A new law just went into effect on July 1, 2019, that affects child support in Colorado. The law, House Bill 19-1215 changes the existing requirements for child support in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the law reduces the number of months that a Colorado court will “presume” a newborn’s caretaker will not work after birth from 30 months to 24 months. In Colorado, parents are supposed to recalculate child support each year based on changes in income, parenting time, and worksheet costs such as health insurance or work-related childcare.
Read on to learn if these new changes affect you:
Colorado courts expect both parents to work to support any minor children. Colorado tries to ensure that parents pay child support and that children’s needs are met. Income is one of several factors that impact the amount of child support owed. Accordingly, what the other parent’s income should be is often disputed in child support litigation when a parent is not working (voluntarily unemployed) or arguably not working to their full potential (voluntarily underemployed).
When a person is unemployed and should be, the law requires that the judge determine what the parent’s income could be or should be if the parent was fully employed. However, there are a few limited exceptions to this rule, namely for a parent who is caring for a newborn. C.R.S. § 14-10-115(5)(A)-(C). The law made changes to how a court should consider these exceptions, among other things.
Summary and Analysis of Changes to C.R.S § 14-10-115—The Child Support Statute
Although House Bill 19-1215 is effective on July 1, 2019, some changes do not take effect until 2020. The changes that go into effect later are noted. The bill made the following noteworthy changes:
Number of Months for Impacting Income Reduced to 24 Months
The bill reduces the number of months that a judge will presume a custodial parent will not work from 30 months to 24 months. That is, this parent cannot be imputed any income at all during this period, although the period is now for fewer months.
Analysis: The Colorado legislature has long recognized that a parent caring for an infant or young child should not be imputed income to calculate child support or maintenance. The new law reduces the number of months after birth before the court imputes the person income from 30 months to 24 months. I believe that the change is intended to reflect the Colorado’s changing workforce, including the growing number of parents who are returning to work with young children.
However, the new law did not make the same adjustment for imputation of income under the maintenance statute. Because of this, there is a strange nuance in the law where a custodial parent with a child between the age of 24 months and 30 months may be imputed income for calculating child support but not for calculating maintenance. It is unknown whether this difference between maintenance and child support was on purpose or by accident. However, until it is changed, we can expect to see different calculations for the same parent to calculate child support and maintenance if the minor child is between 24 and 30 months old.
New Court Requirements for Imputation of Income
A parent’s potential income shall be determined and documented by the court when there is a finding of voluntary unemployment or underemployment or if employment information is unreliable. In assessing potential income, the court or delegate child support enforcement unit shall consider, to the extent known, the specific circumstances of the parents, including consideration of the following information when available:
- The parent’s assets;
- Employment and earnings history;
- Job skills;
- Educational attainment;
- Criminal record;
- Other employment barriers;
- Record of seeking work;
- The local job market;
- The availability of employers hiring in the community, without changing existing law regarding the burden of proof;
- Prevailing earnings level in the local community; and
- Other relevant background factors in the case.
Analysis: The new law provides a list of circumstances (set forth above) to determine the potential income of an unemployed or underemployed parent. The legislature now requires courts to assess each circumstance in the list if it is available and known.
While it is helpful to have a list of factors to reference, I expect that family law practitioners will now find more arguments to make regarding imputation of potential income and that courts will be under more pressure to provide a thorough analysis on this topic to avoid ongoing post-trial litigation. Thus, this additional guidance from the Colorado legislature on the determination of potential income is both a blessing and a potential gateway to more litigation.
Modified Requirements for Incarcerated Parents
Incarcerated parents serving sentences of 180 days or more will not be attributed potential income for purposes of child support (down from 365 days).
Analysis: Many incarcerated parents are unable to earn income. This change benefits incarcerated parents who are serving sentences for more than 180 days but less than a year. The change considers the reality that many of these incarcerated parents are unable to earn income while incarcerated for extended periods. Imputing income to incarcerated parents serving sentences longer than 180 days may put the incarcerated parent in an untenable situation where they are unable to meet their support obligations due to their incarceration.
Modified Requirements for Federal Disability Benefits
If a noncustodial parent is receiving federal disability benefits, he or she must notify the custodial parent. Within 60 days of receiving notice, the custodial parent must apply for dependent benefits for the child. The disability benefits for the child will reduce the total child support obligation dollar for dollar. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: This provision regarding disability benefits is new to the child support statute and serves to maximize the federal benefit that the child receives while providing a financial benefit (reduction in child support due) to the non-custodial disabled parent. The result is that the child receives the same amount of support each month supplemented by the disability benefit.
Required Division of Mandatory Fees Related to Public Schools
Courts must divide mandatory fees related to public school between the parties in proportion to the parties’ adjusted gross income. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: The new law defines what “mandatory school fees” are and provides how they will be paid. Including this in the statute will likely reduce conflict over what expenses require reimbursement and what the reimbursement amount should be when the parents cannot otherwise agree.
Changes to Child Support for Those with Incomes Under $650
There is a new $10 minimum child support order when the obligor’s income is under $650. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: The new law greatly simplified the schedule of basic child support obligations by creating a new $10 minimum across the board when the person paying child support earns less than $650. Note this calculation only considers the income of the person paying child support.
Changes to Child Support for Those with Incomes Under $650-$1,500
Child support calculations for obligor’s earning income between $650 and $1,500 have been adjusted. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: Similarly, the new law greatly simplified the schedule of basic child support obligations by creating a new support obligation (which changes depending on the number of minor children) when the person paying child support earns between $651 and $1,500. The benefit is that there does not need to be an adjustment for the amount of support payable when there are changes within this income range whereas the prior law provided an adjustment upwards with every additional $50 in income. Note this calculation only considers the income of the person paying child support.
Changes to Child Support for Those with Incomes up to $3,450
Child support calculations for parents with a combined, adjusted gross income of up to $3,450 have been adjusted. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: The modifications to the schedule of basic child support obligations reduces the overall amount of child support to be divided between the parties in proportion to their adjusted gross incomes up to a combined adjusted gross income of $3,450 per month. The child support commission is constantly reviewing and assessing these guidelines. With the adoption of the new law, I presume that the adjustment downward was necessary for this income group and that the adjusted guideline amount of support still provides adequate support for the minor children.
Modifications to Overnight Calculations
When parents have different overnights with two or more children, the number of overnights used to calculate child support is determined by adding together the number of overnights and dividing that number by the number of children to be included in the child support calculation. Effective July 2020.
Analysis: This provision is a new addition to the child support statute but states what was already outlined in existing case law. See In re Marriage of Wells, 252 P.3d 1212 (Colo. App. 2011).
Eliza Steinberg’s practice is focused exclusively on family law related matters including divorce, allocation of parental rights, post-decree disputes, and child support matters. Eliza has presented on litigation case management techniques and is a co-author of the Colorado Bar Association’s Practitioner’s Guide to Domestic Relations Law chapter on trusts.