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Colorado spousal maintenance law reflects both tradition and reform

New advisory guidelines became effective in 2014.

Across the country, states are debating whether spousal maintenance laws should be updated to reflect the concerns of some reformists. Colorado's legislature enacted advisory guidelines that took effect in 2014 as a framework for crafting alimony awards that would make them more uniform and predictable across the state. Yet, the law firmly leaves final alimony decisions within the judge's discretion to order an arrangement appropriate for individual family circumstances.

Colorado's new law straddles reformist and traditional views. On the one hand, some reformers feel too much discretion to create alimony awards in the hands of judges unfairly allows people in similar circumstances to get different (and less predictable) results depending on the judge or court involved. On the other hand, many people are concerned that such reform will tie the hands of judges who need to have wide discretion to create remedies by using spousal maintenance to level the playing field between ex-spouses who are well off and their partners who may not be, often because of having stayed home to care for children or because of illness and similar circumstances.

So, to promote consistency, Colorado now has guidelines as a place to start, but they are advisory and the law says the guideline duration or amount do not create a presumption that they are appropriate. The court still has discretion to determine a "fair and equitable" alimony award "based on the totality of the circumstances."

Interestingly and in contrast to some other states, Colorado judges are not allowed to consider "marital misconduct" as a factor in the alimony question.

A Colorado couple at divorce may negotiate a marital settlement agreement in which they agree to the terms of alimony, but if not, the state court judge assigned to the divorce case will have to make the decision whether to grant maintenance as well as its terms. State statute lays out how the judge is to do so:

  • Initially, the judge must determine each spouse's gross income, marital property award, financial resources and reasonable financial need. If a party is unemployed or underemployed, the judge may count the potential for additional income at full employment in the future, if appropriate.
  • The judge is to consider three things to arrive at an award that is fair and equitable to both spouses: the advisory guideline award, if applicable to the couple; all relevant factors to the circumstances, including those in a specific list concerning assets, income, marital lifestyle, employability, marital duration, age and health, and more; and whether the potential alimony recipient cannot meet his or her reasonable needs through his or her property, is unable to support him or herself through working or should not work because of the circumstances of a child for which he or she will have custody.
  • The guidelines only apply in marriages of at least three years in which the parties combined annual income is less than the greater of $240,000 or the uppermost limit of the basic child support obligation schedule. To a couple that falls into the guidelines, a formula is applied to derive the amount and duration is a percentage of the number of months of the marriage.

This has been only a quick introduction to the basic concepts in Colorado alimony law. Anyone facing divorce, including alimony and other legal issues, should seek the advice and representation of an experienced Colorado family lawyer.

The lawyers of Tolison & Williams, Attorneys at Law, LLC, in Brighton, Colorado, represent clients in divorce matters, including alimony and related issues, in the north Denver metro area and in the Boulder Valley area.

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