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Divorce Frequently Asked Questions: Maintenance (Alimony)

  1. Does the new law change when alimony ends?

    Under Colorado’s alimony statute, alimony can be terminated in a few ways: according to any contract established by the parties involved, when one party passes away, or if the party receiving alimony remarries. In alimony cases after January 1, 2014, alimony may also be suspended, modified, or terminated if the party receiving maintenance is living with a romantic partner for a period of six months or more. In this case, upon proof, payors may be able to suspend or even terminate alimony. It can also be reinstated if the cohabitation ceases.

  2. How long will I have to pay alimony with the new law?

    As indicated above, maintenance has always been a grey area in terms of what judges might order. This has included determinations of how long one might pay or receive maintenance. Each judge has his or her own beliefs on what is a proper length of time. For a 30-year marriage, the parties might be financially attached for life. For a 10-year marriage, maintenance might run for 5 years, just as easily as the court could order 3. Most Denver area family law attorneys have strived to come up with rules or norms for answering this question. A general rule of thumb has been that half-the-length-of-the-marriage is what a court might do. Though court’s still have discretion to deal with the issue of how long maintenance shall run, the legislature has enacted a guideline, or table, which sets forth that if parties have been married for “x” months, maintenance shall run for “y” months. For example, the statute indicates that if parties have been married for 144 months (12 years), maintenance should run for 71 months (just under 6 years). As the number of months of marriage goes up or down, the time percentage for maintenance to be paid goes up or down. Ultimately, the new table can lead to maintenance being paid for well over half the length of the marriage. Under the statute, judges are not required to follow the table as relates to duration. However, in their rulings, if they don’t follow it, they must explain why not.

  3. How much alimony will I owe under the new law?How much a person would owe under state alimony statutes, as amended, depends on an array of factors. Colorado statute regarding alimony in a divorce was radically changed in 2014 in that the state legislature officially adopted both a formula and time table tied into the amount of alimony to be paid and the duration over which it should be paid. Though the 2014 changes are no longer, “new,” they were significant and have had a continuing impact on how spousal maintenance cases are both litigated or settled.

    Prior to the 2014 statutory changes to the alimony section of statute, specifically Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-114, alimony, properly terms “maintenance” under Colorado statute, was a gray area in that there were not even any guide posts or guidelines for attorneys or family law judges to look at. Though divorce practitioners could make assessments based on familiarity with certain judges, the results one might get from county to county would and could differ greatly.

    Commencing in 2014, divorce court judges were now required to consider the new statutory formula and if they did not employ it they were now required to indicate why. C.R.S. 14-10-114 still requires courts to make a threshold determination that the party requesting spousal maintenance is actually in need of such. Likewise, property and the ability of the other spouse to meet his or her reasonable financial needs should support be ordered must still be addressed. Regardless, the advent of the formula has made it much more likely that the formula will be used, absent a compelling reason.

    Going to the formula, statute indicates that a proper amount of alimony is derived by calculating forty (40) percent of the top earning spouse’s adjusted gross monthly income, calculating fifty (50) percent of the lower earning spouse’s income, and subtracting the second from the first. For example, if wife makes $10,000 per month, forty percent would be $4,000. If husband makes $5,000 per month, half of his income would be $2,500. Performing the first part of the calculation would lead to the wife owning the husband $1,500 per month in spousal maintenance. Step two of the calculation entails an adjustment required by statute. Statute indicates that between maintenance received and a party’s own adjusted gross monthly income, they cannot receive more than 40 percent of the combined adjusted gross monthly income of the parties. Applying that adjustment to the scenario set forth above, the combined adjusted gross monthly income of the husband and wife would be $15,000. Forty percent of that figure would be $6,000. The initially calculated alimony figure of $1,500 plus husband’s $5,000 per month income equals $6,500. To satisfy the adjustment, $500 would be subtracted from the $1,500 maintenance figure. The husband would, therefore, receive $1,000 in maintenance. The formula can also be applied in case seeking to modify alimony.

    Again, the formula is not mandatory. Moreover, it is specifically not applicable to divorce cases in which the combined adjusted gross monthly income of the two spouses is $30,000 or more. Though the divorce court judge is not going to be precluded from considering or even applying the formula in those cases in which the parties make $360,000 per year, or more, he or she does not have to do so. Given that $360,000 per years puts a family close to the upper one percent of incomes, and certainly in the upper two percent, most divorce cases will entail consideration of the C.R.S. 14-10-114 formula. For the high income spousal maintenance cases, more thought will need to be put into preparing to settle or litigate the issue of alimony, as the court has a wider array of discretion to determine alimony as it sees fit.

    Beyond the monthly amount, alimony awards in a divorce case typically also entail a specified duration over which support will be paid. The 2014 statutory changes included adding a time table to statute. At the low end of that table, statute indicates that on a marriage of three years (36 months), alimony should be paid for eleven. The table maxes out at twenty years (240 months) and indicates that support should be paid for half the length of the marriage.

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