Colorado divorce: What spousal maintenance reform looks like

Colorado recently enacted significant alimony reforms that include advisory guidelines.

Colorado's law controlling spousal maintenance, also called alimony, was significantly amended as of January 1, 2014. The Colorado changes reflect elements of a national debate over what modern alimony should look like. This movement has resulted in a handful of states making major revisions to their spousal support laws.

Some of the issues influencing alimony reforms include:

  • Increasing economic independence of women
  • Nontraditional gender roles in marriage
  • Beliefs of some that the end of marriage should also end interdependent economic reliance as much as possible and that divorced people have a responsibility to support themselves
  • Desire for consistency of awards among similarly situated couples pressuring a decrease in judicial discretion

One way the Colorado reforms reflect elements of these themes is in the creation of advisory alimony guidelines based on length of marriage and incomes. The guidelines are advisory only, a place for couples to start in negotiation and for judges to start in deliberation of the family circumstances vis-à-vis appropriate alimony.

The statute provides the overarching direction that alimony awards be fair and equitable to both spouses and that marital misconduct may not be considered (a departure from some traditional states that require that misconduct be a factor).

First, maintenance may only be ordered if the judge finds the recipient spouse either:

  • Does not have enough property to provide for "reasonable needs" and is unable to support him or herself by "appropriate employment" or
  • Is the custodian of a child whose situation makes it inappropriate for that spouse to work

The guidelines apply to marriages that lasted from three to 20 years and to couples with combined incomes of $360,000 or less (as of this August 2015 writing; the income cap rises with the child support guideline cap). The law will impute potential income to a spouse who is voluntarily under- or unemployed, except in certain cases of disability, child care needs of an infant, or incarceration.

The guidelines that determine the duration of an alimony award direct it to be a percentage of the number of months the marriage lasted. In marriages under three years, the court can award alimony if the property division will not provide adequately for both. In marriages over 20 years, a judge can order alimony of a specific or indefinite duration, but not less than 10 years unless he or she makes specific findings supporting shorter duration.

To determine the guideline amount of maintenance, the guidelines apply a formula taking 40 percent of the higher-earning party's monthly adjusted gross income and subtracting half of the lower-earning party's monthly adjusted gross income. When this amount is added to the receiving party's own gross income, the total cannot be more than 40 percent of the combined monthly adjusted gross incomes of both parties.

However, because the guidelines are advisory, the judge is to consider not only the guideline award, but also all relevant factors to the family, including a specific list of 11 factors such as marital lifestyle, age and health, contribution of one spouse to the other's economic advancement and more.

This only introduces a complicated area of Colorado law. Anyone facing divorce should seek the advice and representation of an experienced divorce attorney who can provide guidance on all relevant issues, including alimony.

From their offices in Highlands Ranch, the attorneys of The Law Center P.C. represent clients in divorce and other family law matters.