New Legislation Adjustments Baby Assist For Divorced Colorado {Couples} – The Denver Put up

Divorced couples will face dramatic changes – and significant uncertainty – around alimony after a new state law goes into effect Jan. 1.

“This is breakthrough legislation,” said Heidi Culbertson, director of client development at Harris, a law firm specializing in family law. “For the first time, Colorado will have a formula for maintenance.”

It is part of a national alimony reform movement with many state legislatures trying to either limit or standardize spousal alimony. In particular, the focus was on the lack of consistency in work orders, which led to perceptions of injustice and the inability to predict outcomes.

“I had a friend who was married to a very wealthy man in Aspen and she had a very similar case to someone in Denver,” said Culbertson, “but the alimony was day and night.”

A growing number of states – including Maine, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and New Jersey – have switched to using maintenance formulas similar to those used to calculate child benefit to calculate payments.

Now, after more than two years of work, including an extensive task force and legal training, Colorado will join these states with its own formula.

The counseling guidelines will help calculate the amount and duration of child support claims for marriages of three to 20 years in duration where the total annual income does not exceed $ 240,000.

It applies to divorce cases filed on or after January 1st.

However, there is uncertainty as to how closely it will be pursued by the judges. The guidelines are only a recommendation for the courts, a starting point for deciding how much maintenance should be granted and for how long. The final decision still rests with the judge, who must consider facts such as each spouse’s income, financial means and needs, and marital property.

Since judges have not yet started ruling under the new guidelines, patterns have not yet emerged and so there is great fear among family law attorneys.

“I hear different rumors from county to county,” said Stephen Plog, co-founder of Plog & Stein family law firm in Greenwood Village. “Some judges say they will not follow this; they’ll still do it the old way. “

Family lawyer Kevin Massaro has specific advice for high earners: “If you are the partner who is making a lot of money and your marriage is on the brink, you’d better apply this year than next year.”

“The concern we have as practitioners is that people will be locked up and persevered because they think there is a pot of gold in the world of maintenance,” said Massaro. “It’s a wild card, so we’re all worried.”

The spouse’s maintenance guidelines, introduced in May when House Bill 1058 came into effect, calculate assistance by taking 40 percent of the monthly income of the high earner and subtracting 50 percent of the monthly income of the low earner. The law also takes into account things like marital property and whether there are children. The duration of the support depends on the length of the marriage.

“This could pose a problem for the (high income spouse) if the formula is used draconically,” Plog said.

Based on an example offered by Plog – a husband makes $ 200,000 a year and his wife makes $ 50,000 – according to the new formula, the husband’s 40 percent per month would be $ 6,667 and the wife’s 50 percent of income According to the formula, the woman would get about $ 4,583 per month.

Under the old system, he said, if the wife’s expenses exceeded her income by $ 1,500 a month, a court could order monthly maintenance payments of $ 1,500 to $ 2,000 to meet her reasonable needs.

“If applied consistently, the (new guidelines) will encourage settlements,” said Plog, “but the problem is that the payer has a gun to his head.”

Brett Zachman, a financial advisor who founded the men’s group BeMen, supported the law because he believes that a formula will create objectivity in a difficult situation for men, “both for men who stay at home, who put their careers aside, and” are also emotional ”. Failure because of divorce and for breadwinners who see divorce as a financial Armageddon. “

When he and his wife got divorced, their incomes were roughly the same, so there was only child benefit.

“The guidelines took the emotions out of him,” he said. “When there’s an open playing field, it’s about egos, agendas and purses.”

Proponents say the formula will create fairness in a state where results vary dramatically from one judicial district to the next.

“Divorce is very tough on people,” said Helen Shreves, a divorce mediator and former president of the Colorado Women’s Bar who worked on the law. “You cut your fortune in half. Sometimes a person hasn’t worked in 10 or 15 years and a judge says, ‘You will be on your feet in three years.’ The truth is, it doesn’t happen that way. People need help with the transition. “

The extremes of judicial discretion were exposed a few years ago at an annual lunch with a jury from major cities. Each judge received the same leaflet and was asked to issue a maintenance order.

Results ranged from “no maintenance to about $ 5,000 a month for life,” Shreves said. “We were stunned.”

Maintenance orders are also cyclical.

“Years ago, Boulder was considered a refuge for maintenance work, but now it’s not that much,” said family law attorney Jordan Fox. “In Denver the maintenance was sometimes positive, but now it’s more difficult.”

A decade ago, attempts were made in Colorado to develop a maintenance formula, but the proposed legislation was rejected.

Then, in 2010, Mercedes Aponte’s 12-year marriage ended. She was 47 years old and had lost her job as sales manager for Andrew Romanoff’s Senate campaign in 2010 when he lost the election.

Her divorce decree ordered spousal support for 18 months, the time the judge determined she needed to regain her financial footing.

She returned to her previous career as a dental hygienist, which she continues part-time while working at her startup Colorado Strategic Solutions.

“The result was that I fell into poverty myself,” she said. “I tried to weather the economic downturn. ”

She decided to take action. She began speaking to people, including the women’s lobby for the President of Colorado, Chaer Robert. Others soon interfered.

State Representative Beth McCann, D-Denver, introduced a bill on alimony in 2012. The Family Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association unanimously rejected it, so they withdrew the bill and formed a task force to work out a new rule. They met monthly to discuss the need for more consistent alimony payments, discuss the pros and cons of a formula, and reflect on specific aspects of Colorado law.

Judges including William Hood of the 2nd District and Angela Arkin of the 18th District helped draft the law to make it work for families and courts the way those who made the law intended.

“Many judges traditionally struggle with what is fair for divorced families in the maintenance area,” Arkin said in an email interview. “Most judges did not practice family law before going to court, so they did not necessarily have the experience to help determine a fair maintenance.”

When McCann reintroduced the bill in January, support and opposition were evenly divided, “and there was a lot of controversy over whether or not we should have a formula,” said Gary Polidori, a family law attorney in Lakewood, who oversaw the task was power.

The women’s lobby made the bill a priority legislative issue, arguing that it would promote settlement and successful mediation, reduce litigation, and save women and families from falling into poverty. In 2011, single women with children had a median income of $ 26,705, the lowest of any family type in Colorado, compared to $ 42,075 for single men with children.

The law was passed in April and enacted in May by Governor John Hickenlooper.

Aponte believes her personal setback contributed to political change.

“As a society we say that marriage has economic value, and how far do we want people to fall when it ends? Do we as a society just want to let that happen, “she said,” or do we say that we have a responsibility to help people get out of the situation? “

Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083, or

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