SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE – ALIMONY
Colorado law refers to alimony as spousal maintenance. The maintenance law in Colorado recognizes that in most cases both spouses have contributed to a couple’s overall quality of life and that non-economic contributions by each spouse have likely enabled greater earning potential for the other. It can be difficult to fairly distribute a couple’s income, especially where one of the parties to a divorce has foregone educational opportunity or work experience in support of higher earnings for the other.
This is where maintenance comes in. The purpose of maintenance is to bridge an income gap, usually temporarily, to soften the economic hardship that someone with little or no earning potential might suffer at the loss of a spouse’s income. The concept of maintenance in Colorado emphasizes its temporary nature, and the need to ease a transition to financial independence.
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Temporary Spousal Maintenance
Maintenance is usually first raised in the early stages of a divorce when the court is still considering temporary orders. Temporary orders govern during the rest of the divorce proceeding until all issues are worked out and a final order can be entered, and these temporary orders are based on a different legal standard and different factors than the final award.
Temporary maintenance in Colorado divorce cases for couples with a combined income of less than $75,000.00 per year is determined based on a presumptive formula. The formula requires payment to the party with a lower income by the party with a higher income if there is a significant gap between the two. The greater the income gap between the parties, the greater the payments ordered. That formula is presumptive because it can be modified or abandoned altogether based on individual circumstances and the amount of income in question. Couples with a combined income of over $75,000.00 per year must show an inability for one party to meet reasonable needs to justify any temporary maintenance award.
As with almost any other issue to be decided in a divorce or legal separation, the maintenance issue can be agreed upon by the parties. In that case, the court will accept the agreement and there is no need to resort to formulas or demonstrate any need.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance
“Permanent maintenance” is probably a misleading phrase. The goal of maintenance in Colorado is primarily to assist with the transition to financial independence after a separation. Accordingly, maintenance awards which go on forever are rare. However, courts do regularly issue maintenance awards as part of the permanent orders entered at the end of a case. The Colorado statutes governing ongoing maintenance require courts to apply a presumptive formula in many cases. That formula takes into account the length of the marriage and the respective incomes of each party.
Modification of Spousal Maintenance
An order for maintenance issued with permanent orders is still subject to modification if certain conditions are met. Specifically, circumstances must change for one of the parties that render the ongoing payments unfair. To qualify, the change in circumstances must be substantial and ongoing. Accordingly, loss of a job would likely justify a modification, but temporary economic hardship probably would not.
If justification exists, the process for requesting modification begins with a motion to the court describing the change in circumstance and justifying a specific modification. It is important to act quickly once a modification is justifiable because any modification granted by the court will only be effective from the time of the motion in most cases. In other words, a modification usually will not reduce maintenance that is already owed but unpaid.
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Enforcement of Spousal Maintenance
Maintenance is paid by order of the court, even where the parties themselves determined the amount to be paid by agreement. Obviously then, failure to pay maintenance is a violation of a court order and that means the violator could be held in contempt. There are several actions the court can take to enforce its orders.
A court can order payment of maintenance by directing an employer to automatically divert the payment from the pay of the party owing maintenance. That can happen at the time of permanent orders or after a court has determined that a party is failing to pay.
A Family Support Registry is available as an intermediary by agreement or court order. The Family Support Registry will receive, disburse, and monitor payments. By doing so, the Registry creates a record of payment or non-payment that can be referred to later in court if needed.
If a party who owes maintenance fails to pay, the other party can file a motion which basically asks the court to bring in the owing party to explain their failure or face punishment. The court will then require both sides to attend a hearing in which the owing party will have to “show cause” for the failure. The court will consider the party’s ability to pay and will expect to see evidence of non-compliance. If the court finds that the owing party can pay but has not, it can garnish wages and punish the owing party with fines and attorney fees.
Call (303) 993-5512 for help with your questions regarding spousal maintenance in Colorado.