Change in Colorado law may impact spousal maintenance awards

Colorado recently enacted a law designed to address spousal maintenance. Legislatures admit that previous laws did little to address how spousal maintenance should be awarded. This lack of guidance led to inconsistent awards and frustrating results. As a result, lawmakers agreed that some level of advisory guidance would be helpful.

A recent article in the Denver Post notes that spousal support determinations in the state have long been a contested issue. The awards are designed to be "fair and equitable," something that leaves a large amount of discretion to the judge overseeing the case. This law was passed in an attempt to provide additional guidance.

Basics of Colorado's new spousal maintenance law

For couples where the combined income falls at or below $240,000 and the marriage lasted a minimum of three years, the guidelines recommend the following be taken into consideration when making a determination for spousal support:

  • Each spouse's gross income.
  • Property owned by each spouse.
  • Financial resources of each spouse.
  • Financial need of each spouse as established during the marriage.

The law also states the spousal maintenance amount should be equal to 40 percent of the higher earning spouse's income minus 50 percent of the lower earning spouse's income. This leads to formula that provides a guideline for the recommended monthly payment.

In practice, the formula would translate as follows in a situation where one spouse earns $120,000 and a second earns $60,000:

  • 40 percent of higher earning spouse's monthly income: $10,000 x 40 percent = $4,000.
  • 50 percent of lower earning spouse's monthly income: $5,000 x 50 percent = $2,500.
  • Subtract 50 percent of lower earning spouse's income from higher earning spouse's income: $4,000 - $2,500 = $1,500.

Based on this calculation, the lower earning spouse would receive approximately $1,500 in spousal support payments every month.

Unfortunately, the determination is generally not as easy as plugging some numbers into a mathematical calculation. Even under the new law different factors can lead to an adjustment in the calculation. For example, percentages are also applied based on the length of the marriage, with marriages lasting less than 12 years receiving a lower level of support.

Lessons to learn from the new law

The passage of this new law provides two lessons. First, it is important to note that these guidelines are advisory. Judges are not required to follow them. Second, it highlights how the law often changes. Navigating through a divorce in Colorado is difficult even in the simplest cases; it becomes even more difficult when the law changes and new rules are applied.

Those who have recently filed or are considering filing for a divorce should contact an experienced Colorado spousal support attorney. This legal professional can help you navigate Colorado's changing family laws and better your chances of receiving a fair settlement.

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