The Appellate Group

Scott v. Scott

Scott v. Scott, 2020 UT 54 (Lee, A.J.C.)


Years ago, the district court terminated appellant’s alimony order under the statutory language of Utah Code section 30-3-5-(10), and appellant successfully appealed. This time the district court terminated her alimony order under the terms of her divorce decree, which provides that alimony terminates “upon” her “cohabitation.” She again appeals. But this time the Utah Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, reversing only to award appellant her costs on her prior appeal, holding:

  • The district court did not err when it determined that appellant had cohabitated with her long-term Boyfriend, and so that under the language of her divorce decree she forfeited her alimony order. Cohabitation is difficult to define as there is no single prototype of marriage. And a district court is entitled to substantial deference in its fact-intensive determination on the existence of such a relationship. Here, while the couple maintained separate residences, they spent eighty percent of their time together in Boyfriend’s many homes and as globe-trotters due to Boyfriend’s immense wealth. Appellant was an authorized user on Boyfriend’s credit cards and bought personal items with Boyfriend’s money. The couple purchased a home together and wanted to grow old together in that home. They decorated the home with appellant’s furniture. Appellant moved to that home and put her condo up for sale. Boyfriend purchased appellant a diamond, and she told people her alimony was “fun money” she did not want to give up when she married Boyfriend. They had a sexual relationship for around thirty months, and they ended the relationship with a financial settlement of $110,000. Further, a “shared residence” is not a threshold requirement for a finding of cohabitation. “Shared residence” also does not mean legal domicile. The two had a common residence in the home they purchased together, even if the shared residency was short-lived. The district court did not err when it determined that the two had “entered into a relationship akin to that generally existing between husband and wife.” 
  • The mandate rule does not preclude appellant’s ex-husband from asserting that the language of the divorce decree controls here. Because ex-husband did not raise that argument and because the Utah Supreme Court used its discretion in Scott I not to address that argument as an alternative ground of affirmance, the court’s decision in Scott I left open the issue of whether the language of the decree led to a different result and even suggested as much.
  • The district court erred when it determined that appellant was not entitled to her costs on her prior appeal. Appellant won her first appeal and is entitled to her costs under rule 34 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure, because she invoked that rule and because no court ordered otherwise.

Read the full court opinion