Spousal Support (alimony) in Colorado
When you’re going through a dissolution of marriage action in Colorado (what we call a divorce) it’s important to know your rights and your potential exposure when it comes to spousal support. In Colorado, we use the terms spousal support or maintenance, not alimony or palimony, because spousal support awards are not determined based on gender. Unlike some states, Colorado is what we call a “no fault” state. That means that spousal support awards aren’t determined based on who engaged in any kind of marital misconduct (i.e. extra marital affairs, etc.)
This can be very frustrating to parties to a divorce in Colorado because there are always many emotions tied up with why the divorce is happening and most people think that the Court should look at who is requesting the divorce, why, and what has happened in the marriage to determine whether spousal support should be awarded. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), those considerations can’t play a part with the Court in awarding or denying spousal support or in determining its amount or the duration of support.
The Court will look at spousal support twice during your case if you request it. The first time will be at a Temporary Orders Hearing (if one of the parties properly requests and sets a Temporary Orders Hearing). At Temporary Orders and, with a change in the law effective for dissolution cases filed after January 1, 2014, at Final Orders there is a formula for the Court to consider if the parties fit within certain yearly income amounts. The formula basically says that you take 40% of the monthly gross income of both parties and subtract the monthly gross income of the lower income earner to come up with a guideline amount of spousal support. Additionally, as spousal support is no longer taxable to the person receiving it, for orders entered after January 1, 2019, there’s an additional adjustment to the number based on the total income of both parties (80% of the number if the combined income is $10,000 or less and 75% of the number if the combined income is $10,000 or more). Now this can absolutely be adjusted based on numerous factors and taking into consideration (for Temporary Orders) the payment of family expenses and debts. This is a guideline and not a set rule which must be followed and Courts may deviate from this formula. With the change in the law, there are also now guidelines for the Court to consider when setting the duration of spousal support after the final divorce if the parties’ marriage has been longer than three years. This doesn’t mean that the Court can’t grant maintenance for marriages less than three years, it just means that the guideline isn’t applicable for marriages shorter than three years.
The Court can still “award maintenance in short-term marriages…when, given the circumstances of the parties, the distribution of marital property is insufficient to achieve and equitable result.” The long story short of maintenance in Colorado is that, while there are some guidelines for the Court to consider, the judge doesn’t have to follow them and can look at a lot of different factors in determining what, if any, spousal support award should be made in a divorce.
It is important to know and understand the particular court you’re in as the judge has considerable discretion to do what he or she feels is fair in the circumstance. The mistake most people make in looking at spousal support is assuming that the formula and the guidelines are set rules, rather than guidelines that the Court has to consider, but not necessarily follow to the letter.