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How Does Unemployment Affect Alimony Payments?

By: Stephen J. Plog

Alimony, known as spousal maintenance in Colorado, is a payment one spouse may be ordered t0 make to the other during or after a divorce. The purpose of alimony is to ensure each spouse has the ability to meet their basic needs post-divorce. The person making alimony payments will be the higher earner. He or she will pay alimony to the lower-earning party to ensure financial stability after the split. Not every divorce case involves an alimony award. If you do have to pay alimony, find out what to expect if you lose your job.

Are You Required to Pay Alimony While Unemployed?

In the times of COVID-19 and great economic upset, employment is not a guarantee. Millions of US citizens have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic. In Colorado, becoming unemployed does not automatically release you from an alimony obligation. The courts will still expect you to make your alimony payments in full and on time. Presuming your unemployment continues, you may have a basis to seek a modification of your alimony obligation.  However, if you make as much in unemployment benefits as you did in wages, your alimony obligation may not change at all.

Can You Adjust Alimony Payments?

If your unemployment benefits do not match your previous income, or if you lose your job and do not qualify for federal unemployment benefits, you may need to request an official modification of spousal maintenance. You will have to continue paying the full amount you owe your ex-spouse in alimony until the courts grant your modification request. According to Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-122, you may only qualify for alimony order modification if you have encountered a substantial and continuing change in your income that makes the current alimony obligation unfair.

It will be up to you or your divorce attorney in Denver to prove to a judge in Colorado that your change in circumstance leaves your current orders to be unfair. What is fair or unfair is up to the judge’s discretion based on the facts of your case. A judge will assess your current situation to see if the spousal maintenance order is fair. It is usually wise to wait a month or two after you lose your job to request a modification. That way, your losses will qualify as both substantial and continuing.

State authorizes a modification to be applied retroactively to the date a motion is filed.  Thus, while you will still have to continue paying alimony while your case is underway, you can receive some of these funds back if a judge rules in your favor. For a judge to agree that you qualify for an alimony adjustment, you or your lawyer will have to prove that you have made a true and reasonable effort to find similar, gainful employment. You cannot accept your loss of a job without trying to find another, similar job if you wish to stop or reduce your alimony payments.

Consequences of Not Paying Alimony

Until a judge grants your request to modify alimony, you will lawfully have to continue making your full payments. You cannot stop paying alimony as soon as you become unemployed. You will only have this right after a judge passes your motion to modify. If you fail to make a spousal maintenance payment before the approval of your request, you could be held in contempt of court.

If you face contempt of court as a result of your non-payment, your spouse will be tasked with proving that you had the ability to follow the court orders, yet failed to do so.  As such, job loss alone may not be enough to defend against a contempt of court filing.   If found in contempt, you could be faced with having to pay what is owed, attorney fees, a fine, and potentially jail. The specific consequences for not paying alimony ultimately depends on the judge and how he or she applies the law.

It is important to hire an attorney to help you submit an official request for alimony modification as soon as you lose your job in Colorado. A lawyer can help you obtain relief from an alimony obligation without running the risk of being held in contempt of court.

Stephen Plog

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