It’s no surprise that for most couples, a divorce can cause financial instability. To protect under- or unemployed spouses, the court may award alimony, which is a court-ordered payment from a higher-earning spouse to the other during the divorce process and often, for a period after.
Alimony is gender-neutral in Utah, meaning either spouse can request support during the divorce process. When considering a request for alimony, the judge will evaluate the following factors to determine the type, amount, and duration of support:
In addition to the above factors, the court can also consider a spouse’s fault (or marital misconduct) which caused the breakup of the marriage. In Utah, “fault” may include adultery, physical abuse or threats to the other spouse or children, or undermining the financial stability of the other spouse. It’s important to understand that the court can’t use alimony to punish a misbehaving spouse, so judges use fault in limited circumstances. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (8)(b)(c).)
Unlike child support in Utah, there is no formula for judges to use to calculate alimony in a divorce. Instead, judges base support amounts on the above factors and any other relevant circumstances in each case. If you and your spouse would like to maintain control over the alimony order, you can negotiate the terms in a settlement agreement and present it to the judge for approval.
The purpose of alimony is for both spouses to maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the marital standard of living. However, as a general rule in alimony evaluations, judges will look to the standard of living existing at the time of the couple’s separation. In other words, if you lived a lavish lifestyle for the first 5 years of your marriage but downsized and lived on a budget for the last 5, the court will use alimony to ensure you can maintain your current budget and lifestyle. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (8)(e).)
Sometimes judges will award temporary alimony while the divorce is pending. Orders of temporary support terminate when the judge finalizes the divorce.
For all other alimony orders, the law prohibits the judge from ordering support for longer than the length of the marriage unless the court reviews the order before the termination date and finds extenuating circumstances that require support to continue. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (8)(j).)
Typically, the judge will set an end date for alimony in the original order. However, if the supported spouse remarries or dies, alimony terminates automatically. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (9).)
It’s no surprise that life goes on after a divorce. But, if the supported spouse begins cohabiting (living with) a new partner, the paying spouse can request termination of alimony. Cohabitation may terminate alimony, but only if you report it to the court and ask for support to end within one year of discovering the cohabitation. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (10).)
Most alimony payments in Utah are periodic (monthly) and due on the first of every month unless the court orders otherwise. Most judges include an income withholding order for alimony, which directs the paying spouse’s employer to withhold the payments from the employee’s paycheck and forward it directly to the court. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.5.)
If the paying spouse doesn’t have a steady job or is self-employed, the court may order lump-sum payments or payment through property transfer. Lump-sum payments are installments, either one or several over a short period of time. Once you make the final payment, your alimony obligation to your spouse ends.
Property transfers are rare, but helpful in cases where one spouse doesn’t have a steady income but has a significant amount of property that will fulfill the support order.
Unless the support order is non-modifiable, either spouse can request a review and modification (change) of an alimony award if there is a substantial and material change in circumstances after the divorce. For example, if a paying spouse is disabled due to an unforeseen health issue and can’t work, the court may adjust or terminate alimony to ensure that both spouses remain financially stable. (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5 (8)(i).)
If there’s a change in circumstances that makes it difficult for you to pay support, it is important to request a review as soon as possible, and in the meantime, you must continue to pay. Failure to pay support can result in serious consequences, such as contempt hearings, fines, bank seizures, and in the most severe cases, a jail sentence.
If your spouse isn’t paying support as ordered, you can file a formal petition with the court asking for help enforcing the order.
If you finalized your divorce on or before December 31, 2018, you can deduct your alimony payments, and your spouse must report and pay taxes on the income. However, for divorces on or after January 1, 2019, changes to the tax law eliminate both the tax deduction benefit and reporting requirements for alimony.
Divorcing couples should consider the tax ramifications for both spouses before finalizing the divorce. If you’re unsure how the new tax law impacts your bottom line, you should speak to an experienced tax and divorce attorney near you.