Divorce is complicated, and its proceedings vary from state to state. One of the foremost concerns for both sides of a divorcing couple is alimony. Also known as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support”, this is essentially a payment made for a period of time to help a divorced spouse who isn’t able to fully support themselves at the time of divorce.
A typical example would be if one spouse stayed at home while the other worked. The working spouse may be required to provide spousal support for the stay-at-home spouse after the divorce.
Does this apply to your divorce? How much money can you expect to pay or receive? Can that amount ever be adjusted? Alimony isn’t something most people think about deeply until it impacts them. If your divorce proceedings are happening in Colorado, we’ve put together some answers to some of the most pressing questions our Colorado Springs alimony lawyers receive.
Who Qualifies For Spousal Support?
Earning spousal support isn’t guaranteed the moment you tie the knot. In fact, it’s almost never guaranteed. Each request for spousal maintenance is carefully examined by the court. Even if your case meets the requirements, you still may not be rewarded that monthly maintenance.
After a legal separation, one spouse must file a request for alimony. Those who qualify for spousal support must have been married for at least ten years. Certain exceptions can be made for those whose marriages fall outside of that bracket, but in general, the requirement is ten years.
As noted earlier, the spouse seeking alimony must also meet specific, individual requirements. They must be in a position where:
- They don’t possess sufficient property to reasonably cover their needs
- They cannot support themselves through traditional employment or their current monthly income if any
- They are the custodian of a child whose circumstances make it impossible or unreasonable for them to seek employment
But what does it mean when we talk about a spouse’s ability to “support themselves”? How do courts determine something like that? The next section digs a little deeper into what this process entails.
How is Spousal Support Determined in Colorado?
A significant factor in determining spousal support is the combined AGI, or adjusted gross income, of both parties. If that combined income is less than $75,000, a maintenance formula is used to calculate spousal support. For those whose combined AGI is more than $75,000, a family law judge must examine the case individually.
In addition to AGI, factors such as the amount of marital property and the length of the marriage are considered by judges when determining the amount of spousal support. Marital misconduct can also influence that number. As a result experienced divorce lawyers often recommend their clients avoid any marital misconduct during the divorce process, even if separated.
It is important to note that spousal support is taxable income in Colorado, and this, among other factors, makes it difficult for spouses and family law attorneys to use a set formula for every divorce, regardless of the length of the marriage.
How is Alimony Awarded in Colorado?
Both parties must agree to the payment method and how frequently the alimony payments will be made before an official court order is issued. If both parties cannot agree, a family court judge will make the decision for them.
Typical spousal support is awarded via direct payments to the spouse on a monthly basis. But that’s not the only option. Both parties may agree to a lump sum payment via cash or property, for example. While these monthly payments are the norm, the court can reach a different conclusion depending on additional factors.
It’s important to be aware that courts take these payments seriously. Failure to make timely and accurate spousal support payments can result in court involvement and ultimately in fines or even jail time.
Types of Alimony
There are five types of spousal support, but in Colorado, the most basic types are temporary and long-term.
Temporary maintenance, or temporary alimony, is the support that can be awarded during the divorce proceedings. Regardless of the length of these proceedings, this type of support can not last longer than three years.
Long-term spousal support, also known as permanent alimony, is granted after the divorce proceedings in cases where the judge has determined that the lower-earning spouse is going to require support over a significant time period.
Other types of alimony include short-term support (or rehabilitative alimony), reimbursement alimony, and separation alimony. Short-term support is paid in order to assist the dependent spouse until they are able to provide for themselves. A spousal support award is meant to compensate for contributions during the marriage that resulted in financial sacrifice. Separation alimony is paid in cases of separation, not divorce.
The Length of a Spousal Support Arrangement
As previously noted, temporary maintenance awards can last up to three years. Several factors can determine how long that support will last within that three-year period, but in general, the longer the marriage, the longer the support arrangement.
What about long-term spousal support? In spite of the implications, long-term spousal support is not necessarily indefinite. As with short-term support, that length is impacted by the length of the marriage. While some states don’t allow permanent spousal support, Colorado does. It all depends on the type of support ordered and the length of the marriage.
Even in cases where indefinite support is awarded, that support can end. If the recipient spouse remarries, if financial circumstances change significantly, or if a party perishes, then even indefinite support may come to an end.
Can Maintenance Orders Be Changed?
The spousal support arrangement after a divorce decree can be modified if a significant change in circumstances should arise. These circumstances can include remarriage, change in financial situation, or death.
If the dependent spouse gets remarried, most spousal arrangements will be terminated, and alimony payments will end. This is usually outlined in the initial court order and does not require any official changes to the documents.
However, if either party undergoes a significant financial change, they must prove that this change is going to impact them for a length of time before any modifications to the spousal arrangement can be made. This can include situations like job loss or health complications that affect their economic lives. Again, the party must prove that the situation is not short-term in order for any changes to be made to the court order.
In the case of either party’s death, spousal maintenance is usually terminated, unless other arrangements were outlined in the initial court order. As with the case of remarriage, no modification requests on behalf of the surviving party will be necessary.
Where to Find a Good Family Law Attorney
Finding experienced divorce attorneys makes all of the difference when going through a contested divorce. You need a team that will treat you with empathy, and respect, and offer sound legal advice during one of the most stressful periods of your life.
The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates, P.C have been serving the Colorado Springs area for over 17 years. We advocate for your interests in the areas of divorce, spousal support, child custody, and more. We even offer discounts for military personnel. Schedule a consultation with our family law firm today by either calling our office or through our convenient contact form!