The Colorado legislature recently amended the child support statute, with changes taking effect July 1, 2023. This article provides an overview of the changes and a deeper dive into the changes that may affect parents paying and receiving child support in Colorado.
Overview of the New Law:
- Parties to child support order hearings must be given notice of ways that child support orders may affect parties’ rights and obligations.
- The calculation of gross income in situations where a party pays or receives maintenance (alimony) has changed to account for changes in federal tax law. If you pay or receive maintenance, the calculation of the amount of child support you pay or receive might change.
- If the party who receives child support works more than one job for a total of more than 40 hours per week, the calculation of that party’s gross income does not include income from the surplus hours. If you receive child support and work more than one job for a total of more than 40 hours, the calculation of the amount of child support you receive might change.
- The determination of the potential income of a voluntarily underemployed or unemployed party has changed. If you or the other party has been found to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, the calculation of the amount of child support you pay or receive might change.
- There are significant changes concerning children’s health insurance and uninsured medical expenses. These changes will affect almost all parties who pay or receive child support. If you pay or receive child support for a child who is covered by health insurance, you must understand these changes to ensure that you pay or are reimbursed for your share of your child’s uninsured medical expenses.
Deep Dive Into the Changes:
All child support orders are now required to contain written notice informing parties that failure to pay child support may result in penalties, which include new remedies such as suspension of a driver’s license or a lien placed on a bank account. Written notice of child support orders must also include an explanation of calculation and modification of child support orders, the application of interest on unpaid support (arrears), the effect of a child’s emancipation, and the effect of the payment of maintenance on the calculation of child support.
Verbal notice must be given at hearings and other proceedings where the state is involved and child support is an issue. Verbal notice must be given informing the parties that failure to pay child support may result in penalties and explaining the interest applicable to arrears. Finally, verbal notice must inform the parties that an agreement to modify child support does not take effect until the court approves the modification.
These provisions aim to ensure that parties are aware of their rights and obligations concerning child support. A party who is not given notice pursuant to this statute might have grounds to attack the validity of a child support order, but that attack would come at the expense of the child, and the party would eventually be ordered to pay support anyway.
Changes in Calculation of Gross Income for Child Support Purposes Where a Party Pays or Receives Maintenance/Spousal Support
Child support orders are calculated by determining the parties’ gross income, which used to be adjusted to deduct maintenance (alimony) and child support that was deductible from a party’s federal income taxes. The following changes are intended to reach a more equitable result for both payors and recipients of child support by accounting for changes in federal law concerning the deductibility of alimony and child support from a party’s federal income tax obligation.
Adjustment When the Payor of Support Also Pays Maintenance:
If the payor of child support also pays maintenance to the other party, and the maintenance payment is not deductible from the payor’s federal income taxes, the amount of the payor’s gross income for purposes of child support calculation is adjusted as follows:
If the combined monthly adjusted gross income of the parties to the maintenance payment is $10,000 or less, the maintenance payment amount is multiplied by 1.25.
If the combined monthly adjusted gross income of the parties to the maintenance payment is more than $10,000, the maintenance payment amount is multiplied by 1.33.
When the court calculates a party’s child support obligation using one of the multipliers above, if a party believes a different multiplier would give a more accurate reflection of the tax implications, he or she may show evidence in support of using a different multiplier to calculate gross income rather than the default multipliers in the statute.
Change Regarding Imputing Income for Less than Full Time Work
When a court finds that a party is willfully underemployed or unemployed, the court may consider a party’s potential income, which is the amount the person could earn if he or she were working at full potential. The court then uses assume the party is earning the potential income when calculating the amount of child support owed, which is also called “imputation of income.”
In determining a party’s potential income, courts are now required to consider the number of hours of work that are typically available in the party’s community. If that number is unavailable, courts must assume that a party works a 32-hour workweek for 50 weeks in the year, but that amount of work time may be adjusted by considering other factors, such as a child’s needs or a party’s health. Courts must also consider a party’s access to transportation to work.
These changes attempt to address the reality that 40-hour workweeks are not available in some industries, such as many healthcare positions, and that some people’s ability to work is limited for various reasons, including a lack of transportation.
Changes to Child Support Law regarding Health Insurance and Uninsured Medical Expenses
If a child is covered by health insurance, the law now requires the insuring party, his or her employer, or the insurance provider to give information about the policy to the other party, including the insurer’s name and the group and policy number. The insuring party must notify the other party and the child support agency of any changes in coverage within 14 days of the change. This amendment was made to protect caregivers and children in situations where the person carrying the insurance is uncooperative with the other party.
The definition of “extraordinary medical expenses” now includes any expenses for uninsured chronic health problems. This change means that a party to a child support obligation for a child who has a controversial diagnosis, such as chronic Lyme disease, would be required to pay his or her share of expenses for treating the condition, even if the condition is not recognized by insurance companies.
A party who seeks reimbursement for uninsured medical expenses must give the other party proof of payment of the expenses within a “reasonable time.” The term “reasonable time” is not defined in the statute and may vary depending on the circumstances. Providing proof within a couple of weeks of payment is probably reasonable. Providing proof six months to one year after payment may be unreasonable.
Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the party must provide proof of expenses before July 1 of the following calendar year or the right to reimbursement is forfeited. These changes protect the party who owes for reimbursement in two ways: first, the reimbursing party is protected from suddenly owing for years’ worth of expenses, and second, the reimbursing party has the opportunity to challenge the expenses while everyone’s memory is fresh and medical providers’ records are still available.
If the party who owes for reimbursement does not repay the other party for his or her share of expenses within 49 days of receiving notice of the expenses, the party who seeks reimbursement may file a motion asking the court to order the other party to pay. The reimbursing party may respond only with an objection to the expenses or with a proposed payment plan. These changes protect the party who is reimbursed for uninsured medical expenses by setting a deadline for reimbursement and providing a procedure that presumes that the claim for reimbursement is valid.
If you pay upfront for your child’s uninsured medical expenses, ask the other party for reimbursement within a reasonable (i.e., short!) time. Don’t wait until after July 1 of the following year. If the other party has not reimbursed you within 49 days of receiving proof of payment, you may file a motion asking the court to order the other party to pay. If you are the party who reimburses the other party, you should provide reimbursement within 49 days of receiving proof of payment.
The ins and outs of Colorado child support law can be complicated and you should make sure you are paying or receiving the correct amount of support. If you are unsure how these changes apply to your situation, the attorneys at Griffiths Law can provide help.
Jennifer Schaffner is Special Counsel at Griffiths Law. Jennifer handles a broad array of family law matters and brings her diverse legal experience to clients undergoing family transitions.