Family Law

Our Utah divorce and family law attorneys have the experience needed to help you navigate the difficulties surrounding divorce, custody and other pressing family legal matters.

Utah divorce and family law attorneys

Specializing Attorneys

Ogden Attorney Keith Backman


Family Law Attorney
Ogden Office

Ogden Attorney Scott Nickle


Family Law Attorney
Ogden Office

Layton Attorney Kurt Helgesen


Family Law Attorney
Kaysville Office

Divorce, custody and family law for Utah families

If your family is troubled to the point of needing a lawyer, you want someone who shares your values and will help you find peace. Families matters to you and to us. Our experienced Utah Family Law team offers you help on a broad range of legal issues, including:

  • Adoption
  • Alimony
  • Annulment
  • Child Custody
  • Children’s Rights
  • Child Support
  • Divorce
  • Divorce Mediation
  • Divorce Modification
  • Juvenile Court Issues
  • Marital Property Division (Equitable Division)
  • Parent-Time and Visitation
  • Paternity
  • Pre-marital (Prenuptial) Agreements
  • Spousal Support (Alimony)
  • Separation Agreements
  • Other Family Issues


Helping you with an upcoming adoption

Raising children is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences a person can have in life. Children can come into our lives many ways. Adoption is when an adult becomes a legal parent of a child that is not biologically the parent’s own. The biological parents usually have their parental rights terminated , although a contract may allow them to keep or share certain rights with the adoptive parents.

Our family law attorneys have experience with many types of Utah adoptions. Some of the type of adoptions in Utah include:

  • Agency adoptions
  • Independent adoptions
  • Identified adoptions
  • International adoptions
  • Relative adoptions
  • Stepparent adoptions

Our family law attorneys are available to help you with an upcoming adoption. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Utah Annulment

Is your marriage voidable?

Some people believe that if they change their minds shortly after the marriage, they can get an annulment instead of having to go through a divorce. This is not true.

An annulment is granted when a marriage is illegal or invalid. Unlike a divorce, the parties have to prove that there is a reason for an annulment–there is no such thing as an annulment for “irreconcilable differences.” Reasons which could lead to an annulment include:

  • One of the parties is already married. This occasionally arises when there was a problem with a previous divorce, or when someone gets remarried before a previous divorce is final.
  • The marriage is incestuous. This means that the parties to the marriage are too closely related. In Utah, the parties generally must be at least second cousins for the marriage to be legal.
  • The marriage is the result of fraud.
  • The marriage has never been consummated.
  • The marriage was the result of duress. This means that one of the parties was forced into the marriage against his or her will. This will require the party who claims duress to show more than that he or she has changed his or her mind.

If the court grants an annulment, the court declares that the marriage was invalid. It is as if the marriage never happened. The parties go back to being single, rather than being divorced.

If the parties to the marriage can agree that it was illegal, they can stipulate to an annulment. If they cannot agree on that issue, the party which wants the annulment will have to prove the grounds for the annulment. If the grounds will be difficult or embarrassing to prove, the parties may be better served by getting a divorce.

If you have questions about whether you should pursue an annulment or a divorce, contact one of the attorneys listed at the top of the page.


What is alimony?

Alimony is one of the most difficult matters for a court to decide or attorneys to predict. Although there is a statute which lists a number of factors which a court should consider in making an alimony determination, alimony decisions remain far more art than science.

The jones factors

The three most important factors a court must consider in deciding alimony were described in a case called Jones v. Jones. These factors are:

  • The needs of the spouse requesting alimony
  • The requesting spouse’s ability to earn income to meet her own needs
  • The paying spouse’s ability to pay alimony

Other factors

Other factors which are included in the statute and which courts examine in making an alimony decision include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Which spouse has custody of the minor children
  • Whether the spouse requesting alimony worked in a business which was owned or controlled by the other spouse
  • Whether the spouse requesting alimony directly contributed to the earning capacity of the other spouse. This usually involves putting the other spouse through school.

Financial declarations

In order to make a reasonable determination on these issues, both parties will have to submit financial declarations. These declarations are made under oath and contain information on the parties’ income, tax deductions, assets, debts and expenses. The court also requires the parties to provide documentation to support the claims made in the financial declaration. The supporting documents include:

  • Complete tax returns for the previous two years, including all schedules and attachments
  • Pay stubs and evidence of any other income for the previous 12 months
  • Copies of loan applications or financial statements the spouse has completed over the previous year
  • Any information the spouse has to establish the value of real estate the parties own, including tax notices and appraisals
  • Copies of statements for all financial accounts for the previous three months. These include statements for savings accounts, checking accounts, money market accounts, stock accounts, retirement accounts and any other accounts where the spouse has money on deposit
  • Documents which support the spouse’s claimed expenses, such as utility bills, mortgage statements, credit card statements, statements for car loans and other documents which show the expenses.

If a spouse does not have some or all of the documents listed above, the spouse must explain why he or she does not have the documents.

Contact one of the attorneys listed at the top of this page or visit us at our office for a free consultation to discuss alimony and other issues related to your divorce.

Child Custody and Visitation

Helping you with child custody

Helgesen, Houtz & Jones has represented thousands of Utahns with legal matters involving child custody and child support. We know that your children are the single most important aspect of your life. We have established a reputation we are proud of and know how to help you. Our team of family law attorneys in Ogden and Layton have the experience you need and are ready to help you find the best solution for you, your family, and children.

What you should know about child custody

Types of custody:

1. Physical Custody – If you are awarded physical custody, this means you have the right to have your child live with you. Parents can be awarded sole physical custody or joint physical custody.

2. Legal Custody – If you are awarded legal custody, this means you have the right and obligation to make decisions about your child’s upbringing. For example, a parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care. Parents can be awarded sole legal custody or joint legal custody.

QUESTION: How do I get custody of my child?

In determining any form of custody, Utah courts must determine the best interests of the child. Courts will award custody based on this determination. To help courts understand what the best interests of a child are, Utah courts rely heavily on several factors, including:

  • the extent of the parties’ involvement in raising the child;
  • the past conduct and demonstrated moral standards of each of the parties;
  • which party is most likely to act in the best interest of the child, including allowing the child frequent and continuing contact with the other parent;
  • the extent of bonding between the party and child, meaning the depth, quality, and nature of the parent-child relationship;

ANSWER: Take and maintain an active role in raising your child. Live well and be a good example to him or her. Always act in the best interests of your child. Realize that while you are separated and/or divorcing the child’s other parent, it is extremely important that both of you are in the child’s life.

Child custody and parent time in Utah

The issues of custody and parent time (which used to be called visitation) are the most important, and frequently the most difficult, issues the judge has to decide in a divorce case.

The judge’s preference is for the spouses to reach an agreement on this matter.  The judges presume that the parents are in the best position to create a schedule for the children which will meet the unique circumstances of the children and the parents.

Child custody evaluation process in Utah

If the spouses are unable to reach an agreement on custody and parent time, the judge will probably order them to have a custody evaluation performed.  This involves hiring a psychologist or social worker to evaluate both parents and the children and make a recommendation to the judge on custody and parent time.

The evaluator makes his or her recommendation based on a number of factors, including: 1) the level of bonding between each parent and the children, 2) which parent provided the most care for the children during the marriage, 3) the preferences of older children, 4) each parent’s character and fitness, and 5) the willingness of each parent to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent.

The evaluator almost always makes at least one visit to each home as part of the evaluation.  The evaluator may also have the parents complete some psychological testing and character inventories.

At a minimum, each parent should have a chance to have parent time with the children every other weekend, one weeknight each week, four weeks during the summer and half of the holidays during the year.  However, the current consensus among custody evaluators is that the children need a strong bond with both parents, and this minimum parent-time schedule is not enough time with both parents to form that strong bond.  Most custody evaluators will recommend that both parents get more than the standard parent-time with the children.

Parent Time and Visitation

Utah courts encourage parents to work with one other to agree on an appropriate parent time and visitation schedule. An appropriate schedule provides structure and stability to the child’s life, but is flexible enough to accommodate the parties’ work schedules and conflicts. Most importantly, it should reflect what is best for the child while furthering the parent-child relationship of both parties.

In Utah when parties cannot agree on a parent time schedule, every parent is entitled to what the court has considered minimum parent time. A parent’s minimum parent time is determined by the age of the child, and without evidence proving otherwise, a Utah court will not permit either parent to be awarded less.

QUESTION: Do I need a custody evaluation?

If the parties cannot agree on custody and parent time, the court may order a custody evaluation. This evaluation is usually performed by a licensed psychologist or social worker, sometimes called a parenting coordinator or parenting evaluator. This is done to assist the court in evaluating and comparing the parents’ ability to parent, and to assess the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child. This evaluation will contain a recommendation for custody and parent time, and be submitted to the court. The parties generally share the costs of the custody evaluation, which can be several thousands of dollars.

ANSWER: If you cannot agree on custody and/or parent time with the other party, the Judge is likely to order that a custody evaluation be performed before your case can be heard at trial.

Please contact us today to talk with a Utah family law attorney or schedule your free consultation to learn what we can do for you and how we can help with your child custody matter.

Child Support and Custody in Utah

Child support is closely tied to custody, because support goes with the children.  Utah has adopted child support guidelines.  In order to apply the guidelines, each spouse is required to provide his or her income to the judge.  With that information, the guidelines produce an amount of support, based on the income of the parties, the number of children involved and how much time the children will spend with each parent.  The judge presumes that the amount of support produced by the guidelines is correct, and most judges are reluctant to depart from the guidelines.

Child Support

What you should know about Utah child support

Helgesen, Houtz & Jones has represented hundreds of Utahns facing child support issues. We know how to help you. We understand how important it is to find resolution with a child support case. Our team of experienced family law attorneys in Ogden and Layton are ready to help.

What You Need to Know About Utah Child Support

Prior to 1990, child support was a major source of contention in divorces in Utah. Child support award varied significantly in different parts of the state and even from judge to judge.

In 1990, the Utah Legislature addressed this issue by adopting child support guidelines. These guidelines are very specific and require the parties to provide certain information. The information includes:

  • The gross income of both of the parents. If one or both parents has more than one job, child support is based on the income the parent earns from one full-time job.
  • The number of children.
  • If the parents are going to share joint physical custody, the number of overnights the children will spend with each parent each year.
  • The amount of child support either parent is ordered to pay for children from other relationships.
  • The amount of child support a parent would have to pay for children living in his or her home from other relationships if the children were no longer living with the parent.

All of this information is put into a child support worksheet and the worksheet produces a figure for monthly child support. This figure is presumed to be correct. The trial court can depart from the child support guidelines, but the court must provide its reasoning for any departure.

As a matter of course, the courts rarely depart from the guidelines. Using the guidelines makes child support predictable. In addition, the courts seem to be concerned that if they depart too frequently from the guidelines, they will be opening the door to returning to the old days of frequently fighting over child support.

Child Support and Custody in Utah

Child support is closely tied to custody, because support goes with the children.  Utah has adopted child support guidelines.  In order to apply the guidelines, each spouse is required to provide his or her income to the judge.  With that information, the guidelines produce an amount of support, based on the income of the parties, the number of children involved and how much time the children will spend with each parent.  The judge presumes that the amount of support produced by the guidelines is correct, and most judges are reluctant to depart from the guidelines.

If you have more specific questions about child support, feel free to contact one of our attorneys today.

Utah Divorce

An experienced team of Utah divorce lawyers

Helgesen, Houtz & Jones has represented hundreds of divorcing Utahns. We know how to help you. Ogden divorce attorneys Keith Backman and Scott Nickle are ready to help you. Layton attorneys Craig Helgesen and Kurt Helgesen are prepared for your call.

General Information on Divorce in Utah

Divorce, of course, is the process of ending a marriage.  Because Utah recognizes no-fault divorces, however, ending the marriage may be the easiest part of a divorce.  Either spouse can allege that there are “irreconcilable differences.”  Once that allegation is made, the judge will make no further inquiry into the reason for the divorce.

The more difficult issues in a divorce are: 1) custody and parent time, 2) the division of property, 3) the allocation of debts, and 4) whether the judge will award alimony.

Utah Child Custody and Divorce Matters

Custody of any children is probably the most important decision the judge has to make in a divorce action.  For more information, see the Child Custody page.

Division of Property and Allocation of Debts in Utah Divorce

In Utah, the judge begins with a presumption that each spouse will receive half of the property.  The property includes any equity in the home, vehicles, bank and investment accounts, and retirement accounts which accrued during the marriage.

When the judge divides the debts, he or she also begins with the presumption that each party will pay half of the debts.  The judge usually makes adjustments, however.  In deciding on the final allocation of the debts, the judge considers which spouse has the greatest income and whether one spouse is receiving more of the marital property than the other.  In addition, if there is a debt associated with an item of property (such as a mortgage on a house or a car loan), the party which receives the item of property is usually required to pay the debt.

Alimony in Utah Divorce

Alimony in Utah is based on the receiving spouse’s needs and the paying spouse’s ability to pay.  If an alimony claim is made, the judge requires each spouse to submit detailed information on his or her income, debts, assets and expenses.  Unless there are special circumstances, alimony can only be awarded for a period which is equal to the duration of the marriage.  If the spouse receiving alimony remarries or cohabits, alimony ceases.

Utah Divorce Mediation

Helping both parties work our their legal problems

Many times, mediation can be used in family law disputes. This is when a mediator, a specialist who knows the law, helps both parties work out their problems. This mediator is often a judge or a former judge who has practiced law prior to becoming a mediator. If we are able to mediate your case, we will. We have worked on hundreds of mediations over the 30 years we have been helping Utahns through the divorce process. Please call us today if you have any questions about divorce or divorce mediation in Utah.

Divorce Mediation

General Information about divorce modification in Utah

After a divorce is final and a decree is entered, the court still has authority to make modifications to the terms of the divorce.  The former spouse who wants to modify the terms of the divorce must file a petition to modify the divorce with the judge.  Most modifications deal with custody and parent time issues.

Modifying a divorce decree

Many people believe that, once a divorce decree has been entered, their involvement with the court is over, but that is not always the case. There are some circumstances when either party to the divorce can petition the court to modify the decree.

Under Utah law, the court which enters a divorce decree retains authority to modify the decree. In order to obtain a modification, the party who files the petition for a modification must show:

  • That there has been a substantial change of circumstances; and
  • The change which is requested is in the best interests of any children.

Significant change in circumstances

The change of circumstances may include the relocation of one of the former spouses, a change in the children’s situation, child abuse charges brought against either parent, or a change in the income of either party. There is no limit on the kinds of changes which could occur and give rise to a petition to modify the decree.

On the other hand, because the legislature does not want parties filing a petition to modify child support every time their former spouse gets a raise, the legislature has created special rules for modifications based on a change in income.

If there has not been a modification of the child support amount in the last three years, the courts will modify a child support award if the new child support award would be 10% higher or lower than the current child support amount. In that case, the change in the child support award is considered a substantial change of circumstance.

If there has been a modification of the child support award in the last three years, the court will modify the child support only if the income of one parent has changed more than 30%. In that case, the change in income is considered a substantial change in circumstances.

If the party who has filed the petition for a modification fails to prove that there has been a significant change of circumstances, the court will not examine whether the requested change would be in the best interests of the children.

Best interests of the child

A requested change must also be in the best interests of the children. For instance, if the parent who has custody of the children relocates, the other parent may ask for a change in custody so the children can stay in their present neighborhood and schools. In that case, there is a change of circumstances, and the court would have to determine which is better for the children: to stay with the custodial parent or to stay in their present area.

There are also some modifications which do not depend on whether the requested modification is in the best interests of the children. For instance, a party paying alimony may ask for a reduction in the alimony when the party retires. In that case, the children are usually grown and their best interests are not a factor.

One word of caution is probably necessary on filing petitions to modify a decree. The legislature has adopted a statute which states that a party who files a petition to modify which has no merit and was filed without good faith must pay the fees of the other party. So you always want to be sure you have a meritorious claim before filing a petition to modify a decree of divorce.


What is a protective order in Utah?

Information about paternity in Utah

Paternity is the process of determining whether a man is the father of a child borne by a woman he was not married to.  If a man and a woman are married, the husband is presumed to be the husband of any children borne by the woman.

Paternity actions in Utah

A paternity action may be brought by the man or the woman.  Men frequently bring paternity actions to make sure that they can be a part of their child’s lives and that their rights will not be disregarded.  Women bring paternity actions in order to establish the parentage of their children and to make sure that the father meets his responsibilities to the children.

Process of establishing paternity in Utah

Paternity can be established by an agreement of the parties.  If the parties cannot agree on whether the man is the father of the children, the judge will probably order a paternity test.  Modern tests can establish whether a man is the father of a child almost to a certainty.

If the judge determines that a man is the father of a child, the man has all the rights to parent time and custody that a married father has.  The father also has all the responsibilities a married father has, including the obligation to pay child support.

Protective Orders

What is a protective order in Utah?

A protective order is an action which is initiated with a request or a petition and is filed with the local court. The purpose of a protective order is to protect the petitioner from a violent or potentially violent cohabitant. In order to obtain a protective order from the court, the petitioner must present to the court past instances of violence or abuse and demonstrate fear that a threat of violence or abuse exists from the respondent. The respondent must be the petitioners current or former cohabitant.

If the protective order request is granted by the judge, a temporary protective order will be issued with a pending hearing usually within two weeks after the order is issued by the court. The respondent will be personally served the order with a notice of the hearing date. At the hearing the respondent will have an opportunity to defend him or herself against the accusations made by the petitioner. After the hearing the judge will make a decision whether to dismiss the temporary order or make it permanent.

If the protective order is granted from the judge, the responded will be restrained from certain acts. This can include no communication, no physical contact, no coming within the vicinity of the petitioner’s home, vehicle, school, or place of employment. In instances where the parties have children together, arrangements and considerations will be made for parent-time.

Anyone who is harmed by another person, which includes physical attacks, sexual assault, kidnapping, stalking, harassing, restricting movement, stopping someone from calling for help, breaking things or throwing things to intimidate, or trying or threatening to do any of these things, should contact their local police and file a criminal complaint, as well as file a Request for a Protective Order from the court.

The violation of a protective order can have both civil and criminal consequences. Violating a protective order could lead to a contempt proceeding for the respondent, as well as an arrest and criminal prosecution. A protective order can only be dismissed or modified with the consent of the petitioner, or a respondent can request the order be dismissed after two years.

Who can file for a protection order in Utah?

If you have been harmed by another person, they have committed a crime. For your own safety, you should contact your local police and file a criminal complaint. In addition, to further protect yourself, you should file a Request for a Protective Order with the Court.

Our Utah criminal defense team in Layton, Utah can help you file a Protective Order and get you the help and protection you need.

What can a protective order do for you?

You can learn more about the following information on Protective Orders by visit

  • Order the Respondent not to harm the Petitioner, the Petitioners children or anyone who lives with the Petitioner.
  • Order the Respondent to stay away from the Petitioner and the Petitioners home, job, vehicle or school, and not to contact or harass the Petitioner in any way.
  • Order the Respondent not to have any guns or other weapons.
  • Order temporary possession of the home, car and essential personal property.
  • Order temporary custody, parent-time and support for the children.
  • Order temporary spousal support if the Petitioner and Respondent are married.
  • Order the children not to be removed from Utah.

Who can get a protective order?

The Petitioner can get a Protective Order if:

  • The Respondent has harmed the Petitioner, and
  • The Petitioner and Respondent are related, live with or used to live with each other, are parents of a child together, or if the Petitioner is pregnant by the Respondent, and
  • The Petitioner and Respondent are at least 16, married or emancipated.

– OR –

  • The Petitioner is afraid the Respondent will harm her or him, and
  • The Petitioner and Respondent are related, live with or used to live with each other, are parents of a child together, or if the Petitioner is pregnant by the Respondent, and
  • The Petitioner and Respondent are at least 16, married or emancipated.

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