How Colorado Addresses Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)
Colorado legislators have responded to the national alimony reform movement.
Alimony, referred to in Colorado as spousal maintenance, is the payment of monetary support from one spouse to the other after a divorce or legal separation. Spousal maintenance can have a serious impact on the future lifestyle and financial health of either party after a divorce. Therefore, it is extremely important for courts to properly analyze and determine whether maintenance should be awarded and, if so, in what amount and for how long.
It is important, too, for individuals engaged in spousal support matters to work closely with an attorney. Simply put, a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer can ensure that your interests are asserted — and your rights protected — at every step. To learn more, reach out to the legal team at Fuller & Ahern, P.C. We’ve helped countless individuals in Parker and throughout the Denver metro area resolve their spousal maintenance matters. We’re uniquely positioned to help you, too.
A Brief History Of Colorado’s Spousal Support Guidelines
In 2013, concerned by an increasing trend in inconsistent maintenance awards among the state’s district courts, the Colorado Legislature enacted advisory maintenance guidelines to promote more consistency, fairness and equity statewide in maintenance awards.
The advisory guidelines, as detailed more fully below, instruct courts to take into account both the length of the marriage as well as the combined incomes of the parties when endeavoring to determine a potential maintenance award.
However, the advisory guideline amount is only a starting point for a court when determining whether a maintenance award is appropriate, what the amount of such an award should be and the duration, or term, of the award.
Stated another way, the guideline amount does not create a presumptive amount or term of maintenance that must be adopted by the court. Rather, when determining whether maintenance is appropriate or calculating the amount to award, a judge in Colorado still retains the ultimate discretion to determine whether an award of maintenance and the amount of such an award is “fair and equitable” under the unique factual circumstances of each case and/or whether it is appropriate to deviate up or down from the guideline amount.
It is worth noting, however, that one factor not considered by courts in Colorado is marital misconduct, as Colorado is a “no-fault” state, nor does it matter which party initiated the divorce proceedings.
Guidance For State Judges
If maintenance is requested by a party in a divorce proceeding, the Colorado maintenance statute requires the judge to engage in a complex and lengthy analysis aimed at determining whether the party seeking maintenance actually requires it and whether the party from whom maintenance is sought can afford to provide the maintenance in the amount and duration requested.
First, a judge in Colorado must determine:
- Each party’s gross income
- How the marital property will be divided
- Each party’s financial resources (including income from marital and/or separate property)
- The reasonable financial need of the party requesting maintenance
Second, a judge determines whether maintenance is appropriate and what amount and term would be fair and equitable by considering:
- The guideline amount and term (if the guidelines apply to the marriage)
- All relevant factors, including 12 factors enumerated in the statute itself (such as financial resources, marital lifestyle, property division, length of marriage, age and health of the parties, and several others)
- If the potential recipient lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her needs and is unable to support him/herself through appropriate employment (or because child custody responsibility would make employment inappropriate)
The Advisory Guideline Calculation
If maintenance is awarded after the court has addressed the foundational issues above, the court will look to the advisory guidelines if two things are true:
- The parties were married for at least three years.
- The parties’ combined annual adjusted gross income is below $240,000.
The new guidelines enacted by the Legislature are based upon a complex formula for courts to use when calculating the guideline amount of a maintenance award.
The formula for calculating the guideline amount of an award asks judges to calculate 40 percent of the higher earning party’s monthly adjusted gross income and subtract from that 50 percent of the lower earning party’s monthly adjusted gross income. The difference will be the guideline amount, unless this amount, when added to the recipient’s gross income, is more than 40 percent of the parties’ combined monthly adjusted gross income.
Unlike the amount of maintenance, the guideline duration of a maintenance award, or term, is set out in a table in the statute itself. The table includes marriages ranging from three years to 20 years. The table calculates a term by applying a different percentage value to different marriage durations. For example, the guideline term of maintenance for a three-year (36-month) marriage would be 11 months (after the guideline percentage applicable to a three-year marriage, or 31 percent, is applied) (36 times .31).
If a marital term is less than three years or over 20, the term will not be assigned a percentage or addressed in the table specifically, but there is guidance provided to courts under the guidelines for how to determine whether maintenance is appropriate for marriages under three years and over 20 years.
Again, however, the guideline amount and term of spousal maintenance are simply guidelines for the court to look to. The court may order amounts and/or terms above or below the guidelines, within its discretion.
Advisory Guidelines And Negotiations
Despite the foregoing, a couple seeking a divorce may decide that they do not want a judge to determine the maintenance award for them. If so, the parties can choose to negotiate an agreement regarding maintenance. However, even when negotiating maintenance informally, the advisory guidelines may be helpful and provide a reasonable starting point for the parties to consider. Additionally, maintenance agreements can be modifiable or fixed and nonmodifiable.
The foregoing notwithstanding, because of the complexity of the calculations and the long-term ramifications that an incorrect calculation could have, if you are facing a divorce and maintenance is an issue for either party, one should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced family law attorney before making any decisions regarding a maintenance amount or term. To not do so could drastically impact either your responsibility to pay or the amount you will receive over time.
The family law attorneys of Fuller & Ahern, P.C. with offices in Parker, serve clients all along the Front Range and assist clients with spousal maintenance calculations and negotiations and all other divorce and family law issues.