Colorado is considered to be an alimony-friendly state. So, if you’re contemplating divorce or have already begun the process, we encourage you to take some time to understand how the state’s alimony laws could affect you. This article explores the different types of alimony and how it’s calculated in Colorado.
Knowing your rights could make a world of difference for you now – and down the road.
Alimony: What it’s Called in Colorado
Before we delve into Colorado’s alimony laws, we want to point out that the state of Colorado refers to alimony as spousal maintenance. You may even hear people call it spousal support.
Spousal maintenance, spousal support, or alimony – call it what you prefer. A divorce lawyer will know what you’re talking about.
The Effects of Alimony Reform
State legislatures around the county have passed alimony reform bills in recent years. Many of these new laws place limits on how long someone can receive spousal support. States have also begun to supply courts with equations to help determine maintenance amounts.
Colorado recently passed legislation to give family court judges some direction on how to allocate alimony.
Interesting Fact: Women have been the driving force in recent alimony reform efforts.
Alimony Reform in Colorado
In 2018, the Colorado general assembly passed legislation in an effort to make spousal maintenance decisions more equitable across the state’s family courts.
“there has been inconsistency in the amount and term of maintenance awarded in different judicial districts across the state in cases that involve similar factual circumstances” C.R.S.A. § 14-10-114
State law provides judges guidelines for determining how much spousal maintenance someone receives and for how long.
However, the law is merely a guide for the courts. A judge still has the latitude to order spousal maintenance amounts and terms above or below the guidelines – or none at all.
Judges are strongly encouraged to consider the state recommendations before rendering a decision.
Colorado family law attorneys report judges are closely following the recommended statutory alimony guidelines.
Types of Alimony
There are two types of alimony: statutory maintenance and contractual and non-modifiable maintenance.
A judge can only award statutory maintenance, which includes temporary maintenance before the divorce is finalized.
Contractual and non-modifiable maintenance can only be agreed upon between the divorcing parties.
Statutory maintenance is generally awarded at the hearing when a judge gives permanent orders and the marriage is dissolved. However, spousal maintenance can also be awarded when a couple legally separates.
The Colorado statute calls for the spousal support term to be a percentage of the length of the marriage.
For instance, on the low end of the spectrum, someone could receive alimony for less than a year. On the opposite end, someone could be awarded maintenance for ten years.
The alimony term chart addresses marriages between three and 20 years. If you and your spouse have been married for three years, you could owe alimony for 11 months, or 31 percent of the marriage.
The longer you’re married, the longer the suggested alimony term.
The term percentage increases the longer the marriage. So, for instance, if you’ve been married 7 and a half years the state recommends alimony for 40 percent of that time.
The statute caps suggested maintenance terms at 50 percent of the marriage.
Once you’ve been married for 12 and a half years, the maintenance term becomes 50 percent of the length of the marriage. If you’ve been married 20 years, you could receive – or pay – alimony for 10 years.
“An award of maintenance shall be in an amount and for a term that is fair and equitable to both parties and shall be made without regard to marital misconduct.” C.R.S.A. § 14-10-114
Alimony for Life
While some states have eliminated lifelong alimony, except in cases of elderly or disabled spouses, that is not the case in Colorado.
In marriages lasting longer than 20 years, a spouse can be awarded spousal maintenance for the rest of their life.
Alimony and Short Marriages
Even though the state’s spousal support term guideline does not include marriages lasting fewer than three years, that does not preclude a judge from awarding spousal support to someone after, say, one or two years of marriage.
Revising Statutory Maintenance
In Colorado, maintenance can be modified as long as the divorce decree does not specify it can’t be changed. Modifying maintenance, though, is pretty tough. There’s a legal standard to adjust alimony.
While awarding maintenance is partially based on guidelines, the law is very vague when it comes to modifying alimony.
You must show “changes in circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unfair,” according to Colorado law. But what’s unfair? Well, that depends on many factors.
Common Modification Request Scenarios
If you’re the alimony payor, for example, and you lose your job, you may think your situation warrants a modification. You may think it’s unfair to have to pay maintenance when you’re looking for work. A court may not agree with that. It will depend on your particular circumstances. A judge will want to know if you recently lost your job or if you’ve been out of work for six months with no job offers.
Now, let’s look at the recipient side. Let’s say your ex-spouse got a pay raise. It’s unfair for your ex-spouse to gets a raise and your alimony not to increase, right? No. A court will not immediately increase your support because your ex’s salary went up. A judge will want to know how your ex-spouse’s promotion or raise makes the original maintenance award unfair.
In both of these scenarios, a judge would examine the overall financial circumstances of both parties, such as debt and expenses.
Contractual and Non-Modifiable Maintenance
It’s fairly common for individuals who opt for a D-I-Y divorce to end up with non-modifiable maintenance. Why? Because they’re doing the paperwork themselves and may not realize what they’ve agreed to.
So it’s important, especially for divorce D-I-Yers, to understand that non-modifiable truly means non-modifiable.
When a couple enters into a contractual and non-modifiable spousal maintenance agreement, a court of law cannot amend it – not even if it seems unfair to one party later.
Why Consider a Non-Modifiable Agreement?
You may be wondering why anyone would elect to contractual and non-modifiable spousal support. Well, believe it or not, this type of alimony arrangement can be the right choice for some individuals.
The Pros and Cons of Non-Modifiable Alimony
If You’re the Payor
Pro – If you have a solid career and you receive a substantial pay increase after agreeing to non-modifiable maintenance, your ex-spouse cannot come back and try to negotiate for more alimony.
Con – If you you lose your job, you’ll have to figure out a way to continue meeting your maintenance obligations.
If You’re the Recipient
Pro – Non-modifiable maintenance can be a negotiating tool. The prospective paying spouse can sometimes be more willing to agree to your suggested payment if they know they won’t be exposed to alimony increases that are possible with statutory maintenance.
Con – If your ex-spouse hits the lottery or otherwise has a large income increase you cannot ask for more alimony.
Tip: Speak with a Lawyer
A family law attorney can tell you whether a non-modifiable agreement is right for you. They may suggest including some clauses in the agreement, such as a remarriage clause to cease the maintenance if the recipient gets married again.
Temporary maintenance is sometimes called separation alimony. If one spouse cannot financially support themselves while the divorce is pending, a judge can order the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal maintenance on a temporary basis.
Temporary maintenance ends when the divorce is final. At that time spousal support kicks in if it was awarded.
How Alimony is Determined
Maintenance is based on many factors. Income of each party is one of the most influential determinants. But, income is not the be-all-end-all to assured alimony.
Interesting fact: The U.S. Census reports a slight increase in men getting alimony. About three percent of alimony recipients are men.
The court examines both parties’ ability to make money and meet their own needs.
Judges also consider:
- the paying spouse’s ability to meet their own needs while paying spousal support
- the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage
- if the recipient spouse stays home with minor children
- whether the recipient spouse receives any marital property
- past earning history of both parties
- length of the marriage
- if temporary maintenance was paid
- each spouse’s age and health
- if the maintenance is taxable or tax deductible (see new federal alimony tax rules)
Additionally, the court reviews both parties’ economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage.
The judge reviews:
- if a spouse put the other spouse through college
- whether one stayed home with children so the other could focus on career goals
- if a spouse helped improve the other spouse’s personal property or real estate
“After considering the provisions of this section and making the required findings of fact, the court shall award maintenance only if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to him or her, to provide for his or her reasonable needs and is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it inappropriate for the spouse to be required to seek employment outside the home.” C.R.S.A. § 14-10-114
As you can see, how long you could receive – or pay – spousal maintenance depends on many considerations. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself before agreeing to a particular arrangement.
What Kind of Alimony Should You Aim For?
Alimony awards are based on many factors, and whether you receive or pay it will depend on your individual circumstances.
Call 303-688-0944 to begin your initial assessment. Robinson & Henry family law attorneys are here to help you determine the best approach for your specific needs.