Vail Law: The Colorado way of dealing with divorce
Vail, CO, Colorado
You say to-MAY-to, and I say to-MAH-toe, but a divorce by any other name is still… ah… well, in this state, a “dissolution.” Poof! Dissolved! Like Alka-Seltzer in a tepid glass of Rocky Mountain water from the Vail Valley.
You see, Colorado is – how to say this nicely? – different. Besides our towering mountains, fresh-running snow-melt and robin’s egg blue skies that can make you gasp, Colorado has adopted its own, if not entirely unique, then at least out of lockstep, nomenclature when it comes to family (or “domestic”) law.
If you’re of a certain age, you grew up watching Perry Mason on a flickering black-and-white TV. If of another vintage, you celebrated Boston Legal, or, perhaps, L.A. Law. Any way you slice it, though, you’ve likely sucked up some cathode rays and absorbed at least a little of the Hollywood-fed legal lexicon. And what could be more ubiquitous than alimony and custody? Everyone knows what those are, right?
Well, not so much. Not in Colorado, anyway.
Same things, different names
In the Centennial State, divorce, while having precisely the same effect you’ve always thought, is called a dissolution. You don’t file for divorce, you file a petition for dissolution.
In this state, too, alimony is not alimony, but, rather, “spousal maintenance.” The concept, though, is generally the same. Essentially, if you know what alimony means, you get the concept of spousal maintenance. The higher-earning soon-to-be-ex-spouse is commanded by the court (or sometimes by private agreement between the parties) to help the lesser-earner with his or her living expenses for a stipulated period of time, or, sometimes, remarriage.
But how are those payments determined?
In some states – but not Colorado – the concept of “community property” has been adopted. Stripped to its essence, “community property” means Solomonic justice. Take whatever has been accumulated during the course of the marriage, sort out gifts and inheritance from the asset pile, and bring down Solomon’s sword to divide the remaining pile into equal halves. This half is yours and this one mine.
Rather than being an “equal division” state, however, Colorado is an “equitable division” state. In other words, whatever’s fair. And what’s fair in one circumstance isn’t necessarily what’s fair in another.
Things that are taken into consideration by the Court and dumped into the simmering cauldron of fairness include: length of the marriage; the fact of, and number of, children; the earning potential, education and vocational skills of each party and other similar matters. What is not taken into consideration is one party’s or the other’s wrongdoing. That he was a bad husband or she a rotten wife, does not affect the calculus of divorce. This state, like most if not all others, is a “no fault” state. Hey, it didn’t work out. Let’s divide up the booty and not point fingers.
Child support is most often arrived at by the simple application of a formula. To arrive at the amount owed, the formula takes into consideration such matters as: how many overnight visits each parent will have with the children; how many children there are and the total income of the divorcing parties. Armed with these and other facts, one does a simple calculation and – voila! – out pops a number, like a whack-a-mole from a fiberglass burrow.
But, if the parties earn above a certain amount – presently, a combined $20,000 monthly – then the court must do whatever’s fair. Broadly speaking, what is fair is what keeps the kiddies living in the manner to which they have become accustomed and, presumably, their parents’ fractured marriage notwithstanding, in at least a semblance of which they deserve to be maintained.
Most folks think of “custody” as who gets the kids. But in Colorado, who gets the kids is know as “allocation of parental responsibilities” and is divided into several component parts, among them parenting time, its kissin’ cousin, parental decision-making, and what is known in the vernacular as “primary residential custodianship.”
When it comes to family law, it’s a semantic smorgasbord in this state where it seems all the high-falutin’ linguistic chickens have snootily come home to roost.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowner’s associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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