We know that when people go through a divorce it can feel like their world is being turned upside down, and that one of the reasons is uncertainty about the financial future. This can be particularly true in marriages where one spouse earned a higher income than the other.
The reasons for the income disparity can include how decisions regarding child-raising were made to how educations were financed, and more. Whatever the reason is, alimony–or spousal maintenance as its legally termed in the state of Colorado--is aimed at redressing unfair imbalance.
What Spousal Maintenance Does
To understand the purposes of spousal maintenance, it’s also important to understand what it is not.
Spousal maintenance is not child support. Each parent, regardless of whether they have physical custody of the children, must contribute to the costs of raising the kids. Child support payments are based exclusively on the cost of that child-rearing, and are a separate item altogether in the final divorce settlement agreement.
Spousal maintenance is not about how financial assets are distributed. Both spouses are considered equal owners of all marital property, which is broadly defined as that which was acquired during the marriage. The fact an economically disadvantaged spouse might be an equal owner of the other spouse’s 401(k) money does not amount to spousal maintenance.
What spousal maintenance is aimed at doing is allowing both spouses to live in the manner they were accustomed to during the marriage. Now, it’s possible that might not be feasible—perhaps neither will live as well on their own as they did in the marriage-- but it is a standard that is aimed at by Colorado family courts.
Factors That Impact Alimony
Colorado law offers judges the opportunity to use a basic formula to calculate alimony payments–start with 40 percent of the higher income and then subtract 50 percent of the lower income.
Did they make your head spin a bit? Don’t worry. Let’s say the higher-earning spouse is a software engineer pulling down $110,000 a year. The lower-earning spouse works part-time as an office manager and makes $30,000 a year, while taking care of the three grade-school age children.
Under the basic formula, you take 40 percent of the $110K salary (which is $44,000) and then subtract 50 percent of the $30K salary (which is $15,000). That leaves us with $29,000. Spread out over a year, that amounts to a monthly spousal maintenance payment of $2,416.67.
However, note something said at the top of this section–this is merely a formula that a Colorado judge has the opportunity to use. The judge is not required to use this. What’s more, the judge is not even mandated to use the figure derived from the formula as a rebuttable presumption–which means it would serve as a baseline which the spouses could then disagree with (or “rebut”) if they saw fit. The basic formula is just one possible option.
In the event, the judge opts against the basic formula, the discussion over spousal maintenance will hinge on factors like the length of the marriage, respective incomes of the spouses, the job skills of the spouses, investments made in either one’s career with common funds, and their prospects moving forward.
Types of Alimony in Colorado
Alimony, whatever the final amount ends up as, can be awarded three different ways…
- Permanent Alimony: As the name suggests, this is alimony that goes on until one of the spouses dies. It is rare for this to be awarded, but there are circumstances where it can be appropriate.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: This is when it’s determined that one spouse will eventually be able to earn the income necessary to sustain the lifestyle enjoyed in the marriage, but it will take some time and perhaps some professional training to get up to speed. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to cover costs associated with that.
- Reimbursement Alimony: Our example above considered a software engineer and an office manager .What if the software engineer advanced in their career because, early in the marriage, the couple decided to invest money into getting them the necessary education and certifications to move forward? The spouse at an economic disadvantage still deserves to share in the fruit of that investment. At the very least, reimbursement alimony can cover the money already sunk into training and education.
A lot goes into a fair spousal maintenance agreement and a Colorado Springs alimony attorney from our office will make sure all the right questions are asked. Call us today at (719) 626-8530 or contact us online.
Practical Application of the Law
What we’ve outlined above is the legal architecture within which judges operate and divorce lawyers negotiate. To better illustrate how it might work in the real world, let’s develop a hypothetical scenario and consider different variables…
A young couple got married right after one of them left the Air Force after the first Gulf War. Over the ensuing thirty years, they’ve had four children, of which the non-military spouse devoted themselves full-time to raising. The Air Force veteran started a computer consulting business, which has gone on to thrive. Now, that marriage is coming to an end. What happens?
This is a case where permanent alimony might be argued for. The couple is enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. That financial success is due, in no small part, to the fact that the stay-at-home spouse took on the burden of child-raising and allowed the other to focus like a laser on building the consulting business. Age-wise, the couple is presumably at least in their fifties.
The stay-at-home spouse is certainty able to get a job, especially now that all the kids are out of the house. But, after thirty years out of the workforce, to get employment that will sustain the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage? That’s a steep hill to climb and a court may well decide to award permanent alimony. If one of the kids is now a disabled adult child that must live at home, the case for permanent alimony is even stronger.
Now let’s consider this same couple, getting married at the same time in their lives. In this circumstance though, the non-Air Force spouse got their law degree from Boulder. In this scenario, they have the four kids, the lawyer spouse does stay at home with the kids, but the marriage ends after 12 years. What happens?
Here, we might be looking at a case for rehabilitative alimony. The spouse with the law degree is well-positioned to enter the workforce and earn a comfortable salary. They just need time to get networked again and perhaps need some updating of appropriate licenses. In a divorce case, expert witness testimony might be summoned to help the court better understand how long this process will take and how much it will cost.
But, the spouse with the law degree argues, they still have the four kids. Those kids are at home. The economically disadvantaged spouse will presumably be in strong position to secure physical custody, in the interests of keeping the children’s lives as stable as possible. Is this spouse really in a prime spot to begin an aggressive career launch with this level of parenting responsibility?
Within this single example, we could weave in even more variables. What if the Air Force spouse helped pay for the other spouse’s law school at CU? What if the stay-at-home spouse did legal work on the computer consulting business? The list goes on.
What all of this underscores is that in a spousal maintenance case everything matters. Every detail of how spouses acquired their income and what made it possible. Every detail about their prospects moving forward. Spouses who are going through what is often an emotionally traumatic time aren’t likely to think of all the pertinent details and remember all the right questions to ask.
That’s why divorce attorneys are here.
Knies, Helland & McPherson Law has decades of experience handling divorce cases. The experience of dealing with so many couples in so many different situations enables us to better understand what factors will work in your favor in a spousal maintenance negotiation. We leverage that experience and fight hard for the best interests of our clients. Call us today at (719) 626-8530 or contact us online and let us help you next .
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