Denver - The phones at the Harris Law Firm have been busier than during a typical Colorado fall. People are starting to hear about a new law that is expected to dramatically change the way alimony is set for divorcing couples. They have questions.
The changes will impact cases filed on or after January 1, 2014. It has been two years coming.
The guidelines will help determine the amount of money paid a former spouse and the length of time of the maintenance. A task force was set up to look at it before it was passed into law.
According to state records, 26,042 couples dissolved their marriages in 2012.
"This is a really traumatic thing for folks," Rich Harris said. He is the President of the Harris Law firm. In two decades, his team of attorneys have seen what they call the impossibility of predicting what might happen case to case.
"We see people with long term marriages get very little to no maintenance at all and we see short marriages go in and get walloped," he said.
Attorney Carrie Eckstein said it is challenging.
"You can't predict what the person in the black robe is going to do from one day to the next, what mood they are in, and what client they like the best," Eckstein said.
"People with no representation or poor representation, up until now, really could get hurt," Harris added.
The attorneys call this landmark legislation.
"It is a very big deal. For the first time we are going to have guidelines to help us deal with maintenance," Harris said.
The advisory formula applies to marriages of three to 20 years. Harris says it only applies if a yearly combined income is less than $360,000.
The calculation is:
Take 40 percent of the higher income.
Subtract 50 percent of the lower income.
Divide the difference by 12 months.
For a stay-at-home parent, it would be 40 percent of the wage earner's income.
Total maintenance award cannot exceed 40 percent of the combined incomes. It does not apply to highest wage earners.
The payment would be made for 45 percent of the length of the marriage. For example, a couple married ten years would have 4.5 years of alimony payments.
Harris explained that a marriage less than three years in length would typically not be eligible for maintenance under the new guidelines. A marriage dissolving after 20 years would typically have lifetime maintenance for the spouse with the lower income.
It isn't a mandatory formula. It is a suggested formula," Harris said.
He predicts it will level the field in divorce cases.
"There are going to be a lot less of the wild results that we've seen up until now," Harris said.
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