The end of a marriage is the start of a new life for both spouses. Often, however, one spouse will need additional economic resources to begin that next chapter. Perhaps the husband or wife had left the workforce to help raise a family, or made other sacrifices that have left them without the ability – at least for a while – to support themselves. In such cases, Colorado law provides for the awarding of spousal maintenance and support as part of the final divorce decree.
When is Spousal Maintenance Awarded in Colorado?
Spousal maintenance, also called alimony, is typically awarded to the spouse who earns less income in order to make the separation fair and equitable and give each party an equal shot of moving forward with success. Given these underlying reasons behind spousal maintenance, awards are usually temporary, terminating after a given amount of time unless circumstances dramatically change. How long maintenance will be awarded and how much the amount of maintenance will be every month depends on a number of factors established by Colorado law.
Colorado dramatically changed its laws regarding spousal maintenance in 2014. The new law established guidelines for calculating the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards. Prior to the change in the law, spousal maintenance awards were often criticized for being inconsistent and unpredictable, with similarly situated couples often being subject to wildly different arrangements. The new law, which applies to all couples whose combined income is less than or equal to $240,000, is designed to address those inconsistencies by providing clear guidance and formulas for judges to use in calculating maintenance awards.
The reality, however, is that judges retain broad discretion to disregard the guidelines as to the amount and duration of maintenance as long as they first calculate what the award would be using the guidelines and then issue a maintenance order that is “fair and equitable to both parties based upon the totality of the circumstances.”
Factors Considered in Awarding Spousal Maintenance in Colorado
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.
Spousal 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 has to take care of a child whose condition or circumstances make it inappropriate to work outside the home.
How Long is Spousal Maintenance Paid in Colorado?
The biggest factor in determining how long spousal maintenance will be required is the length of the marriage. While there are no maintenance guidelines for marriages that lasted less than three years, the duration of maintenance will be calculated based on a percentage of the length of the marriage, with that percentage increasing the longer a marriage lasted.
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.
How is the Amount of Spousal Maintenance Calculated?
The guidelines set forth various calculations for the determination of monthly spousal maintenance amounts. Typically, maintenance will be 40% of the top earner’s adjusted gross monthly income minus 50% of other spouse’s adjusted gross monthly income. As noted, however, the guidelines are just that – guidelines – and how much will actually be awarded by a judge will depend on the specific circumstances of each case
Other factors involved in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance in Colorado include 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. Additionally, down the road either party can ask the court to modify a spousal maintenance award as to either duration or amount if circumstances have significantly changed.
The financial benefits of receiving a spousal maintenance award and the financial burdens of paying one can have an enormous impact on the lives of both spouses long after a marriage has ended. If you are going through a divorce in Colorado, how spousal maintenance will impact your life will depend upon whether you have retained a Colorado divorce lawyer who has a full understanding of the law as well as the skill and experience to ensure that your rights and well-being are fully protected.