Interviewer: What are some of the misconceptions people have about the divorce process?
Michael Anderson: There’s a lot of people that think that going through a divorce has to be ugly and dirty. ‘I have to go into court and I have to fight’. A lot of times, if you can even half-way agree with some of the things your spouse wants, through the mediation process – which is now mandatory by the court system in Utah. You have to through mediation – most cases will resolve in mediation meaning you’re going to compromise on some things, the other side will compromise on some things, and you’ll never even actually go to court. We just submit paperwork, the judge signs it, and it’s done. So most of the time you don’t have to go to court. Now that’s not all the time – obviously there’s situations where you have to go to court and you have to get what are called temporary orders or immediate custody hearings where we can, get kids in school or if a spouse is doing something that might threaten or harm the child, we have to take very quick action and we have to go to court to do that. Most cases don’t need to be ugly – they can actually be resolved in a good, healthy manner, and move on.
It’s A Common Misconception That the Courts Will Always Favor a Mother during a Child Custody Dispute
Michael Anderson: Any other misconceptions? What about the courts always side with the mother and the father can’t get custody?
Michael Anderson: That’s a very common misconception as well. especially here in Utah, people think that the court will always favor in side of the mom, and that is not the case. Really the court is required to look at six factors that are outlined in statute. But most of the commissioners will look at around twenty to thirty things. So they look at – they call it bonding; who’s the one who takes care of the kids – sometimes it’s a stay-at-home dad, and sometimes we think, ‘hey in order for mom to lose the first right of custody, or primary custodial position, she’s got to be on drugs or be an alcoholic, or sexually abusing the kids’ and that’s not the case. It can simply mean that mom’s indifferent, or mom’s more career-oriented, or the kids would prefer to be with dad. Around the age of twelve/thirteen in Utah’s when the kids can really voice their opinion and be heard by the court. So you’re right, that is a misconception.
There Are No Hard Guidelines For Spousal Support Proceedings in Utah
Interviewer: What about when one spouse says, ‘I’m never going to them any alimony; they’ll never get it out of me’ or tries to give it to them forever because they’re special – so the spouse remains on alimony?
Michael Anderson: We call it spousal support here. So in those types of cases, usually the parties need to be married for around seven years – there’s no hard guideline in the state of Utah; so if you’re six or eight, you’re probably going to be there. But there’s no requirement to force an alimony issue – meaning that the judge won’t necessary award alimony. They also not only look at the length of a marriage, but they also look at the financial need of the other party. So let’s say it’s a wife looking for some alimony. They’ll look to see at her budget, and if she’s not working they will impute a minimal wage to her. They will want to make sure that she can actually get by. Now if she can’t get by and there is what we call a financial need – meaning a negative after you add her income or purport an income to her and we outline her expenses – if there’s a need, a negative at the bottom line, we then look at his and if the husband has a surplus or can afford to meet that need then the court will award alimony. Usually it’s for the length of the marriage.
Alimony or Spousal Support is Usually Awarded for the Length of the Marriage
Most of the time in a settlement or a mediation, it’s around half the time of the marriage. So if they’ve been married ten years, it’s usually around five. When you get up to the thirty year plus range, I have seen a few where they will award it for life. But that’s pretty rare. Most of the time it’s around the length of the marriage or sometime between half the length of the marriage, to the full length of the marriage. The other thing to be aware of is that in the alimony or spousal support, is that it will terminate by operation of law in state of Utah if the spouse paying it dies, if the one receiving it remarries or cohabitates with a member of the opposite sex or is having sexual relations with a partner, or if there is a substantial change in the payer’s income – meaning in this scenario where we’ve had the example of the husband: if he loses his job, not voluntarily, but if he’s laid off or loses his job, alimony can be changed based on his change in circumstances.