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 · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated by E.A. Gjelten, Legal Editor
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Utah law requires both parents to financially support their child (or children). The amount of child support that parents pay depends on their income, custody arrangement, and the number of children they have.

Parents can use the Utah child support calculator to estimate a support obligation. But the actual amount of child support depends on many factor, 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. 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 with the Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS).

Whenever you're requesting child support, you'll have to 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 (more on that below), and
  • certain identifying information, such as a driver's license number and employment information.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-201 (2023).)

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

How Utah's Child Support Guidelines Work

The Utah Child Support Guidelines use complex formulas to establish a schedule of support amounts. Although state law presumes that the amount calculated under the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support in any case, there might be circumstances when it would be unfair. When that's the case, the judge will may adjust the amount of support down or up (more below on deviating from the guidelines).

Parents can agree to pay more than the amount given by the guidelines, but not less. A judge will need to approve their agreement.

Start With Adjusted Gross Income

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

A few benefits don't count as income for child support calculations, such as general assistance, housing subsidies, and welfare benefits. (Utah Code § 78B-12-203 (2023).)

To calculate AGI, subtract from gross income any alimony or child support that the parent is paying under a previous order—not the amount of alimony that will be ordered in the current divorce proceeding. (Utah Code § 78B-12-204 (2023).)

Imputing Income to a Parent

When a parent is purposefully unemployed or underemployed to avoid making support payments, the judge may impute a higher income based on that parent's past and current earnings (or on the the federal minimum wage, if the parent doesn't have a recent work history). However, judges won't impute income if:

However, judges may not impute income if any of the following circumstances exist and aren't temporary:

  • a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn the minimum wage
  • a parent is getting training to gain basic job skills
  • the custodial parent wouldn't be able to earn more than the reasonable costs of childcare, or
  • the custodial parent needs to stay at home to care for a child's unusual emotional or physical needs.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-203 (2023).)

Calculating the Base Combined Child Support Obligation

The guidelines then use AGI to calculate a base combined child support obligation. Utah provides a table (found in Utah Code § 78B-12-301) that shows the amounts for different income levels and numbers of children. 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 AGI. To calculate each parent's share, multiply the combined child support obligation by each parent's percentage of the combined AGI.

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

The parents' base child support obligations may be adjusted if there are other monthly child-rearing expenses, such as:

  • Medical expenses. Unless a judge finds a good reason to order otherwise, all child support orders in Utah must require that parents provide health care insurance for their child (if it's available at a reasonable cost) and equally share the out-of-pocket costs of the premiums, as well as any reasonable and necessary expenses for unreimbursed medical and dental care (including co-payments and deductibles).
  • Childcare expenses. Child support orders must also require each parent to equally share any reasonable expenses for work-related childcare.

(Utah Code §§ 78B-12-212, 78B-12-214 (2023).)

How Custody Arrangements Can Affect Utah Child Support

Utah's child support guidelines adjust the amount of support to account for the following child custody arrangements:

  • joint physical custody (when a child spends more than 110 nights a year in the home of each parent)
  • sole physical custody (when a child spends over 225 nights a year in the home of one parent), or
  • split custody (when parents have more than one child, and at least one child lives with each of them).

(Utah Code §§ 78B-12-208, 78B-12-209 (2023).)

Deviating From Utah's Child Support Guidelines

Sometimes, the amount of child support calculated under the guidelines—or the way it's divided between the parents—is unfair or not in the child's best interests. So if you think support should be higher or lower, you may ask the judge to review it.

If the judge finds that the guideline amount isn't proper under the circumstances, the judge will then come up with a different amount after consider all of the relevant factors, including::

  • the parents' standard of living
  • each parent's relative wealth and income, as well as their ability to earn
  • the needs of the child and both parents
  • the parents' ages
  • whether either parent has a legal responsibility to support others, and
  • in cases involving support for an incapacitated adult child, that child's ability to earn or receive benefits such as Supplemental Security Income.

(Utah Code § 78B-12-202 (2023).)

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' provides detailed online information about modifying child support.

But before you head to court, contact the ORS, which might be able to help with the process by petitioning the court on your behalf.

Modification Based on Changed Circumstances

When there is a "substantial change in circumstances," you may request a modification regardless of when the child support order was last issued or adjusted.

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

  • child custody arrangements
  • the parents' relative wealth or assets
  • either parent's income (if it's at least a 30% change)
  • either parent's employment potential and ability to earn
  • the child's medical needs, or
  • either parent's legal responsibility to support others.

The judge may adjust the amount of child support if the circumstances have changed enough that they result in a 15% difference between the current support obligation and the amount that would now be required under the guidelines, as long as the difference isn't temporary. (Utah Code § 78B-12-210(9) (2023).)

Can a Parent's Remarriage Be a Reason to Modify Child Support?

As a general rule, the mere fact that a parent has remarried wouldn't warrant a modification of child support. But certain changes related to a remarriage might justify changing the support amount. For instance:

  • If a parent has a child or children with the new spouse, the legal obligation to support those kids could qualify as a substantial change of circumstances, depending on the details.
  • A new spouse's income isn't included in the child support calculations. But if the new marriage results in a substantial change in the parents' relative wealth or assets, a judge might modify child support based on that change.

Keep in mind that when you're requesting a child support modification based on these (or any other) changes, the judge will look at the overall picture. In one Utah case, for example, a father argued that his child support obligation should be reduced because his ex-wife had remarried, now lived in a two-income household, and was renting out the house that she had received in the divorce. But the wife's relative wealth hadn't increased significantly, because her income hadn't gone up by much and her expenses had increased. So the judge concluded that the husband hadn't proved there was a substantial change in circumstances. (Nave-Free v. Free, 444 P.3d 3 (Utah Ct. App. 2019).)

Also, the judge will consider any changes to both parents' situations when considering a modification request. For instance, if the noncustodial parent requests a reduction in child support because of a new baby, the judge will also look at any changes in the custodial parent's financial situation.

Modification Based on the Passing of Time

Even if there hasn't been a change in your circumstance, you may also request modification of a child support order when it's been at least three years since the order has been issued or modified.

After you (or the ORS) files a modification motion for this reason, the judge will determine whether there's a difference between the amount in the existing order and the amount that would be required under the guidelines in effect at that time. If there's a difference of 10% or more, the judge will take into account the child's best interests and modify the order, consistent with the guidelines. (Utah Code § 78B-12-210(8) (2022).)

How to Pay and Receive Child Support 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 parents may instead 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 (2023).)

Enforcing Child Support in Utah

If your child's other parent isn't keeping up with court-ordered child support, you may request help from the ORS. The agency has a variety of enforcement tools that it can use to collect from parents who owe overdue support payments, including:

  • intercepting their tax refunds, unemployment benefits, or workers' compensation benefits
  • seizing money from their bank accounts, and
  • placing a lien on their property.

The agency may also use other methods in an attempt to get the parent to pay up, including suspending driver's and occupational licenses, reporting the past-due support to credit bureaus, and denying or revoking passports.

In some situations, the ORS might also:

  • start court proceedings to have a deadbeat parent found in civil contempt of court—which could lead to fines or even short-term jail time if the parent still doesn't pay up, or
  • refer the case for prosecution for criminal nonsupport.

You also have the option of going directly to court (either on your on or with an attorney's help) to request enforcement of the child support order.

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