Until you begin the process of divorce, there is no saying how things will go. There are a lot of factors involved in ending a marriage, and your laundry list of legal considerations will likely be long. One of the major aspects of family law, and a significant consideration for divorcees, is spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance, also known as spousal support or alimony, is one of the ways in which the law can ensure that spouses are cared for following a divorce.
Spousal maintenance payments ensure that both members of a dissolved marriage are financially stable following a marriage. Because few people plan to divorce when they marry, each member of a couple usually comes to rely on the other person. When this occurs financially, decisions are made based upon the understanding of shared finances and a household income. Most individuals build their lives around this understanding. When a couple divorces, then, one spouse is left without the financial support they learned to rely on, putting them in a vulnerable place.
In some situations, one parent forgoes working outside of the home in order to take care of children, run the home, and organize the family’s life. This is a large undertaking that requires a lot of time and attention, but unfortunately does not earn direct paychecks or relevant experience for the workforce. After a divorce, that puts this spouse at a disadvantage, as they do not have up-to-date work experience, or an income to support themselves. This is not to say that they are undeserving of payment, which is precisely why the spousal support system is in place.
Spousal maintenance ensures that spouses can continue to rely on the financial setup established during their marriage, until they are able to become financially independent on their own.
Not every couple is eligible for spousal support, and it is not an automatic result of a divorce. These situations take careful planning and negotiation. Couples who both work and bring in similar incomes, for example, would not need spousal support from one another. Since their incomes are fairly equal, there is no room for additional support.
If a couple is eligible for spousal maintenance, it is determined based on the supporting spouse’s income. Generally speaking, the amount is equal to 40% of this spouse’s income, minus the receiving spouse’s income, though there are caveats to this.
Child support payments are a significant expense that can take the place of shared custody. In many cases, the spouse with the higher income pays child support to the spouse with the lower income. You may notice that this is the same arrangement as spousal maintenance. In cases where both spousal support and child support are warranted, child support is deducted from the supporting partner’s income before 40% is calculated for spousal maintenance, ensuring that the supporting spouse does not have to give away the majority of their income. For example, if the supporting spouse makes $10,000 per month, and pays $2,000 per month in child support, spousal maintenance would likely be calculated starting with 40% of $8,000.
Income and child support payments are not the only considerations that the court uses to calculate spousal support. Other factors come into play as well, including:
In the time between filing for divorce and receiving permanent spousal support, bills and financial needs do not simply disappear. During divorce proceedings, you and your attorney can negotiate a temporary spousal support agreement that can act as an intermediary support channel until a long-term plan is approved by the courts. It is essential that you discuss temporary spousal support with your attorney, and work to create a plan as soon as possible. If you or your spouse gets behind on bills or loan payments, it can affect and delay the entire divorce.
This type of spousal maintenance is what most people think of when they consider spousal support, as these payments are ongoing. However, the term “permanent spousal maintenance” is a misnomer. These payments are not permanent, and usually end at some point. For marriages of ten years or less, spousal support usually lasts for half of the length of the marriage. For example, if you were married for four years, you could expect spousal support to last for two years after the divorce. If you were married more than ten years, the length of the spousal support payments are up to the courts, and varies from situation to situation.
It is important to remember that no spousal support agreement is intended to be permanent. Though it is fair to establish spousal support in situations where there is a wealth discrepancy, these agreements are ultimately for the purpose of providing support in the period of transition from dependent to independent finances. All supported parties are expected to look for work, and aim to be financially self-sufficient at some point. That point simply varies, which is why there is no hard and fast rule for marriages that lasted over 10 years.
As with any legal agreement, spousal maintenance agreements are taken very seriously by the courts. Despite this, there are ways to alter them so that they constantly reflect your current situation. Modifications may occur if:
Though these situations do not automatically call for modifications, you may bring your case to the court and request that payments be modified.
As we mentioned, spousal support does not last indefinitely. Unlike modifications, ending a spousal support agreement occurs for a fairly finite amount of reasons. These reasons are straightforward and are as follows:
Unless the court approves another, unique reason for ending your spousal maintenance agreement, the above three situations are the only ways in which alimony payments can legally end.
Spousal support operates with the understanding that the money is to be used to make up for lost support from a marriage. As spouses tend to consider themselves dependant on one another during marriage, a divorce can alter the way that they are able to care for themselves and their children. If the supported spouse remarries, it is an indication that they have entered into a new support agreement with a new spouse, who will help them with the family costs and finances. This means that the divorce no longer has a direct impact on the supported individual’s finances, and the supporting spouse can release responsibility to support their ex-spouse.
It is important to understand that spousal support is not a gendered system. It is not only reserved for wives. In many modern heterosexual relationships, the wife brings in the majority of the family income. It is also important to remember that spousal support applies to LGBTQ+ marriages as well. The payments are simply based on which spouse earns more money, and if the gap between the two spouses’ incomes is significant enough to warrant payments.
No one or no gender is entitled to spousal support no matter what. These contracts are based on individual circumstances, not generalizations. If a wife’s ex-partner significantly out-earns her, then she is entitled to spousal support.
Whenever you make changes to a legal document, it is imperative that you do so in a way that follows all legal guidelines and practices. Failing to do so means that any changes you make may not be enforceable in court. In some cases, you can even be penalized for the modifications. For example, if you and your ex-spouse agree to reduce your payments from $1,000 per month to $500 per month, but do not go through the court system, your ex-spouse could potentially press charges for your underpayments. Even though you privately agreed upon a new payment, according to the legal system your payments should still be $1,000. The law cannot enforce any modifications that are not done through the proper legal channels.
Even if you plan to appear in court, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you. Your ex-spouse and their attorney can take advantage of your position if you don’t have an attorney. The legal jargon that accompanies contracts can be confusing, and it is essential that you understand what you are agreeing to before you sign on to any changes in your agreements.
Termination of spousal maintenance agreements is automatic in Colorado. This means that you do not have to go to court to get approval if a supported spouse remarries or dies. You may simply stop making payments effective the date of death or marriage.
If you are being supported by an ex-spouse, you or your attorney should notify them of your marriage. This is especially true if you no longer see one another or know what one another are up to. If you do not notify them and they continue to pay, they have grounds to sue you for the excess payments. Because there is very little pomp surrounding the termination of spousal support agreements, it can be easy to miss if you do not expressly inform them.
When it comes to hiring a Fort Collins divorce attorney or spousal support attorney, it is important that you find someone that you trust, and someone who knows the subject matter. Many attorneys do not specialize in or practice spousal maintenance law, meaning that they do not know the intricacies and details of local, state, and federal guidelines surrounding the contracts. Here at Johnson Law Group, we pride ourselves on being experts of Colorado family law. We handle spousal support agreements with regularity, and have the background to ensure that you make the best legal choices for your changing family. Though we have significant experience in the field, we approach every client as if they are our first. Divorce and spousal support are heavy, often stressful topics, and we empathize with that fact. Our experience does not keep us from extending compassion to our clients, but rather allows us to be more understanding and supportive both inside and outside of the courtroom.
It is also imperative that you find someone you connect with to represent you in your family law case. Here at Johnson Law Group, we pride ourselves on being a diverse group of attorneys who understand all walks of life. No matter where you come from or what you’re going through, one of our attorneys will certainly feel like someone with whom you can speak freely.
Spousal support agreements have a significant impact on a family’s life, so there is no time to waste when developing or modifying one of these contracts. Do not wait, contact Johnson Law Group today.