Vehicle payments incurred during the marriage (even multiple vehicles) may impact a payor’s ability to pay alimony, and to exclude them without sufficient findings is error.

Redden v. redden, 2020 UT App 22 (filed February 13, 2020).

¶32 Spencer (Husband) next argues that the court exceeded its discretion when it disallowed two vehicle loan payments as monthly expenses affecting his ability to provide alimony. For similar reasons as those discussed with respect to Spencer’s student loan payments, we conclude that the court exceeded its discretion in disallowing both of the vehicle loan payments as a monthly expense affecting Spencer’s needs and his ability to provide alimony.  

¶33 The court determined that, like the student loan payments, the vehicle loan payment amounts did “not reflect the marital standard of living” and the “vehicle needs of the parties.” The court provided no other findings or further explanation supporting this determination.

¶34 Without more explanation from the court, its determination on this issue is difficult to reconcile with the evidence presented at trial—at least as to the allowance of a monthly expense for one of the vehicle loan payments. The evidence presented at trial suggested that the vehicles were purchased during the marriage through loans. In his financial declaration, Spencer included a line item of $762 for monthly car loan expenses, and at trial, Spencer testified that the listed amount represented a combined total for a monthly car loan payment and a monthly motorcycle loan payment—about $412 for the car and about $350 for the motorcycle. He also stated that both vehicles were purchased during the marriage through loans, with Debbie specifically acknowledging that she was obligated on the car debt.

¶35 Further, the evidence suggested that it was typical during the marriage for each party to make use of one of the two vehicles. For example, at the time of their separation, each party assumed possession of (and the associated debt on) one of the two vehicles for their separate use. Indeed, as to the car specifically, Spencer explained that when the parties initially separated, Debbie had possession of the car and had assumed the debt (while he retained the motorcycle), but that Debbie later asked him to take the car and the debt, which he agreed to do. And Debbie did not provide evidence otherwise drawing Spencer’s testimony on these points into question. In other words, all the evidence presented on this issue reasonably suggested that the parties’ marital standard of living included each party having use of at least one of the two vehicles during the marriage, both of which were subject to associated loan obligations incurred during the marriage. See Anderson v. Anderson, 2018 UT App 19, ¶ 32, 414 P.3d 1069 (concluding the court properly included a car loan payment in the receiving spouse’s needs where the evidence established that during the marriage the parties’ basic needs included a car for the receiving spouse). And there is no indication in the court’s findings that it disbelieved the parties’ testimony about vehicle use, or the legitimacy or the amount of the debt on either vehicle.

¶36 Moreover, as with the student loan debt, Spencer was assigned the vehicle loan debt. And as explained, all else being equal, marital debts generally constitute legitimate expenses affecting a payor spouse’s needs and ability to provide alimony to the receiving spouse. See Connell v. Connell, 2010 UT App 139, ¶ 12, 233 P.3d 836 (“An adequate analysis of the factor regarding ability to pay must do more than simply state the payor spouse’s income. The court must also consider the payor spouse’s needs and expenditures, such as housing, payment of debts, and other living expenses.” (cleaned up)); Willey v. Willey, 866 P.2d 547, 551–52 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (explaining that allocated marital debts should be included in assessments of the parties’ needs and abilities to provide alimony).

¶37 Thus, as with the student loan debt, without additional explanation, we are unable to sustain the court’s decision to disallow both vehicle loan payments from Spencer’s monthly expenses. See Paulsen v. Paulsen, 2018 UT App 22, ¶ 17, 414 P.3d 1023. As a result, we reverse the court’s ruling on this issue and remand for reconsideration and entry of adequate findings.

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