The divorce process can activate a wide range of emotions. Attempting to adjust to a whole new life while navigating the legal process can create anxiety and fear for many. Getting answers from a lawyer about your concerns regarding how spousal support works in Colorado Springs can help alleviate some of your worries about your financial situation.
Understanding the conditions surrounding alimony is one way to prepare and gain some peace of mind through such a difficult experience. On this page, we answer many common questions about spousal maintenance in the state of Colorado. If you have any additional questions or would like to discuss your options for alimony after a divorce schedule a consultation with our Colorado Springs family lawyer.
When is Spousal Maintenance Awarded in Colorado?
Alimony is the legal obligation of a higher-earning spouse to pay a lower-earning spouse during or after divorce. In the state of Colorado spousal maintenance is a reference to alimony. You may also encounter the term "spousal support," but they all mean the same thing.
Spousal maintenance awards are not granted in all divorces. A judge will decide if the circumstances of the separation meet the "threshold determination of maintenance." This is a fancy way of asking if the requesting spouse actually needs support. The requesting spouse must lack sufficient property to support themselves and is also unable to provide for their reasonable needs through employment. Simply put, the lower-earning spouse cannot financially survive without aid.
When reviewing the financial resources of the requesting party, a judge will review all property including divided marital property, and award child support payments. They will also consider the spouse's future earning capacity.
Perhaps the requesting spouse has not worked in a long time and would need to pursue education or training in order to support themselves. Or maybe the spouse is unable to work because they must care for a dependant or are disabled. These factors help determine whether or not one party is really unable to adequately provide for themselves. If it is determined that both parties have enough financial resources to meet their reasonable needs, spousal maintenance will not be awarded.
The judge will also consider the financial resources of the higher-earning spouse. Such as would that person be able to provide for their own reasonable needs if they have to pay alimony to the other party.
If the spouse requesting support meets these requirements, the judge will move forward with setting an amount.
How Alimony is Determined
Alimony awards were often viewed as inconsistent and unpredictable. It was an arbitrary process with a wide range of outcomes depending on the couple and the judge involved. To eliminate the wild variance between similar cases, Colorado recently introduced a new law that provides guidelines to calculate a spousal support payment amount that is fair and equitable to both parties. The guidelines only apply to couples with a combined income of less than or equal to $240,000. For couples with combined earnings over $240,000, the process can be a bit more complicated.
The guideline calculations are actual math equations that help determine maintenance payments amount. The recommended maintenance amount is equivalent to 40% of the combined, adjusted gross income of the couple minus the lesser-earning party's adjusted gross income. If that value is zero or less, then no spousal support is awarded. Values above zero are then reduced by the appropriate tax percentage to determine the net maintenance amount. The net maintenance amount is the actual support payment amount.
This may sound confusing at first, so here is an example. If one spouse earns $36,000 a year and the other earns $84,000 a year, they have a combined income of $120,000, so they are within the $240,000 cap. Then the court will determine their monthly income. Spouse one earns $3,000 a month and spouse two earns $7000 a month, for a combined monthly income of $10,000 per month.
Forty percent of $10,000 is $4,000. The monthly gross income of the lesser-earning spouse is then subtracted from that value. So, $4,000 minus $3,000 is $1,000. The tax amount for this income bracket is estimated at 20%. Twenty percent subtracted from $1,000 equals $800. So $800 would be the recommended monthly payment amount.
It is important to remember that these are just guidelines. The court is not required to follow them. A judge can act with their own discretion to lower or raise the calculated amount.
Other factors that could influence the judge to deviate from the guidelines include:
- Age and health of each spouse. Will their employment or income be affected by their age or health?
- Standard of living is established by the marriage. Will either party lose the standards of living they had during the marriage?
- Marital property division. Could the assets be redistributed in a way that could negate the need for alimony?
- Child support payments. Do these funds cover the reasonable expenses of children and do they offset the income imbalance enough to avoid alimony?
- A significant contribution from one spouse to the other. This includes acts like paying for education, paying off debts, or increasing the value of property.
- The potential financial resources of each party. Is one party obtaining education or training that may increase their income?
- The past financial resources of each party. Did one consistently earn at a higher or lower rate that is not accurately reflected at the time of the divorce?
These are just a few factors that the courts may use to determine support payments. A judge may take any circumstances that they feel are relevant into consideration.
How Long Does Spousal Maintenance in Colorado Last?
The two major factors of spousal support are how much and for how long. Similar to the "how much" that we reviewed above, the "how long" is also determined using a calculation. This calculation is based on a percentage of the marriage duration. The threshold for these guidelines is a minimum of 3 years of marriage.
Essentially, the recommended lengths for alimony payments are between 1/3 and 1/2 the length of the marriage. One-third is for shorter marriages and working up to 1/2 for long-term marriages. That's the basics of how a judge may mandate payments, but here are a few examples that demonstrate that scale:
For marriages over 3 years, the courts are advised to award alimony for 31% of the length of the marriage or 11 months. Thirty-seven percent for marriages over 6 years which is 27 months. For marriages over 10 years, 54 months (4.5 years). For marriages over 15 years, 90 months (7.5 years). And for 20 years and up, 120 months (10 years) or indefinitely is recommended.
Types of Alimony
There are two main types of spousal support: statutory maintenance and contractual non-modifiable maintenance.
Statutory maintenance is the maintenance obligation outlined by the court. Temporary spousal maintenance or payments awarded to support one party during the length of the divorce process is a type of statutory maintenance. Contractual non-modifiable maintenance is an alimony agreement between the two parties which prevents the court from deciding for you. However, this type of alimony cannot be adjusted.
Does Alimony Change if Income Changes?
The short answer is no. Alimony does not automatically change if either party's income changes. But can it change? Yes. Either party can file a petition to alter the maintenance agreement as long as it is not outlined as non-modifiable.
Can I Modify Colorado Spousal Maintenance?
Yes. It is not an easy process, but spousal maintenance payments can be modified as long as the divorce decree does not specifically state they cannot be changed.
In order to make alterations, the filing party must prove substantial and continuing circumstances that make the payments unfair. A judge will most likely consider one of three following criteria:
- Sudden increase or decrease in income
- Change in the cost of expenses for children
- An unexpected loss of assets or property
If the request for alteration falls outside of these criteria, it is unlike that a judge will modify the maintenance support payments.
If you are in the process of divorce it is important to have a skilled family law attorney as your legal representation. The right Colorado Springs divorce lawyer can drastically change the outcome of your situation. At our firm we have more than just vast experience in family law, we have great experience in considering the emotional condition of our clients throughout divorce proceedings. Your divorce attorney should not be an additional stressor as you navigate this difficult time. Contact The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates to come out of this process stronger and happier.