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Colorado Revises Maintenance (Alimony) Guidelines, Effective 2014

Formerly known as “alimony,” maintenance is financial support given by one spouse to another which is paid as a result of divorce or legal separation.  On May 10, 2013, House Bill 13-1058 was signed into law. This Bill will substantially modify the statute which governs maintenance in dissolution or legal separation cases in Colorado (C.R.S. §14-10-114).  This change to the statute is set to take effect January 1, 2014 and applies to actions in which a petition for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity, or an action for the initial establishment of maintenance is filed on or after January 1, 2014.

Historically, the Courts have enjoyed wide discretion in the award of maintenance, both in amount and duration. The only phase of a case in which a domestic law practitioner had a level of comfort in the likely maintenance award was the temporary orders phase where the parties had a combined annual income of $75,000.00 or less. In that case, the presumptive maintenance amount is calculated by taking 40% of the higher earner’s monthly income and subtracting 50% of the lower earner’s monthly income. This calculation results in a presumptive maintenance for the temporary orders phase only. Cases falling outside of this limited circumstance were subject to very wide discretion of the Court. Indeed, a similar set of circumstances may receive a far different maintenance order by one judge than another.

The Colorado legislature enacted H.B. 13-1058 to establish a more detailed statutory framework, including advisory guidelines for the amount and term of maintenance in certain cases.  The hope is a more fair, equitable and consistent maintenance order across Colorado. Time will tell if this stated goal is accomplished.

The new changes insert a guideline for maintenance amounts and duration for parties with a combined annual gross income of up to $240,000.00 whose marriage has lasted between 3 years and 20 years. The guideline is a grid incorporating months of marriage and a guideline term of maintenance. At first review, the changes seem to favor lower-earners. The maintenance guidelines result in maintenance length and amounts much higher than many jurisdictions in the Front Range are accustomed. Upon a closer review, however, there are many exceptions to the guidelines written into the statute. The maintenance guidelines are not a presumptive amount; they are merely guidelines. Courts still retain the ability to review each case for equity. Further, the Court must still consider many of the same factors in entering a maintenance order as contemplated by the previous maintenance statute. Likely, courts will hear argument as to why the maintenance guidelines should not apply to nearly every case litigated in Colorado.

Time will tell if the new modifications result in a more predictable system of maintenance or if the new changes are used as little more than a starting point to interpret the old system of maintenance. More predictability and less litigation? We shall see.

For more information contact: William E. Smith, Esq. 720.542.6142