Domestic relations branch into numerous areas of Utah law, including divorce, formal separation, parenting plans, adoption, paternity, and modification of existing orders. The family is the building block of our communities, so we at Dexter & Dexter know how important these cases are to our clients.
One in two marriages end in divorce, but the decision to dissolve a marriage is always difficult. This is especially true when children are involved, as they will undergo an inevitable transition. In addition, every divorce must equitably divide the parties’ marital property and address whether spousal support would be appropriate.
The life of a divorce case can be outlined as follows:
• Deciding whether to file. If you are contemplating divorce, it is wise to seek a free, confidential consultation from a seasoned family law attorney to understand the process, as well as discuss the unique challenges your life circumstances present.
• The Petition and Answer. One spouse initiates a divorce by filing with the court a Petition that is served on the “Respondent” spouse, who then has the opportunity to respond in writing and request their own relief from the court.
• Financial Declaration. Early in the case, both parties must file a full disclosure of their current assets, liabilities, and monthly income and expenses. These representations are essential to calculating child support and alimony, and effectuating an equitable division of marital property.
• Temporary Orders. It is common for spouses to physically separate prior to finalizing their divorce. These situations often benefit from temporary court orders to allocate financial and parental responsibilities until permanent orders are put in place.
• Negotiations and Mediation. In many cases, the parties can negotiate a full settlement of all outstanding issues through good-faith negotiations. If not, the court may require the parties to attend mediation before scheduling a contested trial to resolve disputed matters.
• Settlement or Trial. If the parties cannot reach a resolution on all issues, those contested ones will be argued before the judge at trial. After hearing the evidence, the judge will rule on parenting and/or property division issues in accordance with Utah law.
If all of this sounds like a lot, it is! But here’s the good news: you do not have to weather the storm alone. At Dexter & Dexter, our collective decades of experience in family law—and the closely related realms of real estate, business management, domestic violence, and bankruptcy—help our clients understand their rights and protect what’s most important to them. We will be there from start to finish to outline a plan of action both legally sound and charted for your family’s long-term well-being.
Utah law protects parental rights, regardless of whether the parents are or were married. Courts routinely issue orders to oversee these rights and responsibilities and ensure that children are adequately provided for.
There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody entails the right to make decisions regarding children on important topics such as school, medical treatment, and religious upbringing. On the other hand, physical custody relates to the amount of time a child spends with each parent.
In the case of joint legal or physical custody, both parents exercise equal decision-making authority and parent time with their children. Courts often favor this arrangement because studies show that children benefit from having both parents in their lives. However, the court must weigh many factors before making a ruling. Importantly, these factors include each parent’s past participation in the child’s life, and each parent’s willingness to encourage the other’s role in the child’s life going forward.
In the case of sole legal custody, only one parent exercises the right to make key decisions regarding the children. Likewise, with sole physical custody, one parent watches the children for the large majority of overnights each year. This arrangement most often accompanies complex cases or extenuating circumstances, as where one parent struggles with substance abuse or lives out of state.
Child support is meant to ensure both parents are financially equipped to perform parental duties. Which parent owes support to the other, and how much is owed, is calculated by a statutory formula that accounts for the number of overnights the child spends with each parent and the gross monthly incomes of each parent. This may seem like a simple formula, but determining one’s own income, as well as ensuring that the other party accurately reports their income, always benefits from an attorney’s oversight and often the involvement of financial experts.
Role of Experts
The law recognizes that specialists in various fields usually make the most well-informed recommendations to the court. Among the most common in family law cases are custody evaluators and guardian ad litems, who are trained to ascertain and (in the case of GALs) advocate for the best interests of children. This is especially so in cases of child abuse and neglect. Likewise, in property division or income calculations, financial experts may get involved to value real property or business assets, determine the marital portion of retirement accounts, or evaluate a party’s income earning potential. While these professionals may come with an upfront cost, their opinion and advice is irreplaceable in contested domestic relations cases.
Modification and Enforcement Actions
Court frequently revisit orders upon a change of circumstances in the life of either party or their children. What if you want to move out-of-state after receiving a great job offer? Can your children come with? What if your ex spouse gets a raise? Is it big enough to warrant a change in child support? What if the other parent refuses to follow the court-ordered parent time schedule? How can you look out for your child while remaining legally in the right?
The short answer to these questions is that the court’s written orders must be followed, and any amendment must be made with the court’s approval. A party who refuses to abide by court orders risks being held in contempt of court. When in doubt, always contact your attorney to help interpret the orders in place and evaluate the likely success of an enforcement or modification action against the other party.
Your individual case will present its own unique challenges. Prenuptial agreements, voluntarily underemployment, whether to legally separate rather than divorce—these and countless more questions can only be answered one-on one with an attorney who has seen it all. Schedule a free consultation here, or contact us at DexterLaw.com for details on how to get the help you and your family deserve today.