Spouse Abandonment Laws in Colorado
By Danielle Smyth
Updated March 10, 2020
Spouses can divorce for many reasons, and every divorce is as different from the next as families are different from each other. However, knowing the applicable law can help parties get the best possible results with a divorce. If someone is considering separating or moving out, or if a spouse has left, it's important to know the laws regarding spousal abandonment and how they relate to divorce.
What Is Abandonment?
In family law terms, an individual can abandon a marriage, marital property or both. Abandonment occurs when one partner willingly leaves the other and any shared property, physically separating from the shared home and from his spouse, without the consent of the remaining spouse. Abandonment can also occur without physical separation if the abandoning spouse has withdrawn financial support, affection and other forms of marital maintenance, or if the spouse is abusive.
No-Fault Divorce in Colorado
While it may seem obvious that an abandonment would constitute grounds for divorce, Colorado is a no-fault divorce state. This means that the actions of one spouse cannot be used in the divorce proceedings. Divorce proceedings can be initiated anytime by either spouse, whether or not he has remained in, or left the marital home.
However, just because Colorado is a no-fault divorce state doesn't mean that either party can do whatever she wants without consequences. The court will still consider some actions when it comes to the ultimate disposition of the divorce – and divorce arrangements, once decreed by the court, are very hard to change in Colorado.
Dissolution of Marriage
Divorce, known as a "dissolution of marriage" under Colorado law, ends with a court-issued divorce decree. The issues in a divorce decree can be agreed upon by the spouses or settled by a court ruling, and may or may not involve alternative dispute resolution procedures. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes can help the divorcing parties come to an agreement via negotiation, mediation or arbitration. This has become very common in Colorado.
Whatever the process behind the divorce decree, once it's finalized, it is very difficult to change. Colorado has strict limits on altering the terms of a divorce past this stage. This means that whatever agreements the spouses came to in terms of child custody, child support and spousal maintenance (also known as alimony) are there to stay. Per Colorado Revised Statute §14-10-122, provisions related to financial obligations stemming from a divorce, such as spousal maintenance or child support, can be modified only "upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unfair."
Community Property State
Moreover, while Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, it is not a community property state. Colorado law requires that marital property be divided "equitably," which is not necessarily equally. Rather, the division must be fair and take into account each spouse's circumstances, as well as the well-being of any children.
A spouse also cannot avoid divorce proceedings by leaving. Since either party can file for divorce, the remaining spouse can still file if the other spouse is missing. The court will do what it can to find the missing spouse and ensure she is served with papers, or will consider her served if the papers are published in a widely read newspaper.
Spousal Abandonment in Colorado
Even though Colorado is a no-fault state, that doesn't mean the actions of a given spouse can never impact the divorce proceedings. Actions having to do with the use of shared resources or child custody can still affect the outcome. Abandonment laws in Colorado are rather limited, however.
In most cases, spousal abandonment does not exist in Colorado, and a spouse can move out without being considered to have abandoned the marriage or property. While a spouse can leave the marital home without ending the marriage, abandonment does come into play if the spouse also stops supporting the family left behind.
If a spouse leaves, Colorado law requires that she continue to give financial support to the remaining spouse and any children, and continue to provide for a home for the family. As long as the spouse continues this support, she is not considered to have abandoned the marriage or marital property in Colorado, and this action cannot negatively impact the divorce proceedings. If that support ends, then Colorado law does consider this situation to be spousal abandonment.
Involving Children in Abandonment
This can be particularly complex when children are involved. The best way to ensure that child custody arrangements remain fair and favorable is for parents to remain present in the children's lives whether or not that parent still lives in the family home. It's best to consult with an attorney to determine whether the departure of a spouse constitutes abandonment.
Another case in which the divorce outcome can be affected is if one spouse has an affair and uses marital funds to conduct this affair. Simply having an affair is not considered in the final divorce ruling. But in the case of abusing shared funds, the cheating spouse may be required to reimburse the other spouse for any money spent on the affair partner. This includes gifts, meals and means of covering up the adultery.
Marital Homes and Spousal Maintenance
The marital home is often the most valuable asset accumulated in a marriage, and also often has a lot of emotional meaning to the spouses and any children. What happens to the marital home is one of the biggest questions in most divorces.
Under Colorado law, a spouse who moves out may still be able to keep the home or be entitled to a portion of its equity. The marital home is treated just like any other real estate interest in terms of who gets what in a divorce. Colorado courts may not consider whether a spouse has moved out, but they do consider contributions to the home (including not just financial contributions but also homemaking and taking care of the property), the value of the property, the economic circumstances of each spouse and the best interests of any minor children.
Welfare of Children and the Marital Home
Colorado courts prioritize the welfare and stability of children, and are likely to keep the children in the marital home if this is an option, even if the parent who moved out first is granted primary custody. This would mean that the spouse who left could end up moving back in to live with the children.
Deciding the disposition of the marital home is only one necessary financial outcome of a divorce. Another is spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance in Colorado is determined by a formula that takes into account the spouses' incomes, the length of the marriage, the financial needs of any children, standard of living and other factors. A spouse who moves out may be ordered to pay spousal maintenance on a temporary basis until the divorce is finalized.
This can put a great strain on the departing spouse as she must contribute to the maintenance of two households: her own separate one, and that of the remaining spouse. This is a good reason moving out should be undertaken with caution, even though Colorado is a no-fault state that doesn't normally consider spousal abandonment.
Justice and Marital Law in Colorado
Colorado family law tries to make sure divorces are as fair as possible and take into account the circumstances of each spouse. Even so, it's best for each spouse to try to come to an agreement with the other spouse, either alone, with a lawyer, or through ADR.
Remember, whatever the courts decree will be very hard to change, so start off on the right foot and stay informed.
Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. She has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing, and enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.