Alimony—called "spousal maintenance" in Colorado—is a payment that a higher-earning spouse makes to the other to ensure the lower-earning spouse can continue to meet their basic needs during or after a divorce. Neither spouse is automatically entitled to support, and unless the parties have entered into a settlement agreement regarding alimony, the court must calculate any award depending on the facts of each case.
There are two basic types of spousal maintenance in Colorado:
Judges may order one spouse to pay temporary spousal maintenance while the divorce is pending. The judge will consider the guidelines for and factors relevant to longer-term maintenance, as well as any factors that are relevant for making an award in the short-term.
After the judge has determined the amount of temporary maintenance (as well as any temporary child support that might be necessary), the judge must consider the financial resources of each party in order to determine how family debts will be paid during the divorce. The judge will also decide how to temporarily allocate marital property. This means that on top of any temporary spousal maintenance award, a spouse might be ordered to contribute to, for example, house or car payments.
The judge has discretion to decide how long the temporary maintenance will last.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(4) (2022).)
Colorado courts can order spousal maintenance to be paid after a divorce when one spouse needs support and the other has ability to pay support. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(1)(a)(II) (2022).)
Whenever a spouse requests spousal maintenance in Colorado, the court must make initial written or oral findings about:
Only after making these initial findings can the court determine the amount and term of a spousal maintenance award—if any. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(3)(a)(II) (2022).)
You might have noticed that there's no mention in this list of marital misconduct. That's because Colorado courts won't consider either spouse's "bad" behavior (such as committing adultery) when determining whether to award spousal maintenance. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(2) (2022).)
After a judge has determined that spousal maintenance is appropriate, their job is to arrive at a maintenance amount that is "fair and equitable to both parties." In order to do this, the judge must perform a three-pronged test.
Colorado law provides a set of suggested guidelines judges can use to arrive at a term and amount of support that is generally considered consistent and fair. The advisory guidelines take into account the:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(3)(b) (2022).)
The Colorado spousal support maintenance chart addresses only marriages that lasted between three and 20 years. When a marriage lasted for an amount of time not on the chart, Colorado law states the following:
The judge must evaluate the suggestions of the guidelines in light of all relevant factors, including:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(3)(c) (2022).)
After performing the first two steps in the evaluation, the judge can award maintenance only after finding that the spouse seeking maintenance:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-114(3)(d) (2022).)
Once the judge has arrived at a final written decision about spousal maintenance, it will be put in writing and issued as an enforceable order of the court.
Unless the parties agree in writing to a different arrangement, the obligation to pay spousal maintenance ends:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-122(2)(a) (2022).)
Colorado courts can modify spousal maintenance orders when one of the parties can demonstrate changed circumstances so substantial and continuing that the terms of the original order are unfair. If a judge finds that circumstances have changed substantially enough, the modification will be effective as of the date the motion was filed, unless that date would cause undue hardship or substantial injustice. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-122 (2022).)
To request a modification of or termination of maintenance, you must file with the court a Motion to Modify or Terminate Maintenance (Spousal/Partner Support) (be sure to read the instructions sheet).
Parties can agree to the terms of support, including the method and frequency of payments. However, if the couple can't agree, the court will step in and decide. In most cases, periodic payments (usually monthly) are appropriate. Often, the order will require maintenance to be paid directly to the spouse, although the court can also issue an income withholding order, which directs the paying spouse's employer to withhold the award directly from the employee's paycheck.
If the paying spouse has the means, the court sometimes allows payment of support in a lump-sum with property or cash. The benefit to lump-sum payment is that there is no on-going obligation to pay monthly support, and the recipient doesn't have to worry about non-payment through the years.
If the paying spouse fails to meet maintenance obligations, the recipient can request assistance from the court to collect payments. The court takes non-payment of support very seriously, and a failure to abide by the court order can result in fines, court appearances, loss of licenses, bank account, and tax return intercepts, or jail time.
Read your maintenance order carefully to see if there are special instructions about how to pay or receive maintenance. If you have questions about the order, you can ask the court directly or inquire with the court clerk's office.
In divorces finalized before December 31, 2018, periodic maintenance payments are taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. However, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax deduction and reporting requirements for maintenance for any divorce finalized on or after January 1, 2019. That means that the Internal Revenue Service won't count spousal maintenance payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get the deduction.
Recognizing the shift in federal tax law, Colorado's spousal maintenance statute and guidelines require judges to consider the taxability of any maintenance award when deciding its amount and duration.
If you're unsure how maintenance payments will affect your taxes, or if you have any other questions regarding Colorado spousal maintenance, speak with an experienced tax and divorce attorney near you.