What is the Utah Divorce Process?

The first requirement in the Utah divorce process is that at least one of the parties lives in a single county in Utah for at least three months immediately prior to filing the divorce petition. See Utah Code 30-3-1.

The spouse filing for divorce is called the petitioner. The other spouse is the respondent. In order to start the process of divorce, the petitioner must prepare a “divorce petition,” which contains a variety of documents. It is always advisable to have an attorney help you prepare these documents, since not all states require the same documents for divorce proceedings.

After the documents are finalized, the petitioner must file the documents with the district court in the county in which at least one of the parties has resided for the past three months. The petitioner must also serve the petition for divorce, the summons, and other documents no later than 120 days after the petition was filed with the court.

Once the respondent has received all the documents, the respondent has 21 days to respond to the divorce petition, which is called the “answer”. Usually, the respondent will only file an answer if the respondent wishes to contest the divorce. If the respondent does not wish to contest the divorce, the parties may enter into a Divorce Stipulation.   If the respondent does not file any sort of answer, including a stipulation agreement, the petitioner may ask the judge for a default judgment, which, if granted, will grant all of the terms requested in the original petition.

Before the divorce decree is entered, and after the petitioner first filed the divorce petition, there is a 90-day waiting period. Even if all matters are agreed upon and resolved before the 90-day period expires, the state still requires that there be a 90-day period between the filing of the petition and the final divorce decree.

Other than the 90-day waiting period, other mandatory court requirements include: mandatory divorce education classes (which is required only if the parties have minor children together) and mandatory mediation (if there are contested issues).

What are the grounds for filing for divorce?

Under Utah law, a no-fault divorce may be sought. A no-fault divorce is appropriate where there are: (a) irreconcilable differences of the marriage; (b) when the husband and wife have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation. See Utah Code 30-3-1(3)(h) & (j).

The grounds for an at-fault divorce include “(a) impotency of the respondent at the time of the marriage; (b) adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage; (c) willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year; (d) willful neglect of the respondent to provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life; (e) habitual drunkenness of the respondent; (f) conviction of the respondent for a felony; (g) cruel treatment of the petitioner by the respondent to the extent of causing bodily injury or great mental distress to the petitioner….or (i) incurable insanity.” Utah Code 30-3-1(3)(a)-(g) & (i).

What issues should I be thinking about while I am going through the divorce process?

While a divorce can be a hard process, it is important to make sure that you are keeping in mind some important issues that you may not have even realized are related. For example, if you have children, make sure you are considering issues such as child custody, child support, and parenting time. You should also be thinking about spousal support and whether you will need, or whether you think your spouse will ask for it. Another important area to consider is the division of debt, property, and pension and retirement benefits.

What happens if my spouse and I cannot agree on the terms of the divorce decree?

If you and the respondent cannot agree to the terms of the divorce decree, the case will go to trial. One of the main reasons that cases go to trial is that one party will not agree to certain child custody terms. In these cases, parties may request a formal custody evaluation. This is often a useful tool for a judge who has to make child custody decisions. Before the trial, the court will also schedule a pretrial conference. The judge will often require this in order to give the parties one last opportunity to settle their case before going to trial. If the pretrial conference does not result in any sort of agreement, and the case is set for trial, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to help you navigate the complexities of trial.

What if I am not quite sure about divorce but do not want to remain with my current spouse?

If you are unsure about divorce, a temporary separation may be an option. An order for a temporary separation may be filed in the district court in which either spouse resides. A temporary separation allows you and your spouse to be separated without the finality of a divorce decree. In a temporary separation case, a court will issue temporary orders pertaining to alimony, property and debt management, health insurance, housing, child care, child custody, and support. In order to obtain a temporary separation order, either spouse must file a temporary separation petition with the court and must pay the filing fee. If either spouse later files a divorce petition within one year of filing the temporary separation petition, the filing fees for the temporary separation petition will be credited towards the divorce filing fee. In order to qualify for a temporary separation order, the spouse must be lawfully married and both spouses must have resided in Utah for at least 90 days.

Do I qualify for spousal support?

If you are seeking spousal support, during the divorce process, spousal support should be included as a term of the divorce decree. If the other spouse agrees to this term, there is no reason for the court to not agree to grant this provision. However, if the other spouse does not agree to this provision, it will be up to the court to decide whether spousal support is appropriate. In making this determination, courts will typically award spousal support only to a spouse who is financially disadvantaged.

In determining whether spousal support is appropriate, the judge will typically look at the standard of living enjoyed at the time of separation and will also consider any significant changes in resources that occurred prior to or during the trial. In looking at this standard of living, the court will ask whether the spouse seeking the support will be able to meet the appropriate standard of living without help from the other spouse. If the spouse seeking support cannot sustain the standard of living previously enjoyed, the court will evaluate the recipient spouse’s financial resources, needs, earning capacity, as well as the payor spouse’s ability to pay in order to determine what amount and what duration is appropriate for support. In some cases, the court will use income-equalization to calculate the level of support, however, this is generally only used when both spouses have lower levels of income.

After the court has determined if, and how much, the spousal support should be, the court then must determine how long the recipient spouse can receive the support. Generally, payments will last only as long as the number of years of the marriage existed. However, the court could order them for a shorter or longer period of time depending upon the circumstances. Similarly, if either spouse remarries, the court may reconsider the spousal support payments and adjust them accordingly.