When Can Child Support be Ordered?
Colorado courts may order a parent to pay child support in cases involving divorce, legal separation, paternity, parental responsibilities, and independent support proceedings.
Amount of Child Support
When child support is ordered, the court will determine the amount of monthly support by utilizing a formula that takes into account each parent’s gross monthly income (which includes monetary gifts to the parent), the number of overnights the child is in each parent’s care during the year, child care costs for the child, the cost of health care for the child, any income of the child (in certain circumstances), and any extraordinary expenses incurred for the child.
Child support is usually paid to the parent having the primary residential care of the child for the majority of the time. Generally, if the parent who does not have the primary residential care of the child for the majority of the time cares for the child for more than 92 overnights each year, his or her support obligation may be reduced.
Courts may deviate from the child support guidelines where application of the guidelines would be inequitable, unjust, or inappropriate. The court must make written or oral findings setting forth the reasons for the deviation.
When the parents’ combined monthly gross income exceeds $30,000, the child support guidelines are no longer applicable and the court must exercise its discretion in determining the monthly child support obligation after considering the financial resources of both parents and the child, the physical and emotional condition of the child, the needs of the non-custodial parent, and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the parents’ relationship not ended.
Duration of Child Support Order
Generally, a child support order lasts until the child reaches age 19 unless the child gets married or enters into active military duty prior to age 19. The court may continue support beyond age 19 if the child is still in high school or an equivalent program or is unable to care for himself or herself due to mental or physical disability. The court may also order a parent to provide postsecondary education support (to assist with tuition, books and fees for college or vocational training) until the child reaches age 21.
Imputing Income to a Parent
When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court may calculate child support based upon that parent’s potential income. Generally, a parent will not be deemed to be voluntarily unemployed if he or she is physically or mentally incapacitated, is caring for a child under age 30 months, or is incarcerated in prison under a sentence of one year or more. Generally, a parent will not be deemed to be voluntarily underemployed if he or she is in the process of changing careers or obtaining additional education, as long as the child is not deprived of reasonable support during this process.
The court is required to provide for the child’s medical needs and may order either or both parents to purchase medical insurance for the child or include the child on existing health insurance.
When a parent is required to maintain health insurance for a child, the court may allocate the right to claim the child as a dependency exemption for income tax purposes. A parent who has not paid the full amount of court-ordered child support in any tax year will not be entitled to claim the child as a dependency exemption for that tax year. If the parents are cooperative, it is possible to maximize the benefit of the dependency exemption by having the parent who would receive the greater benefit from the exemption claim the exemption and pay to the other parent the amount the other parent would have benefitted from the exemption. This results in the parties retaining more of their collective incomes.
Security for Child Support
Parties often agree to maintain life insurance to ensure that funds are available for support of the child if one or both of the parents dies.
Modification of a Child Support Order
When a court-ordered, voluntary, or mutually agreed upon change of physical care of the child occurs, the existing child support order may be modified or terminated as of the date when physical care was changed. Otherwise, a child support order may be modified only as to installments accruing after the filing of a motion for modification and only upon a showing of either (1) changed circumstances that are substantial and continuing or (2) on the ground that the order does not contain a provision regarding medical support (such as insurance coverage, payment for medical insurance deductibles and copayments, or unreimbursed medical expenses).
Generally, the party seeking modification has to show that the change in circumstances results in a 10% or greater change in the monthly child support obligation.