Alimony Factors and Modification
Divorce attorneys must understand the factors that drive Utah alimony awards, and the standards for later alimony modifications. Recent cases in the Court of Appeals of Utah reemphasize and clarify several important issues.
Two of the major purposes of an alimony award are "to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage" and "to equalize the standards of living of each party." See Paulsen v. Paulsen, 2018 UT App 22.
The standard of living of a divorcing couple is established in their respective Financial Declarations. This document becomes the foundation for alimony awards because it declares how much the recipient spouse needs, and how much the payor spouse can afford to pay. This is accomplished by declaring (as if under oath) your monthly income and expenses. However, when an individual is in the middle of a divorce, are their expenses actually reflective of the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage? Rarely.
The Court in Paulsen clarified an important factor divorce lawyers and the trial courts must consider. The Court stated, "[w]e also emphasize that the marital standard of living is not determined by actual expenses alone." This means that divorce attorneys and individuals must be careful about how they distinguish between actual expenses declared in a Financial Declaration and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. The Court further stated, "alimony should be based upon the standard of living the parties established during the marriage rather than the standard of living at the time of trial...This requires a court to determine the parties' needs and expenses as an initial matter in light of the marital standard of living rather than, for example, actual costs being incurred at the time of trial."
Following this line of reasoning, if a court is persuaded to modify the amount of alimony previously awarded, it must provide factual support to show that the receiving spouse "will be able to support [himself or] herself at a standard of living to which [the spouse] was accustomed during the parties' marriage, or that the [payor spouse] is no longer able to pay." Fullmer v. Fullmer, 761 P.2d 942, 951 (Utah Ct. App. 1988); see also Williamson v. Williamson, 1999 UT App 219, ¶¶ 8, 11, 983 P.2d 1103 (providing that the statutory factors that apply to an initial award of alimony also apply "to a redetermination of alimony during a modification proceeding" because the "goal of alimony . . . is to equalize the parties' standards of living").
If you are contemplating a divorce, contact a divorce lawyer at Miller Family Law, Inc to discuss the nuances of your circumstances and better understand your legal rights and options.