When a marriage is ending, many people look for someone to blame, but does fault really matter legally? Not in Utah. Utah is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that a divorce will be granted without determining who is “guilty” of causing the marriage to end. While Utah Courts don’t consider fault in deciding whether or not to grant a divorce, or how to divide a couple’s property or assets, they may take it into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant alimony, and in what amount. The definition of “fault” that the Court will consider is, “any wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship: (1) engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party’s spouse; (2) knowingly and intentionally causing . . . harm to the other party or minor children;(3) . . . causing the other party or minor children to fear life-threatening harm; or (4) substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or minor children.” Utah Code §30-3-5(8)(a).
Courts generally consider only economic factors in determining alimony but have in the past awarded alimony higher than warranted by those factors alone. See Riley v. Riley, 138, P.3d 84 (2006), where the Court stated that “[One party’s] engagement in extramarital affairs and prolonged deceitful conduct. . . led to the divorce,” and awarded the other party a higher alimony award. Courts are not REQUIRED to take into account one party’s adultery in calculating alimony however, they are simply allowed to by statute. The purpose of the statute was not necessary to impose punishment on either party. See Roberts v Roberts, 335 P. 3d 378 (2014).
It can be very difficult to prove fault in a divorce case and to convince a judge that fault should be considered when deciding various aspects of the case. If your marriage is ending, and you believe that fault should be considered in the divorce, please consider consulting one of our family law attorneys at Hepworth & Associates.