Court Must Make Findings for Maintenance
In 2014, Colorado’s maintenance statute was modified to provide trial courts with maintenance guidelines that set forth both an amount and duration of alimony based upon the parties’ incomes and duration of the marriage.
Colorado has long had child support guidelines which create a presumptive amount of child support a court must award, unless the trial judge makes specific findings to deviate from the guidelines. In other words, the guidelines numbers are somewhat written in stone unless the court really explains why a different amount was awarded.
But the maintenance guidelines are not binding – they are “advisory”, which means they are more like a “suggestion” for trial courts to consider. And unlike with child support, a domestic relations judge must make specific findings on the relevant statutory factors, despite the guidelines.
Statutory Maintenance Factors
C.R.S. 14-10-114(3)(d) first sets out an initial threshold determination before a court can consider maintenance:
“the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to him or her, to provide for his or her reasonable needs and is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment…”
If that threshold has been met, the court is then to consider both the advisory amount of maintenance, plus the statute then sets forth a total of thirteen different factors when determining the amount and duration of maintenance, including the financial resources of the parties, the lifestyle during marriage, duration of marriage, the age/health and health of the spouses, etc.
For a complete discussion of alimony in Colorado, see the Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) article in the Colorado Family Law Guide.
Courts Cannot Blindly Apply Guidelines
The Colorado Court of Appeals considered a trial court ruling from El Paso County where a trial judge awarded maintenance without making the requisite findings. Wright.1In re: Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11.
In Wright, the trial court awarded spousal maintenance to a wife, finding simply that: “[Wife] has a need for spousal maintenance and that [Husband] has the ability to pay.” ¶ 18. Period. No further findings were made, despite the husband putting on evidence at trial that the wife may have been underemployed, and despite the judge awarding most of the debt to the husband.
C.R.S. 14-10-114(3)(e) provides “Whether the court grants or denies a maintenance request, it shall make specific written or oral findings in support of its decision.” Relying upon this statute, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding:
“These findings are insufficient under the statute, since they lack most of the required findings… and do not demonstrate consideration of any of the thirteen factors…”Wright.2In re: Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11, ¶ 19.
And to emphasize its point, the court made crystal clear that the maintenance guidelines are advisory only, not controlling:
“it appears that the court gave the guideline amount presumptive effect, then looked for but did not find any reason to deviate from that amount. This is not the process required by statute.”Wright.3In re: Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11, ¶ 22.
The takeaway? You cannot walk into court and expect the judge to blindly apply the maintenance guidelines without at least putting on sufficient evidence to justify maintenance.
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