Salt Lake City Divorce Lawyer

Experienced & Savvy Counsel Handling Divorce Cases From Ogden to Salt Lake to Provo

Divorce can be difficult for many reasons. It may open fresh wounds and trigger emotional conflict. It may introduce tough questions you’re not ready to answer, like who your children will reside with, or how you will make important decisions about your kids when you couldn’t agree on so many other things. It may also significantly impact your standard of living as you adjust to a new life on your own. Whatever concern you have about divorce, Spencer Family Law can help you. Drawing on years of experience across thousands of cases, we have seen it all, and can help you understand what is coming next.

For legal assistance at every step of your divorce, contact Spencer Family Law online or at (385) 999-2474.

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Getting a Divorce in Utah

Filing for Divorce

Nobody is planning on getting divorced when they walk down the aisle, but more marriages end in divorce than don’t. Divorce is a destructive process in some ways – that life you were working toward will never come to be in the way you expected early on in the relationship. But it is also a creative process – you get to decide what your life will look like as you rebuild from a fresh start. The process can be incredibly scary whether you are the person who decided to end it or not.  Most people don’t deal with decrees and pleadings, and affidavits in their everyday lives. Even reading a how-to guide can seem like a foreign language. When the stakes are as high as the rest of your life going forward, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

There are a few things you should understand from the very beginning

In order to get a divorce in Utah, you have to have jurisdiction and grounds. Grounds for divorce are easy: “irreconcilable differences” means one of you doesn’t want to be married anymore. That’s it. There are other reasons for divorce, it is rarely helpful or necessary to claim them as grounds for the divorce.

The next thing you need to show is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction for a divorce without children requires that one of you has lived in Utah for at least 90 days before filing. If you have children with your spouse, and want the court to be able to make orders for custody or parent time, the children will have to have lived with one of you in Utah for at least the last six months before filing.

If a parent or the children have lived in another state within the last six months, things get very complicated, and you should schedule a consultation before trying to file anything.

Where Do You File For Divorce?

The easy answer is: whatever county you lived in with your spouse. If you lived in Salt Lake County together before separation, you will file in Salt Lake County. If you lived together for three months in Utah County and then your spouse moved in with their parents in Weber County, you would have to file for divorce in Utah County, because that is where you were both “bona fide residents” of the county for at least three months right before filing.

What Do You Ask For In A Petition?

Once you have established jurisdiction and grounds, you will need to describe what you want the outcome of the divorce to be. That is not as simple as you might think, because a divorce consists of four different types of orders:

  • Marital Status
  • Division of the Marital Estate
  • Family Support
  • Custody and Parent Time

Marital status is easy – the answer is “divorced.” In a very narrow set of circumstances, you might also be asking for a temporary legal separation. These are rare, but you can contact us if you think it might be a good option before a permanent divorce.

Division of the marital estate – this covers how all the debts, assets and property are divided up. Most people have no trouble listing the marital home, credit card debt, and vehicles as things that need to be divided. However, this category also includes pensions, 401ks, legal claims, certain gifts given during the marriage, and other things you probably wouldn’t normally think of. Dealing with everything in this category in an objectively fair way is critical because unlike child support or parent time, you often cannot go back and revisit this after the decree is signed.

Family Support – this includes child support and alimony. While these can be adjusted in certain cases after the final decree, it may be costly and time consuming to do so. That is why it is important to get it right the first time.

Custody and Parent Time – This one may or may not apply to your case, depending on whether you have children with your spouse or not. However, while this can be changed later in a Modification, doing so is expensive and you have to prove certain things before the Court will even consider your request for a change. For that reason, even more so than family support, it is critical to get this right the first time. 

Each family is unique, and therefore every case we handle is also unique. We take a creative approach to every case we handle, because something as important as a divorce that will re-shape the lives of you, your spouse, and your children is not to be taken lightly. Spencer Family Law will tailor our approach to your case based on your desired outcome, how you would like to live your life after the divorce, and the best way to avoid future conflict with your ex once the papers are signed. 

Deciding on Child Custody

There are two types of custody: physical custody (who the children live with) and legal custody (the right to make legal decisions on behalf of your children). Both types of custody can be either joint or sole. However, joint versus sole custody doesn’t tell the whole story. The actual schedule of when your children are at one house versus the other can be as varied as there are days in the calendar year. Similarly, legal custody is nuanced, in that you can have joint legal custody, but then one parent could be given the ability to make decisions about certain types of things and not others. Joint legal custody also requires that the parties submit a parenting plan to the court. Parenting plans are like contracts that outline how the parties will raise their children, make decisions impacting the children’s lives, and what they need to do if there is a disagreement about what is in the best interests of the children. 

If you and the other parent can’t agree on either type of custody, the court will decide what type of plan is in the children’s best interests based on many different considerations or factors. These include:

  • the child's physical and emotional needs;
  • the child's relationship with each parent;
  • the distance between the parents' residences;
  • each parent's physical and mental health;
  • the child's ties to the community, sibling relationships, and relationships with extended family members;
  • each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • either parent's history of domestic violence, if applicable;
  • the child's preference if of a sufficient age and maturity; and
  • any other factor that the court deems relevant.

Many of the factors are found scattered across the custody code, including Utah Code Sections 30-3-10, 30-3-10.2, 30-3-35.1, 30-3-35.2, 30-3-34, and 30-3-34.5. How custody and parent time shapes up is incredibly fact-dependent, and requires a very detailed analysis to argue if the parties cannot agree. Even if there is an agreement, the language in the parenting plan can determine whether things are stable and productive, or whether you will end up back in court again six months later to enforce or modify the decree.

 

How Long Will It Take?

In the best possible scenario – where everyone agrees to the terms before anything is filed – you are looking at a 30-day waiting period before the Court can grant a divorce. Otherwise, after you file your petition, your spouse has to be served. Spencer Family Law has a number of process servers who we use to serve paperwork quickly and cost effectively. 

After your spouse is served, they will have 21 days to file an answer if they live in Utah, and 30 days if they live outside of Utah. They might serve an answer, or an answer and counterclaim, in which they ask for different things that what you asked for in your petition. 

You will then need to exchange financial documents and information, known as discovery, with the other side within 14 days after the answer gets filed. Discovery in domestic cases is 90 days by default. So, in total, if you and your spouse can’t agree on the terms for your divorce, it is a minimum of 4 ½ months before you can ask the court for a trial date.

There are a number of ways an experienced divorce attorney can help you navigate the process.

 

Resolving Divorce in Your Children’s Best Interests

You may need to settle several issues related to your marriage and children, including:

You and your partner may negotiate an agreement on the above disputes with the help of your attorneys, but if you are unable to reach an agreement, you will need to proceed to trial for a judge to make the final decision on your remaining issues.

The main guiding principle the court will follow when deciding on marital matters, particularly for child custody and visitation, is the child’s best interests. 

Utah Code § 30-3-10 specifies such best-interest factors as:

  • the child's physical and emotional needs;
  • the child's relationship with each parent;
  • the distance between the parents' residences;
  • each parent's physical and mental health;
  • the child's ties to the community, sibling relationships, and relationships with extended family members;
  • each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • either parent's history of domestic violence;
  • the child's preference if of a sufficient age and maturity; and
  • any other factor the court deems relevant to custody.

Our firm focuses very much on the wellbeing of children, so we can help you build a strong case that speaks to your child’s best interests and thusly aligns with the court’s goals as well.

 

Who Gets Alimony?

Another consideration in a divorce is whether one side is entitled to alimony payments from the other during the divorce process, and after the Decree is finalized. 

In Utah, both spouses have the right to request alimony, and the court will make its decision based on the following factors:

  • The financial condition and needs of the party who would receive alimony
  • The recipient's earning capacity or ability to produce income
  • The ability of the paying spouse to provide support
  • The length of the marriage (the longer the marriage, the stronger the case for alimony)
  • Whether the recipient party has custody of minor children who need support
  • Whether the recipient worked in a business owned or operated by the other spouse
  • Whether the recipient contributed to increasing the other spouse's skill by supporting their education or schooling

Alimony can be awarded temporarily while the divorce is pending (and terminated upon finalization of the divorce) or for a longer period after the divorce has been granted. In most cases, the court cannot order support lasting longer than the length of the marriage.

Alimony terminates when the receiving spouse begins cohabiting with a new partner. However, this is not an automatic termination; the paying spouse must personally request termination and ask the court for the alimony order to end within one year of discovering the cohabitation. In 2022, the law changed to only require the receiving spouse to live in the same household with an intimate partner, which might do away with decades of old case law. That is why it is important to have an attorney who stays up to date with the newest alimony laws – to avoid spending time and money arguing about facts that are no longer relevant. 

For legal support in your divorce case, contact Spencer Family Law today. We consistently take on difficult, high-conflict cases that require creative solutions, so you can trust that we have the professional experience and skills to handle your divorce matter. No case is the same, and we will develop a unique and creative approach to help you dissolve your marriage and settle the ensuing disputes. We also prioritize any children in a marriage, just as you do as a parent. There are few firms as prepared as we are to protect your children and settle your divorce efficiently.

Let Spencer Family Law help you and your child get started on your next chapter in life. Contact us online or at (385) 999-2474 today.

  • “Everytime I hired him I got everything I wanted. He responds promptly and will go the extra mile for you.”

    - Tyson
  • “Dan is professional and knowledgeable. He is calm and collected. I would recommend him to even my closest friends or family going through a custody battle!”

    - Tabitha K.
  • “Dan has done an excellent job on my son's case. He really knows the law. I appreciate all he did for us. I would highly recommend him.”

    - Mae D.
  • “5-Stars Daniel Spencer for years has earned his Stellar Reputation. He is the Lawyer you want to fight for your Parental Rights.”

    - Douglas R.
  • “Dan and his team where very professional and sooo much help i do not think i could have went through my custody without them.”

    - Krystina C.
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