Colorado Introduces Guidelines To Reduce Arbitrary Alimony Awards

Divorce is rarely a simple process, even for spouses who have signed a prenuptial agreement or mostly agree on how to handle the settlement. One complication that couples divorcing in Jefferson County, Colorado, no longer have to worry as much about is the determination of alimony payments. Due to a new law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, alimony calculations in Colorado may become considerably more uniform and predictable.

Provisions of new law

According to 9 News, the new law provides guidelines for calculating alimony, similar to the way that there are legal guidelines for calculating alimony support. Some facts about the new guidelines:

  • Alimony is calculated by taking 40 percent of the higher-earning spouse's income and subtracting 50 percent of the lower-earning spouse's income.
  • Spouses with a combined income greater than $360,000 are exempt from these guidelines.
  • Alimony payments will continue for 45 percent of the length of the marriage.
  • Marriages under three years will not qualify, and lifetime alimony will be awarded in marriages lasting more than two decades.

Of course, it is important to note that the guidelines are only guidelines; judges may still award alimony as they see fit, based on factors like the income of each spouse, the liabilities of each spouse and the role that each spouse played in the marriage. Still, having a basic formula to start from when determining alimony may lead to more uniform results that are perceived as fairer by both parties. These alimony law changes reflect revisions that already have been seen in other states in the last few years.

Shifts away from arbitrary alimony

The New York Times reported a few years ago that New York had recently begun employing guidelines for calculating permanent alimony, and that states including Colorado and Pennsylvania had adopted guidelines for calculating temporary alimony. These guidelines were adopted because alimony awards can vary significantly otherwise. The same article cited one survey showing that Ohio judges believed that a lifelong homemaker divorcing from a doctor should be awarded anywhere from $5,000 to $175,000 a year, a staggering difference.

The same article suggests that these fairly arbitrary alimony awards may be harmful because they could encourage both higher-earning and lower-earning spouses to put off divorce for fear that they cannot afford life afterward. This could be especially dangerous for people in abusive or high-conflict relationships.

Although the new Colorado guidelines are not mandatory, they will hopefully help to make alimony payments more standard and predictable so that every spouse has a better idea of what to expect when entering a divorce. Still, if you are preparing for a divorce in Colorado, make sure to speak with a family law attorney about important issues like alimony, property division and child custody to ensure that your rights are protected.