:

(a) has no actual knowledge of the minor’s age; and

(b) reviews, photocopies, and retains the photocopy of an apparently valid driver license or other government-issued picture identification for the minor that expressly purports that the minor is 18 years of age or older before the person performs the body piercing or tattooing.

(5)

(a) A person who violates Subsection (2) or (3) is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

(b) The owner or operator of a business in which a violation of Subsection (2) or (3) occurs is subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation.

So, in Utah, it appears that if a parent does not have legal custody of a minor child (or has joint legal custody but doesn’t get the consent of the other parent*) and pays to have his or her minor child tattooed (whether for a fee or free of charge) by one who performs tattooing as a business or profession, that parent has committed a crime. Even if it weren’t a crime, if a parent who is the non-custodial legal parent or a parent who is a joint legal custodial parent were to get a child tattooed without the other parent’s consent, it is likely that the court would punish that parent.

* There are some situations in which the parents are awarded what is called joint legal custody, yet one of the parents has what is known as “final decision-making authority.” What that means is the parents seemingly must make decisions for their children jointly and by agreement so that legal custody decisions are made jointly, when in reality, it means that if both parents don’t agree, the parent with final decision-making authority gets to decide the matter. Which means, after just a moment’s thought, a so-called “joint legal custody” parent vested with final decision making authority is not really a joint legal custodial parent at all but a sole legal custodial parent.

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

(15) Eric Johnson’s answer to Can my non-custodial parent consent to a tattoo? I’m a minor and my mom has full custody of me. Shes thought about allowing a tattoo but has never gone through with it. My dad would be for me getting a tattoo as long as it wasn’t stupid. – Quora

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Why Are Family Courts Biased Against Husbands and Fathers?

We should note first that not all courts/judges/judicial officers are against fathers.

Some courts/judges/judicial officers are against fathers (far too many), but not all of them.

Why are the judges who are biased against fathers biased? There are at least 4 reasons that I have observed while I have been a practicing divorce and family lawyer:

    • a belief that fathers aren’t nearly as important to children (especially young children) as are their mothers

o   a belief that dads care about children less than do mothers

o   a belief that dads are more inept caregivers than are mothers

o   a belief that “the only reason Dad wants joint custody is because it will reduce the amount of child support he’ll have to pay”

    • a belief (based upon the biases stated above) that reducing Dad to the status of a “visitor” in his children’s lives is OK because “it’s the quality of the time together, not the quantity”. It’s not true. Children whose fathers are marginalized naturally become emotionally detached from their fathers, they wonder “why doesn’t daddy want me?”, and the feel as though they did or failed to do something that has caused Dad to make himself scarce.
    • a belief that exercising joint physical custody of children causes more turmoil and conflict between Mom and Dad, with the children suffering as a result. It’s not true. Joint custody has been shown generally to reduce such conflict. And even when there is conflict between Mom and Dad, there are many kids who still don’t want that fact to result in a parent being prevented from spending as much time with them as possible.
    • a belief that joint custody requires that the children spend time much time “bouncing back and forth between their parents’ respective residences.” It’s not true. While it is possible to create a poorly devised joint custody plan with a lot of unnecessary back and forth, there are joint custody schedules that involve as many or fewer trips back and forth than a sole custody visitation or parent-time schedule.

Biases need busting, and you bust bias by standing up to judges who indulge biases and refuting those biases with courage, vigilance, facts, and sound reasoning.

 

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

(14) Eric Johnson’s answer to Why are family courts biased against husbands and fathers? – Quora

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Why Should Divorce Not Be Legalized?

There is no rationally or morally justified reason for making divorce illegal in any and all circumstances.

That stated, most would agree that while it was instituted with the best of intentions, “no-fault divorce” had unintended adverse consequences by making a divorce too easy to obtain, leading many marriages that might otherwise have weathered a difficult period in the relationship and survived.

 

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

https://www.quora.com/Why-should-divorce-not-be-legalized?no_redirect=1

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Utah Social Media Law Is Ambitious, but Is It Enforceable?

From KSLnewsradio.com:

Utah social media law is ambitious, but is it enforceable?

Utah social media law is ambitious, but is it enforceable?

The answer to the question of whether it is enforceable is: No. What the kids don’t do to get around the barriers the social media companies will do by changing to thwart the barriers. That’s the way it’s always been and the way it will always be. Frankly, there is no better way to protect against social media harms than 1) to protect people’s individual liberty and freedom, and 2) teach sound moral principles and reasoning to recognize and understand them.

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Do I have to pay the court to go to trial?

Do I have to pay the court to go to trial?

I am a divorce and family lawyer. I was asked this question and was a little surprised that this wasn’t widely known: 

In Utah, do I have to pay the courthouse and/or the judge or courthouse personnel for every day my divorce or child custody trial takes place?  

Answer: No.  

You are charged nothing for use of the courthouse, judge, and courthouse personnel for your trial, no matter how long the trial is set to take. 

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

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How long do you pay alimony in Utah?

The law governing the duration of alimony is pretty simple and straightforward: 

See Utah Code § 30-3-5, subsections (1)(c) and (11)(e): 

(1) As used in this section: 

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(c) “Length of the marriage” means, for purposes of alimony, the number of years from the day on which the parties are legally married to the day on which the petition for divorce is filed with the court. 

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11(e) 

(i) Except as provided in Subsection (11)(e)(iii), the court may not order alimony for a period of time longer than the length of the marriage. 

(ii) If a party is ordered to pay temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce action, the period of time that the party pays temporary alimony shall be counted towards the period of time for which the party is ordered to pay alimony. 

(iii) At any time before the termination of alimony, the court may find extenuating circumstances or good cause that justify the payment of alimony for a longer period of time than the length of the marriage. 

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

https://www.quora.com/How-long-do-you-pay-alimony-in-NC/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

 

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When are my ex’s things deemed abandoned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Laws Affecting Utah Divorce and Family Law in 2022

Here is a summary of new law affecting divorce and family law that was created by the Utah State Legislature in 2022: 

HB (House Bill) 122 1st Substitute, entitled “Family Terminology Amendments.” This bill amended language regarding marriage and legitimacy. That means terms like “legitimate” or “illegitimate” in the context of children born out of wedlock have been replaced with “legally recognized relationship.” As I’ve always said, why use one word when you can use three? And as I’ve also always said, “I know how to prevent stigmas attached to words: change the word!” Look how well that’s worked in the past! Your tax dollars at work.  

HB 175, entitled Protection of Animals Amendments. This bill modified the definition of “emotional distress” related to the offense of stalking to include significant mental or psychological suffering resulting from harm to a household pet. But wait, there’s more: it also provides that protection of an animal can be requested certain protective order request forms and protective orders, and it permits the court, when issuing certain protective orders, to enjoin the respondent from injuring, threatening to injure, or taking possession of certain animals.  

HB 231 1st Substitute, entitled “Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support.” This bill: amended the restrictions for a license, permit, or tag related to fishing or hunting when an individual is delinquent in child support and makes certain accommodations for obtaining a hunting or fishing license if a child support payor is temporarily unable to pay child support due to transition to new employment. 

SB 74 3rd Substitute, entitled “Alimony Modifications”. This bill defined the term, “length of the marriage” to mean the  number of years from the day on which the parties are legally married to the day on which the petition  for divorce is filed with the court; it provides that if a party is ordered to pay temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce action, the period of time that the party pays temporary alimony shall be counted towards the period of time for which the party is ordered to pay alimony. It also provides that if a party establishes that a current spouse cohabits with another individual during the pendency of the divorce action, the court: may not order the party to pay temporary alimony to the current spouse; and shall terminate any order that the party pay temporary alimony to the current spouse. 

SB 85 4th Sub, entitled “Protective Order and Civil Stalking Injunction Expungement”. This bill defined terms relating to the expungement of protective orders and stalking injunctions; makes statutory provisions for the expungement of protective orders and stalking injunctions retroactive; allows for the expungement of certain protective orders and stalking injunctions; provides the requirements for expunging certain protective orders and stalking injunctions; and addresses the distribution and effect of an order for expungement of certain protective orders and stalking injunctions. It’s about time. If the courts are going to hand out protective orders like stale candy, consistently flout the preponderance of evidence standard in favor of a “ 

SB 164, entitled “Marriage Solemnization Amendments”. This bill amended the list of individuals authorized to solemnize a marriage to include the state attorney general, the state treasurer, the state auditor, and members of the state’s congressional delegation. After all, haven’t we all felt it just plain common sense that the state treasurer, the state auditor, and members of the state’s congressional delegation ought to have the power to perform wedding ceremonies? I mean, how did we get along without this to this point? 

SB 217, entitled “Protective Order Revisions”. This bill clarifies that a protective order or civil stalking injunction may be filed in the county where a party is temporarily domiciled. 

SB 242, 1st Sub, entitled “Child Support Amendments”. This bill modifies the child support tables; provides the effective dates of the child support tables. 

SB 243 1st Sub, entitled “Parent-Time Amendments”. This bill: defines terms; modifies and clarifies parent-time schedules. More particularly, it specifies transfer time for Christmas holiday on December 27th at 7 p.m. Creates summer parent-time notice dates of May 1st and May 15th. 

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

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What are the primary parenting issues of concern by the court?

What are the primary concerns of the courts in determining parenting issues? Why?

In Utah (and in no particular order), the court must consider the factors articulated in these sections of the Utah Code when making a legal and physical custody award: 

  1. § 30-3-10. Custody of a child — Custody factors.
  2. § 30-3-10.2. Joint custody order — Factors for court determination — Public assistance.
  3. § 30-3-34. Parent-time — Best interests — Rebuttable presumption.
  4. § 30-3-35.1. Optional schedule for parent-time for children 5 to 18 years of age.
  5. § 30-3-35.2. Equal parent-time schedule. 

If I were to create a list of all factors from the above-referenced Utah Code sections, this answer would be too long, which is why I have provided hyperlinks to the Code sections for your review. 

CONCERN FOR FATHERS. What fathers encounter far too often (not always, but far too often): denials of requests to maintain their already-existing rights of joint equal legal and physical custody that are contrary to the facts, contrary to the best interest of the children, irrational, biased, arbitrary, inequitable, discriminatory, and unconstitutional.  

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

https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-primary-concerns-of-the-courts-in-determining-parenting-issues-Why/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

 

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What is MyCase and why should I care?

MyCase is an online system developed by the Utah State Courts system that you can sign up for free of charge and use in your family law case and certain other kinds of cases, but because this is a divorce and family law blog/video, we’ll focus on its features in a divorce and family law context. You can use MyCase to:  

  • view your case history (a record of what has happened in your case)  
  • see the date and time of your next scheduled court appearance 
  • view the documents that the opposing party and the court have also filed in your case 
  • pay fees  

Can a pro se party (meaning a party who is not represented by an attorney) file a divorce complaint or petition using MyCase? No, not currently. As of now there is no case filing available through MyCase. 

Can a pro se party file documents with the court through their MyCase account? No, not currently. As of now divorce is not a case type that is active for accepting electronically filed (also known as “e-filed”) documents through MyCase. 

Only those who are parties to a case can use MyCase. MyCase cannot be used to look up information about other cases. Even if you are represented by an attorney in your divorce or separation case, you look up information about your case on MyCase, if you have a MyCase account. To learn more about other features of MyCase and to create your own MyCase account, go to: 

https://www.utcourts.gov/mycase/  

and 

https://pubapps.utcourts.gov/MyCaseWEB/LoginServlet  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.quora.com/If-you-get-a-divorce-but-everything-is-in-your-name-do-you-get-to-keep-everything-or-do-you-have-to-split-it/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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Do you think it’s fair for a non-custodial parent to pay more child support?

Do you think it’s acceptable for the non-custodial parent to have to pay more child support because the custodial parent chooses to barely work or not work at all?  

Generally, no, it is not acceptable. In the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah): “Every child is presumed to be in need of the support of the child’s mother and father. Every mother and father shall support their children.” (78B-12-105(1). Duty of parents.) A parent is not legally permitted, by being unemployed or underemployed, to avoid his/her financial support obligations to a child and/or burden the other parent with his/her share of financial responsibility. See Utah Code § 78B-12-203 entitled “Determination of gross income — Imputed income.”  

Subsection (8) provides that one, income may not be imputed to a parent unless the parent stipulates to the amount imputed, the parent defaults, or, in contested cases, a hearing is held in a judicial or administrative proceeding and findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation are made. If income is imputed to a parent, the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings considering, to the extent known:  

(i) employment opportunities;  

(ii) work history;  

(iii) occupation qualifications;  

(iv) educational attainment;  

(v) literacy;  

(vi) age;  

(vii) health;  

(viii) criminal record;  

(ix) other employment barriers and background factors; and  

(x) prevailing earnings and job availability for persons of similar backgrounds in the community.  

Subsection (8)(c) further provides, “If a parent has no recent work history or a parent’s occupation is unknown, that parent may be imputed an income at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour work week. To impute a greater or lesser income, the judge in a judicial proceeding or the presiding officer in an administrative proceeding shall enter specific findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.”  

Subsection (8)(d) further provides, “Income may not be imputed if any of the following conditions exist and the condition is not of a temporary nature:  

(i) the reasonable costs of child care for the parents’ minor children approach or equal the amount of income the custodial parent can earn;  

(ii) a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage;  

(iii) a parent is engaged in career or occupational training to establish basic job skills; or  

(iv) unusual emotional or physical needs of a child require the custodial parent’s presence in the home. If you are an underemployed or unemployed parent who believes you can gain the child support system, you are mistaken.  

So, in Utah if you you are an underemployed or unemployed parent who believes you can game the child support system, you are mistaken. If you are the other parent who is confronted with an underemployed or unemployed parent who is trying to game the child support system, know that the law is on your side, so long as you can prove that the other parent is underemployed or unemployed and needs to have a reasonable income imputed to him/her for the purpose of determining each parent’s financial child support obligations. 

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

https://www.quora.com/Do-you-think-its-acceptable-for-the-non-custodial-parent-to-have-to-pay-more-child-support-because-the-custodial-parent-chooses-to-barely-work-or-not-work-at-all-4/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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Is it illegal for a lawyer to charge their ex client for a copy of their case file?

Is there anything illegal about a previous lawyer wanting to charge their ex client for a copy of their case file?

I can’t answer for all jurisdictions, but in Utah the answer is: 

  • If you were previously given your case file or previously given a copy of your file—and lost those—so now you want another copy of your file (and assuming your lawyer still has a copy of your file), then it’s fair for your former lawyer to charge you a reasonable fee for the cost of making you another copy of your file. You’re not entitled to a free copy or copies. 
  • If you were not previously given your case file or previously given a copy of your file, then Rule 1.16(d) of the Utah Supreme Court Rules of Professional Practice – Rules of Professional Conduct provides: “The lawyer must provide, upon request, the client’s file to the client. The lawyer may reproduce and retain copies of the client file at the lawyer’s expense.” Thus, if you have not requested a copy of your file, you are entitled to your file (not a copy, the file itself). 
    • How long must your attorney keep your file after representation terminates? I’ve been told no less than three and no more than five years. Rule 1.15(a) provides, “[O]ther property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation.” So if representation terminated more than 5 years ago, your old lawyer is not required to keep your file any longer, and so if you want a copy of your file then, you are likely out of luck. 

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

https://www.quora.com/Is-there-anything-illegal-about-a-previous-lawyer-wanting-to-charge-their-ex-client-for-a-copy-of-their-case-file/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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Is it possible to get court transcripts for custody hearings?

Every jurisdiction is different regarding which court hearings are open to the public and whether recordings of their proceedings are available to the public or even to the parties’ themselves. 

Every jurisdiction is different regarding how court proceedings are recorded too. 

Not every jurisdiction makes a written transcript of court proceedings. 

Most jurisdictions make audio or video recordings of court proceedings at a certain level, and divorce and family law proceedings are on that level. 

In the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah), the court makes its own audio recordings of divorce another family law court proceedings. These proceedings are open to the court, and thus the audio records of the court proceedings are public record, meaning that they are available to the public. Utah courts do not, at the trial court level, make written transcriptions of court proceedings. 

If you wanted to obtain a transcript of Utah family law court proceedings, you would need to take the audio recording of those proceedings and have them transcribed. If you wanted to use the transcription for appeals purposes, you would have to have the record transcribed by a stenographer approved by the court. It might also be possible to make your own transcript and to utilize that, if the opposing party agreed that your transcript was a true and complete and accurate transcription of the proceedings. 

Generally speaking, if all you want is a written transcription of the recordings of court proceedings for your own personal use, there’s nothing to stop you from doing so. And with advances in transcription technology, the cost of transcription have plummeted from what they were just 10 or 20 years ago. There are online transcription services such as http://Rev.com or Otter.ai – Voice Meeting Notes & Real-time Transcription that don’t do a perfect job of transcription, but do a very good job of transcribing for very little money. These types of services make obtaining transcriptions of court proceedings easier and less expensive than ever before. 

Transcripts can be very useful in establishing certain facts that may have otherwise escaped the court’s attention had they not been recorded and transcribed. Judges hate listening to audio recordings, but are much more receptive to reading a transcript of the very same recording because it’s much easier to isolate those portions of the recording in the transcript that are relevant to the issues before the court.  

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

https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-to-get-court-transcripts-for-custody-hearings/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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Do both parties have to sign the paperwork for a divorce to be granted?

Do both parties have to sign divorce paperwork in order for a divorce to be granted?

It is possible in many jurisdictions (Utah being one of them; if you are not residing in Utah, you’ll need to consult the laws and court rules of the particular jurisdiction where you are contemplating filing for divorce to be sure) to obtain a divorce from your spouse without your spouse being required to sign anything. 

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

https://www.quora.com/Do-both-parties-have-to-sign-divorce-paperwork-in-order-for-divorce-to-be-legalized/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

 

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How do you prove duress in a divorce?

I will answer your question in the context of Utah law because I practice divorce and family law in the state of Utah.  

First, here is how duress is defined in Utah: 

¶ 23 Under Utah law, duress exists when “a party’s manifestation of assent is induced by an improper threat by the other party that leaves the victim no reasonable alternative.” Andreini v. Hultgren, 860 P.2d 916, 921 (Utah 1993) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 175(1) (1979)). Hence, two elements must be shown to exist in order to prove duress. First, there must be some improper threat made by the defendant. Second, that threat must leave the victim/plaintiff with no reasonable alternative but to consent to the contract. Neither element has been satisfied here. 

***** 

[Footnote 5] See Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 176(2) (1981), which states as follows: 

(2) A threat is improper if the resulting exchange is not on fair terms, and 

(a) the threatened act would harm the recipient and would not significantly benefit the party making the threat, 

(b) the effectiveness of the threat in inducing the manifestation of assent is significantly increased by prior unfair dealing by the party making the threat, or 

(c) what is threatened is otherwise a use of power for illegitimate ends. 

(Boud v. SDNCO, Inc., 54 P.3d 1131 (Utah 2002)) 

This exact question, i.e., how do you prove duress, came up in the Utah divorce case of Sweet v. Sweet (138 P.3d 635, 2006 UT App 216): 

MEMORANDUM DECISION 

¶ 1 Respondent Melanie Sweet (Wife) argues that the district court erred when it denied her motion to set aside the stipulated divorce decree between her and her ex-husband, Petitioner James Sweet (Husband), pursuant to rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. See Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b). We affirm. 

¶ 2 First, Wife argues that the district court erred when it ruled that marital contracts are held to the same standard as any other contract. To support this assertion, she cites to the district court’s minute entry stating that to “set aside a stipulated [d]ecree of [d]ivorce, a party must, at a minimum, produce evidence that would constitute a defense to a common contract.” 

123¶ 3 In addressing the stipulated divorce decree between Wife and Husband, we first “acknowledge[ ] the general authority of spouses … to arrange property rights by a contract that is recognized and enforced by a court in the event of a divorce.” Reese v. Reese, 1999 UT 75, ¶ 24, 984 P.2d 987. And although the Utah Supreme Court has held that “contracts between spouses … are not necessarily judged on the same terms as contracts executed by persons operating at ‘arm’s length,’ ” we note that the court never set forth a different test or standard of review for such contracts. Id. Instead, the court has stated the general principle that “spouses … may make binding contracts with each other and arrange their affairs as they see fit, insofar as the negotiations are conducted in good faith … and do not unreasonably constrain the court’s equitable and statutory duties.” Id. at ¶ 25. In effect, the parties “are held to the highest degree of good faith, honesty, and candor,” and “agreements concerning the disposition of property owned by the parties at the time of their marriage are valid, so long as there is no fraud, coercion, or material nondisclosure.” Id. at ¶ 24 (quotations and citation omitted).  

4¶ 4 Wife ignores the entirety of the district court’s ruling and the context in which the challenged statement was made. More completely, the district court stated that 

[u]nlike [d]efault [j]udgments, [j]udgments reached pursuant to the [s]tipulation of the parties are given significant deference. In order to set aside a stipulated [d]ecree of [d]ivorce, a party must, at a minimum, produce evidence that would constitute a defense to a common contract. In order to show that the [s]tipulation was procured by fraud, [Wife] must show that she reasonably relied on a misrepresentation of a presently existing material fact. [Wife] failed to produce evidence which meets this standard. 

56¶ 5 After carefully weighing the evidence, the district court concluded that Wife failed to show the elements  necessary to establish coercion, fraud, misrepresentation, or duress. See Reese, 1999 UT 75 at ¶ 24, 984 P.2d 987; see also St. Pierre v. Edmonds, 645 P.2d 615, 619 (Utah 1982) (holding that “[d]uress and fraud are commonly held sufficient to vacate a property settlement in a divorce decree”). And a “district court … is vested with considerable discretion under [r]ule 60(b) in granting or denying a motion to set aside a judgment.” Katz v. Pierce, 732 P.2d 92, 93 (Utah 1986) (per curiam). Specifically, the district court held that 

[Wife’s] testimony with respect to alleged misrepresentations [is] not credible…. Accepting all of [Wife’s] evidence as true, it nevertheless falls short of suggesting a lack of contractual capacity…. Accepting all of [Wife’s] evidence as true, the evidence falls short of establishing legal duress, or that [Husband] had inappropriately overcome her will. 

We find no error in the district court’s evaluation. 

789¶ 6 Second, Wife argues that the district court erred in finding that she failed to meet her burden of proof regarding her claims of fraud and duress. However, Wife failed to marshal the evidence supporting this finding. “In order to challenge a court’s factual findings, an appellant must first marshal all the evidence in support of the finding and then demonstrate that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the finding even when viewing it in a light most favorable to the court below.” Chen v. Stewart, 2004 UT 82, ¶ 76, 100 P.3d 1177 (emphasis added) (quotations and citation omitted); see also Utah R.App. P. 24(a)(9) (“A party challenging a fact finding must first marshal all record evidence that supports the challenged finding.”). 

¶ 7 Instead, Wife simply reasserts the evidence she presented to the district court and asks this court to reconsider the validity of that evidence. In fact, Wife’s arguments are “nothing but an attempt to have this [c]ourt substitute its judgment for that of the [district] court on a contested factual issue. This we cannot do.” Covey v. Covey, 2003 UT App 380, ¶ 28, 80 P.3d 553 (alterations in original) (quotations and citation omitted). 

¶ 8 Therefore, the district court did not err in denying Wife’s rule 60(b) motion to set aside her divorce decree. 

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

https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-prove-duress-in-a-divorce/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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Duffin v. Duffin – 2022 UT App 60

2022 UT App 60

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JAMES M. DUFFIN III,
Appellee and Cross-appellant,
v.
BRANDY E. DUFFIN,
Appellant and Cross-appellee.

Opinion

No. 20200361-CA

Filed May 12, 2022

Third District Court, West Jordan Department

The Honorable Matthew Bates

No. 184400962

T. Jake Hinkins and Kurt W. Laird, Attorneys for Appellant and Cross-appellee

Martin N. Olsen and Beau J. Olsen, Attorneys for Appellee and Cross-appellant

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

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        In prototypical fashion, a young married couple—James and Brandy Duffin[1]—set about building a new house. They prequalified for a loan, hired a real estate agent, paid a deposit of $1,000 with marital funds, entered into a contract with a builder, went to a design center to pick out finishes, and attended the closing together. However, in atypical fashion, James’s father and grandfather reimbursed the $1,000 deposit, paid an additional $18,000 as a preconstruction deposit, and at closing paid the balance of the purchase price of $410,875 in cash. Only James’s name was placed on the deed. Months later, as James and Brandy’s marriage relationship deteriorated, James deeded the property to himself and his father. A divorce action was filed, and at trial, the district court concluded, among other things, that any interest James and Brandy had in the house was not marital property and that Brandy should be awarded attorney fees. Brandy appeals, claiming that any interest she and James have in the house is a marital interest. James cross-appeals, challenging the determination on fees. We reverse the district court’s determination regarding the house, but we affirm the decision regarding attorney fees.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Brandy and James were married in March 2015. They had two children during their union.

¶3        In April 2016, Brandy and James, having been approved for a loan of up to $360,000, entered into a real estate purchase agreement to purchase a house in West Jordan, Utah. Using a cashier’s check from an account in his name, James paid a security deposit of $1,000 on the contract.[2] James testified that his father (Father) reimbursed him for the $1,000, though he could not remember how that reimbursement occurred.

¶4        In June 2016, James’s grandfather (Grandfather) paid $18,000 for the preconstruction deposit, but James asserted that the money was actually an advance on Father’s inheritance from Grandfather. At closing, Father paid the outstanding balance on the home, again with money allegedly received as an advance on his own inheritance.

¶5        On February 8, 2017—the day before closing—James sent an email, titled “Loan Contract,” to Father stating that Father “is dispensing a loan of $429,875.42 to purchase a home,” which was identified as the house for which James and Brandy had signed the real estate purchase agreement. In that document, James identified himself as the party responsible for repayment of the loan. Notably, the Loan Contract did not mention interest or a payment schedule; rather, it provided that Father could “demand payment of this loan at anytime.”

¶6        Brandy and James moved into the completed house. A warranty deed conveying title of the house from the seller to James—Brandy’s name does not appear on the deed—was recorded on February 9, 2017.

¶7        About a year later, in February 2018, James added Father to the title of the house by executing and recording a new warranty deed. Brandy contended that the “marriage was struggling and divorce was a very real possibility” at the time James added Father to the title of the property.

¶8        As it turns out, Brandy and James separated in July 2018, and James petitioned for divorce in August 2018. James further asked that the assets and liabilities of the marital estate be divided equitably and that the parties bear their own attorney fees and costs.

¶9        As relevant here, in his financial declaration, submitted in October 2018, James listed the house as an asset with no amount owing, noting that it was a “[c]ash purchase” by Father and that it was acquired in his and Father’s names.

¶10      In her counter-petition, in addition to addressing custody and parent-time issues, Brandy requested that the house be sold and the equity split equally. Brandy also asked for attorney fees.

¶11 James later asserted—during the divorce proceedings— that he purchased the house on behalf of Father, who lived in California, and that he was just doing the “leg work” for Father. He also asserted that he and Brandy “weren’t prequalified on [their] own merits” but had used Father’s bank statements in the application.[3] However, James admitted that he never informed anyone that he was acting as the agent of Father. And James conceded that he was not aware of “written documentary evidence” indicating an agency relationship but that there were “certainly conversations” between him and Father to that effect.[4] James also contended that an agreement between him and Father gave James the option to purchase the house from Father.

¶12 Father echoed much the same in his deposition on the matter, saying that he had “been talking to [James] about purchasing a home for [him] in Utah for quite some time” and that James acted on his behalf in purchasing the house. Father explicitly stated that he “[a]bsolutely” never intended the house to be a gift to James. Father clarified, “I provided all the money. My son worked as my agent in obtaining that house. And it was always understood between my son and me that that was my house.” But Father admitted that there was no document that would evidence any sort of an agency relationship between them.

¶13      Father explained that his name was not on the deed to the house because he “wanted to empower” James by having him “go through the process” of purchasing a house. Father asserted that he was involved in the design of the house and “oversaw the whole thing.” But he admitted there were “no writings, no emails or text messages between the two of [them] about the house plans.” Rather, Father explained, “[I]t was just a . . . casual, loving, walking down the street, arm around my son,” asking, “What do you think, Jim?”

¶14 Father indicated that he needed to “subsidize the relationship [between James and Brandy] until it really got off . . . on a good start.” However, Father indicated that Brandy was never involved in the conversations about the help he was extending to them: “The whole . . . financial situation, . . . my support, my allowing them to live in that house, all of that was between me and my son.”

¶15 For her part, Brandy testified that there was never any discussion that the house would belong to anyone other than her and James. Specifically, she said there was never any mention made to her that the house was being built for Father or that Father had any input on the construction. She clarified that she and James “picked out all of the finishings” and the floor plan of the house. Brandy testified that at no time during construction did James ever indicate that he needed to check with Father to verify that he was “okay” with their design selections because it was going to be Father’s house. In terms of paying for the house, Brandy stated that she and James were prequalified for a loan on the house, that the $1,000 deposit was paid with a cashier’s check funded with money from their commingled accounts, and that she and James were present together at the closing. Brandy further testified that she and James completed the landscaping and added, among other features, a fence, basketball standard, and cement pad.

¶16      With regard to the house, the court found that it was not marital property. The court reasoned,

The parties went into this home with the expectation that they would purchase it together. They picked the lot, they picked the design of the home, they selected trim and other finishings in the home, and they entered into a [real estate purchase agreement] with [the seller], and the parties expected that they would have a mortgage and that they would pay for this home using their respective incomes. But when it came time to actually close on this transaction, that is not what happened. Instead, [Father] paid for the home in its entirety, and James was the only one who was put on the deed.

¶17      The court went on to note that James and Brandy “lived in the home for what is a relatively short duration. They did not pay rent, they did not pay any sort of mortgage or loan, they did not pay utilities or property taxes. Those were all paid by income from [Father] towards the home.” And even though James and Brandy did “contribute somewhat to the home by putting in some shrubberies, a basketball standard, putting down a concrete pad, [and] installing a small fence,” the court concluded that “given the large amount of equity in this home, upwards of $450,000, those small contributions . . . [did] not convert [the house] into a marital asset.”

¶18      The court concluded,

[The house] was an asset that was titled only in James’s name. It was paid for by [Father]. . . . To determine that it was a marital interest would essentially be to give to Brandy a tremendous windfall of something that was not acquired in any rational sense of the word by the efforts of the marriage or the work or efforts of the marriage. So to the extent that there is any interest in the home, it is not a marital interest and to the extent that James has an interest in the home, it is not a marital interest.[5]

¶19      Lastly, the court awarded attorney fees to Brandy, at least in part:

Given the parties’ respective incomes, particularly that James has income a little bit more than four times the income that Brandy has, Brandy has a need for assistance in paying her attorney’s fees [and] those fees were necessary for her to be able to defend herself in this divorce action. However, she did not prevail 100 percent on all of her claims[6] and everything she was seeking, so the Court hereby awards her 60 percent of her attorney’s fees.

¶20 Both parties appeal, Brandy with respect to the determination that any interest she and James had in the house was not marital property, and James with respect to the award of attorney fees.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶21      Brandy contends that the district court erred in concluding that any interest she and James had in the house acquired during the course of the marriage was not marital property and thus not subject to distribution. “We will not disturb a property award unless we determine that there has been a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error, the evidence clearly preponderates against the findings, or such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion.” Nakkina v. Mahanthi, 2021 UT App 111, ¶ 16, 496 P.3d 1173 (cleaned up).

¶22      In his cross-appeal, James contends that the district court erred in ordering him to pay 60% of Brandy’s attorney fees pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-3(1). “We review the district court’s award of attorney fees under Utah Code section 30-3-3, including the amount of the award, for abuse of discretion.” Eberhard v. Eberhard, 2019 UT App 114, ¶ 6, 449 P.3d 202.

ANALYSIS

I. The Status of the Parties’ Putative Interest in the House as Marital Property

¶23 “Marital property is ordinarily all property acquired during marriage and it encompasses all of the assets of every nature possessed by the parties, whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” Marroquin v. Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 14, 440 P.3d 757 (cleaned up). “Separate property, in contrast, is typically a spouse’s premarital property or property received by gift or inheritance during the marriage.” DeAvila v. DeAvila, 2017 UT App 146, ¶ 15, 402 P.3d 184.

¶24 “In Utah, marital property is ordinarily divided equally between the divorcing spouses and separate property, which may include premarital assets, inheritances, or similar assets, will be awarded to the acquiring spouse.” Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 23, 169 P.3d 765. Specifically,

When dividing property in a divorce, the court should first properly categorize the parties’ property as part of the marital estate or as the separate property of one or the other. Then, the court should presume that each party is entitled to all of that party’s separate property and one-half of the marital property, regardless of which spouse’s name appears on the title to the marital property.

Allen v. Ciokewicz, 2012 UT App 162, ¶ 46, 280 P.3d 425 (cleaned up); see also Bradford v. Bradford, 1999 UT App 373, ¶ 26, 993 P.2d 887 (stating that marital property may be distributed equitably “regardless of who holds title”).

¶25 Here, the district court erred in its determination that insofar as James or Brandy had a property interest in the house, that interest was not marital.

¶26 Throughout the pendency of the divorce proceedings, James explicitly rejected the notion that the house was a gift. And there is no indication in the record that James received the house as part of his inheritance. Nor was the house James’s premarital asset—it was indisputably acquired during the marriage. Thus, there is no evidence to suggest that any interest James might have in the house qualifies as James’s separate property. See Keiter v. Keiter, 2010 UT App 169, ¶ 22, 235 P.3d 782 (“Generally, premarital property, gifts, and inheritances may be viewed as separate property, and the spouse bringing such separate property into the marriage may retain it following the marriage.” (cleaned up)).

¶27 But there is ample evidence that any interest James and Brandy had in the house was marital property. Brandy and James both signed the real estate purchase agreement. As the district court explicitly noted, they both entered into the agreement with the expectation that they were purchasing the house together and that they would have a mortgage together. They picked the lot, they paid a $1,000 deposit, they selected the design, and they chose the finishings. The two factors that the district court pointed to as indicating that the house was not marital property were that James was the only one on the deed and that Father paid for the house in its entirety. But neither of these circumstances is sufficient to transform whatever interest James and Brandy have in the house from marital property to separate property.

¶28      First, that Brandy was never on the deed to the house in no way indicates that any interest James and Brandy might have in the house was somehow not marital property. In fact, just the opposite is true. “[A] marital asset is defined functionally as any right that has accrued during the marriage to a present or future benefit.” Jefferies v. Jefferies, 895 P.2d 835, 837 (Utah Ct. App. 1995). By having his name entered into the warranty deed and having his name placed on the title, James obtained the house in fee simple. See Utah Code Ann. § 57-1-12(2) (LexisNexis 2020). And because he obtained title during the marriage—and because the house was not a gift or inherited—whatever interest he had in the house became marital property. See Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 14 (defining marital property as “all property acquired during marriage” (cleaned up)). In other words, once James acquired title, Brandy acquired title because the acquisition took place during the marriage, and there was no exception (i.e., gift or inheritance) indicating otherwise.

¶29      Second, that Father paid for the house also fails to render “nonmarital” any interest James and Brandy might have in it. As our case law makes abundantly clear, “marital property ordinarily includes all property acquired during marriage, whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” Lindsey v. Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 31, 392 P.3d 968 (cleaned up); accord Marroquin, 2019 UT App 38, ¶ 14; DeAvila, 2017 UT App 146, ¶ 15; Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314, 1317–18 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). That James and Brandy used someone else’s money to purchase the house does not—standing alone—make their interest in the house nonmarital property. Most people, when they purchase a home, use someone else’s money (usually a lender’s) to do it—indeed, Father providing the money to purchase the house looks somewhat like just such a loan. And granted, the source of money by which the house was acquired would potentially render James’s interest in the house nonmarital if Father had gifted the money to James alone or if it represented James’s inheritance. But that’s not what happened here. As already noted, the record does not support a conclusion that the money was a gift to James or part of his inheritance, and the district court did not conclude otherwise.

¶30 On this note (i.e., that Father paid for the house while James and Brandy made a minimal contribution), the district court, citing Jefferies v. Jefferies, 895 P.2d 835 (Utah Ct. App. 1995), and Dunn v. Dunn, 802 P.2d 1314 (Utah Ct. App. 1990), concluded, “These cases suggest that marital property is not just any property obtained, but property that is obtained through the efforts of the marriage, and suggests that a windfall to one party or the other may not necessarily be marital property.” From this “suggestion” that it perceived in these two cases, the district court concluded that James and Brandy did not contribute sufficiently to the house to make any interest they might have in it marital property.

¶31 But obtaining property “through the efforts of the marriage” is not the defining condition that makes property marital; rather, it is the mere acquisition of property during marriage. As this court has often repeated, “marital property ordinarily includes all property acquired during marriage, whenever obtained and from whatever source derived.” Lindsey, 2017 UT App 38, ¶ 31 (cleaned up). Our case law nowhere mentions “the efforts of the marriage” as being necessary to making property so acquired marital. Thus, acquisition—from whatever source—during the marriage is the hallmark condition that renders property marital, not the maintenance or growth of that property by the efforts of the parties. To be clear, our case law employs the modifier “ordinarily” to account for the situation where property acquired by “gift or inheritance during the marriage,” see DeAvila, 2017 UT App 146, ¶ 15, remains separate property unless it has been transformed to marital property by commingling or the contribution of the non-receiving spouse, see Keyes v. Keyes, 2015 UT App 114, ¶ 28, 351 P.3d 90 (stating that “separate property, which may include premarital assets, inheritances, or similar assets, will be awarded to the acquiring spouse” unless it loses “its separate character . . . through commingling or if the other spouse has by his or her efforts or expense contributed to the enhancement, maintenance, or protection of that property” (cleaned up)). Thus, the district court’s misstep here was in applying the concept of “the efforts of the marriage” as a condition for all property acquired during the course of a marriage to become marital, when our case law has limited that concept to the efforts of the non-receiving spouse in transforming separate property into marital property.

¶32      In sum, we reverse the district court’s determination that the couple’s property interest in the house, insofar as they had an interest, was not marital. The extent to which Brandy and James even have an interest in the property is an issue that will be decided in the separate lawsuit. See supra note 5. But to the extent they are adjudicated to have an interest in the house, that interest is marital property subject to equitable distribution between them.

II. The Award of Attorney Fees

¶33 On appeal, James asserts that the district court erred in awarding Brandy attorney fees because it did not make a detailed factual analysis of either Brandy’s financial need for assistance or James’s ability to pay and because the district court took into account whether Brandy prevailed on her claims. These challenges raise different legal theories from the ones James raised below with regard to Brandy’s attorney fees request.

¶34 “Parties are required to raise and argue an issue in the [district] court in such a way that the court has an opportunity to rule on it.” State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 18, 416 P.3d 443 (cleaned up). “When a party fails to raise and argue an issue in the district court, it has failed to preserve the issue, and an appellate court will not typically reach that issue absent a valid exception to preservation.” Issertell v. Issertell, 2020 UT App 62, ¶ 21, 463 P.3d 698 (cleaned up). “As to preservation, our case law draws a distinction between new ‘issues’ (like distinct claims or legal theories) and new ‘arguments’ in support of preserved issues (such as the citation of new legal authority).” Hand v. State, 2020 UT 8, ¶ 6, 459 P.3d 1014.

¶35 Here, James is clearly trying to raise new issues. Below, James did not challenge the court’s analysis regarding Brandy’s financial need or his ability to pay. In fact, James explicitly challenged only the inclusion of fees associated with a protective order, the exclusion of certain reimbursements Brandy had received, the court’s handling of rule 54(d) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure as it applies to costs, and the exclusion of the costs James had paid for a custody evaluation. Nowhere did he assert that the court should not award Brandy attorney fees due to his or Brandy’s financial situation. In short, the legal theories he raised below in challenging Brandy’s attorney fee request were entirely different from the legal theories he attempts to raise now. He simply never gave the district court an opportunity to rule on the theories he now advances.

¶36 Because James failed to raise the same challenges to Brandy’s request for attorney fees that he is attempting to raise on appeal, his current challenges are unpreserved, and James does not ask us to apply any of the traditional exceptions to our preservation requirement.[7] On that basis, we decline to review the merits of James’s unpreserved challenges to the award of attorney fees.

CONCLUSION

¶37 Having concluded that to the extent the couple had a property interest in the house, the interest was marital, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. And we uphold the award of attorney fees to Brandy because the legal theories advanced on appeal were not preserved.


[1] Because the parties share the same last name, we refer to them by their given names.

[2] Brandy asserted that the cashier’s check was funded with commingled monies from her and James. See infra ¶ 15. James admitted that money from Brandy’s income may have gone into the account from which the cashier’s check was drawn.

[3] James’s name is identical to Father’s, with the exception of the suffix.

[4] James acted as agent for Father for the purchase of a different “property six houses away.” Indeed, the record contains another real estate purchase contract under Father’s name and address (as opposed to James and Brandy’s) that was signed by James. The record contains at least one piece of correspondence addressed to Father at this address.

[5] The court spoke in conditional terms about the extent of interest in the house—as do we—because Father has filed a pending quiet title action asserting his interest in the property.

 

[6] Brandy prevailed on various claims related to custody and child support.

[7] James argues that the court plainly erred in awarding attorney fees. But after his brief was submitted, this court held “that plain error review is not available in ordinary civil cases.” See Kelly v. Timber Lakes Prop. Owners Ass’n, 2022 UT App 23, ¶ 44, 507 P.3d 357. Accordingly, the plain error exception to our preservation rule does not apply to this situation.

James also argues that “rare procedural anomalies . . . prevented [him] from fully providing the [district court] the legal arguments and evidence to support the denial of Brandy’s request for attorney fees.” The “rare procedural anomaly” James identifies is the court’s statement that it was “very familiar with the state of the law with respect to attorneys fees under 30-3-3” such that it did not need “further briefing on this matter.” James argues that precluding him “from putting forth evidence and appropriate briefing rises to the level of an anomaly in the proceedings.” But we see no procedural anomaly that would have prevented James from raising the issue in a post-judgment motion, just as he did with his other challenges to the award of attorney fees.

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

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How easy is it to change your child’s last name?

I cannot answer this question as it applies in all jurisdictions, but I can answer the question as it applies in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah): 

Here are the applicable Utah Code sections: 

42-1-1. By petition to district court — Contents. 

Any natural person, desiring to change his name, may file a petition therefor in the district court of the county where he resides, setting forth: 

(1) The cause for which the change of name is sought. 

(2) The name proposed. 

(3) That he has been a bona fide resident of the county for the year immediately prior to the filing of the petition. 

42-1-2. Notice of hearing — Order of change. 

The court shall order what, if any, notice shall be given of the hearing, and after the giving of such notice, if any, may order the change of name as requested, upon proof in open court of the allegations of the petition and that there exists proper cause for granting the same. 

42-1-3. Effect of proceedings. 

Such proceedings shall in no manner affect any legal action or proceeding then pending, or any right, title or interest whatsoever. 

That seems fairly easy, right? I agree, it does seem easy (it deceptively seems easy), and if all you needed to do was go by what the Utah Code says is required of you to get a name change, you’d be right. But for reasons I do not understand, there are many “unwritten rules” governing a name change in Utah, whether for an adult or a minor child. Otherwise stated, if all you did was: 

  • file a petition in the court stating: 
    • the cause for which the change of name is sought; 
    • the name proposed; 
    • that you or your minor child have/has been a bona fide resident of the county for the year immediately prior to the filing of the petition. 
  • schedule the hearing on the petition; 
    • prove three allegations that you were required to make in the petition; 
    • prove that there exists “proper cause” (whatever that means) for granting the petition for change of name;

that should be all you need to do, according to the Utah Code. But if that is all you did, there is a good chance your petition would be denied. So what are the “unwritten rules” you need to abide by to get a name change for yourself or your minor child? A good place to find out is here: 

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

https://www.quora.com/How-easy-is-it-to-change-your-child-s-last-name/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

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