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Calculating spousal maintenance in a Colorado divorce

Do the new Spousal maintenance guidelines provide clarity and predictability in divorce?

In 2014, Colorado’s family courts began relying on a set of guidelines to determine spousal maintenance. The guidelines, which were passed by state lawmakers two years previous, provide a useful formula for judges to follow when determining both the amount and duration of maintenance. While judges are not required to adhere to the guidelines, they can, but do not always create a more even and predictable environment for people going through a divorce in Colorado.

Providing greater predictability?

The new spousal maintenance formula came into effect January 1, 2014. Lawmakers passed the guidelines in response to concerns over the unpredictability of spousal support awards in the state. Critics of the then existing law, for example, noted that it was not uncommon to see two divorce cases that were substantially similar to one another result in vastly different spousal support payments depending on where in Colorado the cases were being heard.

The intent of the guidelines is to address two important issues concerning spousal support: amount and duration. The formulas provided by the guidelines mean that judges have a guideline to follow when determining spousal support, thus theoretically providing Coloradans with some measure of predictability in their divorce case regardless of where in the state they live. The problem is that each case and each judge is different. The new statute, because it is advisory only and not binding on a judge, does not always provide the predictability the legislature might have hoped. This is because there is more to maintenance that duration and amount.

New formulas

To determine spousal support, the monthly amount is calculated by taking 40 percent of the higher wage earner’s annual gross income, subtracting half of the other spouse’s annual gross income, and dividing the sum by 12. The final total is limited to 40 percent of both parties’ combined incomes.

Support duration is calculated depending on the length of the marriage in months. A 36-month marriage, for example, would result in support duration totaling 31 percent of the marriage’s length, or 11 months. The percentage increases incrementally up to 50 percent of a marriage’s length for those marriages lasting 150 months or more. The guidelines, it should be stressed, only apply to marriages lasting between three and 20 years and where the combined income of both spouses is less than $360,000.

Again, while this seems easy enough, the formula does not take into account the economic situation of the parties overall. This is why it is essential that people contemplating divorce consult with an attorney to get an idea of what the reality of their case might be. A good attorney can assess your case and tell you what is possible, what is likely, and what is unrealistic. Even if you do nothing more than consult with an attorney it will likely be money well-spent.