Supreme Court of the United States

After weeks of negotiations between counsel, the spouses were at least able to agree on parenting – mostly. But they agreed on little else, especially financial issues, such as student loans and alimony. So we had a lengthy contested final orders hearing, with managing partner Carl Graham representing the wife. And our happy client prevailed on every single issue in contention!

Payment of Maintenance

The parties were married for a substantial length of time, and Husband out-earned Wife significantly. However, he did not want to pay alimony, not for any valid reason, he just did not want to do it. That was not very persuasive to the judge, who awarded our client the full maintenance she was requesting, which was an amount consistent with Colorado’s advisory maintenance guidelines.

An interesting twist arose during the hearing when Husband, who was a senior military officer, claimed he would lose almost a thousand dollars in BAH after divorce, going from the with-dependents to the without-dependents rate. As this issue was not raised in advance in the “Trial Management Certificate”, Carl had to scramble mid-hearing to prove Husband’s assertion was incorrect.

Fortunately, Carl, who has taught classes on this very issue, and wrote the Military Divorce Guide article Understanding Military Pay and the LES in a Divorce, was up to the task. He first pulled up the applicable federal regulation on his mobile phone, and the judge, after reviewing the tiny screen, took “judicial notice” of the law which provided that a military member paying court-ordered support in excess of the BAH-Diff amount was entitled to receive BAH-Diff. Then, he pulled up the BAH online calculator and military pay chart to show that in the end, Husband’s income would only decrease by a paltry $37/mo after dissolution.

The judge was convinced, and used Husband’s current income to determine maintenance and child support.

Student Loans Divided at Divorce?

During the marriage, Husband had started working on an advanced degree, which he had not yet attained. And he incurred tens of thousands in student loans, for which he now wanted to receive a credit on the marital spreadsheet. Further, the husband actually had the post-9/11 GI Bill, but instead of using it on his own education, he let his emancipated daughter from a prior marriage use it instead. That’s fine, but his doing so means he incurred student loans during the marriage which could have been avoided.

Student Loan Debt in DivorceStudent Loan Debt in Divorce

Strictly speaking, student loans incurred during the marriage are marital debts, and here the court treated them as such. However, domestic relations judges still have discretion to allocate all debts, including student loans, equitably, not equally, and Carl argued language from the Colorado Court of Appeals in Morton,1In re: Marriage of Morton, 2016 COA 1. where the court said:

“The determination that a student loan is marital debt, however, does not foreclose a trial court from allocating responsibility for payment of the loan entirely to the party who incurred it… A court does not abuse its discretion in finding that a student loan should be solely the incurring party’s responsibility because the party’s degree was earned later in the marriage and will primarily benefit that party.”

Morton.2In re: Marriage of Morton, 2016 COA 1, ¶ 9.

In the end, Carl successfully persuaded the court to allocate the student loan debt entirely to Husband without offset against other assets, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Husband earned more than Wife, and whenever he finally obtains the degree (after divorce), he would solely benefit from it for years to come, rather than Wife sharing the benefits.

Impact of Deployment on Parenting

Our client, who was also in the military, lived in another state with the child. Father asked the court to order that the child should live with him should Mother deploy in the future.

We successfully persuaded the judge that there were too many unknown factors, and it would be inappropriate to speculate now on what may be in the best interests of the child in the future. Finally, Carl cited the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody & Visitation Act, another topic our firm knows well, and the judge accepted that upon future deployment, she would follow the procedures set forth in that statute.

Conclusion

There were several other issues in contention beyond student loans and alimony, each of which went in our client’s favor. Please note, however, that past results do not necessarily guarantee future performance. Graham.Law’s attorneys are experienced litigators, and while most of our clients are happy, on each of these issues, different judges with different fact patterns could go the other way.

Finally, there are always unique facts in a case which affect the outcome. But even though the hearing is a public record, in the interests of discretion we are disclosing only the broadest, abstract facts about the case which arose in open court. Graham.Law will never disclose the identity of our client, any confidential communications with our client, nor any of the more unique evidence from trial which may be either personal or help identify the parties.

Award-Winning Divorce Law Firm in Colorado Springs

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U.S. News & World Report calls Graham.Law one of the Best Law Firms in America, and our managing partner is a Colorado Super Lawyer. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping clients navigate the Colorado legal system. We know Colorado divorce & family law inside and out, from complex multi-million dollar property or child custody cases to basic child support modifications.

For more information about our top-rated El Paso County family law firm, contact us by filling out our contact form, calling us at (719) 630-1123 to set up a free consult, or click on:

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