Divorce is confusing and overwhelming enough without the added stress of dealing with misinformation and misunderstandings. Some may come from well-meaning friends who perhaps misunderstood something they heard about divorce rules. But, divorce laws also vary from state to state, which can contribute to the confusion. What your cousin’s divorce lawyer in Los Angeles recommended may differ greatly from a Salt Lake divorce attorney’s advice. To cut down on confusion and avoid surprises created by misinformation, let’s go over some of the most common misconceptions about divorce in Utah.
1. Children Decide Where They Will Live
The court will often consider children’s preferences when assigning custody and visitation. However, that is not the same as simply asking the child where they want to live or how much time they want to spend with dad or mom.
Utah courts recognize the value of healthy relationships between parents and children and will attempt to balance those with the child’s preferences. The older a child gets, the more weight a judge is likely to put on their preferences. That’s because their wishes are more likely to be based on solid reasons instead of whose home has better toys or who gives them a later bedtime.
However, a child will never have complete control over custody decisions. The deciding judge will attempt to balance the child’s preferences with the need to allow both parents sufficient time and influence with their offspring.
2. Courts Always Favor the Mother
Signed in 2012, House Bill 88 prevents courts from discriminating against a parent based on gender. That means that whether a parent is the mother or father should have no bearing at all on the outcome of a case. The child’s best interests must guide decisions on custody, child support, and other parenting concerns.
Among other factors, the court looks at each parent’s relationship with the child. A stay-at-home dad who handles most of the daily child-rearing will be treated the same as a stay-at-home mom. A mother whose work means she doesn’t have a solid daily presence in the children’s lives will be given the same consideration as a busy working father.
When it comes to alimony or splitting assets, the same is true. The gender of the parent has no bearing on the math. The court bases alimony and splitting assets on many factors, including income, health, and contributions to a spouse’s education. Those factors have the same weight whether they apply to a mother or father.
3. Divorces are Always a Long Legal Battle in Court
Utah requires divorcing spouses to attend at least one mediation session. Often, that is enough to get the parties involved compromising. Frequently, it leads to a settlement upon which both spouses can agree. When that happens, the courts will review the terms of the agreement and sign off on them. That means control over the outcome stays with the spouses. Not only is this process typically easier, but the results are often more favorable for both parties. Expenses are also likely lower because there is less time spent in court.
Sometimes, court is unavoidable. If you are dealing with a toxic partner, they may refuse to be reasonable or compromise. However, because settling through mediation gives them more control over the outcomes and keeps their costs down, your Ex might surprise you, even if they have generally been difficult during the process.
Mediation and arbitration both present options for avoiding protracted, expensive court battles. It doesn’t work in all cases, but many divorces are settled relatively quickly and without extended conflict.
4. Visitation Can Be Withheld if Support Payments Are Missed
Child support is not an entry fee for time with the child. If your Ex misses a child support payment, you can address that via the court system, but you cannot deny them visitation as outlined in your custody agreement. If you attempt to block visitation, you could face legal consequences, up to and including being found in contempt of court.
If the divorce agreement says the child’s father has the children every Saturday, you are expected to abide by that. If you cannot or think the custody plan needs to be changed, consult a custody lawyer before deviating from the custody plan. If your Ex isn’t paying child support, your lawyer can also help with that. But you don’t have the power to withhold visitation because they aren’t following the agreement.
5. All Assets Will Be Split in Half
Utah is an equitable distribution state. That means that the court strives to divide assets in a fair but not necessarily equal way. This takes into account income differences, future earning potential, health conditions, and more.
Additionally, one or both spouses may have assets that are excluded from the divorce settlement. This can be a complicated issue, so it’s best if you consult your attorney. Generally, excluded assets include property or valuables that one partner owned before the marriage, gifts received by one spouse during the marriage, and inheritances, as well as anything covered by a prenuptial agreement. These assets will be set aside and not considered when the rest of the property is split.
When trying to understand laws and rules that affect your future finances, relationships with your children, and the dissolution of your marriage, a misconception can turn into a significant misstep. As you make plans for the future, seek the help of an experienced attorney in your state, so you don’t face unpleasant surprises or make plans based on incorrect information. When in doubt, consult an expert.