July 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Maintenance Payor’s Good Faith Decision to Retire Does Not Automatically Require Grant of Motion to Modify

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Thorstad on Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Post-Dissolution Action—C.R.S. § 14-10-122(2)—Modification of Maintenance upon Retirement—Rebuttable Presumption—C.R.S. § 14-10-114.

The parties were divorced in 2002. They had a separation agreement that required husband to pay wife maintenance and reserved jurisdiction for the court to modify maintenance. Husband retired from his job, in part due to health problems. He requested termination of his maintenance obligation based on C.R.S. § 14-10-122(2)(a), (b), and (c), which establish a rebuttable presumption that a decision to retire was made in good faith when certain conditions are met. These subsections did not exist in their present form when the parties entered into their separation agreement. The magistrate granted the request. Wife sought review in the district court, which denied her petition.

On appeal, wife argued that the trial court erred when it relied on C.R.S. § 14-10-122 instead of C.R.S. § 14-10-114 when granting husband’s motion. C.R.S. § 14-10-122 was the correct statute for the trial court to use. However, if a payor satisfies the retirement provisions in subsections -122(2)(b) and (c) that the decision to retire was made in good faith, the payor’s good faith retirement becomes one of the factors for the court to consider in analyzing whether under subsection -122(1)(a) the payor can show a substantial and continuing change of circumstances that makes the existing maintenance order unfair. In doing so, the court must also consider the factors listed in the 2001 version of C.R.S. § 14-10-114(3) and (4) (the new version of C.R.S. § 14-10-114 is applicable to petitions filed on or after January 1, 2014). Here, the trial court erred because it treated husband’s good faith decision to retire as conclusive in resolving his motion; the order failed to address whether husband’s retirement and declining health were continuing and changed circumstances that rendered his obligation unfair; and the trial court did not consider husband’s and wife’s needs and abilities as required by the 2001 version of C.R.S. § 14-10-114(3) and (4). Further, the separation agreement did not reserve jurisdiction over the question of what effect husband’s retirement would have on his maintenance obligation. Thus, the separation agreement did not require the trial court to use C.R.S. § 14-10-114 to resolve husband’s motion instead of C.R.S. § 14-10-122(1)(a), (2)(a), (2)(b), and (2)(c).

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the court to (1) determine whether husband’s circumstances have changed in such a substantial and continuing way as to make the existing terms of the maintenance obligation unfair, and (2) consider wife’s request for appellate attorney fees under C.R.S. § 14-10-119.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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