Alimony calculations require definition of ‘income’ |

Alimony calculations require definition of ‘income’

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

This seems like an easy one; income is what you earn. While true as far as it goes, saying that income is merely what you earn ” or is everything you earn ” does not tell the whole story in divorce.

First, let’s define a couple of terms. While most folks are familiar with the term “alimony,” the term in Colorado is referred to as “maintenance” or “spousal maintenance.” “Child support” is precisely what it sounds like: Money paid from one of the divorcing parties to the other to help provide for the needs of minor children. Child support is usually paid by the party who has less parenting time. There may exceptions based on the respective incomes of the parties.

In divorce, two of the preeminent concerns are how to divide the assets of the marriage and to ensure that the minor children are provided for. Matters pertaining to the children generally break down into those concerning their emotional and their financial well being. When dividing up the assets of the marriage, there must be equitable allocation of property, as well as equitable allocation of the debt. In addition, where payments are required to maintain one of the parties in the lifestyle to which he or she has become accustomed during the marriage, maintenance often will be ordered. Maintenance may also be ordered in circumstances where the age, physical, or mental condition of a spouse so requires.

In Colorado, there is no magic formula how the debts and assets of a marriage will be divided nor how spousal maintenance will be ordered. This state recognizes the circumstances of each divorcing couple are unique and while guidelines direct what matters must be considered by the court. The standard is to do what’s “equitable,” taking into consideration all of the circumstances of the marriage.

Determining the amount of child support is easier unless the couple is in one of the highest income brackets. For most, however, determining the amount of child support to be paid ” and from whom to whom ” is the function of simple calculations which take into consideration the incomes of both parents, the number of overnight custody each parent has with the children, the number of children and other factors.

Since the amount of child support is based in significant part on the incomes of each parent, determining those incomes is essential. Similarly, where spousal maintenance is ordered, the amount to be paid, and its duration is, in large part, a function of a party’s ability to pay.

So, what is income for the purposes of determining maintenance and child support?

Very broadly, “income” is everything a party earns from every source with discrete exceptions. It may also mean what the party could earn if he or she were employed full time in employment commensurate with his or her education and experience if he or she is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.

Even where certain income may not be considered in the calculation of maintenance, it may be treated as an “economic circumstance” for the court’s consideration.

The Colorado scheme is based on fairness. Where dividing the assets of a marriage is insufficient to maintain one of the divorcing couple or the other, the court will generally fashion a means by which that party is not cast out, penniless, on the streets but, instead, will recognize that “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer” sometimes means beyond divorce.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins can be reached at 926.4461 or by e-mail at

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