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In every Colorado divorce, legal separation, annulment or paternity case involving children, the Colorado family law court will determine whether one parent owes the other child support under Colorado child support law (C.R.S. 14-10-115).

The starting point for child support calculations in Colorado is the gross (pretax) incomes of each parent. Generally, this is calculated by looking not only at pay stubs, but investments, retirements, social security, etc. Note that if one party has remarried, the income of the new spouse does not count for child support in Colorado, and is even protected from discovery by the other party.

Once the parents' incomes have been hammered down, that does not end the analysis for Colorado state child support. Numerous issues affect Colorado child support, such as the costs of day care, health insurance, support for children born before the children at issue, and extraordinary medical or other expenses.

Child support law in Colorado can get complicated when both parents are not in full-time, salaried positions. As an example, if a party is self-employed, the Colorado family law court must analyze what business expenses are legitimate (and they are not necessarily the same deductions as the IRS may allow).

Other complications under Colorado state child support law are the uncommon situations where the children are divided between the parents households - one lives with the mother, and another with the father. Child support in Colorado is not simply a wash - instead, it requires calculating multiple Colorado child support worksheets, taking care not to duplicate expenses on each, which are then offset against one another.

Colorado divorce courts may not allow the parties to waive child support altogether, even if both agree. But generally deviations from the Colorado Child Support Guidelines are permissible for good cause.


Underemployed Parent

If a party is unemployed or underemployed, Colorado child support law may impute income to a person who took a job in bad faith to shirk his/her child support obligations (i.e. pretend that the party earns more than he/she really earns). People v. Martinez, 69 P.3d 1029 (Colo. 2003). An extreme example of that would be a neurosurgeon working at a gas station, thereby working way below his/her potential income level.

At a minimum, an able-bodied parent should expect to have minimum wage imputed to him/her, unless that parent is in school or the stay-at-home parent caring for a child of the parties who is under 30 months.

As a result of Amendment 42, which was approved by Colorado voters in November 2006, the Colorado minimum wage as of January 1, 2007 is $7.02 per hour ($1217 per month). This figure will be increased annually in accordance with the Denver-Boulder-Greeley consumer price index.


Colorado Child Support Calculators

You can calculate your own Colorado child support on these sites, but remember these caveats - first, they may not be up to date with statutory changes in child support law in Colorado, so treat them as estimates. And also, while they might work for simple cases, unless you have the assistance of a Colorado divorce or family law attorney, you may miss a factor or miscalculate the totals.

www.courts.state.co.us. Colorado child support calculator in MS Excel format, from the Colorado Supreme Court. Very comprehensive, and considers the common factors which impact child support in Colorado.

Child Support Credit When Children Staying with Obligor

In Colorado, the child support obligation is a fixed monthly amount, constant throughout the year, even when the children are staying with the obligor. However, Colorado support law gives credit, in the form of reduced child support, to the obligor in situations involving "shared physical custody", defined as 93 overnights or more per year. That means if one parent has 92 or fewer overnights, he/she receives no credit for the time spent with the children.

The practical effect of this, however, is that a parent without primary residential responsibility who lives in another state is unlikely to reach 93 overnights, and therefore receives no credit under the child support law in Colorado for time spent with the children.


Earmarking Child Support in Colorado

Colorado family law judges will order one parent to pay child support to the other, but does not give the obligor any ability to control how the money is spent. Fair or not, Colorado child support law simply presumes, without the right to question, that child support is spent on the children.

Colorado state child support law also prohibits in-kind support, so the obligor cannot buy diapers, toys, or even give the children money directly and count it as support. Rather, Colorado family law courts treat such expenses as gifts to the children, which parents are expected to do anyway.


Transportation, Medical & Other expenses

Unless the parents agree otherwise, Colorado child support law provides that the expenses of transporting the children from one parent to the other are allocated in accordance with their proportional incomes. A good parenting plan will include not only this provision, but will also address the physical burden (i.e. who drives which half of the journey, or who escorts the children on flights).

Unreimbursed medical expenses should also be addressed. Child support law in Colorado typically divides routine expenses (co-pays, infrequent medical assistance) in accordance with the parties proportional incomes, after the parent receiving support has paid the first $250 per child per calendar year.

If medical expenses are regular and recurring, they may be considered extraordinary expenses, and factored into the Colorado child support worksheet.

Finally, in very limited circumstances a Colorado divorce or family law court may order the payment of other expenses, such as private education or extracurricular activities. But these situations are rare - typically, Colorado courts cannot order payment for extracurricular expenses, children's vehicle expenses, etc.


Termination of Child Support in Colorado

The child support obligation in Colorado is owing until the child's emancipation, which is generally the earliest of the child turning 19, marrying, joining the military, or graduating from high school and becoming self-sufficient, or death.

In rare cases, child support may extend beyond the child's 19th birthday, such as the child still being in high school or equivalent (support continues until the month after graduation), or the child being physically or mentally unable to support himself or herself (in which case a court may continue support indefinitely).

For child support orders entered after July 1, 1997, the support obligation terminates automatically once the last child reaches 19 absent court order to the contrary. C.R.S. 14-10-115(1.6). But be careful before trying to take advantage of automatic termination - it does not apply to these situations:

  1. If child support arrears are still owing, those arrears must still be paid.
  2. If there is still another child for whom support is owing, the original support obligation continues until modified by the Court. Obligors should avoid the temptation to reduce the support without an order upon a child's emancipation - e.g. if one child emancipates and one remains, the support owing is not reduced by half.
  3. If a support order was entered before July 1, 1997, the obligor must still file a motion and obtain a court order to terminate the obligation upon the last child's emancipation.


College Expenses in Colorado

Formerly, Colorado divorce and family law courts could order child support to continue while a child was in college, and even order payment of college expenses. After many legislative changes in the 1990s, the end result is that a Colorado court no longer has the authority to order payment towards college expenses, unless the parents have voluntarily written such a provision into their parenting plan.

If the parents have a Colorado decree adopted before July 1, 1997 which requires college expenses to be paid, that clause is no longer enforceable as written unless it was the result of the parties' voluntary agreement. However, even if not enforceable as written, the Colorado divorce or family law court has discretion to order limited contributions towards college expenses (just tuition, books & fees, but not room & board) until the child is 21.

This issue is experiencing an increase in litigation, as children who were of pre-school age when their parents divorced in the late 1980s through June 1997 are beginning to enter college.


Enforcement of Child Support in Colorado

The obligee cannot link parenting time to receipt of child support, or deny visitation to a "deadbeat" parent. Thus, if the obligor is behind in payments, other enforcement methods must be used.

In case of arrears, and even modifications in some instances, the obligee may wish to contact the local Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU). For a nominal $25 fee (far cheaper than hiring a private Colorado child support lawyer), the CSEU child support lawyers will help pursue the obligor and enforce payment of both the arrears and current support. The CSEU has some enforcement measures not available to private attorneys, such as revoking drivers' licenses, attaching tax returns, or even revoking professional occupational licenses. The downsides, though, are that the CSEU can take a year or more to navigate through their bureaucracy, and they do not collect interest on arrears.

An alternative, which is likely quicker, and has the additional benefit of collecting not only the arrears, but the statutory 12% interest, is to retain a private Colorado child support attorney. We can assist with some effective mechanisms such as contempt of court proceedings (where the family law judge threatens to throw the obligor in jail unless he/she pays), an income assignment, or even putting a lien on the other party's residence!

But the obligee should never expect immediate results - Colorado domestic relations courts are swamped, so individual cases take months to filter through the system.


Colorado Child Support Tax Issues

Child support is not tax-deductible (unlike maintenance).

Unless the parties otherwise agree, upon request the Colorado child support law requires courts to allocate the children's tax dependency exemptions in accordance with the parties' proportional incomes. In order for the noncustodial parent to claim the exemptions, he/she must be current with that year's support obligation, and the parent with majority residential responsibility should execute an IRS Form 8332.


More Information

El Paso County Child Support Enforcement Unit

, for enforcing Colorado child support arrears, and modification or paternity issues.

Colorado Family Support Registry A centralized registry through which Colorado child support and maintenance may be paid. Using this method means Colorado will track child support payments, and protect both parties if a dispute arises as to what was paid.

Have a CO divorce or custody case? Black & Graham can help.

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