Maintenance / Alimony

As part of annulment, separation and divorce cases in Colorado, the court will decide whether one spouse should receive alimony, which is “maintenance” in this state and also commonly called “spousal support.” This money is meant to help a spouse who does not have the assets, means or employment to provide for her or her needs at the time of the proceeding.

Even if one spouse truly needs it, state laws do not provide an automatic right to alimony. The court will consider many factors before deciding on alimony, and the longer a marriage is, the more likely it is that maintenance will be awarded. While there is no standard number of years, spouses who were married for just a few years often do not have any maintenance awarded in their case. Spouses who were married for 20 years or more, however, often do, and the court may even award lifetime support that does not terminate until either spouse dies or the receiving spouse marries another person.

 

Temporary maintenance awards

When the gross combined income of a couple is less than $75,000, the court follows a formula to decide maintenance on a temporary basis until the final order hearing. This is 40 percent of the income of the paying spouse minus half of the income of the receiving spouse. For example, if the paying spouse makes $6,000 a month and the receiving spouse earns $1,000 per month, the temporary award would be $1,900 unless circumstances dictate otherwise. The judge can deviate if there are special circumstances in a case.

The set formula for temporary alimony does not apply to high-earning couples who have a combined income of more than $75,000 a year. Instead, the court will use the factors that are considered when they are deciding on a final order post-divorce. This can introduce some unpredictability into the proceedings, so it’s highly advisable to have an experienced attorney on your side.

 

Post-dissolution maintenance

There is no standard formula for the court to follow when it comes to post-divorce maintenance. Instead, the laws spell out factors that the judge must consider when trying to determine the maintenance award, including:

  • The financial situation of the receiving spouse, including what he or she will receive in the divorce in terms of property, and his or her ability to meet needs
  • The amount of time the receiving spouse would need to complete training or education that would allow him or her to get a better job, and his or her future earnings ability
  • The standard of living the couple had while married
  • The length of the marriage
  • The emotional and physical condition and the age of the receiving spouse
  • The ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her needs while paying maintenance

During a marriage, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to be working or earning less. He or she may be working part-time or a stay-at-home spouse. This situation can make the spousal support picture more complex, as the court has to decide whether to assign minimum wage or a higher income to an unemployed or underemployed spouse. Known as “imputing,” the court is allowed to assign a level of earnings to the spouse who would receive support, and it may end up being more than the spouse is currently earning. This is because the court is trying to weigh the receiving spouse’s employability, or how much he or she could earn if working to full capacity. This may involve a vocational assessment of the receiving spouse and it can make the maintenance process go on longer as a result. If you think this could be an issue in your case, speak to your attorney as soon as possible.

 

The tax consequences

When a Colorado court awards maintenance, the burden of taxes goes to the receiving spouse, unlike child support. The paying spouse may be able to deduct the maintenance paid plus any premiums on court-ordered life insurance policies, depending on the circumstances.

 

Spousal support length

Generally, an order for alimony is for a set period of time, long enough so that the receiving spouse can prepare to become financially independent. Once the termination date in the order comes up, the obligation of the paying spouse ends unless the receiving spouse has taken the matter back to court. However, it does automatically end if either spouse passes away or if the spouse receiving the money marries someone else.

Whether you believe you should receive or will have to pay alimony, it has a significant impact on your financial bottom line now and could continue to have an impact going forward. Contact the experienced Family Law team at The Burnham Law Firm to discuss your maintenance case.