Child Support Laws in Utah

Utah's child support guidelines allow courts to make consistent child support orders that are based off of the parents' income, the custody arrangement, and a number of other factors.

By , Attorney

Utah law requires both parents to financially support their child (or children). The amount of support that each parent pays depends on the parents' income, custody arrangement, and the number of children involved.

Parents can use the Utah child support calculator to estimate a support obligation. However, there are many factors that are taken into account when determining child support amounts in Utah—and it's ultimately up to a judge to determine the final amount of support.

How to Apply for Child Support in Utah

Many child support orders are issued during the course of a divorce—when a divorcing couple has minor children, the law almost always requires the court to address issues of child custody and support. Often, courts issue a child support order at the same time they issue the divorce decree. So, if you're going through a divorce, you won't have to apply separately for child support because it will be decided as part of the divorce.

When the parents aren't married, though, they will have to apply for a child support order. Applications must be submitted to the Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS).

In any matter in Utah where child support is at issue, the parent seeking the order must submit:

  • a completed child support worksheet
  • a financial verification
  • a written statement indicating whether the amount of child support requested is consistent with the state's guidelines, and
  • certain identifying information, such as a driver's license number and employment information.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-201 (2022).)

If you are applying through ORS, you have to submit additional documentation, such as a child's birth certificate or documents establishing paternity for the child to be supported.

Utah Child Support Guidelines

The Utah Child Support Guidelines use complex formulas to establish a uniform fee schedule. Although a court presumes that the number given by the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support, there are circumstances where the result would be unfair to a parent or the child. In those cases, a court will review a set of factors and may adjust the amount of support down or up.

Parents can agree to pay more than the amount given by the guidelines, but not less, and a court must approve the amount.

How to Calculate the Parents' Adjusted Gross Income

To estimate a child support obligation using the guidelines, you'll need to know the adjusted gross income (AGI) of both parents. A parent's gross income is income from all sources, including:

There are a few benefits that don't count as income for child support calculations, such as general assistance, housing subsidies, and welfare benefits. (Utah Code § 78B-12-203 (2022).)

Imputing Income to a Parent

In situations where a parent is purposefully unemployed or underemployed to avoid making support payments, a court can impute a higher income based on the parent's past and current earnings. Income will not be imputed, however, for a custodial parent who stays home to meet a child's specific needs, or if the cost of childcare would be the same as the income this parent would make.

When a parent doesn't have a work history, the court can impute an income at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour work week.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-203 (2022).)

How to Calculate the Base Combined Child Support Obligation

Once the court has determined the parents' individual incomes, it uses them to calculate a base combined child support obligation. You can use the Utah base combined child support obligation table (found in Utah Code § 78B-12-301) to see what amount the court would assign based on your particular situation. If you're not working with an attorney, the Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) can also help you calculate your estimated child support obligation.

Each parent is responsible for a share of the base combined child support obligation in proportion to their adjusted gross income. This is calculated by multiplying the combined child support obligation by each parent's percentage of combined adjusted gross income.

EXAMPLE: Pat makes $2,000 per month. Jordan makes $3,000 per month. Their combined gross monthly income is $5,000. So Pat's income makes up 40% ($2,000/$5,000) of the total, and Jordan's income makes up 60% ($3,000/$5,000). They have two children. Looking up their combined income of $5,000 on the child support obligation table, their base combined child support obligation is $1,175. Pat is responsible for 40% ($470) of the base monthly child support obligation. Jordan is responsible for 60% ($705).

Adjustments for Other Expenses

Utah courts can adjust the parents' child support obligations if there are other monthly child-rearing expenses, such as medical expenses or childcare.

Medical Expenses

Utah courts will order that a parent obtain medical insurance if insurance is available to the parent at a reasonable cost. The parents will share the cost of the insurance equally, unless the court orders otherwise. Also, the parents will share equally the cost of other medical care. When a parent incurs medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance, they must submit a written verification of the cost of the care to the other parent within 30 days of payment. (Utah Code § 78B-12-212 (2022).)

Childcare Expenses

Each parent must share equally any reasonable work-related child care expenses. Childcare expense are paid on a monthly basis, so if there isn't a need for childcare every month, the parent making payments doesn't have to pay that expense in the month(s) it's not incurred. (Nor do the parents have to modify the child support order to reflect the changing expense.) (Utah Code § 78B-12-214 (2022).)

How Custody Arrangements Can Affect Utah Child Support

The Utah child support guidelines adjust the amount of child support to account for the parents' child custody arrangement. What matters for purposes of the calculations is how many overnights the child spends in each parent's home. The guidelines accommodate the following situations:

  • Joint physical custody. This is when a child spends more than 110 nights a year in the home of each parent.
  • Sole physical custody. This is when a child spends over 225 nights a year in the home of one parent.
  • Split custody. This is when there are multiple children and some live with one parent and some live with the other parent.

Exactly how these custody arrangements affect the amount of child support can be complicated. However, the Office of Recovery Services' Child Support Calculator will run the numbers for you without having to delve into the exact formulas.

When You Can Deviate From the Utah Child Support Guidelines

Sometimes, the total amount of child support given by the guidelines or the way that number is divided between the parents is unfair or not in the best interests of the child. So, if you think support should be increased or decreased before the court issues the order, you can ask the court to review it.

To deviate from the guidelines, the court must consider all relevant factors, including (but not limited to) the:

  • parents' standard of living and situation
  • parents' relative wealth and income
  • ability of the paying parent to earn
  • ability of the receiving parent to earn
  • ability of an incapacitated adult child to earn (or the benefits received by the adult child, such as Supplemental Security Income)
  • needs of both parents and the child
  • parents' ages, and
  • whether either parent supports others.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-202 (2022).)

Modifying a Child Support Order in Utah

Utah law allows you to request a modification of an existing child support order when there has been a "substantial change in circumstances," or when it has been three or more years since the order was entered. The Utah courts' Modifying Child Support website contains detailed information about and forms for requesting a child support modification.

Before you head to court, though, contact the ORS: Although a court must approve a modification, the Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS) might be able to help with the process by petitioning the court on your behalf.

Modification Due to Substantial Change in Circumstances

When there is a "substantial change in circumstances," you can ask the court to modify the amount of child support in the order regardless of when it was last adjusted.

Under Utah law, a substantial change in circumstances might include material changes to:

  • custody
  • the relative wealth or assets of the parents
  • a parent's income (must be at least a 30% increase or decrease)
  • the employment potential and ability of a parent to earn
  • the medical needs of the child, or
  • the legal responsibilities of either parent for the support of others.

If the court agrees that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the court will:

  • take into account the child's best interest
  • determine whether the substantial change in circumstances results in a difference of 15% or more between the payor's ordered support amount and the new, proposed amount, and
  • adjust the support amount if:
    • there's a difference of 15% or more and
    • the difference is not of a temporary nature.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-210(9) (2022).)

Modifications of child support based on a substantial change in circumstances must be requested by filing (or having ORS file on your behalf) a petition to the court that has jurisdiction over your child support order.

Modification Due to the Passing of Three Years or More

You can also request modification of a child support order when it's been more than three years since the order has been issued or modified. To request a modification on this ground, you (or ORS) must make a motion in the court that has jurisdiction over your child support order.

When the court receives the motion, it will determine whether there's a difference between the amount in the current order and the amount that would be required under the current guidelines. Then, if there's a difference, it will take into account the child's best interests and modify the order if the:

  • difference is more than a 10% increase or decrease
  • difference is not temporary, and
  • the new amount won't deviate from the guidelines.

It's not necessary to show a substantial change in circumstances. (Utah Code § 78B-12-201(8) (2022).)

How Child Support Is Paid and Received in Utah

When a child support order is in place, the parent makes payments through ORS. Most Utah child support orders require payments to be made via income withholding, although other methods might be allowed in certain circumstances, such as when a paying parent is self-employed.

Parents receiving child support are paid through ORS. The default way to receive funds is via a Utah Debit MasterCard, but a parent can also set up direct deposit to a bank account.

When Does Child Support End in Utah?

A parent's duty to pay child support in Utah ends when the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school during the child's normal and expected year of graduation—whichever occurs later. The duty to pay might also end if the child:

  • dies
  • marries
  • becomes a member of the armed forces, or
  • is otherwise emancipated under Utah law.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-219 (2022).)

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