There are several ways to terminate alimony early in Utah.
First, Utah law provides that alimony “automatically terminates” when the receiving spouse gets remarried or dies.
Second, alimony terminates “upon establishment” by the party paying alimony that the receiving spouse “is cohabitating with another person.” This means you have to file a formal petition with the Court asking it to make a determination your ex-spouse is cohabitating in order to terminate alimony. This is situation that is easy to allege but challenging to prove in practice. “Cohabitation” means two people living together in a marriage-like relationship without actually being married to each other.
For example, having a shared residence for more than a brief period, sexual intimacy, sharing household expenses and financial accounts, making important decisions together, being free to come and go from their shared residence whenever they please, etc. It must be much more than a mere dating relationship coupled with adult sleepovers. The Utah Supreme Court has also clarified that because the statute says you must prove your ex-spouse “is” cohabitating that means you have to prove current cohabitation; not that your ex cohabitated in the past but stopped doing so before you came to court. For this reason it is important to gather as much evidence supporting a cohabitation claim before going to court and not to give your ex-spouse any reason to think you will be filing a petition to terminate alimony before you actually file it.
Third, you may be able to terminate or reduce alimony if you can show a substantial, material, and unforeseeable change in circumstance has occurred since the original alimony order went into effect. Such changes may include unanticipated changes in employment/income for either spouse, medical issues, moves, retirement, etc. The change must be “substantial” meaning the fact one spouse receives a $2 per hour pay raise probably would not cut it, but if a spouse lost a major business client that cut their income by a 1/3 that would likely constitute a substantial change in circumstance. Another key element you have to establish however that is the change in circumstance was not foreseeable when the original order went into effect. That means if the change in circumstance could reasonably have been anticipated at the time the original order went into effect you cannot modify it. For example, if the receiving spouse is still in college when they are awarded alimony the fact they subsequently graduate would not be considered an unforeseen change in circumstance. If you are able to establish a substantial, material, and unforeseen change in circumstance then the Court may allow you to relitigate the issue of whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long.
Fourth, a divorcing couple can agree to terminate alimony early on. This is not common as you might imagine. But sometimes spouses work out deals to trade property in return for an early termination date or reduced monthly payment. Or the paying spouse might offer the receiving spouse a lump-sum payment in return for alimony going away right now. And on some occasions the parties may agree to dispense with alimony if the paying spouse has custody of their children in which case it does not make sense to pay alimony if the receiving spouse has to give it right back in the form of child support.
Spousal support can change hands for a short period of time, or the paying spouse may have to pay the receiving spouse until one passes away. When a court orders spousal support, these are the factors the judge must consider:
• Each party’s earning capacity
• How much the supported party contributed to the supporting party’s education, career or licensure
• The supporting party’s ability to pay
• Each spouse’s needs based on the standard of living established during the marriage
• Each spouse’s assets and obligations
• The duration of the marriage
• Each spouse’s age and health
• Evidence of a history of domestic violence or criminal convictions
• Tax repercussions for each spouse
• The balance of hardships to each party
• The ultimate goal that the supported party will be self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time
• Any other factors the court feels are just and equitable
Why One Party May Have to Pay
Spousal support is typically only meant to help the lower-earning spouse to get on his or her feet. A judge may order it for a few years or longer, depending on the amount of time it should take for the other party to become self-sufficient. In cases where one spouse stayed home to care for the children and the home while the other was the only income-earner, the court may award the stay-at-home spouse alimony so that he or she can gain the skills necessary to get a job and be competitive in the labor market. Likewise, in cases where one spouse stayed home to “hold down the fort” while the other went to school or furthered his or her career, the judge may order spousal support.
If I Get Remarried, Do I Still Have to Pay Alimony?
When you remarry someone after a previous marriage, you’re still obligated to pay alimony to your former spouse.
(Only if you have a court order, though otherwise, you aren’t legally obligated to pay spousal support.) However, if your former spouse remarries the one to whom you’re paying alimony – your obligation most likely ends.
How Long Do You Have To Pay Alimony?
You have to pay alimony for as long as the judge orders it. Most spousal support orders come with conditions that will terminate spousal support. For example, if the receiving spouse remarries, he or she won’t be entitled to spousal support payments any longer; there’s a new spouse in the picture who can contribute to that person’s income.
You can ask the judge in your case to modify your spousal support order, though, even if none of the conditions that would ordinarily stop alimony payments have been met. You must show the court that circumstances have changed significantly. For example, if your income changes drastically and you can no longer afford to pay, you can petition the court to change your order. If the supported spouse moves in with someone, or if he or she starts making a lot more money, you can also ask the court to change your order. Your best bet is to consult with an attorney if you want to change the amount of spousal support you must pay.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Spousal Support?
Alimony has existed since ancient times. It developed to protect ex-wives raising minor children following separation from their primary economic providers, i.e., husbands. Traditionally, women had limited occupational opportunities outside the household necessitating continued financial support from ex-spouses. Once a woman remarried, however, her new husband became responsible for her financial wellbeing, and her ex-husband could lawfully cease spousal support payments.
Utah follows this traditional rule despite the declining popularity of long-term spousal support awards. If one spouse remarries or registers a domestic partnership in California, conventional alimony obligations terminate. A family law firm may review any applicable alimony orders and martial settlements to determine whether you may lawfully cease spousal support payments.
Types of Alimony Subject to Remarriage Termination Provisions
Utah permits divorcing partners to negotiate private spousal support agreements or request court-ordered alimony.
Judicial orders may provide for lump-sum awards, short-term support, or perpetual support payments. Short-term alimony helps lower-income spouses reestablish themselves in the workforce and usually expires via court order before the receiving spouse remarries. Likewise, lump support awards generally vest upon entry of the divorce decree.
Remarriage most often impacts long-term or perpetual alimony agreements and awards. Under Utah Family Code, spousal support payments automatically terminate upon the receiving party’s remarriage unless otherwise agreed to in writing. Remarriage, therefore, will override judicial alimony orders in Utah. A subsequent marriage also terminates spousal support obligations outlined in divorce settlements unless the contract expressly provides that the support continues after the receiving party’s remarriage. An attorney can review your divorce settlement agreement to determine whether you may lawfully cease paying spousal support in Utah.
Special Rules Applicable to Ending Spousal Maintenance Payments
Alimony atomically ends upon the receiving spouse’s lawful remarriage without any action necessary on the payer’s part. The law requires the receiving spouse to notify the obligor of the remarriage. Failure to do so requires the remarried spouse to refund all alimony payments made following the remarriage, minus arrears. The following special rules also apply to spousal support and related obligations following the receiver’s remarriage:
• The paying spouse must cover arrears even after remarriage
• Remarriage does not terminate associated child support payments
• The remarried spouse need not return any part of support payments made via real or personal property transfers
• Remarriage does not terminate other agreed upon spousal obligations in a court order or divorce settlement
• Cohabitation without remarriage or registered partnership does not automatically terminate alimony
• Unlawful remarriages, i.e., commitment ceremonies, do not automatically terminate support payments
Ex-spouses notified of a pending remarriage should always speak with a spousal support lawyer before ceasing alimony payments. Receiving spouses often hide their remarriage to avoid family conflict or recover additional payments. As such, obligors often receive information about the nuptials from their children, friends, or third parties. Continue paying alimony until you receive confirmation of a lawful remarriage from your ex-spouse or public database. You may recover overpayments, and potential sanctions, in court, but judges will not generally excuse missed payments based on secondary information.
Petitioning to Terminate Alimony Upon an Ex-Spouse’s Remarriage
Many couples live in marriage-like relationships without entering into a legal marriage or registered domestic partnership. Spousal support does not automatically terminate in such cases, but courts may consider modifying or terminating alimony based on these changed circumstances. Cohabitation in a marriage-like relationship often qualifies as a substantial change supporting court-order termination of spousal maintenance awards under Utah Family Law. During the pendency of spousal support terms, paying spouses may petition for an order to cease alimony payments or demand recalculation. Obligors typically request orders demanding their ex-spouses to show why the court should not terminate support due to changed economic circumstances. Obligors must generally include admissible evidence supporting their termination petitions, which may include the following:
• Affidavits (notarized statements) from friends or relatives about cohabitation or remarriage
• A marriage certificate
• Evidence of an ex-spouse’s changed address
• Social media posts indicating a wedding ceremony or cohabitation
• Text messages and emails from an ex-spouse
The court may order the ex-spouse to provide updated expense reports or reveal information about his/her finances and relationship. If the judge terminates or modifies alimony based on cohabitation, the obligor may request reimbursement for support paid after filing the modification/termination petition. The obligor might even request a refund if the ex-spouse hid a relationship or failed to report substantially changed circumstances to avoid reduced alimony.
Prohibition on Reviving Terminated Spousal Maintenance
In rare cases, the receiving spouse will innocently remarry only to discover she entered into an unlawful marriage.
She may also quickly regret her remarriage and lawfully petition for an annulment. Unlike divorce, annulments void the remarriage. Utah law also automatically terminates certain prohibited marriages. One spouse may cease support obligations following the receiving spouse’s remarriage in such cases but face post-annulment demands for continued support payments. Utah does not allow the receiving ex-spouse to revive spousal support following remarriage despite subsequent annulment or legal invalidity. If receiving spouses participate in marriage ceremonies, they waive future support obligations from their ex-spouses. The ex-spouses may freely rely upon the new marriage’s validity and cease alimony payments in most circumstances.
Does Cohabitation Impact Alimony?
Every state’s legal definition of cohabitation varies. States that are silent on a definition agree that cohabitation exists when two people live in the same home in a marriage-like relationship, sharing expenses, without being legally married.
What Happens When a Supported Spouse Cohabitates with Someone New?
Although most states have clear rules terminating alimony when the supported spouse remarries, what happens if your ex-spouse is in a relationship but not married? The court may still terminate alimony, but it depends on where you live and your case’s specific circumstances.
Most states will reduce or terminate alimony if cohabitation significantly decreases the recipient’s need for support. For example, suppose you pay monthly alimony to your ex-husband, and he’s living with a new partner who is unemployed and broke. In that case, the court may not terminate your obligation to continue supporting your ex-spouse.
Other states will terminate alimony, regardless of whether the cohabitation impacts the recipient’s economic status. For example, in one Utah case, a husband asked the court to end support payments after discovering that his ex-wife was cohabitating with a new partner. The court evaluated several factors when determining whether the cohabitation resulted in a marriage-like relationship, including:
• The length of the relationship
• The amount of time the cohabitants spend together
• The nature of the activities the pair engaged in
• The interrelation of their personal affairs
• Shared vacations, and
• Their spending holidays together.
In this particular case, the ex-wife and her new partner spent every day together for over 2 years, spent holidays together, shared finances and meals regularly, and discussed marriage (but decided against it for financial reasons.) The court ruled to terminate the supporting spouse’s obligation for alimony, and a higher court agreed.
In those states that do not have laws or court decisions that specifically address the impact cohabitation might have on alimony, it’s difficult to predict how a judge will rule. Regardless of state law, if you and your ex-spouse have made an agreement that support or alimony won’t be affected by the person who receives it living together with someone new, your agreement will stand. And bear in mind that the person requesting a change in alimony or support payments is the one who must prove that an ex-spouse’s situation has changed significantly.
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