Alimony caselaw review: Knight v. Knight, 2023 UT App 86
Do you wonder what Utah courts look at when deciding alimony? Utah’s appeal courts regularly release new opinions providing guidance on this topic which is binding on Utah courts.
In the recent case of Knight versus Knight, the Utah Court of Appeals addressed whether it was proper to limit the amount of alimony a wife received in a high-asset divorce. They explained that alimony is not limited to meeting only the basic needs of the receiving spouse. Rather the court should consider that spouse’s historical living standard and how the parties spent their money while married. The ultimate test was how much money (if any) did the receiving spouse need to support him or herself at their marital standard of living?
One issue was whether a spouse could demand extra alimony to cover the cost of home maintenance expenses (for example, landscaping or pool maintenance) that the other spouse historically did for free. The Court answered no. Spouses do not get credit for tasks that the other spouse historically did for free while they were married, even though it means that spouse may now need to hire someone else to perform that task.
Another issue was whether a spouse could count gifts the couple historically received from family members as part of their standard of living or the other spouse’s ability to pay alimony. The Court answered no. Extended family members had no legal duty to provide gifts on an ongoing basis. They had only been doing so voluntarily. The Court could only count the income of each of the spouses but not the income of other family members.
During the marriage, the parties used the husband’s HSA plan for health insurance. The wife wanted to get a better – and more expensive – health insurance plan after the divorce and asked for extra alimony to cover that. The Court held while she was entitled to alimony to get her own separate insurance coverage, she was not entitled to extra to get a plan better than what the parties had while married.
The wife claimed she needed alimony to cover a substantial personal grooming expense even though the husband did not claim any grooming expenses in his budget. The Court agreed with the wife. So long as she demonstrated it was standard practice during the marriage for her to spend substantial sums on her personal grooming, she was entitled to a credit for that. It was irrelevant that her husband’s own grooming expense was much more modest. The Court explained that sometimes in a marriage a couple may follow the principle “happy spouse; happy house” and find pleasure from their spouse’s independent purchases – whether for monthly facial treatments or Jazz season tickets that only one spouse uses – perhaps through gritted teeth.
Wife also asked for extra alimony so she could invest some of it in savings. Again, the Court stuck with the theme that so long as that was standard practice during the marriage, she was entitled to extra alimony to cover it. Wife had to demonstrate it was a regular practice for the parties to have done so, although she did not have to go as far as proving they set aside savings every month or on any set schedule. It was enough that she did so on an annual basis.
However the Court drew a line at retirement. In that case, the wife had not historically put money aside in a retirement account but wanted extra alimony so she could start doing so. Because of this, the court denied her extra alimony for that expense.
As you can see, alimony can be a complicated topic. As some of Utah’s best divorce attorneys, we follow the latest developments from Utah’s appellate courts to keep track of new developments like this case and how it may affect our clients’ cases. If you are looking for help with your Utah divorce and alimony case, please give the experienced divorce lawyers at Wiser and Wiser family law a call at 855-254-2600 today.