Ultimate Guide to Child Support in Colorado
Next to custody, you would likely agree that child support is the most important issue to anyone going through a divorce or custody dispute. Although child support is supposed to be easy to calculate and simple to understand, it is often more complex than a simple formula. While some of the basics are straightforward, it quickly becomes difficult when you start learning about extraordinary medical expenses & adjustments, Worksheet A vs. Worksheet B, and all of the “factors” a court can consider when determining how much child support is owed.
To understand how much child support you should be paying (or should be getting paid), you will need to know (1) how many children there are, (2) how many “overnights” you have, (3) the amount of money you or your spouse spend on certain expenses (explained below), and your income.
Read on to learn about (1) Colorado’s child support laws, (2) how child support is calculated, (3) how a child support modification works, and (4) when child support obligations end.
How do you Calculate Child Support in Colorado?
Colorado courts determine the amount of child support using a set of rules outlined in 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, Colorado courts calculate child supporting using a rule known as the Incomes Shares Model, which is a similar rule to 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 very hard to determine and differs 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. However, in general, income can come from a variety of places including a person’s job, social security, retirement benefits, capital gains on the sale of certain assets, among other things.
The State of Colorado’s website dedicated to the topic of child support has many of the forms that you will need to calculate child support. The software used by many professionals to calculate child support and maintenance can be found here.
What the 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 that are often 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 very 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.
The fact that these expenses must be divided is not the focus of most disputes. Rather, what qualifies as an “extraordinary expense” is what causes the 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). With respect to 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 and must be divided. However, parents often disagree about what is necessary and you should know if you pay for an extra expense for the child you may never be reimbursed.
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 92 overnights (91 or fewer), then the parties use a “Worksheet A” to determine the correct amount of child support. Worksheet A is referred to as the “Sole Physical Care” worksheet. If the parties share parenting time and each parent has 92 or more overnights, then the parties use a “Worksheet B.” Worksheet B is referred to as 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 you will use a Worksheet A whether the number of overnights is 91 or just 1. In case 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]).
- One overnight per week is about 52 overnights
- Two overnights per week is about 104 overnights
- Three overnights per week is about 156 overnights
Expenses in the Worksheets
Once you or the court determines the guideline amount of child support using the parents’ incomes, the number of overnights, the number of children, and the amount of maintenance, the child support worksheet then asks parents to identify some expenses that will be paid by one parent or the other. However, the worksheet itself does not provide much information as to what items should be input. Because of this, clients often have many questions about which expenses to identify as part of the child support obligation. Here are a few:
- Work-related child care
- Education-related child care
- Health insurance premiums (for the child)
- Uninsured, extraordinary medical expenses
- Other Extraordinary Expenses & Adjustments
These costs can be input 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 owed. 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 such that 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 are going to go up (should go up), they may decide not to provide this information.
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 which results in a change of 10% or more in the presumed amount of child support. The statute that addresses the modification of child support is C.R.S. § 14-10-122. To figure out whether there has been a change in each party’s income, the law requires that parents provide information about their income, expenses, and financials to the other parent each year. This allows the parties to adjust child support yearly without having to ask the court for a modification. However, many people do not follow this rule and adjust child support much less frequently (sometimes never).
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 that a child may not emancipate, the most common and important of which is a disability. If you have questions about child support or expenses for a child over the age of 19, it is best to speak with an attorney because the options are far more limited and nuanced.
Learn more about your case and the other ins and outs of Colorado child support law from the attorneys at Griffiths Law. To learn more about the Family Support Registry (the FSR), take a look at our resource on the topic.