Finding your way through Utah’s family law courts can be confusing and intimidating. By understanding the basic divorce process and common divorce laws, you can gain confidence in the courtroom and in negotiations.
Step 1. Filing for Divorce
The divorce process begins when one spouse files a “Petition for Divorce.” Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, the Petition for Divorce should include a specific request for relief, as well as the grounds for such relief. The petitioning spouse need not provide evidence of wrongdoing to establish grounds for relief. Utah, along with all fifty states and the District of Columbia, recognizes no-fault divorces. Utah Code Ann. §30-3-1 permits either spouse to petition the court for divorce when there are “irreconcilable differences of the marriage.”
The court charges a filing fee, which must be paid in full at the time the divorce is initiated. Currently, the filing fee for divorce in Utah is $310.00. When the Petition for Divorce is filed, the petitioning spouse is assigned a case number, judge and commissioner. The assignment of cases is random and cannot be controlled or manipulated by attorneys or court employees.
Step 2. Serving the Petition for Divorce
Within 120 days after the divorce is filed, the Petition for Divorce must be served with a “Summons” on the opposing party. The Summons should provide the opposing party with the necessary information to respond to the Petition for Divorce. Rule 4 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure requires the Summons to contain the name and address of the court, the parties to the action and contact information for the petitioning spouse’s attorney. The Summons should also state the time within which the opposing party is required to file an answer. Unless otherwise ordered, service of the Summons and Petition for Divorce must be made by personal service, certified mail or commercial courier service.
Step 3. Answering the Petition for Divorce
Once served, the responding spouse must file an “Answer” to the Petition for Divorce within 20 calendar days. In the Answer, the responding spouse should admit or deny each of the petitioning spouse’s claims and requests for relief. If the responding spouse fails to deny a claim, the claim is deemed admitted. Similarly, applicable defenses must be included in the Answer or they will be deemed waived.
In conjunction with the Answer, it is common for the responding spouse to file a “Counter-Petition for Divorce.” In the Counter-Petition for Divorce, the responding spouse should set forth all desired relief and grounds for the court to award such relief. The petitioning spouse has twenty days to respond to all claims and requests for relief set forth in the Counter-Petition for Divorce.
Step 4. Temporary Orders
It can take months or years to finalize a divorce. Even if the spouses are able to agree on a divorce resolution, Utah has a 90-day waiting period before the court will review the divorce agreement and enter a Decree of Divorce. If the spouses are unable to agree on a resolution, they will be required to complete discovery and attend at least one session of mediation before the divorce case can proceed to trial. The divorce litigation process often takes more than a year to complete.
While the divorce case is pending, one or both spouses may request that the court enter temporary orders, which will remain in place until a final Decree of Divorce is entered. Temporary orders typically govern who will remain in the family home, who will have custody of the children, who will be responsible for servicing monthly debts and whether temporary alimony or child support should be paid.
The procedures for requesting temporary orders are found in Rule 101 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to Rule 101, the spouse requesting temporary orders must file a motion with the court and schedule the matter for hearing. The responding spouse may file a response and counter-motion up until five days prior to the hearing. Hearings before commissioners are not evidentiary. The spouses are permitted to proffer relevant facts and request orders based on those facts. However, they are not permitted to call witnesses to testify or to present evidence that has not been filed as an attachment to their pleadings.
Step 5. Discovery
After a Petition for Divorce and an Answer have been filed, discovery commences. Within one month after the Answer is filed, the spouses are required to exchange initial disclosures. In divorce cases, initial disclosures include a complete financial declaration. Both spouses must immediately disclose all income, assets and debts and must verify In addition, both spouses must verify their financial declarations by providing tax returns, paystubs, bank records, statements from retirement and investment accounts, home mortgage and vehicle loan statements and monthly statements evidencing other credit card and loan accounts.
Once initial disclosures have been exchanged, both parties have the right to conduct additional discovery. Each spouse may submit questions for the other spouse to answer and may request that the other spouse make admissions or produce additional documentation. Also, each spouse may take third party depositions and may subpoena documents directly from third parties. family mediation near me