Child support in Colorado can be among the most straightforward, or the most complex, part of any divorce or legal separation case. As child support is the right of the child, not the parents, the Colorado Child Support Guidelines apply in most cases and use various inputs to calculate a monthly support figure based on the estimated financial support a child would be receiving from each parent if the family were still intact. The Guidelines then reallocate support between parents according to the number of overnights children spend in each parent’s now separate household, resulting in a final cash amount for one parent to pay monthly to the other. The formula is made accessible through court-approved child support software.
Unlike spousal maintenance, the result of the formula on which the Child Support Guidelines are based is a legal presumption that is entered as the child support order in most family law cases. Parties often disagree over the various inputs on the worksheet, such as each party’s gross income, especially where one or both parents’ incomes are hard to determine precisely. Other inputs, such as the cost of daycare and health insurance for the child, are less likely to cause much debate. Parents may ask the court to deviate from the Guideline support amount, and if the court agrees, judges are required to list in detail why the Guideline support amount would be inappropriate or unfair. Deviation from the Guidelines, however, is relatively rare.
While voluntary overtime work or second jobs and hobbies above one’s full-time income are not included in earnings/wage income for child support, parents who are voluntarily under or unemployed are still assigned a full-time potential income from earnings. This is called “imputed income.” Likewise for parents who have not worked for some time to raise children or for any other reason. Some parents may avoid such potential/imputed income in cases of severe disability, full-time enrollment in an educational program that will result in higher income once completed, and while caring for a very young child. That said, almost all income a person receives, even if passive, is considered income for child support purposes, including monetary gifts that are regularly received from a dependable source.
Income calculations for business owners or self-employed earners can be particularly complex, and many expenses allowable by the IRS for business deductions are included as part of a party’s gross income for child support. Similarly, income from stocks and investments, unless they are held in a retirement vehicle like a 401(k) or IRA, are also included in gross income for calculating child support. In cases where the parents’ combined income from all sources is over $360,000, the child support Guidelines do not apply. Such cases invite complex legal arguments, as courts are called on to decide issues like whether to extrapolate above the uppermost level of the Guidelines, whether to shift certain expenses like childcare and nannies onto one parent entirely, or whether to award monthly support at all, based on a holistic analysis of financial resources and needs.
Courts are also charged with entering orders regarding costs outside the scope of ordinary child support, such as uninsured medical expenses, private school tuition, extracurricular costs, and the like. Such orders require payments above and beyond monthly lump-sum support, typically based on each parent’s percentage share of their combined gross income. When college costs are a priority, parents are incentivized to arrive at creative solutions, since Colorado law prohibits judges from ordering parents to contribute to their children’s postsecondary tuition and expenses. Courts can, however, enforce settlement agreements between parents related to payment for children’s higher education.