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Utah Family Law Attorneys

Divorce and Custody Lawyers in Utah

Why should I hire and trust you guys?

The vast majority of our clients love us because we strive to answer all calls, texts and emails the same day. If you like good communication, you will love how responsive we are.

Typically, we do NOT charge a retainer. In other words, you can just pay as you go. After all, if we expect you to trust us, we figure we should trust you. This means if you ever decide you want to part ways with us, which you can do at any time and for any reason, we don’t have your money!

We have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and a five out of five star rating with Avvo. Also, have been in business for literally decades, and have handled more divorces and child custody issues than just about any other law firm in Utah (we lost track of how many we’ve handled years ago).

We are nice and friendly.

Our location just off 5600 South State is super accessible, and we have great parking.

We like to chit chat. In other words, we like to see you as a friend, not a “client.” In fact, we often meet our clients at restaurants.

What is a “marital estate?”

Assume Pat and Kelly are dating. What Pat owns is Pat’s and what Kelly owns is Kelly’s. They date for five years, then get married. Once married, all the new stuff they acquire from that point forward through their joint efforts is jointly owned, and that includes all the money they earn (the money from their jobs and investments). Thus, the marital estate consists of virtually all the property that the couple gathers while they are married.

What if property is held in my name only? Does that mean it’s mine?

The Courts don’t care in whose name property is titled. They only care about how the property was purchased. If it was purchased with martial money, it is martial property. Thus, marital property usually includes land, houses, furniture, cars, RVs, boats and other recreational vehicles, and retirement money.

The parties should normally split the martial estate equally.

The only part of the property that does not get split is “personal property” such as gifts that only one of the parties received, personal clothing, personal injury awards, inheritances, etc.

Whatever money is put into retirement while the couple is married, should also be split. So, if Pat and Kelly were married for 10 years, but Pat had Pat’s retirement account for 20 years, Kelly should only get 1/2 of the money that was put into that account while Pat and Kelly were married. The money from the first ten years would be Pat’s personal property.

Who gets alimony?

In Utah, either Pat or Kelly can get alimony from the other if they need it, and the other person can pay it.

Alimony typically will not be longer than the couple was married. And if the person getting it shacks up with another, the alimony may typically end.

Who gets legal and/or physical custody of the kid(s)?

Legal custody gives on the right to participate in decisions.

Physical custody mean you have physical possession of the child(ren).

Those things are usually awarded to parents based on the “best interests of the child,” and all kinds of things are taken into consideration such these:
Where was the child living when the parties filed for divorce?
Which parent was spending the most time with the child (who was the “primary caregiver”)?
Which parent works more outside of the home?
Does either parent have a criminal record?
Can each parent be trusted with allowing the other parent visitation?

What about changing the Divorce Decree down the road?

In January of 2016, the Utah Judiciary handed down the Zavala v. Zavala ruling (2016 UT App 6, ¶ 1, 366 P.3d 422, 424). That case clarified and reaffirmed aspects of custody issues, particularly post-divorce one. Our comments are in brackets:

Zavala involved a custody dispute [such are very common, and the divorce court has what is called “continuing jurisdiction” over the issues of the divorce. In other words, when most cases are done, they are final, and the parties can typically only seek to enforce the terms of the final order (absent fraud, mistake, clerical error, etc.].

The couple’s Divorce Decree had been entered in 2011.

Later, both parties sought to modify the Decree [to do so, they had to convince the court that some big change happened. In other words, Courts don’t just willy nilly change divorced decrees, or they would be over-run! Divorce Courts will only change things when something has popped up that really matters. Otherwise, the kids would have no stability]. The Court found a “material and substantial change of circumstances.”

So, the Court modified the parties’ agreed-upon school-year custody schedule from a 7/7 schedule to a 9/5 schedule.

The Utah Court of Appeals ruled the Court below was “within its discretion.” In other words, the Court below worked within the bounds of the law (It did not make an out-of-bounds ruling.) [Judges are given a lot of leeway, but if they go too far, they have “abused their discetion.” In other words, whatever a Judge does must be reasonable. If it’s reasonable, whether or not the Court of Appeals agrees with it, the Court of Appeals normally won’t overrule the Judge, unless the Judge did not properly apply the law.]

Here was the background of that case:

The Father and the Mother got married in 2007, and they divorced in 2011. They had one child [notice how long this dragged on!].

Concerning their child, the stipulated Decree of Divorce awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody [in theory, that’s supposed to mean equal decision-making powers for the child, and equal time with the child].

The parties stipulated to an equal time-sharing arrangement under which the child resided with the Father 182 nights a year and with the Mother 183 nights a year.

The decree ordered that the Father pay $149 per month as base child support.

Seven months later [Judges don’t typically like it when the parties agree to something, then within months are back before the Court to change things], the Mother filed a Petition to Modify Parent Time seeking to reduce Father’s parent time on the ground that the child “needs routine and a stable environment.”

[I don’t know what really happened here, but word to the wise: if you are given visitation, and you do not use it, the other side has the right to tell the Judge the Decree should be modified to reflect what is actually going on. So, when it comes to visitation remember this: use it or lose it.]

Two months later, the Father filed a counter-petition seeking sole legal and physical custody of the child on the ground that Mother’s relocations were not in the child’s best interest.

The court appointed a custody evaluator, Dr. Todd Dunn, and the Mother retained an expert, Dr. Matthew Davies.

Then a very lengthy trial took place — over five (5) days!

Both parties and both experts testified.

Dr. Dunn recommended that Father have nine nights out of fourteen nights, because it would “create less conflict.”

Dr. Davies opined that Dr. Dunn’s arrangement would not reduce conflict.

[Experts are expensive, and Courts are not always persuaded by them — in other words, they can often be a waste of money.]

The district court entered Amended Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, an Order of Modification, and an order denying Father’s post-trial motions.

The court amended the decree in two respects.

First, it amended the parties’ school-year custody schedule, awarding Mother nine out of every fourteen nights with the child during the school year. The court left the summer custody schedule intact.

Second, based on the amended custody schedule and Father’s increased income, the court increased his child support from $149 a month to $354 a month. The court also ordered Mother to pay Dr. Davies’s fees and Father to pay Dr. Dunn’s fees.

The Father appealed, but lost.

As you can see, custody issues can get ugly and complicated.

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