Divorce

See our pages on Alimony, Child Support, Debt and Asset Division, and Child Custody to learn about these specific topics.

Divorce is one of the most stressful events that can happen in a person's life. Why add even more stress to your situation by working with an attorney who you do not trust, or who does not seem to be concerned about you, your situation, or your family's well-being? At Woods Law, you can rest assured that we take care of your legal needs as if you were family.

People often want to know how long it takes to get a divorce in Utah. Typically, a Utah divorce will take no less than three months (90 days) from the date the petition for divorce is filed until the date the decree of divorce is signed by the court. If extraordinary circumstances exist and a Motion to Waive the 90-day Waiting Period is filed and granted by the court, that 90-day timeframe may be shortened. Conversely, the divorce might take a long time. For example, if there is a lot of property, or a hotly-contested child custody battle, the process may take a year or even longer.

1. Research

The first step in a divorce is the decision to get divorced, made by either you, your spouse, or both of you. It is important to gain a realistic understanding of how divorce will impact you and your family's lives. We recommend reading this article and conducting other such research so that you can get a better idea of what to expect. Even if you are already certain the divorce will happen, having foresight of the divorce process and its ripple effects will help. It will not necessarily make the divorce process easier, but it might at least alleviate the shock and help you in making plans and goals to get your family through it. During and after the divorce process, we highly recommend that you and your children see therapists or counselors. We also recommend that you surround yourself with loving and supportive friends and family. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, please do not hesitate to call this hotline for advice or to get in touch with support groups or other helpful resources.

2. Filing for Divorce

The second step is filing for divorce, which is accomplished by (1) filing in a Utah district court a Petition for Divorce (sometimes referred to as a "Complaint"), (2) delivering to the other spouse a Summons and a copy of the Petition, and (3) filing Proof of Service with the court after delivering the summons and petition to the other spouse.

  • Documents and instructions are available for our do-it-yourself friends who want to file "pro se" (without an attorney) on the OCAP website (Online Court Assistance Program).
  • Residency: Either you or your spouse must have lived in the county in Utah where you file for divorce for at least three months before filing. If you have not yet lived in your current county for three months, you can file for divorce in the county in which you previously lived. *Note that if you do not both live in the same county, the court will only have authority to decide on the non-financial issues in your case. 
  • Responsibility to Notify: If you are the one who files the Petition (i.e. you're the "petitioner"), and the other spouse is a parent of minor children, you must at some point notify the other spouse of the requirement to attend mandatory divorce educational courses.
  • Abuse: If your spouse is physically abusive, it is wise to also file a Protective Order, which can order your spouse to stay away from you during the divorce process. You should also seek immediate help.
  • Withdrawal: if you decide you no longer want a divorce, and the 90-day waiting period has not yet expired, you may request a withdrawal of your petition by filing a Motion to Dismiss Divorce Action

3. Responding to the Petition

If your spouse filed the petition for divorce and sent you a summons and copy of the petition, you are the "respondent." As the respondent, you have 21 days from the day you received the summons and petition to reply with an official response, called an "Answer." (Or, 30 days if you were outside of Utah when you received the documents.) You must file your Answer with the court, and you must send a copy of your Answer to the petitioner spouse, or their attorney if they have one. In the Answer, you need to admit or deny each paragraph of the Petition for Divorce.

If you review the Petition for Divorce and completely agree with every term, then you do not need to file an Answer. Sometimes you and your spouse will have voluntarily met and come up with an agreement before your spouse filed the Petition for Divorce, or sometimes you will simply have no objections to the terms of the petition. Instead of filing an Answer, you can sign an "Acceptance of Service, Appearance, Consent and Waiver" document, or alternatively file a signed Stipulation. If either of these documents are filed with the court, you can skip steps #4, 6, 8, and 9b below, or at least partially skip them (for example, you may still need to file a Financial Declaration with the court, even if you do not need to send it to the other spouse).

  • If you file an Answer, you might also want to simultaneously file a Counterclaim, to elaborate on the terms of the Petition you disagree with, or to bring up additional issues not addressed in the Petition.
    • For example, if the Petition for Divorce does not mention alimony but you wish to receive alimony, you could file a Counterclaim simultaneously with the Answer, and in the Counterclaim ask for alimony.
  • If a Counterclaim is filed, the petitioner spouse has 21 days after receiving the Counterclaim to file a Reply to the Counterclaim. Or, if the petitioner spouse is outside of Utah when he or she receives the Counterclaim, 30 days.

4. Financial Declaration and Initial Disclosures

The next steps involve paperwork: each spouse, with the help of an attorney if hired, must file a Financial Declaration, and Initial Disclosures. The Financial Declaration involves filling out a form that asks you questions about your financial situation, and attaching copies of documents as evidence. The Initial Disclosures involve providing a list of names of people who could potentially serve as witnesses, attaching copies of documents that could potentially be used as evidence, sometimes computing damages and attaching documents that support your computation, and attaching any other documents that you referred to in your Petition, Answer, Counterclaim, or Reply to Counterclaim.

Financial Declaration: Filling out the Financial Declaration form will usually be quite time-consuming and tedious. To fill out a Financial Declaration, you will need to gather your paystubs from the 12-month time period preceding the divorce, your tax returns from the last two tax years, your W-2 forms, and several other documents so that you can report a complete account of your financial assets, income, expenditures, and needs. The Utah Courts website has provided a checklist to help you step-by-step in filling out the Financial Declaration.

  • If you are the petitioner spouse: you have 14 days from the date you received the other spouse's Answer to send your Financial Declaration to the other spouse (or their attorney).
  • If you are the respondent spouse: you have either 42 days from the date you filed your Answer, or 28 days from the date you received the other spouse's Financial Declaration/Initial Disclosures, whichever is later, to send your Financial Declaration to the other spouse (or their attorney).

Initial Disclosures: Generally, Initial Disclosures should include a list of names and contact info of people who could potentially serve as witnesses, evidence that could be used if the case went to trial, a computation of damages claimed (if any) along with supporting evidence, and copies of any other documents that you referenced in your Petition, Answer, Counterclaim, or Reply to Counterclaim.

  • If you are the petitioner spouse: you have 14 days from the date the other spouse's Answer was filed to send your Initial Disclosures to the other spouse (or their attorney).
  • If you are the respondent spouse: you have either 42 days from the date you filed your Answer, or 28 days from the date you received the other spouse's Financial Declaration/Initial Disclosures, whichever is later, to send your Initial Disclosures to the other spouse (or their attorney).

5. Temporary Orders

Sometimes a spouse will file a Motion for Temporary Order after or at the same time as the Petition for Divorce. A Temporary Order is a court order that might dictate anything from child custody and parent-time to alimony, child support, attorney fees, etc. It is to be followed while the divorce is pending, i.e. until the time a final Decree of Divorce is entered and overrides the Temporary Order. The other spouse can agree to the Motion, or contest it with the proper paperwork. The court will hold a hearing for the Temporary Order. Spouses with minor children must complete the mandatory educational courses before a court will consider their motion for a temporary order.

6. Mediation

Mediation is required by Utah Law for cases wherein an Answer was filed and there are any remaining contested issues (i.e., you must try mediation before going to trial), unless either spouse is able to get the mediation requirement excused (see also: Motion to Excuse Mediation, Utah courts website). Click here to learn more about mediation.

7. Mandatory Divorce Education Classes for parents

If there are minor children involved, then before the divorce decree is finalized, each parent who has a minor child needs to attend two mandatory educational courses: the 1-hour orientation course, and the 2-hour education course. If you are the petitioner spouse, you need to complete both courses no later than 60 days after you filed the Petition; or if you are the respondent spouse, no later than 30 days after you received notice of the requirement to attend the courses. These mandatory classes include fees (to be paid in cash), but they can be reduced if the courses are taken shortly after the Petition is filed, or waived if you cannot afford to pay them and you fill out a fee waiver form. These classes must normally be attended in person, but there are a few exceptions. For more information, including class schedules and locations, visit this website.

8. Formal discovery

Much of the time spent in a Utah divorce proceeding is spent preparing for an eventual trial. Though the trial may never occur (the parties may settle), various discovery tools exist to help the parties to not only prepare for a potential trial, but to also approach mediation and settlement discussions with sufficient information and evidence. These discovery tools include requests for admission, depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas, and requests for documents. When these tools are used properly, you are not simply asking your spouse's attorney to give you certain documents, but rather, your request for documents is similar to a court order. Both sides are required to cooperate to respond to the other party's discovery requests. This is a way to obtain information and documents the other side does not want to provide.

9.    (a) No Trial:

If mediation results in an agreement between the spouses (that is, all issues are resolved), no trial will be necessary before the court signs and orders a final* Decree of Divorce. This Decree will also serve as an alimony order and a child support order if those items are addressed in it.

       (b) Trial:

If mediation does not result in a final settlement of all issues, the spouses can request and obtain a trial date. The trial will be the final show-down to determine what the facts really are and how Utah divorce and property division laws should apply to those facts. At trial, a judge will listen to evidence and arguments from both sides concerning the unresolved issues, and make decisions concerning those issues.

  • *After the judge or commissioner has received all needed documents, and in the case of a trial, heard all relevant evidence, the judge or commissioner can order the terms of the divorce decree, thus "finalizing" the divorce. However, the Decree is not exactly set in stone if any of the following occurs and the Decree is subsequently changed:
    • Either spouse appeals within 30 days and successfully changes the court order,
    • A spouse enters a Motion to Set Aside Judgment (within three months) and is successful,
    • A spouse asks the court to correct a "clerical error" (i.e. typo), or
    • A spouse successfully modifies the divorce decree at a future date due to a substantial change in circumstances.

10. Relocation and Modification

After the divorce is finalized, the lives of the divorced spouses and their minor children will continue to change. Either spouse may get an out of state job, move out of the county in Utah where he or she used to live, or get remarried. An individual's income may substantially increase, decrease, or someone may lose a job. A divorced individual may ask a Utah court to modify an already issued decree of divorce if there has been a substantial change in the life of a minor child, parent or divorced spouse. At Woods Law, we can help you petition the court to modify your child custody order, parent-time order, child support order, or alimony order. It is important that you are aware of the Utah Relocation Statute if you or your ex-spouse are considering moving 150 miles or more away from each other.