The Appellate Group

McFarland v. McFarland

McFarland v. McFarland, 2021 UT App 58 (Harris, J.)


A couple divorced under a stipulated divorce decree and, afterward, ignored many of the decree’s most significant provisions. Eight years later, father filed a petition to modify, and mother requested that the court hold husband in contempt. Both parties appeal the court’s ruling. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, finding:

  • The district court correctly determined that father owed mother alimony under Scott v. Scott, 2017 UT 66, because their cohabitation had ended years before father filed his petition to modify.
  • The district court erred when it concluded that father’s child support obligations to mother ended when mother moved out in 2010 and father became custodian of children. Utah Code section 78B-12-108(2) does not apply, because physical custody did not change under the provisions of that statute. Physical custody is a “legal responsibility to provide supervision and control.” Father took no legal steps to change physical custody until 2017.
  • The district court erred when it determined that father did not owe mother child support based upon principles of equity. No principle of law or case allows courts to override family law statutes for purposes of equity.
  • The district court correctly determined that mother did not owe father child support after she was deployed.
  • Practice point: Because both parties argued the merits of the appeal under the statutory cohabitation language and not the language of the decree, the court will consider the outcome under the statutory language, as the Utah Supreme Court has done.

Read the full court opinion