Spousal Support

In what situations is spousal support awarded under Colorado law?

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well spousal support is awarded in

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Colorado when a person is unable to

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support themselves through reasonable

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employment or through the income from

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the property that’s awarded to them and

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it’s based on the standard of living

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that was established during the marriage

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so if you have a couple who during the

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marriage was very frugal and saved all

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their money and never took vacations out

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of the state that’s a very different

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standard of living than a parties who

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went to Europe every year or fly on

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private jets or send their children to

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private school so one of the factors the

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court will be looking at is what was the

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standard of living during the marriage

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another factor is what is reasonable

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employment if you have a long-term

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marriage where you have a party who

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didn’t work at all during the marriage

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over the course of 30 years the

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expectation regarding that person’s

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ability to work is going to be very

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different than in a short-term marriage

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where someone came to the marriage with

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education and prior employment or maybe

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worked during the marriage we’re going

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to be looking in that case at what

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they’re really earning or what they

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earned previously and in cases where

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there’s no work during the marriage

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we’re going to be looking at is there a

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debility an ability to work at all many

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of the cases that I do don’t have

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maintenance as a factor because the

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marital estate that’s being divided is

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so large that the earnings off the

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property that will be awarded to the

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spouse who might otherwise seek

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maintenance are enough to support them

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in those cases where that’s not the case

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it does get a little more complicated

From Kristi’s interview for the Masters of Family Law series on ReelLawyers.com.

Alimony, or “maintenance” as it’s called in Colorado, can be one of the most complex issues in divorce and legal separation cases. To ask for it, a party must be married or in a civil union. Courts then follow a multi-step analysis, regardless of whether the request is for temporary maintenance pending resolution of the case or at final orders.

How is Support Determined?

Judges need to know how much property each party is leaving the marriage with before addressing maintenance in permanent orders, so courts must first divide marital property and debts or approve a settlement agreement related to same. This includes a determination regarding each spouse’s separate/non-marital property, if any. While Colorado courts cannot award someone’s separate property to his or her ex-spouse, the property and its income-producing potential are highly relevant when a court is deciding whether to grant maintenance. For example, people without the ability to earn much money in the workplace may still be denied maintenance if their separate property, such as rental properties they owned prior to the marriage, or the marital property they are keeping after the divorce will bring in enough money to maintain their reasonable needs.

Reasonable Needs

“Reasonable needs” is a subjective term that varies from marriage to marriage, often requiring the use of historical data to aid the court in understanding how a couple lived.

Since 2014, judges are also required to consider, but not necessarily follow, the “Colorado maintenance guidelines.” Due to changes in federal tax law, the most recent version of these guidelines only applies to couples who gross $240,000 or less per year combined. The guidelines, based in part on a formula calculation, indicate a specific amount per month and a total number of months for payments to last – for long-term marriages, the guideline term is equal to half the length of the marriage. Unlike child support, these guidelines are not presumptive – courts are only required to consider them, not order them outright, and only if they apply.

Maintenance Factors

After making initial findings, including a threshold conclusion that a party cannot meet his or her reasonable needs without maintenance, courts then look at non-exhaustive list of other factors to decide how much maintenance to award and for how long, including: the length of the marriage, the ability of the other spouse to pay, potential income if someone is un- or under-employed, economic and noneconomic contributions to the marriage, each party’s age and health, including any uninsured medical expenses, and the lifestyle of the marriage. That said, courts are not required to ensure the parties maintain the same lifestyle forever.

Wide Discretion

Judges have wide discretion and apply a holistic analysis that will vary from courtroom to courtroom. Given the inherent uncertainty of predicting what a judge will do, couples can creatively negotiate an uneven division of property and debts to avoid maintenance, often referred to as a “maintenance buyout.”

If you or a loved one is considering divorce or legal separation, having a skilled and knowledgeable attorney to guide them through the law of maintenance is critical. The attorneys at Wells Family Law are here to help.