In Colorado, alimony is called “spousal maintenance.” A Colorado judge may order one spouse to pay maintenance to the other during divorce proceedings—sometimes called "pendente lite" maintenance—as well as either short-term or long-term maintenance after the divorce is final. Payments are usually periodic—monthly or biweekly, for example—for a specific length of time.
Permanent alimony is becoming increasingly rare. Although Colorado law still uses the term "permanent" to refer to spousal maintenance orders extending beyond the final date of dissolution, the great majority of such awards are only for a limited time.
Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer maintenance payments may continue. Even after longer marriages, however, Colorado courts tend to look at alimony as rehabilitative: a form of temporary assistance to allow a spouse time to find a job or obtain training and education to improve job prospects. True permanent (lifetime) alimony is generally reserved for spouses with very poor employment prospects due to ill health or advanced age. A couple can always agree between themselves that one spouse will pay the other longer-term or permanent alimony.
Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance in Colorado
If a couple’s combined annual gross income is $75,000 dollars or less, Colorado courts employ a formula to determine eligibility for temporary alimony. The formula provides for a monthly payment to the lower earner of 40% of the higher earner’s monthly adjusted gross income minus 50% of the lower earner’s monthly adjusted gross income. Prior to applying the formula, the court will subtract from each spouse’s income any pre-existing spousal support payments either spouse makes, as well as any child support payments either makes for children outside of the current marriage.
Either spouse can request a deviation from the formula for unfairness, and a judge granting such request must specify the reasons for the decision. Both spouses can also agree to waive temporary maintenance for the lower earning spouse, but such an agreement must include the reasons for the waiver; a waiver agreement may be rejected by a judge if the judge considers the agreement to be extremely unfair.
A court may also order temporary maintenance for the lower earner of a couple whose combined gross income exceeds $75,000, as well as "permanent" maintenance for the lower earner of a couple at any income level. However, the court must first find that the spouse seeking maintenance:
- lacks sufficient property, including any award of marital property, to provide for reasonable needs, and
- lacks the ability to become self-supporting through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate for the spouse to delay seeking employment.
A court that makes such findings can then award maintenance in whatever amount and for whatever period of time seems fair. Colorado courts consider only factors relating to the needs of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay for both spouse’s needs. Fault is not a consideration. Relevant factors may include:
- the financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance, including any award of marital property or child support
- the future earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance, and any time necessary for education and training
- the standard of living established during the marriage
- the length of the marriage
- the age and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance, and
- the ability of the paying spouse to meet the financial needs of both spouses.
Termination or Modification
Unless a couple has a written agreement not to seek changes to maintenance payments, a court can modify periodic payments due to a material change in circumstances. Absent an agreement to the contrary, maintenance generally terminates if the recipient remarries.
Periodic maintenance payments are usually taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. Couples can sometimes take advantage of this situation by structuring alimony payments to create the best possible tax scenario for both spouses.