A Look at Gardner v. Gardner 2019 UT 61
Fault in Utah
Utah is NOT a “fault” state, which means that when Utah Commissioners and Judges are determining child custody or asset division in divorce, they don’t take into account if it was one spouse’s fault (like cheating); the at-fault spouse isn’t penalized.
However, the groundbreaking case of Gardner v. Gardner in the Utah Supreme Court last year showed that fault may be considered regarding alimony if a spouse’s participation in an extramarital affair “substantially contributed” to the breakup of the marriage. Utah Code 30-3-5 8(B)(C) states that fault may be considered in awarding alimony—and how much—if the non-fault spouse is able to show that any one of the below circumstances was the case with the other party:
- engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party’s spouse;
- knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or a minor child;
- knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or a minor child to reasonably fear life-threatening harm;
- substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor child.
And “substantial contribution” was defined to mean the conduct at issue must be an important or significant factor in the divorce, but it does not have to be the first cause, or the only cause. Under these definitions, a substantial cause is one that is sufficient to lead to the breakup of the marriage, but is not necessarily the only identifiable cause.
So when an important or significant cause falls into a category of conduct specifically identified in section 30-3-5(8), courts are authorized to consider it in an alimony determination, even if the at-fault party can point to other potential causes of the divorce.
In the case of Gardner v. Gardner in the Utah Supreme Court, Jill Coil, representing the non fault husband (appellee), was able to demonstrate that the wife’s infidelities substantially contributed to the end of the marriage. Even though she was still granted alimony, the amount and duration was reduced from the original ruling as the Judge found that the Wife should not be rewarded and able to live at the same standard of living during the marriage when she is the cause of the breakdown of the marriage.
In Simple Terms, What Does This Mean for You?
If your spouse’s actions was one of the main factors that resulted in breaking up the marriage (cheating, threatening or abusing you or a child, or financially undermining you or a child), you can bring those matters up with your attorney to make sure those issues are noted in your divorce decree. It won’t necessarily affect how much custody with your children you get or how the marital assets are divided. But it can play into if alimony is awarded or not and how much. Realize though that you would have to prove that the divorce was caused by one of those significant factors, and it’s often hard for commissioners and judges to feel like they can make those sort of judgments (that deal with penalizing a party).
Getting Help with Your Utah Divorce Case
If you are looking into a divorce and have questions or need legal help, we’re here for you. You need to ensure you consult with a competent family law attorney that understands the legalities of divorce, alimony, and fault in Utah and will help put your mind at ease so you don’t get taken advantage of. At CoilLaw, LLC, Salt Lake City Divorce attorney Jill Coil knows how to advise you during a divorce to help you achieve the best settlement and/or result possible. At CoilLaw we are ready and available to help you through your legal action. If you need legal advice concerning a Utah family law issue, call Jill Coil at CoilLaw LLC in Utah at (801) 781-5848 today.