Alimony, sometimes referred to as spousal support, is the court-ordered money that one party pays to the other party for support while they are separated, in the process of getting divorced, or after they are divorced.

Money questions in divorce can be tricky. And hard to change once the court signs a decree. You may want a licensed professional to look at your papers before you file. See our Finding Legal Help page to learn more.

Who can get alimony?

Either spouse may ask the court for alimony. Alimony may be awarded temporarily while the case is pending or for a longer period after the divorce has been granted.

Utah Code 30-3-5

The court considers the following factors when deciding whether to award alimony:

  • The standard of living during the marriage. This includes income, value of real and personal property, and any other factor that the court thinks is important for understanding how the parties lived during their marriage.
  • The financial condition and needs of the party who would receive alimony. This includes the recipient's monthly debts and obligations, and their ability to pay these debts. The recipient can show their needs by listing the expenses they had when they were married, not just expenses after the divorce papers were filed. 
  • The recipient's earning capacity or ability to produce income. This includes past employment history, ability or inability to work and income received from all sources, including passive income. This also includes the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from disability or primarily caring for a child of the paying spouse. In some situations the court can consider what the recipient did to improve their employment situation and any reasonable barriers to getting or keeping employment. Utah Code 30-3-5.5
  • The ability of the paying spouse to provide support. This includes income from all sources weighed against their debts and obligations. As a general rule, debts may not be incurred to defeat alimony.
  • The length of the marriage, meaning the number of years from the day on which the parties are legally married to the day on which the petition for divorce is filed with the court. The longer the marriage, the stronger the case for alimony.
  • Whether the recipient party has custody of minor children who need support.
  • Whether the recipient worked in a business owned or operated by the other spouse.
  • Whether the recipient contributed to increase the other spouse's skill by paying for their education or by allowing them to attend school during the marriage.

The court may also consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and its terms. "Fault" means any of the following conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage:

  • engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party's spouse;
  • knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or a child;
  • knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or a child to reasonably fear life-threatening harm; or
  • substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the child.

Generally, in determining alimony, the court considers the parties' standard of living at the time of separation. In short marriages with no children, the court may consider the standard of living when the marriage began. Sometimes, the court will try to equalize the parties' standards of living. If a couple was married for 10 years or more, and the recipient has significantly diminished workplace experience because they agreed to stay home to care for the paying spouse's child, the court must equalize the parties' standard of living unless a party can show good reasons why that should not happen. 

The court may not order alimony for a period longer than the length of the marriage, unless there are special reasons for doing so, which a party can raise with the court at any time before the alimony order ends. In counting the length of the award of alimony, you include the period of time the party pays temporary alimony before the final divorce decree is entered by the court.


Temporary Alimony

If, during a divorce or separation case, a spouse requests or is receiving temporary alimony, and the other spouse establishes that the recipient is cohabiting with another person, the court cannot order temporary alimony and must terminate any order of temporary alimony.


Terminating Alimony

Alimony automatically terminates upon the remarriage or death of the recipient unless the decree of divorce says otherwise. (There are exceptions for if the remarriage of the alimony recipient is annulled.)

Alimony also terminates if the recipient cohabits with another person after the order for alimony is issued, but the other spouse cannot just stop paying alimony. They must first prove the cohabitation to the court. Cohabit means to live together, or to reside together on a regular basis, in the same residence and in a relationship of a romantic or sexual relationship.

A motion to terminate alimony for cohabitation must be filed no later than one year from the day on which the party knew or should have known that the former spouse has cohabited with another person. The party asking the court to terminate alimony does not need to prove that the former spouse was cohabiting on the date they file their motion to terminate alimony.

See the Motions webpage for generic motion forms and the process. 

Modifying alimony

To modify alimony there must be a material (important) and substantial (major) change in circumstances since the divorce that not expressly stated in the divorce decree or in the findings that the court entered at the time of the divorce decree. 

A party's retirement is a substantial material change in circumstances for a petition to modify alimony, unless the divorce decree clearly says that retirement is not a substantial material change in circumstances.

If the court decided in the divorce that the spouse receiving alimony could make a certain amount of income that was more than they were earning at that time under Utah Code 30-3-5.5 then it can be a substantial material change in circumstances if the recipient can show they have made reasonable efforts to improve their employment situation but barriers have prevented a significant improvement of their employment situation. The recipient spouse can ask the court to review their income and modify alimony. 

For more information on modifying alimony, see our page on Modification of a Divorce Decree.

Enforcing alimony

If the party ordered to pay alimony fails to do so, the recipient may file a motion asking the court to enforce the alimony order. The court may issue a judgment for past due alimony. The court may also find a party in contempt of court and order the party to pay a fine or serve time in jail. For information and forms, see our webpage on Motion to Enforce Domestic Order (Order to Show Cause).


Registering a foreign order

Before an alimony order from another state can be enforced or modified it first must be registered in Utah. For information and forms, see our webpage on Registering a Foreign Order.