What should I know about spousal maintenance in Colorado?

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When is Spousal Maintenance Awarded in a Colorado Divorce?

“The economic lives of spouses are frequently closely intertwined in marriage and… it is often impossible to later segregate the respective decisions and contributions of the spouses. Consequently, awarding spousal maintenance may be appropriate if a spouse needs support and the other spouse has the ability to pay support.”

C.R.S. § 14-10-114

That is how the Colorado legislature explained the reasons behind spousal maintenance, also called alimony. But the “why” of spousal maintenance is much simpler than the “how much” and “how long.”  

There is no automatic right to alimony in Colorado, but it is often awarded on a temporary and sometimes long-term basis when one spouse is left at an economic disadvantage because of the sacrifices made and role played during the marriage. Perhaps one spouse left the workforce to help raise a family, or worked full-time to put the other spouse through medical school. In such cases, Colorado law provides for the awarding of spousal maintenance and support both during and after the divorce proceedings.

In 2014, Colorado dramatically changed the way spousal maintenance is awarded in the state. For all couples whose combined income is less than or equal to $240,000, mathematical guidelines were established for determining the duration and amount of maintenance after the legislature determined there was too much inconsistency and unpredictability in the way alimony was being granted.

Here are the basics you should know about Colorado alimony.

Either spouse can ask the court for an award of maintenance. When deciding whether to award spousal maintenance in a Colorado divorce, a judge will consider all of the following factors:

  • the financial resources of the spouse who is seeking maintenance, including any award of marital property or child support and their ability to meet their needs independently;
  • the financial resources of the spouse from whom alimony is sought including his or her ability to meet his or her reasonable needs while paying maintenance;
  • the future earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance, and any time necessary for education and training;
  • the lifestyle during the marriage; 
  • the distribution of marital property in the divorce proceedings;
  • the duration of the marriage; and
  • the physical and emotional condition and age of the spouse seeking maintenance.

Maintenance will be awarded only if the judge, after considering the foregoing factors, finds that the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her reasonable needs and is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment or needs to take care of a child whose condition or circumstances make it inappropriate or difficult to earn income outside the home.

Duration of Spousal Maintenance in a Colorado Divorce

The length of the marriage is the single biggest factor in terms of how long one spouse will be required to pay spousal maintenance; the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of alimony payments, generally. For marriages of at least three years but not more than 20 years, the law establishes guidelines that calculate the duration of maintenance based on a percentage of the length of the marriage, with that percentage increasing the longer a marriage endured.

For example, the recommended duration of permanent maintenance after a 5-year marriage is 21 months (35%), but the recommended maintenance term after 10 years of marriage is five and one-half years (45%), and the recommended term of maintenance is 50% of the length of the marriage for marriages that lasted 12 ½ years or more.

Determining the Amount of Spousal Maintenance 

As with the duration of alimony payments, the law establishes guidelines for determining the amount of maintenance to be paid every month. Typically, maintenance will be 40% of the top earner’s adjusted gross monthly income minus 50% of other spouse’s adjusted gross monthly income. 

For both duration and amount, it is important to remember that the law’s guidelines are just that – guidelines – and how much a judge will award and for how long will depend on the specific circumstances of each case. Family court judges retain broad discretion to disregard the guidelines so long as they first calculate what the award would be using those guidelines and then issue a maintenance order that is “fair and equitable to both parties based upon the totality of the circumstances.”  

Other factors can be taken into consideration in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance in Colorado, including whether there was a valid prenuptial agreement as to those issues, what arrangements the parties are able to agree upon during the divorce proceedings, including any temporary maintenance award while those proceedings are pending.

The ability of a spouse to begin building a new life during and after a divorce depends on a lot of things, but few are as important as having the financial means to do so. If you are going through a divorce in Colorado Springs, a fair maintenance award can be crucial to your future, and an experienced Colorado Springs family lawyer can be the key to making sure that happens. 

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