Colorado is considered an alimony-friendly state. If you're thinking about divorce or have already started the process, we encourage you to take some time to learn how the state's alimony laws could affect you.
Knowing your rights could help you now as well as in the future.
Divorce proceedings can be complicated and messy affairs, even without factoring in the emotional component. Our Colorado Springs alimony attorneys at The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates can provide you with the legal advice and support you will need to navigate your maintenance agreements. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!
Alimony or Spousal Support
Before we dive into Colorado's alimony law, we want to point something out: The state of Colorado refers to alimony as "spousal maintenance." Alternatively, you may see it referred to as spousal support. Whichever term you use, spousal maintenance, spousal support, or alimony, the idea is the same. Any El Paso County divorce lawyer will know what you're talking about regardless of what you call it.
Understanding Colorado Alimony
Spousal maintenance is a payment made by a higher-earning partner to a lower-earning partner to ensure that the lower-earning partner doesn't become destitute during or after a divorce. Neither party is automatically entitled to spousal support, and unless the spouses agree, the courts must evaluate and calculate the amount of support depending on the unique factors of each case.
The Different Types of Colorado Alimony
Colorado courts recognize several different types of spousal maintenance during and after a divorce, including:
This is financial support from one spouse to another during the divorce process. When couples split up, they often stop sharing their income.
Divorcing spouses who were not the primary earners for their families would often face a difficult time if they were forced to divide their income equally. A requesting spouse can ask the Court for an order requiring the other spouse to pay spousal support until the judge finalizes their divorce.
Rehabilitative support is the most common type in Colorado (and most states). The purpose of rehabilitative spousal support is for the higher-earning spouse to provide financial assistance so that the lower-earning spouse can acquire essential job skills or career education to enter the workforce and ultimately become self-supporting.
This is common when one spouse leaves a career to raise a child. Typically, the court orders rehabilitative support for a certain period of time, which is usually long enough for the recipient to gain the skills necessary to get a new job and become financially independent
This is for cases when one spouse paid for the education or job training of the other spouse during their marriage. When two people get married, both partners will benefit from the advances in training, but when they separate, only one partner will receive the benefits. If the court determines that it is appropriate, the judge may require the recipient of the training or education to pay spousal maintenance to the other spouse.
Courts today reserve permanent support for the extreme cases where one spouse is unable either to become financially independent or to gain employment skills to become financially independent, usually due to advanced age, illness, or disability. It's unusual for permanent alimony to last forever, but it's not unheard of. The court will usually set an end date for support.
Eligibility and Amount of Support in Colorado
It's a common misconception that only women will qualify to receive spousal maintenance. On the contrary, a court's only concern is whether the award of spousal support is fair and equitable and whether the requesting spouse can demonstrate a need for support and whether the other spouse can afford the support.
The court usually considers spousal maintenance only appropriate when the marriage has lasted for more than three years. When deciding whether to award spousal maintenance, Colorado courts consider the following factors:
- The financial resources of each spouse, including the actual or potential income from separate or marital property
- The ability of the paying spouse to meet each spouse's financial needs
- The lifestyle of each spouse during the distribution of the marital estate
- The combined income of each party, as well as employment or employability obtained through reasonable diligence and additional training/education
- The historical earning potential of each party, as well as the duration and consistency of income from overtime or secondary employment
- The length of the marriage
- The amount and duration of temporary support during the divorce proceedings
- The health and age of each party, to include whether either spouse has significant health care needs or uninsured health care expenses
- The contribution of each spouse to the other's educational, economic, or occupational advancement
- Any other factors deemed to be relevant by the court
Once the court makes an initial ruling that support is appropriate, a judge must then determine the duration and amount of maintenance.
Unlike in other states, Colorado judges have the formula to determine the level of support they should award. The formula provides for an initial monthly payment to the lower-earning spouse of 40 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s monthly adjusted gross income minus half of the lower-earning person’s monthly adjusted income.
Before applying the formula for maintenance, the court will consider whether either party makes or gets child support or spousal maintenance payments for children outside the current marriage. For example, if the person who earns more than the other person makes $10,000 a month, and the other person earns $2,000 a month, but neither makes nor receives payments for children from another marriage, the court may deviate from the formula because it feels that the higher-earning person has enough income to pay for his or her own child care expenses.
Either party can request a deviation from this formula for unfairness, but the court must explain its reasons for the decision. If the court grants a deviation, then it must use the percentage of the difference between the parties' incomes to calculate the maintenance payment. Both spouses can also waive temporary maintenance, but they must both agree to do so. They must specify the reasons why they're waiving temporary maintenance. A judge may reject a waiver agreement if he or she thinks it's unfair.
If the court awards alimony for marriages that lasted less than 3 years, but the property division award doesn't provide an equitable result for the spouses, the court may consider the above factors.
Paying and Receiving Maintenance
Parties can agree to terms of support, including payment methods and frequency throughout the maintenance term. If the couple cannot come to an agreement, the judge will rule. Most of the time, periodic payments (usually on a monthly basis) are appropriate. The court will issue a wage garnishment order, which tells the employer to deduct the award from the employee's paycheck directly.
If the paying spouse can afford to pay child support in a lump sum, the court may allow it. With a lump sum payment, there is no ongoing obligation to pay monthly support; and the recipient doesn't need to worry about non-payment.
If the paying spouse doesn't meet his/her maintenance obligations, the recipient may ask the court for help collecting the payments. Failure to pay child support can lead to fines, court appearances, license suspensions, bank account freezes, tax return intercepts, or jail sentences.
Termination or Modification of Spousal Maintenance
Unless a couple has a written agreement for non-modifiable maintenance stating that they won't seek changes to maintenance payments if there is a material change in circumstances, a court can modify the payments. Absent an agreement to terminate maintenance, maintenance generally ends when the recipient remarries, or when either party dies.
Spousal Maintenance and Taxes
For divorces finalized before December 31, 2018, maintenance payments are taxable income to the recipient and tax-deductible for the payer. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the tax deduction and reporting requirements for maintenance for divorces that were finalized on or after January 1, 2019.
Work with an Experienced Attorney at The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson
If you are thinking about separating, divorcing, or having an annulment, then you owe it to yourself to contact the team at our family law firm in Colorado. We know exactly what to expect and we're able to advise you to get through an emotionally draining situation. We remain calm and collected when tempers flare, helping you see things clearly. We're not here to mediate your divorce; we're here to win for you.
When you're facing a divorce, we know that it's not easy, especially when you've been married for a long time with children. We also know what it takes to win in these situations. We have experience on our side, so we know what works and what doesn't. We advocate for you and your children so that you get everything that you deserve. We're relentless in court and work hard to help our clients get more than expected from their cases. Contact a family law attorney at The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates today to see how we can help you!