This blog entry is not a statement of law, but offers an example of how the court may view things generally.  There are many many reasons why, in any particular case, a court may do things much differently than portrayed here.  However, this will give readers a general idea of how courts in Utah approach asset and debt distribution.

Now, draw a big circle on a piece of paper.   This is the MARITAL PIE.

Outside the Marital Pie write:

+  pre-marital asset values at time of marriage

+  inheritances and family heirlooms

–  debts incurred prior to marriage

–  student loans regardless of when incurred

Inside the Marital Pie write :

+  assets acquired during the course of marriage

+ increased value of pre-marital assets that continued to be owned at the time of separation

– debts incurred during the marriage and still owed at the time of separation

The outside line of the pie is the marriage date.  Draw a line straight down the middle.  This is the “separation date.”  The line down the middle represents an equal division of the assets and debts inside of the marital pie.

The courts tend to think of the marital estate beginning upon marriage, even if the parties lived together before hand.  The courts also tend to think of the marital estate as ending at the date of separation.  Separation is usually defined as the day on which the parties stopped residing together, but this can vary.  The idea that the marital pie should be equally divided as it stands on the day of separation depends very much on what happens after separation in terms of bill paying, support payments, etc.  Further, the court often divides retirement accounts as of the value on the day the Decree of Divorce is signed not based on the value at separation. Again, these things can vary widely from case to case and using these general concepts cannot predict what would happen in any particular case.

It is very important to notice that it does not matter in whose name any asset or debt is held.  It is also very important to notice that this has absolutely nothing at all to do with alimony.  Alimony is a complete separate analysis.  If there is an unequal distribution of assets, it may be in order to replace alimony, but the law assumes that an equal division of assets and debts is the starting point.

Taking the Assets and Debts inside the “Marital Pie,” the court will then distribute those assets and debts and make sure that they were divided equally.  Here is an example of how this would be achieved:

Asset awarded to or Debt payment responsibility to

Husband

Wife

House in Park City+ $800,000.00
Debt on House–  $645,000.00
Condo in Mexico+ $90,000.00
Debt on Condo–  $45,000.00
2007 Jeep+ $13,000.00
Debt on Jeep–  $  7,000.00
2004 Subaru+ $6,000.00
Debt on Subaru– $0.00
H’s IRA+ $120,000.00
W’s IRA+ $61,000.00
Loan against H’s IRA– $30,000.00
Credit Union Ck’g+ $0.00 (account used for bill paying only)
Credit Union Sav’g+ $10,000.00
Brown & Co Stocks+ $74,000.00
Tax lien for 2005– $13,000.00
Credit Card One– $27,000.00
Credit Card Two-$9,000.00
Four-wheeler+ $2,000.00
Debt on 4- Wheeler– $0.00
TOTALS:+ $126,000.00+ $274,000.00

The difference between $126,000.00 to Husband and $274,000.00 to Wife is $148,000.00.

Therefore, Wife will have to pay husband ½ of the difference, which is $74,000.00, so that the parties walk away with an equal $200,000.00 each.

There are numerous ways that Wife could pay Husband the $74,000.00 needed.  For example:  she could refinance the home and cash out some equity to provide to husband, she could give Husband the Brown & Co stocks held in her name, or she could provide some house equity, some stock, and take some of the debt on Credit Card One, whatever combination will provide Husband with a total of $74,000.00 of value.

Attorneys and mediators can be very helpful and creative in finding ways to make distribution of debts and assets possible.  It is important that both parties come to mediation, their attorneys office, or court with a good understanding of the parties’ assets and debts.  Attorneys can use various means to get information if a party is unable to get disclosure of an asset or a debt held in the other party’s name.  This can all be very overwhelming but attorneys and mediators can help you make sense of it and come up with options for final resolution of your divorce.

Utah Family Law Blog