Maintenance, which is often referred to as alimony or spousal support, is a payment that is made by one spouse to the other spouse either while a divorce is pending (temporary maintenance) or after a divorce is finalized (permanent maintenance). The purpose of maintenance is to provide financial support for a spouse that needs financial assistance when the other spouse has the ability to pay support.
Whether you are the person requesting maintenance or you believe you may have exposure to pay maintenance, the question often arises “how is maintenance determined.” To answer that question, it is helpful to look at the history of the maintenance law and how it has evolved to where it is today.
History of Maintenance Law in Colorado
Prior to 2014, the maintenance law in Colorado was essentially a list of factors for a court to consider when determining whether maintenance should be awarded, and if so, how much and for how long. The types of factors that the court would look at where the financial resources of both parties, the lifestyle during the marriage, how marital property is being divided, etc.
The benefit of how the law was written prior to 2014 was that maintenance was determined on a case-by-case basis after careful consideration of each party’s circumstances. The downside was that there was very little predictability with regard to the maintenance award from judge to judge and county to county across the state.
Recognizing the need for uniformity in how the maintenance law is applied to parties across Colorado, in 2014 the legislature modified the maintenance law to provide judges with advisory guidelines for the amount and duration of maintenance. These guidelines are advisory only, meaning that the court is not required to follow them. Rather, the guidelines are to be considered a starting point for the determination of fair and equitable maintenance awards.
Current Status of the Maintenance Law
Under the current status of the law, C.R.S. 14-10-114, the court must consider three things when determining what maintenance should be ordered and for how long:
- The advisory guideline for the amount and duration of maintenance;
- The same factors that the court previously considered, such as the parties’ financial resources, the lifestyle during the marriage, how marital property is being divided, etc.
- Whether the party requesting maintenance lacks sufficient property (including marital property awarded to that party) to provide for his or her reasonable needs and is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment. If this requirement is not met, maintenance should not be awarded to the requesting party.
What are the Advisory Guidelines?
What most people want to know is the amount and duration of maintenance under the advisory guidelines, as this is often used both in settlement and by the court as the starting point for determining maintenance.
Under the advisory guidelines, the amount of maintenance is determined by the following equation:
However, the equation goes one step further and says that when the amount of maintenance is added to the receiving spouse’s gross monthly income, the recipient should not receive more than 40% of the parties’ combined gross incomes.
The duration of maintenance under the advisory guidelines is essentially a set percentage of the length of the marriage. For example, if you have been married for 10 years (120 months), the advisory term of maintenance is 45% of the length of the marriage, which is 4.5 years (54 months). Keep in mind that the guidelines only address marriages that are 3-20 years long. If your marriage is less than 3 years, you may not have a strong case for maintenance. On the flip side, if your marriage is longer than 20 years, you may have an argument that maintenance be paid for the rest of your lifetime.
Why Should I Talk to an Attorney About Maintenance?
It is important to remember that even with the advisory guidelines, maintenance awards can still be very subjective. For example, there is grey area when it comes to what each party’s gross monthly income is. Other factors, such as the lifestyle during the marriage, and the paying spouse’s ability to pay maintenance also play a role. Therefore, the advisory guidelines should be used with caution! The best way to understand how maintenance may impact your case is to consult with a divorce or family law attorney about the specifics of your case. Do you reside in Fort Collins, Colorado or the surrounding areas? Contact Laura Monty Law and schedule an initial consultation.