For some people, getting a divorce is like cutting off their livelihood. Going from two incomes to one is hard enough, but for some stay-at-home parents, disabled spouses, and homemakers, a divorce can cut off their only means to provide for themselves. But is there a way to be supported during and after the divorce? How can you know if you will get alimony in your Colorado divorce?
This blog post will discuss how Colorado family court judges decide whether you get alimony in your divorce. It will review the factors that go into any award of spousal maintenance (the official name for alimony in Colorado) and what makes a good candidate for spousal support.
Colorado Law Allows for Temporary and “Permanent” Spousal Maintenance
Colorado law specifically acknowledges that, in many families, the incomes and finances of husband and wife (or spouse and spouse) become so tangled up that it takes time and effort to straighten everything out. For the spouse earning less money, that untangling can mean facing a future where your income doesn’t nearly measure up to the bills you will need to pay. It may take time for you to get a degree, renew certifications, or find a new job. Until then, you will need help making ends meet.
In Colorado, that help is called “spousal maintenance”. When you file for divorce in Colorado, you can ask the judge to award you “temporary” and “permanent” spousal maintenance based on your income, and the income of your spouse. Either spouse can ask for this, depending on the family’s circumstances. However, there is no guarantee that either spouse will have to pay the other.
“Temporary spousal maintenance” is awarded while the divorce case is still going on. It can be used to keep up with household bills, or maintain your standard of living. When a divorce is finalized, the final orders for dissolution of marriage may include an award of ongoing spousal support. This is called “permanent” spousal maintenance, not because it goes on forever, but because it continues after the divorce is final. In most cases, permanent spousal maintenance awards are based on the time it will take you to get back on your feet and begin to support yourself.
Colorado Spousal Maintenance Formula
If you or your spouse asks for alimony during or after the divorce, your attorney can help you estimate what that amount may be using the Colorado spousal maintenance formula. This formula provides a guideline for judges, lawyers, and spouses to find a length of time and amount of spousal maintenance appropriate given the family’s income. For couples who have been together between 3 and 20 years, that formula calculates spousal maintenance as:
(Payor’s Income + Recipient’s Income) x 40% – Recipient’s Income
If the recipient earns more than 40% of the parties’ combined income from all sources, then no alimony is appropriate. Otherwise, the guideline amount is the value needed to bring the recipient up to that 40% level.
Last year, the Colorado legislature adjusted the formula based on the new federal tax laws. Now that alimony is no longer automatically tax deductible by the payor or considered income to the payee, the law allows for the above award to be adjusted to account for the additional taxes. Depending on the family’s total monthly income, spousal maintenance guideline amount will be reduced to:
- 80% if the parties’ total adjusted monthly income is $10,000 or less
- 75% if the parties’ total adjusted monthly income is between $10,000 and $20,000
The formula also gives guidance for how long alimony is appropriate based on the length of the marriage. For a 3-year marriage, spousal maintenance under the formula will last 11 months (or 31%). Over time, that will increase to 50% of the length of the marriage starting at 150 months (12 ½ years). For marriages longer than 20 years, the judge can extend alimony for any length of time that may be appropriate.
Going Beyond the Math to Argue for Alimony
Spousal maintenance isn’t just about math, though. The spousal maintenance formula is a guideline, not a rule. Your judge can award alimony in whatever amount and duration is fair and appropriate. In deciding whether to award spousal maintenance, the court will consider a number of factors:
- The actual or potential income of each party, including bonuses, overtime, or seasonal layoffs.
- Your financial resources (including property like bank accounts or IRAs awarded to you in the divorce).
- Your ability to earn income in the future.
- How long it will take you to complete your education or receive training to find new employment.
- If your child’s care and support prevent you from working more.
- Whether awarding specific property (such as rental property) as part of the divorce could eliminate the need for support.
- The standard of living established during your marriage.
- The length of the marriage.
- Each party’s contribution (in money or otherwise) to the family.
- Your age, physical condition, and emotional condition.
- Whether your spouse will have the ability to support both households.
- Whether your spouse will be allowed to deduct the alimony payments for tax purposes.
Notice that fault is not a factor the court considers. Officially, Colorado divorce judges do not consider who caused the divorce when assigning alimony. However, the particular facts in a case may adjust a permanent spousal maintenance award. For example, if your spouse spent down the family assets because of a gambling problem, you will have fewer financial resources and the need for alimony may increase. However, if you are the primary caregiver of your children and also receiving child support, that will be considered part of your income and your alimony award could decrease.
Whether you fall under the formula or not, an experienced divorce attorney can advocate on your behalf, presenting your best case to the courts and getting you the support you need to start your new life after a divorce. At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers know how important alimony can be. We are here to serve you and your family. We will help you apply the Colorado spousal maintenance formula, and make sure your lifestyle needs are met. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.