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Should alimony continue from ex-spouse's estate after death?

When a Colorado couple goes through a divorce, there may be certain assumptions made regarding how long alimony and other payments will last. A recent case highlights the importance of clarifying how either individual's death will impact payment arrangements.

When one couple got married in the late 1980's, they had a prenuptial agreement stating that the husband would make regular payments to the wife if they divorced. They payments would last until she died or remarried. The couple did divorce after eight years of marriage, agreed upon the monthly amount (just over $4,300) and payments began.

These monthly payments continued for nearly 20 years until the ex-husband passed away in 2015. At that point, his estate representative discontinued them. The ex-wife, however, claimed that the agreement did not stipulate anything regarding his death - only that payments would stop when she died or remarried, neither of which had occurred.

A court initially ordered that payments to resume, but on appeal, it was determined that Colorado's dissolution of marriage act allowed the payments to end with the husband's death. The law states that maintenance obligations (e.g., alimony) end with either partner's death unless stipulated otherwise in writing. Because their agreement didn't specifically state that payments should continue after the husband's death, the court ruled that they did not have to do so, and that his obligation ended with his death.

This admittedly unique case does highlight the importance of clear, detailed, legally correct language in any agreement regarding division of assets or other obligations in a divorce. A legal professional can help make sure that both parties understand the full ramifications of any such agreement.

Source: The Gazette, "Jim Flynn: When laws on divorce, probate intersect," Jim Flynn, Nov. 20, 2017

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