Nine Ways Colorado Divorcees Make Their Lives Even Messier

Allison Sutton
By: Allison Sutton
PublishedApr 2, 2024
9 minute read

“Your life is a mess!” usually isn’t something you’ll hear in divorce court. But the bitter, unsalvageable end of a marriage can sure feel like a mess. Things may be bad right now, and they may not get better for some time. But, there are some steps you can take to make sure your circumstances don’t get any worse. Here are nine things to carefully consider so your life doesn’t get messier.

Bottom Line: 

Divorce can be a stressful, expensive process. If you want to be in a position to make your life better, you need an experienced family law attorney in your corner before the divorce is finalized.

One: Alimony 

In Colorado, spousal maintenance, often called “alimony,” involves monetary payments from one spouse to another after a divorce. These payments are separate from child support. Not every lower-earning spouse can get maintenance payments. Even when they can, the award is meant to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain their lifestyle until they can get on their own feet.

When awarded, maintenance is intended to help the lower-earning spouse maintain their lifestyle until they become self-sufficient.

How much monthly maintenance a lower-earning spouse gets, and for how long, depends on a number of factors. First, he or she must qualify. That means they must first establish that they have a need for support, and that the other party has the ability to pay.

After that, other factors come into play, such as::

  • the length of the marriage
  • the earning ability of each spouse
  • the amount of financial support given during the marriage, and
  • the lifestyle enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage.

These factors have been established by Colorado law.

Never-ending Payments 

Yes, you can wind up paying lifelong maintenance to your ex under certain circumstances. A court may award an indefinite term of maintenance if:

  • your marriage lasted at least 20 years, and/or
  • your ex is unable to find employment due to advanced age, or poor health

Note: Extenuating circumstances can justify deviation from statutory guidelines in either the amount or duration of maintenance.

You will not necessarily save money during divorce if you must go to court years later to modify a bad outcome. When spousal maintenance is at issue, having an attorney who can argue for the appropriate amount and duration based on the case facts at the time of the decree is crucial.

Post-decree modifications of spousal maintenance are subject to different analyses and factors compared to pre-decree determinations.

You may also pay indefinite alimony if you agree to such terms with your ex out of court, which I’ll discuss next.

Contractual Alimony 

Contractual spousal payments negotiated out of court can be made non-modifiable if both parties agree to that. Otherwise, the agreement can be modified.

Once a contractual alimony agreement becomes part of a court-adopted separation agreement, contract law no longer applies. It becomes a property settlement incorporated into a decree. From then on, specific rules of civil procedure and modification statutes govern modifications.

Pros and Cons of Out-of-Court Agreements 

Now, this has its pros and cons. You could negotiate a lower alimony payment than the court would order you. So that’s a pro for the payor. But if the payor loses their job, they’re still on the hook for the full payment because they cannot modify it. So, that’s con. There are similar pros and cons for the recipient.

Before you agree to locking yourself into unchangeable payments, discuss the pros and cons with your attorney so you don’t wind up in financial disaster.

Two: Accepting a Disproportionate Division of Assets and Debts 

There are a couple of ways you could end up accepting an unfair share of the marital property. One, you agree to it. This can happen if you don’t feel like arguing over everything, or simply desire a quicker process. Still, it’s best to speak with your attorney. He or she can help you understand your options so you can make an informed decision either way.

Now, another way this happens is when a spouse is unaware of all of the financial details in the marriage. If you suspect your spouse of nefarious transactions, talk to your attorney about how you can untangle unfamiliar debts and uncover hidden assets.

Parties have a special duty of full, complete, and affirmative disclosure to each other. If something wasn’t disclosed, the aggrieved party can reopen the property division within the 5-year look-back period.

Read our legal guide to learn more about dividing marital property.

Three: Just ‘Going Along’ with the Mediator 

Colorado family law cases require mediation before going to court. This includes divorce. You might even prefer mediation over fighting your spouse in court over every major and minor thing.

Mediation can be a smoother, cost-effective process for ending a marriage. A professional negotiator meets with the spouses (and their lawyers) in separate rooms. The mediator goes back and forth until the sides reach agreement on key matters, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and parenting time. Mediation sessions normally last 2 hours. However, parties can request a half day or even a full day if necessary.

The Mediator’s Role 

Mediators are supposed to guide discussions and facilitate a divorce settlement as neutral third parties, without giving legal advice. The mediator’s job is to get a settlement, however, some do end up taking sides. If one spouse is naturally more persuasive, they can dominate the negotiations and sway the mediator. You might feel pressured to accept terms you don’t like, all because the other side is pushy and expresses themselves better.

The problem is, judges rarely alter these settlements once they’re drawn up and signed.

Your attorney represents your interests. A good lawyer will prepare several options and scenarios for you in advance. When he or she understands what’s important to you, you won’t need to speak up. Your lawyer will. Even if you have no problem pushing back, it helps to have experienced counsel who can sharpen the argument just so.

Four: Trusting Your Spouse to Be Fair About Asset Division 

After being married to someone for years, you believe you truly know them. Unfortunately, many Coloradans find during divorce that they only thought they knew their spouse.

People change over time. The stresses of divorce can make them malleable enough to do jaw-droppingly selfish things.

Deceitful Tactics 

Here’s the bad news: Sometimes when a spouse’s behavior calls for divorce, you still don’t know the extent of it. Even when they apologize in tears, vowing a simple, fair dissolution, you don’t know what they’re thinking. Don’t let your guard down.

Here are some dishonest pre-divorce tactics our firm has seen spouses do over the years:

  • Hiding Assets: A spouse anticipating divorce might conceal assets, such as funneling money into hidden accounts or not disclosing new income or property. Fortunately, there are signs to look for if you suspect your spouse of doing this. There are also methods — such as discovery and/or financial releases — to uncover whatever the other party tries to hide.
  • Improper Use of Marital Assets: Imagine you’ve caught your spouse cheating on you. That’s bad enough. What you don’t know yet is how much of the marital money he or she might have spent while doing so. This is one example of wasting marital assets. Anything your spouse does to squander money or assets belonging to both of you falls under the ‘wasting’ category.
  • Devaluing Assets: A spouse may intentionally neglect the upkeep of marital assets, causing them to lose value. For example: Your soon-to-be-ex, anticipating divorce, allows the family business or home to depreciate in value through neglect or intentional actions.
  • Favoring Their Own Interests: One spouse funnels money into personal ventures at the expense of marital obligations. For example: Instead of repairing a leaking roof, the spouse spends family savings on equipment to start their own YouTube channel. Technically, this falls under the umbrella of wasting marital assets.
Nipping Waste in the Bud 

If you suspect misuse of marital assets, hire an aggressive divorce lawyer skilled in financial scrutiny. Robinson & Henry has several such attorneys. They can uncover secret spending through court-ordered document reviews, interrogatories, and depositions.

Exposed spending must relate to the marriage’s decline or non-marital purposes before divorce. Once exposed, the wasteful spouse must justify the secret expenses. If unjustified, courts can compensate the other spouse by adjusting asset division.

For example: A spouse found to have misspent $120,000 may cause marital assets to drop from $400,000 to $280,000. The court could compensate the other spouse by awarding them $120,000. Thus, they’d receive $140,000, half of the remaining assets, plus the $120,000, totaling $260,000.

Five: Giving Up in the Custody Battle 

As bad as divorce can be, emotions get even more intense when children are involved. A common mistake some parents make is withdrawing from the custody fight for the sake of the kids. Unfortunately, this can backfire in ways you never intended.

Whatever your reasons for backing down in a custody fight — even if you worry about the stress on your kids — you risk appearing disinterested to the court. You might feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, failure, hopelessness, or worry. Meanwhile, the court will be basing child custody decisions on what’s in the best interests of the child(ren).

You need to keep your head in the game.

Stay in the Fight 

Several variables factor into how the court will allocate parental responsibilities and parenting time. If you are unable or unwilling to demonstrate a commitment to your kids, key rulings could go against you.

If you want a favorable custody ruling it’s important to:

Attend custody hearings,

Maintain active involvement in your children’s lives,

Control your emotions,

Gather supporting evidence and witnesses, and

Hire an experienced child custody lawyer.

Even if you’re feeling down, your attorney can pick up the child custody torch and carry it for you.

Six: Accepting an Unfavorable Child Support Ruling 

What is an unfavorable child support ruling? It depends on which side of the transaction you’re on. Custodial parents want adequate child support, while non-custodial parents hope to avoid paying more than necessary. Rushing through a divorce can lead to either side accepting less-than-optimal support amounts.

Colorado bases child support payments on something called the Income Shares Model. It’s a statutory formula based on two main factors:

  1. The parents’ combined gross monthly income, and
  2. How many nights the child spends with each parent.

It only gets more complicated from there. You might toss up your hands and assume you’ll get by with whatever the court orders. That can be a huge mistake. Prioritizing a quick divorce over your children’s needs could result in an unfavorable outcome for you and your kids.

When You’re Paying Too Much 

Let’s assume you didn’t scrutinize your own financial situation closely enough before negotiating a certain monthly amount. Now you’re paying more child support than you can afford. You’re bitter, feeling cheated, and looking for a way out.

You consider quitting your moderately high-paying job for a much lower-paying position. Then, you can ask the court to run the numbers and order a lower monthly payment. However, that won’t work. The court still will assess your earning power, and assign payment amounts based on that, not your new low-paying position.

If you fall too far behind on payments, you are vulnerable to:

  • wage garnishment,
  • confiscation of your tax return check,
  • seizure of your driver’s license,
  • having liens placed on your bank account and/or property,
  • negative credit reporting, and
  • contempt of court charges, which can entail fines and even jail time.

Note: Unpaid child support accrues interest over time. The longer you go without paying, the more you’ll owe.

When You’re Receiving Too Little 

It’s one thing if your co-parent is not sending payments on time, or at all. At least there are enforcement mechanisms to address that. But what if the court misunderstood your limited finances and ordered too little child support?

Child support is meant to help cover the costs of food, housing, clothing, daycare, school supplies, and preventative dental and medical care. Those are just the basic expenses. If a child has special needs, requires emergency medical care, or mental health counseling, you could go into debt quickly.

Modifications Are Not Easy 

An unfavorable ruling could mean going back to court to modify the judge’s original orders. However, that also can be an expensive, tedious process — with little chance of success. A court will not consider modifying child support orders without evidence of a substantial and continuing” change of circumstances. Even then, the change must affect the child support order by at least 10 percent.

Seven: Assuming That the Court Will Help You

The court is not your friend. If you hope to extract patience and assistance by representing yourself, think again. The court will not be amused or sympathetic watching you smarm, stammer, and shrug your way through proceedings.

Colorado’s clerks, judges, and lawyers are busy and take civil procedure seriously. They don’t have time to hold your hand. If you choose to represent yourself, you’ll be held to the same high standards as any attorney. You’ll be expected to:

  • file motions and documents correctly, and on time,
  • present and admit evidence properly,
  • attend hearings,
  • call and cross-examine witnesses,
  • bring in expert witnesses as needed, and
  • follow all other protocols of decorum and procedure.

Don’t invite disaster by attempting a Do-It-Yourself Divorce. Either hire an attorney, or negotiate a settlement out of court with your spouse.

Eight: Choosing the Wrong Attorney 

Nobody thinks about hiring a divorce attorney until they need one. Then, they tend to ask friends, family, and colleagues to recommend somebody. A lawyer can do a fantastic job for your friend, and still not be the best fit for your divorce.

Every family — and almost every divorce — is different. What worked for others will not necessarily work for you. The wrong attorney for your matter can lead to the wrong outcome. The worst part? You’ll still be billed for it. That’s a mess!

The Right Divorce Lawyer 

So how do you know if you’ve found the best attorney for your divorce? Here are a few indications:

  • They’re experienced with divorce and have tried many cases in court
  • specialize in divorce and family law cases
  • They work for a big enough firm to have administrative staff to increase efficiency and support
  • They have handled divorces and family law matters in your county, and
  • They are accessible and keep you up to date on your case.

Those are the basic qualities a good divorce attorney should have. Still, it’s important to interview a few and find one you connect with. Keep in mind, you’ll be working closely with your divorce lawyer. He or she will learn intimate details of your life, things you wouldn’t necessarily share with others. It’s important to feel a sense of trust and chemistry when speaking with your attorney.

Nine: Assuming it’s Easy to Change Your Divorce Decree 

Nothing about the divorce process is particularly easy. Why, then, would anyone assume it’s easy to change a court’s final orders?

A divorce decree is legally binding. It is literally the written orders of the court. It is possible to modify certain orders when necessary, but “possible” does not mean “easy.”

Modifying any part of the divorce decree requires filing a motion with robust evidence, showing substantial and continuing change. For example: Minor changes, like a small raise, or a recent job loss, are typically insufficient to modify alimony payments. Furthermore, courts prefer that parties try resolving disputes between themselves before seeking modifications. That’s fine — if you want to spend even more time trying to negotiate with your ex.

Making and Cleaning Up Messes

You make a bigger mess of your life by trying to cut costs and corners during your divorce. Modifying court orders can help clean it up, but you could end up spending a lot more money. Divorce is one thing you should try to get right the first time.

Having good counsel in your corner helps. An experienced, aggressive divorce attorney won’t come cheap. But they can put you in a better position to enjoy your money, your children, your property, and your life once the divorce is final.

Don’t Go Through Divorce Alone 

If you are headed for divorce, make sure the settlement and court orders reflect your rights and interests. Divorce can be managed smoothly with the right lawyer in your corner. Call (303) 688-0944 to  begin your case assessment.

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