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Munoz-Madrid v. Carlos-Moran

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 24, 2018

Patricia Munoz-Madrid, Appellee,
Martin Roberto Carlos-Moran, Appellant.

          Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Fred D. Howard No. 144401171

          David J. Hunter, Attorney for Appellant

          Mary Ann Hansen, Attorney for Appellee

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.


          TOOMEY, Judge

         ¶1 Patricia Munoz-Madrid (Wife) and Martin Roberto Carlos-Moran (Husband) divorced after a long marriage, and the district court awarded alimony to Wife. Husband contends the court abused its discretion in determining the amount of alimony he would have to pay. Because we determine the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.

         ¶2 Wife petitioned for divorce in 2014, and after a bench trial the district court entered the divorce decree in November 2016. At trial, both parties testified to their financial situations. Wife testified she has been employed by one employer for almost twenty years and earns a gross monthly income of $2, 005.47 and a net monthly income of $1, 627.78. She stated that her monthly expenses were $3, 424.94.[1] Wife's friend (Friend) also testified and explained that, after filing the divorce petition, Wife moved in with her. Wife agreed to pay Friend $800 per month for rent, but she was only able to pay part of that, usually between $300 and $350 each month.

         ¶3 Husband testified that he worked at one company for almost twenty years and stated in his financial declaration that his gross monthly income was $4, 281 and that his net monthly income was $3, 393. His purported monthly expenses were $3, 543.15.

         ¶4 After the bench trial, the parties filed post-trial briefs and the court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court found that Husband's gross income was $4, 281 per month with a net monthly income of "roughly $3, 831, " and his monthly expenses "were found to be between $3, 300 and $3, 500 per month." The court found that Wife's gross monthly income was $2, 005 with a net income of $1, 600 per month. It explained that Wife's expenses "were difficult to determine . . . [given] the lack of evidence to support her expenses, " but it was "not persuaded" that "she doesn't have expenses." After deducting some expenses from her financial declaration, the court found Wife's expenses to be $3, 200 per month. It also found that Wife was left with "a deficit of $1, 600 per month" and concluded "that reasonable alimony would be $548 per month effective May 1, 2016 for a period of 12 years." Husband appeals.

         ¶5 Husband contends the district court abused its discretion when it awarded alimony to Wife because she "failed to provide the court with supporting documentation or to otherwise verify or prove her financial need." He argues that alimony "should have been denied as a matter of law, " because the district court could not have found that Wife had a "need" for alimony under Utah Code section 30-3-5. We disagree.

         ¶6 "[District] courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated." Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶ 41, 402 P.3d 219 (quotation simplified).

         ¶7 The Utah Code provides that when the court determines alimony, it "shall consider, " as relevant here, "(i) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse; (ii) the recipient's earning capacity or ability to produce income . . .; (iii) the ability of the payor spouse to provide support; [and] (iv) the length of the marriage." Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(8)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2017). The primary purposes of alimony are "(1) to get the parties as close as possible to the same standard of living that existed during the marriage; (2) to equalize the standards of living of each party; and (3) to prevent the recipient spouse from becoming a public charge." Rule v. Rule, 2017 UT App 137, ¶ 14, 402 P.3d 153 (quotation simplified).

         ¶8 Husband challenges only the first factor of subsection 30-3-5(8)(a), and he cites Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, in support of his contention that Wife failed to show she had a financial need that would support an award of alimony. But Dahl does not support Husband's assertion that failure to file financial documentation automatically precludes an award of alimony.

         ¶9 In Dahl, the wife sought temporary and permanent alimony, but she "repeatedly failed to provide the credible financial documentation necessary for the district court to make an adequate finding as to [her] financial need." Id. ¶ 84. Our supreme court determined that the wife "did not satisfy her burden of showing her financial need" because her "testimony consisted solely of her recollection of her marital expenses" and she "provided no financial declaration, no supporting financial documentation, and no expert testimony." Id. ¶ 108. But the supreme court also explained that courts "may impute figures" "where there is insufficient evidence of one of the statutory alimony factors." Id. ¶ 116. Thus, a court can make findings related to the statutory alimony factors without supporting financial documents and can impute reasonable expenses based on circumstantial and testimonial evidence. Cf. id. But in Dahl, the court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to impute expenses for the wife, "because [she] received a sufficiently large property award to support a ...

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