First off, the court will not typically grant alimony in a short-term marriage. In one Utah Supreme Court case, Georgedes v. Georgedes, the Court said it would not award alimony to the wife because the parties were only married for 7 years. Instead, the court would try to restore them as closely as possible to the same economic position that existed prior to the marriage. Therefore, no alimony. However, our firm had a trial in 2021 on an 8-year marriage, and the court said 8 years was long enough, and awarded our client (the wife in this case) alimony for 8 years (the full length of the marriage). So, the takeaway here is that the court has the discretion to determine what a short-term marriage is and whether to grant alimony, but the cut-off is somewhere around 5-8 years or so. Our experience is that a spouse in a marriage lasting less than 5 years will not typically be granted alimony at trial.
The Court’s Goal In Granting Alimony
The Supreme Court of Utah, in a case called Gardner v. Gardner, gave divorce courts some direction on how to set an alimony amount. It said the main goals were to minimize animosity between the parties and help the parties move on with their separate lives after divorce. To accomplish these goals, the Supreme Court of Utah said divorce courts should typically do the following:
- Set alimony at an amount that gets both spouses to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage. The standard of living is the life the couple was used to living (i.e. were they living lavish, expensive lifestyles, or were they struggling and living paycheck to paycheck—whichever the case, the court tries to get them back to that same standard). It isn’t always possible for both spouses to live the same lifestyle they were accustomed to during the marriage because there’s often just not enough money after a divorce to accomplish this goal. Where this is not possible, the court often tries to equalize the parties’ standard of living, or ensure that one spouse doesn’t have more excess income than the other.
- Prevent a spouse from needing charity, financial assistance, public assistance, government help, etc.
- The court can consider fault in a divorce, although it’s not required to. If one spouse has been abusive, committed adultery, etc. and their actions have significantly contributed to the downfall of the marriage, the court may reduce the amount of alimony awarded.
How Does The Court Calculate Alimony?
The court must consider a number of factors when determining alimony. You can read about those factors here. If after considering those factors, the court decides it’s going to calculate alimony, they will start by looking at each spouse’s “Financial Declaration.” Each spouse will have to file a Financial Declaration with the court during the divorce. This Financial Declaration will list all of a spouse’s income, debts, and expenses. The court will use these documents to determine whether each spouse has excess income each month or whether they don’t have enough money to cover all of their monthly expenses. If one spouse has either (1) significantly more debts and expenses than the other; or (2) significantly more left-over income than the other after paying debts and expenses, the court will often award alimony to equalize the difference.
In a simple example, this process would look like this: Wife makes $10,000 per month and Husband makes $5,000 per month. Wife’s debts and expenses total $5,000 each month and Husband’s debts and expenses also total $5,000 each month. Therefore, Husband has no excess income and Wife has $5,000 in excess income. In this scenario, the court may very well order that Wife pay Husband $2,500 per month; this would equalize both parties’ excess income, giving them each $2,500 extra per month. However, as you can imagine, most cases aren’t this simple and there are numerous factors the court must consider when determining a fair amount of alimony.
Is Alimony Calculated Differently In Other States?
Yes. Many states have a specific formula for calculating alimony, like 30% of net income, or they have a specific calculator where spouses put in their incomes, expenses (including any child support payment), and it spits out the amount of alimony to be paid. Utah has nothing like this for divorcing parties. Unfortunately, an alimony calculation in a Utah divorce can get rather complex.
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