As a Colorado Springs family lawyer, I work with many clients who have expressed concerns about how the law, which took effect this past January 2014, would impact their financial security after a divorce. Their concerns were certainly justified, because Colorado courts are using a different methodology to make final spousal maintenance awards.
What is spousal maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is money that one spouse pays to his or her former spouse each month for a period of time following a divorce or legal separation. The idea behind maintenance is to allow the lower-earning spouse the ability to maintain their current standard of living until which time they could find gainful employment and take care of themselves.
Prior to January 2014, spousal maintenance awards varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from Judge to Judge. In the past, the final decision on maintenance was a matter of discretion for the Judge so it was nearly impossible to predict how much would be awarded and how long the order would remain in place.
The new law in Colorado requires the courts to follow a specific formula related to how much and how long maintenance will be paid. While the guidelines of the law are not mandatory, the law presumes that the court will take these guidelines into consideration when making a decision. If the court were to act outside of the guidelines it could only do so by making specific findings to support its deviation.
What is the new spousal maintenance law in Colorado?
For families with a combined gross income of less than $240,000, the law sets forth a calculation to determine the potential amount of maintenance: 40 percent of the higher earning spouse’s income minus 50 percent of the lower earning spouse’s income. For example, if Spouse A earns $5,000 per month and Spouse B earns $2,500 per month, a potential maintenance agreement could be $2,000 - $1,250 = $750 per month.
The duration of spousal maintenance is guided by the following timetables: For marriages under three years in length there is no guideline, but the court has the discretion to award maintenance if it sees fit; for marriages of three to five years, the duration guideline would be 31 percent of the length of the marriage; at five to eight years of marriage, the duration is 35 percent of the length of the marriage; at eight to 12 ½ years of marriage, the duration is 40 percent; and beyond 12 ½ years of marriage the guideline is 50 percent of the length of the marriage.
Many families are concerned that Colorado courts will rely too heavily on the formula rather than using the discretionary factors that have been used for many years. If you are considering filing for a divorce and have concerns about the new spousal maintenance guidelines, it is important to speak with a Colorado Springs divorce attorney about how this new law will impact your situation.
When it comes to matters of spousal maintenance and custody in a divorce, mediation allows you to examine your situation individually, taking into account your unique financial and family needs. While the mediators are aware of the state’s formulas and may introduce these as a starting point, couples are allowed to make agreements that deviate from these guidelines as long as the parties mutually agree.
A mediator can help you and your ex come up with a plan that makes sense for both parties. For example, some women in a divorce situation may find they need to further their education before they can earn enough money to maintain their current lifestyle. Others may find that Colorado law does not allow the level of flexibility their family needs to adapt to new financial responsibilities. By allowing a couple to waive the court’s formulaic approaches, a professional mediator can help divorcing couples come to an agreement on spousal maintenance, but it is still recommended that you attend a mediation with your attorney.
Whether you are paying or receiving this support, it is important that you understand the laws and how they apply to your case. This may include a larger amount of spousal support for a few years, with a gradual decline in payments as the lower-income spouse advances their career. It could also account for the disposition of the family home, where the children will live, and the value of other marital assets.
An experienced Colorado family lawyer can help you make a case with a mediator or family court judge regarding spousal maintenance.