Spousal maintenance, also known as alimony in some states, is ordered in some divorces to help a spouse continue to maintain the same lifestyle that he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Spousal maintenance is generally awarded based on the need of the receiving spouse and the ability to pay by the payor spouse. It is separate from a court's order for a parent to pay child support.
Courts will look at multiple factors when making a determination to award spousal maintenance including the following:
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of each spouse to earn an income
- The total amount of assets in a couple's estate
- Distribution of assets in the marital estate
- The age and health of each spouse
- Whether or not the requesting spouse will be caring for minor children
- The financial needs of the spouse requesting spousal maintenance
- Contributions of one spouse to the marital assets or career of the other spouse
Spousal support is primarily to be based on the needs of the requesting spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay maintenance. Marital fault is not a factor for a court considering a request for spousal maintenance. However, a judge may consider factors such as intentional "wasting" of the marital estate during the divorce process or the fiscal responsibility of each party.
Calculation of Alimony Payments
The guidelines for calculating the amount of spousal maintenance are primarily based on the gross monthly income of the parties and the duration of the marriage. Courts have the discretion to award more or less than the amount recommended in Colorado's guidelines for spousal support. Spousal maintenance guidelines are primarily advisory and are not as binding on courts as the guidelines for calculating child support.
Guidelines recommend ordering an amount of maintenance based on a couple's adjusted gross income minus the income of the spouse who is requesting maintenance multiplied by 40 percent. This formula only applies where the current income of both spouses is $20,000 per month or less. This is only a recommended amount but gives judges and attorneys some guidelines for calculating how much spousal maintenance should be awarded.
Colorado statutes provide a formula for calculating the recommended duration of spousal support that only applies to marriages that lasted longer than three years. The recommended multiplier starts at 31 percent for marriages that lasted three years and gradually increases until the duration for temporary support is for half the marriage.
Spouses who are waiting for a divorce to be finalized may request temporary spousal maintenance to be paid while the divorce is pending. This ensures that the spouse who has requested spousal maintenance can continue paying for household bills and other expenses until a final divorce decree is entered by the court. At the final hearing, a court may modify the amount of spousal maintenance previously ordered or terminate the obligation to pay maintenance.
Spouses who want to protect assets and provide certainty about the amount and duration of alimony in the event of a divorce may want to consider signing a prenuptial agreement prior to getting married. A postnuptial agreement can cover many of the same terms if the parties are already married.
Termination and Modification of Spousal Maintenance Orders
Spousal maintenance orders can be modified or terminated if there is a change in circumstances. A party seeking a modification should file a petition in the court that previously ordered spousal maintenance. The following conditions will terminate an obligation for alimony:
- The death of the spouse ordered to pay alimony
- Remarriage of the receiving spouse
- End of the maintenance term
- A court order terminating the obligation to pay spousal maintenance
Modification may be requested when there are "substantial and continuing changed circumstances" that would make the requirement to pay spousal maintenance unfair. Changes such as a substantial loss in income based on a career change or retirement can result in a reduction of alimony.
A change that is expected to be temporary such as the loss of a job is less likely to result in a modification. A voluntary change such as early retirement is unlikely to result in modification or termination of an order to pay spousal maintenance.
Contact a Colorado Springs, Colorado Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about spousal maintenance in Colorado, contact Brett Chalmers to schedule a consultation.