Is Utah an At-Fault Divorce State?

Is Utah an At-Fault Divorce State?

Before 1987, Utah was an at-fault divorce state. To obtain a divorce decree, a spouse had to allege marital misconduct on the part of the other spouse and conclusively prove his/her allegations in the courts. As the number of divorces increased, the at-fault divorce system – involving a lengthy procedure with multiple trial rounds – led to a growing backlog of unresolved cases, thus heavily straining the judicial system. Moreover, alleging and proving marital misconduct led to unnecessary acrimony, deceit, and counter-allegations between the spouses, making getting a divorce a very unpleasant experience.

Therefore, in 1987, Utah reformed its divorce laws and made them simpler by including “irreconcilable differences” as a sufficient ground for divorce. Spouses did not have to allege or prove that the other spouse was guilty of marital misdemeanors, and they could now obtain a divorce decree without washing their dirty laundry in the courts – hence the name no-fault divorce.

So now, under Utah Code Section 30-3-1, a spouse can choose to file for a no-fault divorce by citing irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce. That said, a spouse is still allowed to file for the old-style divorce by alleging and proving marital misconduct (at-fault).

Technically, this makes Utah a hybrid divorce state, a mix of at-fault and no-fault divorce systems. Practically, however, almost all spouses these days prefer to file a no-fault divorce to avoid legal headaches, unpleasantness, and uncalled-for delays. That way Utah may be considered majorly a no-fault state.

Grounds for Divorce in Utah (Code Section 30-3-1) as of July 2022

  • The respondent was impotent at the time of marriage.
  • The respondent committed adultery during the marriage.
  • The respondent willfully deserted the petitioner for more than one year.
  • The respondent willfully neglected to provide basic life necessities to the petitioner.
  • The respondent is a habitual drinker.
  • The respondent is convicted of a felony.
  • The respondent has meted out cruel treatment to the petitioner and his actions have caused bodily injury or great emotional distress to the petitioner.
  • The couple has irreconcilable differences.
  • The respondent has been declared as insane by appropriate authorities of any state and competent witnesses testify that the insanity is incurable.
  • The husband and wife have lived separately for three consecutive years, without cohabiting, under a decree of separate maintenance issued in any state. (Cohabiting means living together under the same roof and having a romantic or sexual relationship.)

Impact on Alimony, Marital Property Distribution, and Child Custody

According to Utah Code Section 30-3-5, if the Utah courts are provided evidence that one or more of the following reasons led to divorce:

  1. The respondent engaged in sexual relations with a person other than the petitioner.
  2. The respondent intentionally caused or attempted to cause physical harm to the petitioner or the child.
  3. The respondent intentionally caused the petitioner or the child to fear for their life.
  4. The respondent substantially undermined the financial stability of the petitioner or the child.

Then the courts can take these wrongdoings into account and award higher alimony. This is valid even if the petitioner files for a no-fault divorce. Also, in many cases, Utah’s courts can even award a higher share of the marital property or more parenting time to the petitioner if they find the respondent engaged in the above behavior.

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