It’s impossible to cover everything you need to know about your upcoming divorce in a single post, but here are a few key things to think about as you move forward, a few frequently asked questions we see from our clients, and a few pitfalls that can cause you real problems.
(1) How Long Does It Take for a Divorce to Be Finalized in Utah?
In Utah, there’s a 30-day mandatory waiting period from the time your Petition for Divorce is filed until the judge will sign your final Decree of Divorce. However, most divorces don’t resolve this quickly. Uncontested divorces (where divorcing couples agree on all terms at the outset of the divorce) conclude between about 30 days and three months, but contested divorces can last more than a year. Click here for a more detailed explanation of an expected timeline.
(2) Should I Use Do-It-Yourself Documents (i.e. OCAP), Or Will They Cause Me Problems?
Occasionally we see clients come in with documents they found somewhere online, and in the worst-case scenarios, they come in with documents that were meant for another state. Utah offers do-it-yourself documents for a small fee through the Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP). OCAP can be great for the most simple of divorces (i.e. a couple that has been married for 5 months and there’s no children, property, or anything else to dispute), but for anything even slightly complicated OCAP documents tend to cause problems. This is because these documents treat all divorces the exact same way and therefore there’s very little room to tailor provisions specifically for you and your children. Often these documents contain provisions that don’t make sense for your specific case. Fixing these problems can ultimately cost you more money than if you just hired an attorney to handle it in the first place. Most of us family law attorneys make more money off of fixing bad divorces than doing them right the first time around.
(3) Make Sure You Verify Assets
Don’t simply rely on the amounts your soon-to-be-ex says are in financial accounts. We divorce attorneys have all seen it: one spouse says there’s X amount of money in a retirement account, a business account, or some other kind of financial account, and upon further investigation, we find their claim was radically underestimated. Get real, official documents verifying accounts so there’s no question as to the amounts of money in question.
(4) Don’t Agree to Large Sums of Child Support or Alimony Just to Get the Divorce Done
Obligating yourself to pay large amounts of child support or alimony can be a disaster. The Court doesn’t take one party’s failure to meet its obligations lightly. If the Decree of Divorce tells you to pay X amount in child support or alimony, and you fail to do so because you got remarried, have a new job that doesn’t pay as much, have a child now with your new spouse, and your living expenses have drastically increased, the court may not be sympathetic to your situation. If you fail to pay, the court can then hold you in contempt and levy even more financial consequences against you.
(5) When Negotiating, Know Your Bottom Line But Be Flexible
Talk with your attorney about some realistic goals. Your divorce attorney should discuss possible scenarios with you honestly so you can properly assess your position. Let your attorney know you want them to be frank with you about a realistic worst-case scenario and a realistic best-case scenario should your case go to trial. This can help you set a bottom line: a point where you say, “This is as low as I’m willing to go. If I can’t settle for this, I’m going to take this case all the way to trial.” Knowing your bottom line is important because when you’re in the midst of a stressful 8-hour mediation, or when you’re feeling particularly discouraged, or a friend or family member is trying to tell you what to do, you’ll already be guided by an informed decision that was previously made. Lastly, once you set that bottom line be willing to adjust it upward or downward a bit depending on how your case plays out (i.e. what evidence you can gather that supports your position, what evidence your ex can gather that supports their position). The bottom line should be a guide, not a hard-line to follow at all costs.
(6) Adjust Holidays to Your Liking
Many families have specific family traditions around holidays. The holiday schedule set forth by the Utah Code might not account for your traditions. You are not obligated to follow the Utah Holiday Schedule. Instead, you and your ex can come to an agreement on how certain holidays and special events should be split. For example, while the Utah Code states that the parents shall alternate parent-time on children’s birthdays, it doesn’t specifically allow for a parent to have the children on the parent’s birthday–you can add this into your holiday schedule. If one parent has a big celebration on Christmas Eve and the other parent has a big celebration on Christmas day, you can specifically account for that in your final court order.
(7) Be Specific About What Expenses Should be Split
In a joint physical custody situation, both parents are obligated to pay for extracurricular activities and school expenses. However, in practice, this isn’t so simple and is often a major issue of contention among divorced couples. Finances get tighter after a divorce and a parent might look to save some money in various areas. So, one parent may want a child to compete on a competitive baseball team instead of a recreation league and the other parent might not be willing to contribute. One parent might complain that they cannot afford that dance class anymore. Sometimes school fees can get expensive: paying for that college-level course at the high school, field trip fees, competition fees, uniforms, that trip abroad with their German Language group. The best practice is to be explicit in your Decree as to what fees are to be shared among parents.
(8) Don’t Leave the Marital Home Too Soon
Leaving the marital home when you have minor children can damage your claim for custody. Don’t assume that just because you’ve been an involved parent up until this point in time that you’re going to be able to prove that to a court. Living at the marital home, being a part of the bedtime routine, cooking meals for the kids, helping them with their daily homework, etc. goes a long way to showing your regular involvement, which ultimately helps your claim for custody. Also, don’t assume that just because you and your spouse came to an agreement on a parent-time schedule that they’re going to follow through with it after you leave. They may talk to an attorney that advises them to act differently. However, it’s not always possible or safe to remain at the marital home–if that’s your situation make sure to talk to an attorney and come up with a game plan.
If you’re considering the divorce process, or if you’re already in the early stages, we hope these bits of advice will help you avoid some pitfalls and put you in a better strategic position.