Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alimony: Imputed Income Must Be Based on More Than Mere Conjecture

Hawks v. Hawks, 2009 UT App. 149, (Utah Court of Appeals, June 4, 2009).

Trial Court imputed Wife's income at minimum wage of part-time work. Husband appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals. The trial court must consider (1) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse, (2) the recipient's earning capacity, and (3) the ability of the payor spouse to provide support. When considering the recipient's earning capacity, the court may impute income. However, imputed income cannot be premised upon mere conjecture, but demands a careful and precise assessment requiring detailed findings. The trial court had determined Wife's need, Husband's ability to pay and based her capacity to earn on the difference between the two. Because the trial court had failed to make adequate findings their imputation of income was reversed and the Court found that there was nothing that suggested that wife was not able to work full time at minimum wage. As such she was imputed income of minimum wage on a full time basis. The Court than deducted the added amount from the alimony award.

Full Decision available at http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/mds/hawks060409.pdf


Jeff said...

First of all the Utah Court of Appeals should not have changed anything, they should have remanded it back to the lower court to do that.

There are so many other variables. How long was the alimony award for? What was the wife's education and work history?

Nonetheless what I personally found out is that the trial court can fabricate the Findings of Fact to come to whatever Conclusions of Law they want to, supporting whatever de facto standard law rulings they want. The judges' discretion is virtually unlimited. These kinds of small precedent setting determinations are a farce compared the gross injustice that goes on because the judges have too much discretion to begin with.

The statute is so broad regarding alimony that what the court can do doesn't matter. It is what it does do that matters. The court almost always awards alimony for a length of time equal to the duration of the marriage. So what happens if you've been married for 20 years and one spouse cheats on the other and then leaves the marriage. Well the other spouse may end up paying alimony to this person that left them for 20 years. How does this make sense? You can't fight the length in court because as long as the it's less than the length of the marriage, there's nothing to appeal.

The Utah Family Law system is full of this kind of crazy crud. They dress it up in fancy language and call it good. We need to reform the Family Law statutes to stop this kind of abuse of discretion. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to prove abuse of discretion, let alone the fact that if the law is broad you may not be able to establish the grounds for abuse even though you've been screwed.

In the Utah Family Law system one judge can burden you for the rest of your life without good cause. Criminal law provides far more protections than civil law.

Grant said...

Re: Remand--Probably right, they could have remanded it.
Re: Fabrication-- I suppose that they could fabricate facts, but that sounds a lot like what the COA is trying to prevent by stating that conjecture is not enough, they must have some basis for the finding.
Re: Length of Alimony Award-- At least the award can be modified, and it ends if they receiving party marries or cohabitates.
I agree with you that judges have a lot of discretion on alimony and every judge will award a different amount of alimony.

Anonymous said...

You have the read the case more carefully....

The court's decision to reverse rather than to remand was based on explicit stipulations made by both parties regarding the wife's potential to earn income and what the husband was willing to pay in alimony. Why remand if both parties give an easy altnernate solution which preserves judicial resources?

Grant said...

Stipulations are wonderful and do save the resources of the court. However, in this case, Husband never stipulated to Wife's income. Additionally, the Court itself stated that
"The district court should have made an independent determination of Wife's earning capacity based on
specific facts, such as monthly or hourly wages." page 2.
Here, the specific facts were Wife's conceit that she could make slightly more than minimum wage."
The Court said that the district court abused its discretion when it failed to make detailed findings. Slightly more than minimum wage could also be considered to be vague- slightly has no agreed upon definition.
The Court replaced the lower court's findings with its own and added one slight detail, full-time instead of part-time.
I believe a detailed finding would include documentation of previous earnings (W2s or tax returns), or be based on conclusions of a employment evaluator.


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