Are you a divorced parent in Utah, and are you considering remarriage? If you have minor children, then you probably have a child support order in effect. Will remarriage affect the support obligations under that order? This article addresses that issue.
The Utah legislature has established child support guidelines, which the courts use to determine a fair child support award. Since both parents have an obligation to support their children, a court considers the parents' combined adjusted gross income in calculating the total support award. It then divides this figure proportionately between them, based on their individual incomes. The court also establishes responsibility for such things as the child's medical expenses, and work-related childcare costs.
What constitutes income when determining child support? The guidelines mention several sources, some of which are:
Under the guidelines, the court may only use the child's natural or adoptive parents' income to calculate a support award (not stepparents). Additionally, the court may consider either parent's legal duty to support other children (children not subject to the support order being acted on). For more information on child support, see the Utah Courts website.
There's a rebuttable presumption that a guidelines support award is correct. That fact that the presumption is "rebuttable" means that using the guidelines might unjust, inappropriate, or not in the child's best interest in certain situations. It's up to the court to decide whether to deviate from the guidelines. In making its decision, the court will look at a number of items, including, among others:
If you want to adjust child support, you can request a modification. There are many reasons you may need to modify a support amount, however, generally speaking, you must prove to the court that there's been a substantial change in circumstances. For example, a material change in the children's medical needs may be sufficient in certain instances. It all depends on the facts of your particular case.
Additional information on child support modification in Utah is available at Utah Code § 78B-12-210.
Is remarriage a substantial change in circumstances, and if so, does it justify a child support modification?
Under what is known as common law, remarriage alone wasn't a valid basis for changing a child support award. Interestingly, there's a Utah case from 1951, in which the decision seems to imply that a court can consider remarriage in a modification request. In that case, the court appears to base its reasoning on a man's obligation to support his wife. Although that thinking may be a bit dated today, there definitely are potential aspects of remarriage that could impact child support in Utah.
There was a time when a new child wouldn't impact an existing child support order. The thinking was that your primary obligation was to the children from your previous relationship. But that theory has gradually changed over time, and now many states, including Utah, acknowledge that a parent's income should benefit all of his or her children.
Under Utah law, a parent's duty to support new children is something a court should look at to determine whether there's been a substantial change in circumstances. Additionally, a Utah case says that it's proper for a court to take into account a parent's obligation to a "new family" when reviewing a child support modification application. Be clear, however, that supporting a new child doesn't relieve you of your obligations to your children from a prior relationship. But having a new child is a legitimate argument to make when seeking a support modification.
Why is a new spouse's income relevant? Don't the guidelines provide that only a natural or adoptive parent's income can be used to calculate child support? They do. But even though that's true, a new spouse's income may affect your ability to pay support. For example, it's pretty common for a spouse to contribute to household expenses, like mortgage or rent, utilities or groceries. Since this decreases the amount that you personally have to spend on these costs, it leaves you with more money to pay child support.
The issue of remarriage and child support in Utah is complicated, and this article is only meant as an overview of the topic. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult with a qualified family lawyer as to any questions you may have.