The end of a marriage is typically a time of uncertainty and can lead to apprehension about one’s financial future–especially for the spouse who earned less income during the marriage. Asking how much alimony one can get is a perfectly reasonable question and one that has clear guidelines in Colorado law.
The amount of alimony an economically disadvantaged spouse can receive may be based on either a set formula that is offered to Colorado judges or by a more discretionary application of a wide-ranging set of factors.
Before going further into the factors that impact alimony payments, it’s important to make one legal clarification and draw two distinctions.
- In Colorado, the term “spousal maintenance” is used. This term can be used interchangeably with alimony.
- Alimony is not the same as child support. Child support, as the name indicates, is based on expenses associated with raising children. Alimony is a separate payment that is aimed at allowing the spouse to enjoy the same standard of living they had during the marriage.
- Alimony is not what the spouse will receive as their share of the property division. Although how assets are divided between the spouses may impact the final amount awarded in alimony, property division and alimony are two distinct parts of a divorce settlement.
The Colorado Alimony Formula
Under Colorado law, a judge can look at the incomes of both spouses, and then award the lower earning spouse 40 percent of the higher income minus 50 percent of the lower income.
It sounds more confusing than it is. Let’s presume the spouse who makes more money has an annual income of $125,000. The other spouse makes $40,000.
Therefore, you take 40 percent of the higher income ($125K), which is $50K. Then you take 50 percent of the lower income ($40K), which is $20K. The difference between the two amounts is $30,000. There’s your annual alimony total, which breaks down to $2,500 per month.
So, that’s it then? Not really. A Colorado judge can use this formula. But they are not obligated to. Furthermore, the judge is not even obligated to use this $2,500 per month as a rebuttable presumption–a figure which can be challenged but places the burden of proof on the challenging party. Nor is it necessary that the $2,500 even be a starting point for negotiations.
What is the $2,500 figure under this scenario then? It’s just one option a family law judge has at their disposal. If the judge opts not to use it, then the door is wide open to all the other factors that may impact how much a person can get in alimony.
Factors That Impact Alimony in Colorado
A common reason for disparity in income between spouses is that one of them took on the responsibilities of staying home with children. Perhaps the economically disadvantaged spouse was at home full-time, part-time, or made other forms of career sacrifices for the good of the family.
Colorado law respects those sacrifices and will treat this spouse’s contribution to the marriage on equal par with the spouse who may have earned a higher paycheck. Alimony is also likely to be higher if a marriage like this lasted a long time.
Consider two contrasting examples. One spouse stayed at home and raised five children, the youngest of which just went off to college. Now, the parents, dealing with empty-nest syndrome, decide to end the marriage. The spouses have likely been married around thirty years. The spouse that worked was able to advance in their career and is earning a healthy salary. The other spouse, with perhaps three decades out of the workforce, is facing a tough road to earn the kind of income that will allow their lifestyle to be sustained. The alimony award will reflect that.
In the other example, the spouses have been married for five years. They have a 2-year-old child. One of the spouses stayed home, but they were working full-time in their chosen career right up to the point of the birth. This couple is presumably younger–late twenties or early thirties. The spouse that stayed home can still get some alimony for their career sacrifice, but the courts will note that getting back up to speed quickly is a very realistic goal. The alimony award will reflect that.
Types of Alimony in Colorado
The difference in the stories of each couple mean that there are different types of alimony, each designed to meet the needs of a specific situation…
Rehabilitative Alimony: This is alimony aimed at paying for the economically disadvantaged spouse to obtain the job skills necessary to support themselves in the manner they were accustomed to living.
For example, let’s look at our couple where the stay-at-home spouse had only been out of the workforce for two years. Let’s extend that absence to 10 years. The spouse still has a long career ahead of them, but they fell behind on certifications, licensing, and other professional knowledge. They just need a little time to get up to speed. Rehabilitative alimony will cover the cost of doing that.
Reimbursement Alimony: Let’s bring in a new hypothetical example. Here, we have two young people who meet in college. One of them is sharp in chemistry and needs to go to graduate school if they are to enjoy a teaching career. Money is lacking. This couple gets married shortly after finishing their undergrad work. As part of building for their shared future, they put out the money for the chemist to go to grad school.
Now, 15 years later, they are going through a divorce. The chemist is employed at a big university, with a respectable salary, excellent benefits and is tenured. They–and their spouse–have clearly benefited from the investment in grad school. But the spouse–doing well professionally in their own right–will no longer reap the fruits of that investment.
The way a court may resolve this is to order reimbursement alimony. The spouse who helped pay for school doesn’t need help with financial support. But it may be concluded they deserve to at least be paid back their share of the costs of the other’s grad school studies.
Permanent Support: Alimony that is literally permanent–continuing until one of the spouses dies–is rare. But there are situations where it can apply. In our example of the couple who has been married thirty years and raised five children, it might not be realistic for the stay-at-home spouse to ever get up to speed in a career.
While some states have abolished permanent alimony for cases like these, Colorado is not one of them. In marriages lasting longer than 20 years, permanent alimony is at least a possibility.
Another way permanent alimony can apply is if the economically disadvantaged spouse is caring for a disabled child (including an adult child) or an elderly parent. The commitments that come with this can make getting up to speed in a career virtually impossible. Colorado law respects that and courts may order permanent alimony as a solution.
There are a lot of factors that can go into determining an alimony payment in Colorado. It’s your lawyer’s job to make certain your case is spelled out with the greatest clarity possible. At the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC, we combine a savvy professionalism with real personal empathy for our clients. Reach out to us today at (303) 647-4245 or contact us online to set up an initial free consultation.