When parents decide to divorce, one of the most contentious issues they will face in divorce proceedings is child support determination. Colorado has adopted strict guidelines for calculating child support, and the two most crucial factors for determining support are the number of children the couple has and the incomes of both spouses. If you are preparing for a divorce and have children, it is essential to work with an experienced Colorado family law attorney as you navigate your case. Your attorney can help you prepare for your child custody determination and increase your chances of securing the custody rights you seek.
It is vital to remember that in any divorce case in Colorado, the family court has the final say when it comes to child custody and support for divorcing parents’ children. Custody rights significantly influence child support determinations. The parent who receives greater custody rights becomes the custodial parent while the other becomes the noncustodial parent. In almost every case, the noncustodial parent must remit child support payments to the custodial parent on a monthly basis.
Colorado has specific laws in place regarding low-income parents divorcing. If parents earn less than $1,100 per month in combined income, the Colorado family court provides minimum support payments unless both parents have at least 93 overnights with the children each year. The monthly support obligation changes based on the number of children:
These low minimum monthly payments are reserved solely for low-income parents. Typically, support stipulations such as these would only come into play when one or both parents are unable to work due to medical disability or are full-time students. If you are planning to divorce in Colorado, you will not qualify for the bare minimum monthly support unless you meet the state’s strict requirements.
The amount you will pay in child support as a noncustodial parent or receive if you are the custodial parent depends on your custody agreement and your income. For example, a high-income custodial parent will receive much less in support than a low-income custodial parent, even if the other parents made equivalent income. To determine the amount the noncustodial parent must pay to the custodial parent, the court will first calculate the combined monthly support obligation of both parents. Colorado family law expects parents to contribute equally to financially supporting their children, even when they make different amounts of income.
Once the court determines the combined monthly support obligation for the parents, they will then assess work-related net childcare costs, applicable tax breaks, healthcare costs, and, in some cases, extraordinary medical adjustments. Parents paying such expenses will receive credits against their support obligation. The court will then adjust the monthly support obligation based on other child-related expenses like daycare and regular medical care costs.
The next step in determining child support is assessing the parents’ custody rights. It is very uncommon for divorcing parents to earn exactly the same amount of income and receive precisely 50/50 custody rights. In almost every divorce case, one parent will earn more than the other and one parent will receive slightly greater custody rights than the other. The custodial parent will always be the one to receive child support, even if they are the higher-earning parent due to the court’s expectation of equal support.
The Colorado Family Court maintains that $30,000 in combined income per month is the upper limit for determining child support. If the divorcing parents make more than $30,000 combined per month, the judge has the discretionary power to award support as if their combined income were exactly $30,000 per month. Alternatively, the judge may adjust the support amount as they deem appropriate. Under these circumstances, a judge cannot award less support than the $30,000 per month guideline would allow.
If you and your spouse earn a combined net monthly income of more than $30,000, it is reasonable to expect the court to use $30,000 as the basis of their child support determination. The court will assume that you both earn enough income to easily accommodate the child’s basic living expenses.
Colorado’s system for calculating child support is very complicated, and the many adjustments that come into play in child support determinations can be confusing. Most Colorado family law attorneys use software programs that allow them to quickly calculate child support for their clients, but it is still a good idea to understand the various adjustments that are likely to come into play during a child support determination:
These explanations of potentially applicable adjustments to a child support order should show that determining child support is incredibly complex in most cases. Additionally, there are some factors that may result in deviations from the standard accepted calculation methods for child support in Colorado.
Although rare, it is possible for certain factors outside the guidelines established by the Colorado family court to have a material impact on the child support determination. These factors include:
These are just some examples of factors that may potentially result in deviations from the standard calculation method for child support. The existence of such factors is not a guarantee that the family court judge overseeing the case will deviate from the established formula. However, if the divorcing parents agree that some extraordinary factor has a material impact on their support obligations, or if the parents can cite specific reasons that justify deviation, a judge will likely consider these factors. In most cases, a judge will accept whatever the parents agree is most appropriate for their situation.
It is vital for divorcing parents to understand that their child support determination is not set in stone. The Colorado family court system acknowledges that life can be unpredictable and certain changes can materially impact an existing child support agreement. If something happens that influences your ability to meet your child support obligation, or if something happens that results in a need for increased child support, you have the right to file a post-judgment modification to seek the changes you require.
Some modifications apply solely to child support while others seek adjustments to both child custody rights as well as child support terms. Your Colorado family law attorney can advise you as to how to begin filing your petition for modification with the local family court. Your petition must include the specifics of your desired change as well as evidence establishing a clear need for the request. Once the court receives the petition, they will arrange a hearing date where you can make your case for modification before a judge. It is possible that your ex-spouse may agree to the proposed change without protest, or they may raise concerns of their own about the proposed change. In most cases, it only requires a single hearing for approval of a modification by a family court judge.
Colorado state law allows for parents to request modifications to their Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Rights under certain conditions:
It is also possible to file a petition for modification that does not seek any adjustment to the existing custody arrangement but seeks to modify the current terms of the child support agreement. For example, if you are the noncustodial parent paying support to your co-parent and you lose your job, suffer a severe injury that prevents you from working, or experience any other unexpected life event that materially impacts your ability to meet your support obligation, you have the right to file a petition for modification of your support obligation. It is vital to bear in mind, however, that the reason behind your requested modification must be completely beyond your control. For example, if you voluntarily quit your job you cannot seek a modification for decreased support.
If you are the parent receiving child support payments from your child’s other parent and they refuse or fail to pay their support as required by your child support agreement, you have the right to seek a resolution through the Colorado family court system. The first step in this process is to request a judge to enforce your custody agreement and compel the noncustodial parent to pay what they owe. The next option involves filing contempt proceedings against your co-parent. Contempt of court can result in fines, jail time, and other penalties depending on the severity of the noncustodial parent’s arrearages and the circumstances surrounding their refusal or inability to pay required child support.
Colorado state law upholds strict penalties for failure or refusal to pay child support as required by a family court order. The court may restrict the non-compliant parent’s driver’s license as well as their professional licenses. They may also garnish the parent‘s wages to automatically deduct their child support obligation from every paycheck. In some cases, the court may even seize assets, seize tax refunds, and place liens on the non-compliant parent’s property.
If a parent required to pay child support cannot meet their support obligation due to circumstances entirely beyond their control, they must notify the court of this issue immediately to prevent severe legal consequences. For example, if you are injured in a car accident that you did not cause and your injuries prevent you from working, you can petition for an adjustment to your child support order or other relief to reflect your change in circumstances. However, you cannot simply stop paying without notifying the court.
Whether you are paying child support or receiving child support payments from your child’s other parent, the amount of money you make does impact your support obligation. Every parent beholden to a child support order has a legal obligation to report any circumstances that materially affect the order, including changes in income. This includes both positive and negative changes to income. The typical threshold for requesting adjustments on these grounds is a 10% to 15% change in income.
If you are paying support and your income is reduced by more than 10%, you likely have solid grounds to request a modification for lowered child support. If you are receiving child support and the paying parent changes jobs, gets a raise, or otherwise increases their income by 10% or more, they have a duty to report this change and the court will alter your support order accordingly.
Failure to report changes in income can have serious legal repercussions. For failure to pay child support, if a parent fails to report a significant change in income that would result in an increased child support obligation, they could face contempt proceedings and other legal penalties.
When you and your child’s other parent have a child support agreement in Colorado, the agreement will typically persist until the child reaches the age of 19. However, child support can last longer in certain situations. For example, if a child is severely disabled and the custodial parent will continue to face extraordinary medical costs while raising the child, child support can continue indefinitely.
There are some situations in which child support may terminate prior to the child turning 19. If the child gets married, joins the military, or moves out of the custodial parent’s home and secures their own employment, the noncustodial parent’s support obligation is terminated. It is also possible to terminate support if a child becomes legally emancipated prior to reaching the age of 19. Child support will also terminate if the child dies, or if one of the parents beholden to the child support order dies.
If you are concerned about receiving child support beyond your child’s 19th birthday or beyond their high school graduation, it is possible to negotiate extended child support as part of your divorce agreement. For example, it is common for parents to argue for child support through their child’s college education. However, there is no legal obligation for a parent to pay for their child’s college expenses, so both parents must agree to such stipulations.
A child support determination may be part of a larger divorce case, or it could involve unmarried parents. In either case, having reliable legal counsel on your side is a tremendous advantage. Your attorney can help you ensure whatever child support determination you reach is both fair and reasonable. If you are expecting to pay child support, an experienced Colorado family law attorney can provide the legal guidance you need to determine the amount you can expect to pay under the terms of your child support order. If you expect to receive child support from your child’s other parent, your attorney will gather all the evidence you need to calculate a reasonable support amount.
In addition, hiring an attorney who is familiar with your child support case is incredibly valuable if you ever need to revisit the issue through modification proceedings. Your attorney can help you prepare for your modification hearing and gather any evidence you need to present during your hearing to ensure a fair result. No matter your situation, a Colorado family law attorney is incredibly valuable if you have any concerns about the child custody determination your case entails. Your attorney can help you prepare for these proceedings so you can face them with confidence.
The attorneys at the Johnson Law Group routinely assist our clients with their financial disclosures, coordinate expert witness testimony, guide them through complex divorce proceedings, and provide compassionate support during every phase of the process. If you have any concerns about an impending child support determination in Colorado, we can help. Contact the Johnson Law Group today and schedule a case review with our team. We will review your situation and help you understand what to expect as your case unfolds.