When couples divorce in Colorado, a judge may require a high-earning spouse to pay alimony to a financially-dependent one. A permanent alimony or maintenance award is an official order of the court, but if a spouse remarries, dies, or is no longer financially-dependent, he or she (or the spouse’s estate) loses the right to collect alimony.
This article provides an overview of alimony awards in Colorado. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Alimony, also called “maintenance” in Colorado, is money paid by one spouse to the other as part of a divorce order. A judge won’t award alimony in every divorce and ex-wives aren’t the only ones entitled to alimony. Spousal maintenance can be temporary or permanent. “Temporary maintenance” is paid while a couple’s divorce is pending. “Permanent maintenance” is paid after a divorce is final.
There are several types of permanent spousal maintenance in Colorado. For example, a judge could grant alimony as a lump sum (to be paid at once), a transfer of property in a divorce, or as periodic alimony payments. Periodic alimony is the most common form of spousal maintenance where one spouse makes monthly payments to the other. Periodic alimony usually lasts a set period of time (such as the same number of years the couple was married). Unlike lump sum alimony or alimony in the form of a property transfer, periodic alimony ends if the receiving spouse remarries or dies.
To determine whether maintenance is appropriate in your case, a judge will examine several relevant factors, including:
Once a judge has determined that a spousal maintenance award is warranted, a judge will review several lifestyle and income factors to determine how much alimony is appropriate and for how long. Specifically, a court will examine each spouse’s financial resources (including expected inheritances) and employment, the couple’s lifestyle during the marriage, the length of the marriage, each spouse’s age, physical and mental health, and either spouse’s significant economic or noneconomic contributions to the marriage (including occupational enhancement by one spouse or one spouse’s payment of the other’s debts).
Even a permanent alimony award isn’t necessarily permanent— in Colorado, the court can modify a permanent alimony award if there’s been a substantial change in circumstances. Typically, a maintenance award can be modified if there’s a major increase in the supported spouse’s income or decrease in the supported spouse’s financial needs.
In some cases an alimony award will terminate automatically upon the recipient spouse’s remarriage, cohabitation, or death.
Terminating spousal maintenance in Colorado is automatic when the supported spouse remarries or dies. Specifically, periodic maintenance automatically ends when the supported spouse gets remarried or enters into a civil union. In rare cases, a spousal maintenance order or written agreement between the couple might allow alimony to continue after remarriage. However, in the absence of such a written agreement or court order, the paying spouse can simply stop making payments on the date of the recipient spouse’s marriage. There is no need to return to court.
Keep in mind that remarriage only impacts a recipient spouse’s alimony award. In other words, if a paying spouse gets remarried, his or her alimony obligation remains unchanged. Also, remarriage won’t change a lump sum alimony award or any alimony that has already been paid. An exception to this rule is if the spouse receiving periodic alimony payments conceals his or her remarriage from the paying spouse. In that case, a judge may terminate alimony retroactively and the recipient spouse may be required to repay alimony collected after the remarriage.
Unlike some other states, in Colorado alimony doesn’t necessarily end when the supported spouse cohabitates (lives with a partner in a romantic relationship). Cohabitation alone is not, by itself, reason enough to modify or end alimony. If a paying spouse wants to end alimony payments because the supported spouse is living with another person, he or she will need to show:
For example, if a supported spouse is living rent-free or otherwise having expenses paid for by the new live-in partner, the court may consider those reduced expenses as a substantial change in circumstances which justify lowering or ending alimony payments.
If you have additional questions about alimony obligations, contact a Colorado family law attorney for help.