Alimony, or “spousal maintenance,” as it is called in Colorado, is court ordered payment from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse to, in effect, level the playing field. Understanding how maintenance works in Colorado, and what you might expect to pay or receive in maintenance, will lower stress and anxiety, and help you better plan for the future.
Who is affected by spousal maintenance?
Both parties in a divorce proceeding will be affected by an award of maintenance, or conversely, a determination that no maintenance should be awarded. Courts consider many factors before awarding maintenance, making it difficult to predict the amount of maintenance that may be ordered and whether maintenance will be awarded at all. Do not assume that the higher earning spouse will be ordered to pay spousal maintenance to the lower earning spouse. Spousal maintenance is a highly contentious aspect of a divorce proceeding, and the court’s decision in terms of the amount to be paid and whether to award it at all varies widely.
When can maintenance be awarded?
Maintenance can be awarded at two different phases during a divorce. The first opportunity is at a temporary orders hearing relatively early on in the process. The maintenance awarded at this stage is called temporary maintenance. Temporary maintenance is designed to provide the parties with equitable financial and living situations before a final decision can be given. Maintenance can also be awarded towards the end of the process, during the permanent orders hearing, or the hearing that finalizes the divorce. The maintenance awarded at this hearing is called permanent maintenance. Temporary maintenance orders always end upon the entry of permanent orders.
Colorado has a long maintenance statute, which details the criteria for determining the amount and duration of maintenance, including:
Two of the most important factors are typically: (1) the spouses’ incomes and (2) the duration of the marriage.
Maintenance at Permanent Orders
Colorado has created a rough guideline formula that calculates a possible amount of monthly maintenance along with how long maintenance payments will last based on income and length of marriage. A common term for this is the “Advisory Maintenance Guideline”. The court must consider this guideline number before deciding what amount and duration of maintenance to order, but the court can adjust those numbers liberally after considering all relevant factors. The formula is only relevant to your case if you and the other party make below $240,000 combined annual adjusted gross income and have been married for at least 3 years. If you and the other party make more than $240,000 or haven’t been married for 3 years, then the Advisory Maintenance Guideline will not be used by the court, and the court will rely solely on other relevant factors. Courts are required to consider the guideline, but the amount of maintenance they ultimately order can vary significantly from the guideline amount. Although the purpose of the guideline was to result in more predictability and a less complicated path for the court to reach a permanent maintenance number, and it does offer some guidance, neither party should count on the guideline as a predictor of what the ultimate maintenance numbers will be. If your combined incomes are over 240,000, disregard the formula and know the court will come up with an amount based on other relevant factors including income and duration of the marriage.
Advisory Amount of Maintenance Guideline Calculation:
The guideline amount of permanent maintenance is calculated as follows: 40% of both parties combined adjusted monthly gross income (-) The monthly adjusted gross income of the lower income earner (x) non-taxable maintenance multiplier of either 75% or 80%. C.R.S. 14-10-114(3)(b)(I)(A). If the number results in zero or negative the court is unlikely to award maintenance.
For example, if Patty earns $20,000/month and Bill earns $5,000/month, the starting point for maintenance is 25,000.
$25,000 x 40% - $5,000= $5,000
$5,000 x 75% = 3,750
For parties with combined gross monthly incomes of $10,000 or less, the guideline amount calculated above must be multiplied by 80% or .8. For parties with combined gross monthly incomes between $10,000 and $20,000, the guideline amount should be multiplied by 75% or .75. Once the taxes are accounted for, the court has their final advisory guideline amount, and they will increase, decrease, or keep that number depending on the relevant factors.
Advisory Term of Maintenance Guideline Calculation:
Permanent maintenance is in fact usually NOT permanent. If the court decides on an amount of permanent maintenance, they will then come up with a duration of time in which the payor is expected to make permanent maintenance payments. The advisory term of maintenance is used for all parties regardless of combined income. The advisory term is calculated using a table that takes the number of months of marriage and multiplies by a multiplier that gets larger the longer you are married. Again, couples must be married for 3 years for any guideline calculation of maintenance, for both amount and the term. So, the longer you are married for, the longer any orders for maintenance will last.
Months of Marriage
Advisory Term of Maintenance (months)
36 x .31
90 x .4
240 x .5
Note that when the table reaches 150 months, or 12.5 years of marriage, the multiplier is 50% and stays there. And again, like the advisory amount, the court is required to consider the guideline duration, but the court is not bound by that calculation and may decide to award maintenance for more or less time based on all relevant factors in the particular case at hand.
Maintenance at Temporary Orders
Maintenance functions similarly at the temporary orders phase. The court starts with the same advisory amount formula used to calculate permanent maintenance. The relevant factors are also used to land on an amount of temporary maintenance. Remember, courts will not use the advisory amount for parties making over 240,000 adjusted annual gross income. The main difference between maintenance at a temporary order and a permanent order is that the advisory term of maintenance table is not used. After all, temporary maintenance is only put in place until permanent maintenance is ordered, or the permanent orders hearing ends without any award of maintenance. Another significant difference is that, during temporary orders, the maintenance amount is often adjusted to account for who is paying which shared or marital expenses. For example, a party who might otherwise be ordered to pay spousal maintenance may have the amount of duration reduced to account for the fact that that party is already paying the mortgage on the marital residence or for making significant debt management payments.
The Bottom Line
Colorado has advisory guidelines regarding spousal maintenance that are supposed to provide judges with a starting point when they are calculating maintenance, but at the end of the day, judges still have considerable discretion to calculate spousal maintenance in each case based on the specific circumstances of the parties in that case. If you have any questions regarding maintenance please reach out to The Harris Law Firm.