When parents separate, it can put a financial strain on the parent providing day-to-day care for the family’s children. Colorado law says children are entitled to child support from their parents. Here is what you need to know if child support is going to be part of your divorce or family law case.
This blog post will review the Colorado child support laws, including the child support percentage. It will address how family courts determine who is required to pay child support, how much, and for how long. It will also explain how a family law attorney can help parents reach a fair number in and out of court.
Who Has to Pay Colorado Child Support?
In Colorado, each legal parent has an obligation to maintain an adequate standard of support for his or her children. When parents separate or divorce, the court will generally order the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent. If the identity of a child’s father is not known and a mother requests support or public assistance, the Colorado Department of Human Services may begin a paternity action to determine who the legal father is, and order that he pay child support.
Even when a child has been removed from his or her parents’ care, the obligation to support the child often continues. In cases where the children are placed with a third party, such as a grandparent or foster family, both parents may be required to contribute to the child’s financial support.
How Is the Colorado Child Support Percentage Calculated?
Colorado child support is based on the parents’ combined adjusted gross income. Basically, the court looks at how much the family would have put toward the child’s care if the parents and children were living together in an intact household. Then it divides that amount between the parties based on the “child support percentage.”
The child support percentage is calculated based on:
• The relative incomes of the parties
• The number of children covered by the support order
• The number of other children either parent supports
• The number of overnights in a shared parent situation
Once all these factors are considered, the court sets each parent’s child support percentage (which totals 100%) and applies those percentages to the base child support amount, explained below.
How Much Will a Parent Have to Pay for Child Support?
The total amount a parent has to pay for child support depends on several factors:
• The financial resources of the child (do they have a job or receive trust payments?)
• The financial resources of the custodial parent
• The financial resources and needs of the noncustodial parent
• The physical, emotional, and educational needs of the child
• The standard of living the child would have had if the family had not separated
Determining the appropriate child support amount according to the Colorado Child Support Guidelines starts with adding up the incomes of both parents. “Income” is a broad term, including:
• Self-employment payments
• Pension and retirement benefit payments
• Trust income
• Annuity payments
• Capital gain
• Social security benefits (except for the child’s benefit from a disabled stepparent)
• Insurance benefits (workers’ compensation, unemployment, wage replacement, or disability)
• Gifts or prizes (other than lottery winnings)
• Business income
• Expense reimbursement
• Alimony or spousal maintenance received
• Mandatory overtime
Even when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed, the court can base child support calculations on potential income, assuming the person is employable, unless the person is mentally or physically incapacitated, caring for a young child (under 30 months), or incarcerated for at least 1 year.
The court will sometimes not use potential income if the parent’s employment situation is temporary (such as seasonal workers), based on a good faith career choice, or for the parent’s education. In these cases, parents should speak to an experienced family law attorney who can help present arguments and solutions for child support calculations during the lean period.
What if My Child Has Extraordinary Needs?
Child support calculations don’t end with income, though. They also include calculations of expected costs related to the child. These extraordinary needs can include anything from child care and medical co-payments to transportation costs and private education. The court may order one or both parents to pay for health and dental insurance for the child, and then divide the cost of that insurance between the parties. In some cases, the court may also order that the child go to therapy or see a counselor, and divide the cost of those services between the parties based on their child support percentage.
What if Parents Have Shared Physical Care or Split Physical Care of the Children?
Many Colorado child support laws talk about non-custodial parents paying custodial parents. But not every family breaks down so simply. If the parties agree, or the court orders that the parents share or split physical care of the minor children it will affect the child support paid by one parent to the other.
Shared physical care happens when each parent provides day-to-day care for the parties’ children for at least 92 overnights during the year. When that happens, the base child support calculations will be adjusted based on the share of the year the children spend with each parent.
Split physical care happens when each parent is the primary custodian for at least one of the family’s children. When that happens, the court will calculate the amount each parent would pay in child support to the other parent, and then offset the two numbers. Whichever parent would owe more will be ordered to pay the difference between the two amounts.
When Will Child Support End?
A Colorado child support order generally ends when the child turns 19 years old. However, the child’s circumstances could cause support to continue longer, or be cut short, where the child:
• Is still enrolled in high school (up to age 21)
• Has special physical, emotional, or educational needs (up to age 21)
• Requires post-secondary education support for college, university, or vocational education (up to age 21)
• Gets married (before age 19)
• Enlists in the military (before age 19)
• Is legally emancipated (before age 19)
Can Child Support be Modified?
The Colorado child support law generally requires the parties to exchange annual financial information after the entry of a child support order. In many cases, the non-custodial parent can also request an accounting of actual expenses related to the children from the custodial parent. If the information received from these processes show that the child support guidelines would result in a different child support number, the parties may agree to a modification. If they don’t agree, the court may order the parties to attend mediation or make a decision to modify child support itself.
Child support calculations can sometimes seem automatic or mechanical. However, the child support guidelines are only as accurate as the information that goes into the calculations. An experienced child support attorney can help you review the information in your case to ensure that you are not faced with an unfair child support order.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our family law attorneys have experience with the Colorado child support guidelines and know how to make a case for the support you need or can afford to pay. We are here to serve you and your family during the divorce or paternity and child support process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.