Maintenance (spousal support) has always been a complex area of family law.
A new maintenance statute was adopted in Colorado on January 1, 2014. The new law applies to all divorce and legal separation cases filed after January 1, 2014. It is important to remember that the new law is intended to provide “guidelines” for the Courts, rather than hard and fast rules or presumptions. The purpose of the guidelines is to allow parties and attorneys to make educated guesses about the amount and term of maintenance. However, the Court must still decide maintenance based upon the particular facts of your case. Maintenance is ultimately within the Court’s discretion though the guidelines must inform the Court’s decision. The Court must fashion an order that creates fairness and balance after consideration of three areas: division of marital property, allocation of marital debt and maintenance.
The new law provides a specific calculation for determining (remember, guidelines, not hard and fast rules) maintenance for families earning less than $240,000 per year and married more than three years. The calculation begins with 40% of higher income earned by either party. From that number, subtract 50% of lower income earned by the other party. The result of this calculation is the maintenance amount. However, there is a maximum amount.
For instance, if one spouse earns $1000 per month and the other earns $300 per month, the maintenance analysis looks like this:
40% x $1,000 = $400
50% x $300 = $150
$400 – $150 = $250/month in maintenance.
Maintenance is capped; however, at 40% of the total family income. The rule is that the spouse seeking maintenance may not receive more than 40% of the parties’ combined incomes as maintenance. Using the example above, the maximum maintenance would be 40% of $1300 (combined incomes) or $520 per month.
The length of time (term) that maintenance may be paid is also addressed in the maintenance guidelines. A table in the statute covers three year marriages to twenty year marriages. Some examples from the tables are:
3 years of marriage = 11 months of maintenance
10 years of marriage = 4.5 years of maintenance
15 years of marriage = 7.5 years of maintenance
If your marriage is over 20 years long, the Court must make specific findings to extend the term of maintenance past 10 years. But, generally, unless your spouse is earning money on their own, you will see a term over ten years.
The maintenance statute addresses an employable spouse’s potential income if they are unemployed or underemployed. This analysis is unique to each marriage and you should talk with an attorney if this is an issue in your case. A vocational evaluation may be necessary to determine your spouse’s potential income.
There are many other factors the Court may consider in determining maintenance.