Alimony Guidelines in Colorado

by Beverly Bird
Alimony often comes down to the opinion of a single judge.

Alimony often comes down to the opinion of a single judge.

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Alimony – called maintenance in Colorado – is one of the more hotly contested areas of divorce law. It lends itself to controversy because there are rarely any hard-and-fast rules or guidelines. In Colorado, awarding it is often left to the discretion of a judge after he weighs a variety of factors on a case-by-case basis.

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Temporary Alimony

The closest Colorado comes to a statutory calculation for maintenance is its provision for temporary alimony. Temporary alimony is payable before the divorce is final, lasting until spouses legally separate their lives. The calculation applies only to spouses who jointly earn $75,000 or less, and it's neither automatic nor guaranteed. Either spouse has the right to contest the amount in court. The formula subtracts 50 percent of the income of the spouse who earns less from 40 percent of the income of the spouse who earns more. For example, if you earn $4,000 a month and your spouse earns $1,500 a month, you can expect to pay $850 a month in temporary alimony. If you and your spouse earn more than $75,000, Colorado judges base temporary alimony decisions on the same factors they use to decide permanent alimony.

Permanent Alimony

"Permanent" alimony isn't necessarily permanent in Colorado. The term refers to post-divorce maintenance, as opposed to financial assistance during the pendency of the divorce proceedings. Colorado courts are not inclined to order alimony forever, except sometimes after long-term marriages of 20 years or more. They lean toward "rehabilitative" alimony, designed to sustain the lower-earning spouse just long enough to allow her to go back to school or otherwise acquire sufficient job skills that would allow her to support herself. Other factors Colorado judges consider include the standard of living spouses enjoyed while they were married, as well as issues that might affect employability, such as physical and mental health and age. Judges can also consider the ability of the paying spouse to meet his own needs if he must also pay maintenance. Ultimately, the weight placed on these factors comes down to the opinion of each individual judge, but the law doesn't allow them to award alimony unless one spouse is clearly in need.

Marital Misconduct

Marital misconduct or wrongdoing is a non-factor in Colorado divorces. This is a "pure" no-fault state; it doesn't recognize any fault grounds at all. A spouse's only option is to file on grounds that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and the Colorado Revised Statutes prohibits judges from considering fault when awarding alimony.

Rules for Modification

Alimony may or may not be modifiable in Colorado – it depends on how the alimony order originated. If you and your spouse agree to maintenance as part of a marital settlement agreement and agree that it's non-modifiable, this is "contractual maintenance." You can't go back to court and change it later. If a judge orders alimony as part of your divorce decree, this is "court-ordered maintenance" and you can ask the court to modify its terms if circumstances change. The change must be "significant and continuing." A serious event must have affected the income and earnings ability of one spouse or the other, and the event must be such that it's not likely the spouse can recover from it. Colorado statutes provide that alimony automatically terminates when either spouse dies, or when the spouse receiving maintenance remarries.