Behind custody, child support is one of the most researched aspects of divorce. Here’s why: anyone with children pays or receives child support whereas many of the other issues discussed in this guide are unique to certain cases.
Although child support is supposed to be easy to calculate and simple to understand, it is not. Although the basics are straightforward, it quickly becomes complex when you learn about extraordinary medical expenses & adjustments, Worksheet A vs. Worksheet B, and the “factors” a court can consider when determining how much child support is owed. Even with an experienced child support lawyer, the issues can be complicated and usually fraught with emotion.
Using an online child support calculator can be tempting, but without understanding what the numbers mean, you could be making a huge mistake. Remember, you cannot determine what the correct child support amount is until you know how much parenting time each party has and what the maintenance amount is. Determining child support in a vacuum is unhelpful.
Read on to learn about (1) how a court calculates child support, (2) how a child support modification works, and (3) when child-support obligations end.
How do you Calculate Child Support in Colorado?
Colorado courts determine the amount of child support using C.R.S. § 14–10–115. The statute contains several rules and guidelines to determine how much child support is appropriate including the following factors:
- The financial resources of the child;
- The financial resources of the custodial parent;
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved;
- The physical and emotional condition of the child and his or her educational needs; and
- The financial resources and needs of the noncustodial parent.
Generally, the manner used to calculate child support is referred to as the Incomes Shares Model, which is like many other states. Although there are many factors that go into child support, the three most important factors in calculating child support are:
- The parents’ respective “Adjusted Gross Incomes”;
- The number of overnights each parent has; and,
- The amount of money each parent spends on the child or children for things such as healthcare, daycare, and other expenses.
The factor that requires the most analysis is “Adjusted Gross Income” as this amount can be hard to determine differs greatly from someone’s “taxable income.” For more information, read C.R.S. § 14–10–115 and review Section (5) entitled “Determination of income” for much more information otherwise contact an attorney at our firm and we can assist you.
Many of the forms required for calculating child support are contained on the State of Colorado’s website dedicated to the topic. The software used by many professionals to calculate child support and maintenance can be found here.
What Guideline Amount of Child Support Covers
In general, the guideline amount of child support covers basic expenses such as (1) housing, (2) food, (3) clothing, and other expenses commonly associated with raising children. What the basic amount does not cover are (1) “extraordinary medical expenses” and (2) “extraordinary adjustments.”
Extraordinary Medical Expenses & Adjustments
The law on extraordinary expenses is not clear. Under the statute, “any extraordinary medical expenses incurred on behalf of the children shall be added to the basic child support obligation and shall be divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted gross incomes.” C.R.S. § 14–10–115(10)(h). Additionally, the court may order (or the parties may agree to) extraordinary expenses related to education and transportation.
What qualifies as an “extraordinary expense” is what causes confusion. For example, a Colorado court has held that the cost of automobile insurance for a teenage child is not an extraordinary expense that needs to be allocated according to adjusted gross income. See In re Marriage of Long, 921 P.2d 67, 70 (Colo. App. 1996). Regarding medical expenses, if the expense is necessary for the child and a portion of the expense is not covered by insurance, it is probably an extraordinary medical expense that the parties ought to divide.
Now that you know the basics, read on for the more advanced information:
Worksheet A vs. Worksheet B
If the number of overnights for either parent is fewer than 93 overnights (92 or fewer), then the parties use a “Worksheet A” to determine the correct amount of child support. Worksheet A is called the “Sole Physical Care” worksheet. Conversely, if the parties share parenting time and each parent has 93 or more overnights then the parties use a “Worksheet B.” Worksheet B is called the “Shared Physical Care” worksheet. See In re Marriage of Antuna, 8 P.3d 589, 596 (Colo. App. 2000) (“Shared physical care means that each parent keeps the children overnight for more than 92 overnights each year and that both parents contribute to the expenses of the children in addition to the payment of child support.”).
It is important to note that Worksheet A is used whether the number of overnights is 91 or just 1.
If you are wondering, 92 or more overnights starts at about 2 overnights per week (two overnights per week, every week would be 104 overnights [52 X 2]). Three overnights per week is about 156 overnights.
Expenses in the Worksheets
Once the court determines the guideline amounts using the parents’ incomes, the number of overnights, and the amount of maintenance, the child support worksheet then asks parents to identify expenses paid. The worksheet itself provides little information on what items ought to be put in it though and clients often have many questions about which expenses to identify in the worksheet.
- Work-Related Child Care
- Education-Related Child Care
- Health Insurance Premiums (For the Child)
- Uninsured, Extraordinary Medical Expenses
- Other Extraordinary Expenses & Adjustments
The court may insert these costs into the worksheet and will increase (or decrease) the amount of child support payable. For example, if the payor (the person paying) pays for insurance for the children and some other extraordinary expenses such as private schooling, then the amount of child support can be decreased.
“Deviating” from the Guideline Amounts
Colorado courts typically follow the guidelines to determine the amount of child support owing. However, sometimes the court can “deviate” from the guidelines. Often reasons for upward deviations include high incomes, high standards of living, children with special, expensive needs, and cases where the circumstances are so one parent is spending far more on the children than the other. However, Colorado cases explain that “the child support schedule… establishes a rebuttable presumption of the appropriate amount of child support.” See, e.g., In re Marriage of Hein, 253 P.3d 636, 637 (Colo. App. 2010). But a court “may deviate from the presumptive amount where its application would be inequitable, unjust, or inappropriate.” Id. And “the burden to prove that a deviation is both reasonable and necessary is upon the party seeking deviation.” Id.
Annual Exchange of Information
The Colorado child support worksheets are supposed to be straightforward and easy to use. Because of that, as the parents’ income change and new expenses are added or removed, the parents are supposed to exchange such information each year and figure out whether child support ought to change. Under C.R.S. § 14–10–115(14), parents are required to “exchange information relevant to child support calculations on changes that have occurred since the previous child support order, and other appropriate information once a year or less often, for the purpose of updating and modifying the order without a court hearing.” Of course, if your spouse knows that his or her child support payments will go up (or should go up), they may decide not to provide this information.
Critical Tip: Divorce’s Affects Last Beyond the Decree
You may think that your spouse’s last chance to take a look at your financial information is your divorce. It is not. Because of post-decree motions such as motions to modify child support and because of the requirement that financial information be exchanged on a yearly basis, your finances may be subject to your former spouse’s scrutiny for years to come.
How do you Modify Child Support?
Courts will consider changing a child support order if there is a continuing and substantial change in financial circumstances of a party that results in a change of 10% or more in the presumed amount of child support. The statute that addresses modification of child support is C.R.S. § 14–10–122. When a child support order is in place, the law requires that all parents provide information about their income, expenses, and financials to the other parent each year to determine whether child support ought to be modified. Child support can also be modified when there changes to the allocation of parenting time.
When Does Child Support End?
The parent who is paying child support (the obligor) must pay support until the child reaches the age of 19 and emancipates. However, there are several reasons as to why a child may not emancipate, the most common of which is a disability. If you or your child are disabled, there is a whole area of law dedicated to addressing these types of issues, such as what type of property you or your child may receive in order to be eligible for various programs. You should ask your attorney for a referral to ensure that you are protecting your child’s interest.