Utah Court Affirms Unequal Division of Marital Home Equity and Debt in Short Marriage

In a recent opinion, the Utah Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to award one spouse 95.5% of the equity in the parties’ marital home and divide credit card debt equally following the dissolution of a brief marriage.

The case, Accilien v. Kingsford, involved a couple named Tamara Accilien and Verl Kingsford. They started dating in 2016 and planned to marry in 2018, but postponed the wedding. In 2018, they purchased a home together that was jointly titled and had a mortgage in both names. Kingsford provided the $85k down payment and initially made all the mortgage payments. The parties married in May 2019 but separated about a year later in June 2020.

At the trial, Kingsford was represented by attorneys Michael K. Hepworth and Brandon A. Bourg, while Accilien was represented by attorney David Pedraza.

Accilien filed for divorce and requested that the first $80k from the sale of the home go to Kingsford, with the remaining proceeds divided equally. Kingsford argued that because the marriage lasted only a little over a year, the equity should not be divided equally given his greater contributions, and he should receive about 96% compared to Accilien’s 4%.

The trial court awarded Kingsford 91% of the equity as separate property and split the remaining 9% equally, meaning he received 95.5% of the total equity. The court justified the unequal division by pointing to the very short duration of the marriage – “barely over one year” – relative to the case being pending even longer. The court found that equal division would unfairly fail to account for Kingsford bearing most costs for the home. The court also divided credit card debt equally based largely on Kingsford’s testimony that the charges were marital in nature.

On appeal, Accilien argued there were insufficient factual findings to support designating the home as marital property and the unequal division. However, the appeals court found multiple findings did establish these conclusions, including clear statements that the home was considered marital. The appeals court upheld the rulings regarding division of both equity and debt.

This case illustrates how Utah family courts have significant discretion in dividing assets after short marriages to try avoiding unfair outcomes, including unequal property splits. The short duration alone does not mandate equal division. But sufficient justification is still required through detailed findings that disclose the court’s reasoning.