Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Divorce: Separate Property Remains Separate in the Absence of Enhancement

Soderborg v. Soderborg, 2009 UT App. 359, (Utah Court of Appeals, December 3, 2009).

Husband inherited two properties. When received, they were in poor shape and husband worked several years to make them profitable. After they became so, Husband spent a large amount of time managing the properties. Upon divorce, the Court awarded the properties to husband. Wife Appeals.

Wife argues that Husband’s labor spent in making the properties profitable and in managing the properties was a marital asset and as such, the marital estate is entitled to reimbursement of the work or, in the alternative, an interest in the properties. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Wife and affirmed the trial court finding that Husband inherited the properties. As an inheritance, it overcomes the presumption that it is marital property and remains separate. Wife makes no argument that she enhanced, maintained, or protected the property as such, the Court ordered it remain separate. The Court found that wife had no claim for husband’s labor and time spent on the properties.

Additionally, Wife argued that she was entitled to alimony. However, the Court again disagreed and affirmed, finding that while Wife physician may not have formerly released her to work, she provided no evidence that she had requested such a release because she of that her ability to work was not adequately shown to be impaired.

Full Decision available http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/mds/soderborg120309.pdf

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alimony: Fault No Longer a Factor When Considering Alimony

Mark v. Mark, 2009 UT App. 374, (Utah Court of Appeals December 10, 2009).
Wife earned significantly more than Husband. Husband was in school was to complete his degree in one year. The trial court awarded husband $1200 per month as rehabilitative alimony for one year, and denied his request for attorney fees. Husband appealed.
Husband argued that the court failed to make adequate findings to support the alimony award, that the alimony should be permanent (instead of rehabilitative) and that considering fault was inappropriate. The appellate court Reversed the trial court’s alimony award finding without adequate findings the Appellate Court could not determine the validity of the award. The Court further found that Husband had weak employment prospects and that it was unlikely that he could earn enough to maintain the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage. Thus, the award of only rehabilitative alimony was an abuse of their discretion. Finally, because the policy of alimony is to provide support and not to reward or punish, adjusting any award because of fault is inappropriate. Remanded to trial court for further findings all factors, but eliminating fault as a factor
Court Affirmed the non-award of attorney fees. The Court found that the trial court must only make findings if it makes an award of attorney fees. If there is not award, there is not requirement to make findings.
DISSENT: The trial court should consider fault. The legislature has given the courts the factor of fault and failing to consider it simply because it is not defined is replacing the legislature’s judgment with our own.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interference with Parent-Time + Moving = Sufficient Grounds for a Change of Custody

Hanson v. Hanson, 2009 UT App. 365, (Utah Court of Appeals, December 10, 2009).

Mother had moved to Louisiana and Father had filed a Petition to Modify. At trial, Father offered evidence that besides moving to Louisiana, Mother had also substantially interfered with Father’s visitation. The trial court awarded custody to Father. Mother appealed.

On appeal, Mother argued that increasing the distance from extended family is not sufficient grounds to change custody. The Court agreed, however affirmed the trial court finding that when moving away from family is combined with substantial interference with parent-time it is sufficient grounds to change custody.

DISSENT: The remedy for noncompliance with the parent-time order is contempt, not a change of custody. The primary caretaker factor is paramount and a custody arrangement should rarely be disturbed.

Full Decision available http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/appopin/hanson121009.pdf

Friday, December 4, 2009

Divorce: Taking Decision Under Advisement = Sufficient Judicial Participation

Brough v. Brough, 2009 UT App. 344, (Utah Court of Appeals, November 27, 2009).

At trial, the district court directed Husband and Wife to prepare proposed Findings of Fact and Decrees. Both did, and the district court took the matter under advisement. The judge adopted wife’s Findings and Decree. Husband appealed claiming that the district court judge did not adequately participate in the proceedings.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, and found that the trial court’s actions of taking the matter under advisement and asking both parties to prepare proposed orders was sufficient participation. The district court also made notes regarding its initial view of the case. The notes demonstrate that the trial court agreed initially with Wife’s position and found Husband’s position to be “ridiculous.”

Court also found the actions of the parties changed premarital property to marital property and subject to distribution. Husband argues also that the ante-nuptial agreement reserved his property as separate. However, this agreement was made with the understanding that wife was not associated with that property; conversely, during the marriage she became substantially associated to that property.

Finally, the Court that the award of attorney fees was also correct for two reasons: Wife’s financial need and Husband’s ability to pay, and because Wife had substantially prevailed on her claims at trial; and on appeal as well. The Court remanded the matter for the trial court to determine adequate costs for appeal.

Full Decision available http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/mds/brough112709.pdf


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