Divorce lawyers in Salt Lake City all deal with the same things, because they’re the only two things people fight about in divorce:
The particulars of every divorce is different, which is why divorce lawyers have to listen to and understand their clients stories and goals, but the issues all revolve around kids and money.
Kids are always the most important aspect of any divorce. People may fight about kids and money, but they always spend more time and money discussing kids than they spend money fighting about money.
There are a lot of things to consider during a divorce involving kids.
For example, we have to address:
- Visitation with extended family
- International travel
- Child support
- Extracurricular activities
- School fees
- Insurance — medical, dental, vision
- Tax exemptions and deductions
- Domestic violence (if there’s been any)
- Religious upbringing
- Medical decision-making authority
- Special needs planning
- Guardianships for children who will be incapacitated as adults
- Distance between parents’ new homes
- Medical care costs
- Supervised visitation (if necessary)
- New significant others/spouses
- Where the kids want to live
Keep in mind, this list, which is not short, is not even an exhaustive list. Because kids and families are all different, there are always particularities in every case that divorce lawyers need to address.
Let’s take three of the above items and examine them in a little more detail.
Custody and Parent-time
Out of all the items we have to decide regarding kids in divorce, physical custody and parent-time is usually the most difficult and contentious. We’ll talk about legal custody (i.e., who gets to make big decisions for kids) later.
Physical custody refers to who has the kids most of the time. There are a few different types of custody in Utah:
- Primary physical custody. If one parent has more than 70% of the overnights with the kids, that parent has primary physical custody. Primary physical custody affords a parent certain benefits, like being able to choose where to live with the kids, including, possibly, whether to move away from Utah.
- Joint physical custody. If the parent with the least amount of overnights has 30% or more of overnights in a year, then parents share joint physical custody. Joint physical custody is important for parents who want to spend large amounts of time with their children and want to have a more significant say in their kids’ lives.
- Split physical custody. Split physical custody describes a situation in which one parent has one child for the majority of time, while the other parent has another child for the majority of time. Split physical custody is usually pretty rare, but does happen sometimes with older kids.
Parent-time is really the schedule where kids spend their overnights. Here is a description of a few popular parent-time schedules for Utah divorces:
- Minimum parent-time. Minimum parent-time represents the least amount of time a parent will spend with their kids. Essentially, the non-custodial parent (e.g., the parent with less time) will have the kids overnight every other weekend from Friday to Sunday, and then will have one evening a week for three hours. This parent-time schedule is really only appropriate in the most extreme of situations.
- 60/40. A parent-time schedule that has been very popular for about ten years now is a 60/40 split. One parent has 60% of overnights during the year, and the other parent has 40% of overnights. What this might look like is the parent with 40% would have the kids overnight every Thursday, and then every other weekend from Thursday through Monday morning.
- 50/50. While not nearly as popular as the 60/40 schedule, 50/50 parent-time is becoming much more common in Utah, in part because fathers are insisting on it more and more. Parents may choose a classic “week-on-week-off” schedule in which the kids stay with one parent for seven straight days, and then go to the other parent’s home for seven days. Parents may also choose what’s called the “2-2-5” schedule. In this schedule, one parent would always have the kids on, for example, Monday and Tuesday, and the other parent would always have the kids on Wednesday and Thursday, and they would alternate weekends. The 2-2-5 is the most popular of these two choices. It has the advantage of allowing kids to know they will be at the same home every week on the same days. This is important to many kids, especially those who don’t do particularly well with constant change.
Now that we’ve discussed the basics of physical custody, let’s discuss how legal custody works in Utah. Legal custody is the authority to make big decisions for kids, decisions regarding:
- Medical care
- Extracurricular activities
Court prefer parents work together and make joint decisions regarding their children. This means that Utah courts prefer parent share joint legal custody. This means parents have to get together regarding major issues in their kids’ lives, talk through decisions, and come to a consensus.
If parents with joint legal custody aren’t able to come to a consensus (for example, about medical treatment), then parents may need to attend mediation or take the issue before a judge. This last judge option will only happen after parents have exhausted all other legal avenues.
In addition to joint legal custody, there is a sole legal custody. If a parent has sole legal custody, that parent can make decisions without the other parent’s input. For example, a parent with sole legal custody wouldn’t need to tell the other parent about medical, dental, or therapy appointments. Nor would that parent need to share school grades with the other parent.
In Utah, sole legal custody is usually reserved for really bad situations in which a parent’s judgment simply cannot be trusted. Situations involving alcoholism or drug abuse or domestic violence/abuse often account for a parent receiving sole legal custody.
If there are kids involved in a divorce, there will be child support paid. You can count on that. This is because courts in Utah want to make sure kids are taken care of financially, not matter which home they live in.
Child support is determined by two things:
- The parents’ gross monthly incomes, including income from the sources listed above.
- The custody and parent-time arrangement.
Gross monthly income is usually determined by how much a parent makes at his or her full-time job. Sometimes, however, gross monthly income can include more than simply one’s wage. It can also include income from the following sources:
- Bonuses (if regularly received as part of a job)
- Overtime pay
- Social Security benefits
- Worker’s compensation benefits
- Alimon from a previous marriage
- Trust income
This isn’t even an exhaustive list of all potential income sources that can enter into a child support calculation. Again, though, because the vast majority of people work one job and don’t have that many income streams, child support is calculated on income received from someone’s one full-time job.
Having helped thousands of Utah families through divorce and custody cases, we can tell you that child support is never sufficient. Kids are expensive, which means that if you’ve been a stay-at-home parent, you will almost certainly need to work full-time to make ends meet. This is true even if you receive alimony.
Here are some general rules of thumb for calculating child support:
- The parent with more custody and parent-time will receive child support, and the parent with less will pay.
- If you pay child support, the more you make, the more you will pay in child support, no matter how much the other parent makes.
- If your income goes up or down by more than 30%, then child support will likely be recalculated.
- Parents cannot negotiate away child support. This is because Utah courts see child support as belonging to the child, and all children have a right to receive support.
- Child support ends upon graduation or when a kid turns eighteen, whichever happens later.
Extracurricular activities are activities like dance, soccer, football, theater, mountain biking that your kids participate in on a regular basis. They may be part of school, or they may be activities like club soccer.
Almost always parents share equally the cost of extracurricular activities if they agree on the activity. So, each parent will pay 50% of the activity.
However, if parents do not agree on the kids participating in a particular activity, then the parent who wants the kids to participate will usually pay 100% of the cost.
We’ve already addressed child support, which is a major money issue divorce lawyers in Salt Lake City have to address in divorce.
Here are some other money issues we deal with in almost every divorce in Salt Lake City.
Alimony is money paid, after divorce, to take care of a spouse.
There are a couple different ways of thinking about alimony.
- First, alimony is a way to ensure a spouse does not go on welfare after divorce. For example, say Spouse A stayed at home raising kids for twenty years and never made any income, but allowed Spouse B to work and create income. Spouse B has done well and makes $150,000 per year. If this couple were to divorce, Spouse A didn’t receive any alimony, and Spouse B kept everything he earned, then Spouse A would very likely have to go on welfare for years as she tries to gain the skills and employment necessary to make enough money to take care of herself and the couple’s kids — remember, child support is never enough to maintain kids, let alone maintain a parent.
- Second, alimony is a way to keep a spouse close to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Standard of living is calculated based on what a married couple spent per month to maintain their household. If a couple spent $7000 per month paying for the mortgage, utilities, taxes, kids’ sports, groceries, etc., then that would be the couple’s standard of living. Alimony may be paid to the spouse who earns the least income to try to help that spouse get back near the family’s standard of living.
Whether someone will pay alimony is a very fact-dependent analysis and requires a family law attorney to examine a couple’s entire financial situation. There’s a lot of gray area when calculating alimony. Even a small calculation or negotiation mistake can cost people tens-of-thousands of dollars in alimony over the years.
While calculating alimony is complicated, here are a few rules of thumb and guidelines that Salt Lake City divorce lawyers tend to follow when calculating alimony:
- If a marriage is less than four years, no one will pay alimony.
- If a marriage is between five and six years, then maybe someone will pay alimony, but not for very long (maybe two to three years).
- If a marriage is over seven years, then there is a good chance someone will pay alimony.
- The larger the disparity in income between spouses, the more likely it is the higher earner will pay alimony.
- Alimony is calculated off net income (i.e., income after taxes), while child support is calculated off gross income (i.e., income before taxes).
- Religions and charitable contributions, and retirement investments are not considered when calculating alimony.
- Alimony can only last up to the length of the marriage. So, if you’ve been married twenty years, alimony may last up to twenty years, but no longer.
- Alimony ends upon remarriage, death, or cohabitation.
- Adultery can affect alimony, but likely won’t.
Asset and Debt Allocation
When it comes to asset and debt allocation in Utah divorces, the standard rule is this:
Spouses share assets and debts equally.
Utah courts don’t deviate from this rule very often, but they will in certain circumstances, for example:
- If one spouse incurred debt that did not in any way benefit the marriage or the family. A classic example of this would be when one spouse spends money on an affair. The spouse being cheated on will not have to pay for the affair.
- If an asset is premarital (acquired before the marriage) and has not been comingled, then it is not divided during divorce. In other words, premarital property will be awarded 100% to the spouse who acquired it.
- If an asset is a gift from family and has not been comingled, then it is not divided during divorce. In other words, gifts from family will be awarded 100% to the spouse to whom the gift was made.
- If an asset is an inheritance and has not been comingled, then it is not divided during divorce. In other words, inheritance will be awarded 100% to the spouse who received the inheritance.
When it comes to divorce and what to do with the marital home, there are really two options:
- Someone keeps the home, refinances it, and pays out to the other spouse what that spouse would have received if the home had been sold.
- The home is sold and the equity that remains after paying off all debts is split equally.
Having helped thousands of people in Salt Lake City through divorce, I’ve noticed that about 95% of people sell the home and split the proceeds. Usually, this is because people simply cannot afford to keep the marital home when there is only one income left to pay the mortgage.
Student Loan Debt
Student loan debt is handled very differently than other divorce asset and debt allocations.
Essentially, the person who took out the student loan keeps the loan 100%. The logic behind this is if someone gets to keep the benefit of keeping their income, they get to bear the responsibility of the loan that made that income possible.
I have never seen a Utah divorce court split student loan debt between spouses, so you can count on everyone paying 100% of their respective student loans.