When a couple divorces in Utah, they must divide their marital property equitably. If they’re not able to negotiate a settlement, they’ll have to ask the court to divide the marital property. The rule about equitable division doesn’t mean the division must be equal. Instead, the court has wide latitude to decide on a fair division based on each spouse’s contribution to the marital property and on each person's projected future needs.
In a divorce, the distribution of property depends on which property belongs to the marriage – marital property – and which property belongs to each of the two spouses – separate property.
Generally, marital property is property acquired or earned during the marriage, including earned income. Property used for the benefit of the marriage, even if it started out as separate property, may also be considered marital property.
Separate property includes anything that belonged to one spouse before marriage and was kept separate throughout the marriage. It could also include property given only to one spouse during the marriage, like a gift made to the husband alone or an inheritance that the wife received from a member of her family.
The most common types of property divided at divorce are real property like the family home, personal property like jewelry and clothing, and intangible financial assets like income, dividends, and benefits. All of the marital property must be divided between the spouses when the marriage ends, and marital debts must also be divided. The spouse who owns separate property gets to keep that property--it can’t be awarded to the other spouse.
Rather than rely on a hard and fast set of rules when splitting property between spouses, judges in Utah have discretion to consider a variety of factors unique to each marriage. Despite the court’s relative freedom to decide what is fair, it should always consider the length of the marriage and how the spouses acquired the marital property. It should also look at the conditions each spouse will face alone after the divorce, such as medical needs, and childcare costs. Each spouse's level of education and earning potential are also relevant. Judges may divide property unequally after taking these factors, and others, into account.
In Utah, courts consider alimony as part of the equitable division of marital property. Alimony is a payment from one spouse to the other to help the recipient spouse maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage--and specifically, at the time they separated. If it is more equitable, the court might base alimony on the standard of living at the time of trial. The court also has the option to base alimony on the standard of living at the time of marriage if the marriage was short and there are no children.
To determine the amount of alimony due, the court may consider either spouse’s fault in the deterioration of the marriage. The court also evaluates the recipient spouse’s financial resources, earning capacity, and whether that spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the obligated spouse (the one who has to pay). Additionally, the court looks at the obligated spouse’s ability to pay, the length of the marriage, who has custody of the children, and whether the obligated spouse’s earning capacity increased because the recipient spouse contributed to education or training during marriage.
If one spouse is at the threshold of a major change in income because of the collective efforts of both spouses, that change also will be a factor in how the court divides the marital property and in the alimony award. Conversely, for a short marriage, the court could attempt to put the spouses back where they started as newlyweds, in terms of financial resources. Generally, alimony payments can last only as long as the number of years the marriage existed.
Throughout the process, divorcing spouses have opportunities to agree between themselves on what is a fair division. They can decide to sell certain assets and divide the proceeds, while allowing each spouse to keep certain other assets. Whatever agreements the spouses make, they can submit a marital settlement agreement to the court and a court will generally accept the agreement without further involvement. On the other hand, if the spouses cannot work together, or if there are certain items of property that they cannot agree on, then the court will decide for them.
You can read the law on division of property and alimony in the Utah Code 30-3-5.