How Alimony Works in Colorado, Part 1.

Temporary spousal maintenance is designed to equalize the finances until the divorce is final.

Temporary spousal maintenance is designed to equalize the finances until the divorce is final.

Alimony is a payment of money from one spouse to another for the purpose of financial support or equalization of incomes. In Colorado, alimony is technically called “spousal maintenance.” There are two kinds of spousal maintenance: temporary and permanent. Temporary maintenance is the payment of money from one spouse to the other before the marriage has been dissolved (i.e., before the divorce is final). Permanent maintenance–what most people think of when they hear the term “alimony”–is the payment of money from one former spouse to the other after divorce.

In this article, I will discuss temporary maintenance when the spouses earn a combined annual income of $75,000 or less. In future articles, I will discuss 1) temporary maintenance when combined annual income exceeds $75,000; 2) permanent maintenance; and 3) other aspect of alimony, including modification, termination, and tax treatment.

Historically, the calculation of alimony has been very subjective. Based upon the same facts and income, different judges will regularly calculate and award different amounts of alimony. This creates a lack of certainty and predictability in the courts, and makes it hard for divorcing couples to plan for the future. To make the award of temporary maintenance more uniform, the Colorado legislature developed a guideline for couples whose combined annual income does not exceed $75,000. In these situation, it is a rebuttable presumption that for temporary maintenance (again, alimony paid before the divorce is final), the spouse with the higher income should pay an amount equal to forty percent of his or her income, minus fifty percent of the earnings of the spouse with the lower income.

Example #1. Let’s say that Bob earns an average of $4,000 per month, and Emily earns $2,000 per month. Forty percent of Bob’s income is $1,600, minus fifty percent of Emily’s income, which is $1,000, equal $600. Until the divorce is final, it is presumed that Bob should pay to Emily $600 per month.

Note first of all that this does not entirely equalize the spouses’ income: Bob is left with $3,400 per month, and Emily has $2,600. Secondly, while this formula adjusts income, it does not affect the payment of debts and expenses: the judge will still have to apportion which spouse will pay which monthly expenses. In many cases, the amount of expenses a party has to pay has a greater affect on their discretionary income than the amount of temporary maintenance they have to pay, or that they receive.

Example #2. Paul earn $1,000 per month, Lois earns $5,000. Forty percent of Lois’ income is $2,000, minus fifty percent of Paul’s income, which is $500, equals $1,500.  The presumptive temporary maintenance would have Lois paying Paul $1,500 per month.

Example #3. Sam earns $2,500 per month, Alice earns $2,000. Using the temporary maintenance formula, neither party would have to pay temporary alimony. (Forty percent of 2,500 is 1,000, fifty perent of 2,000 is 1,000. 1,000 – 1,000 = 0.)

It is important to keep in mind that this temporary maintenance formula (for combined income which does not exceed $75,000) creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of the calculated amount. That means that either party may seek a different amount of temporary alimony if they can show that the formula is somehow unfair. If you are able to persuade the Court, then the amount of temporary maintenance may be either higher or lower than the result of the formula.

In the next article, I will discuss how the courts calculate temporary maintenance when the parties have a combined annual income of more than $75,000. In future articles, I will discuss permanent maintenance and other aspects of Colorado’s alimony laws.

As you can see from this article, the law of alimony in Colorado is complicated and subjective. Contact the Law Office of Kirk Garner today to discuss whether you could be entitled to alimony; or find out how much you might have to pay your spouse.