Utah follows the equitable property and debt distribution rule, in which marital property is distributed equitably and fairly. Though the marital property and marital debts may not necessarily be distributed on a 50/50 basis always, 50/50 is the general rule.
Spouses should first know the difference between a community property distribution state and an equitable distribution state before learning about the finer legal points that impact marital property distribution in Utah.
Community Property Distribution vs. Equitable Property Distribution
According to the available data, just 9 states in the U.S. follow the community property distribution rule. In these states, the courts first decide which asset can be classified as community property (i.e., assets accumulated during the marriage) or separate marital property (i.e., property belonging individually to either spouse). After itemizing and classifying the assets, the courts distribute the community property on a 50/50 basis – plus, each spouse gets to keep his/her separate marital property.
The rest of the states, including Utah, follow the equitable property distribution rule. In these states, the courts distribute the property on a fair and equitable basis between the spouses (not necessarily on a 50/50 basis, but 50/50 is the general rule).
To distribute marital property equitably in Utah, the courts can consider how much money each spouse contributed towards the assets, and whether it is fair to give a majority share in the assets to the spouse who has invested a larger or the entire sum. Also taken into consideration are the income and earning capacity of each spouse, age, education, and health of each spouse, the non-monetary contribution of each spouse to the marriage, duration of the marriage, and some other factors depending upon the circumstances in each case. While the court can do this, it usually does not, opting to not get into the minutiae of a couple’s finances, instead splitting everything 50/50.
As a general rule, separate marital property is not distributed and is given to the spouse who is the original owner. This rule may not apply in extreme circumstances, but those circumstances need to be quite extreme.
With that said, spouses have to take the following legal considerations and exceptions into account before assuming a 50/50 distribution of marital property:
- Duration of the marriage
- Exceptions to the 50/50 property distribution rule in Utah
- Nonmonetary or intangible contribution by either spouse to the marriage
- Mutual agreement on the distribution of marital property (e.g., prenuptial agreements)
Duration of the Marriage
Utah’s courts take into account how long the marriage lasted. If the marriage is very short, for example less than a year or two, the court may decide not to divide assets 50/50, instead taking into account the following considerations: individual monetary contribution of each spouse to the property, age, education level, earning capacity, health, etc., of each spouse. That said, the general rule, even for short-term marriages, is 50/50 division.
Exceptions to the 50/50 Property Distribution Rule in Utah
Separate Marital Property
In general, property acquired and income earned by either spouse during the marriage is considered community or common marital property. Separate property includes anything that originally belonged to a spouse before marriage and was kept separate throughout the marriage. It also includes a gift or inheritance received by either spouse during the marriage.
Courts award the separate marital property to the spouse who originally owned it, and which remains in his/her name (i.e., it is not mingled with the common marital assets) during the marriage.
Typically, a prenuptial agreement includes the rights of each spouse to separate and common marital property, the protection given to either spouse from the debts of the other spouse, property division in the event of death, separation, or divorce, and any other issue depending upon the circumstances of the case.
Such agreements don’t cover child custody, visitation rights, child support, because decisions regarding children are always subject to the court’s ability to determine what is in the children’s best interests. Alimony can be negotiated in a prenuptial, but the court is not bound by an alimony agreement if that agreement means the spouse receiving alimony will be left destitute or dependent on others, like the government.
A prenuptial agreement can take precedence over Utah’s equitable property distribution rule.
Nonmonetary or Intangible Contribution by Either Spouse to the Marriage
Utah’s equitable property distribution laws require the courts to consider the intangible or nonmonetary contribution of each spouse before arriving at a property distribution formula that is fair and just.
The courts in Utah assign a value to non-monetary contributions like household chores, child care, cooking food, homemaking, being supportive of the other spouse as he/she goes about his job, and more, before arriving at an equitable distribution of property.
Mutual Agreement on the Distribution of Marital Property
Despite Utah’s equitable distribution rule, the spouses can agree to sell or divide certain marital assets after consulting with their family law attorney. The spouses can then submit their plan to the courts, which may accept the agreement (in general, it is accepted). This is most often accomplished through mediation, in which couples negotiate an agreement that works for them. If marital property is not covered by this mutual agreement, the courts decide on its distribution.