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Child Support Arrearages in Colorado

hands-1402625-m.jpgChild support in Colorado is calculated according to the Colorado Child Support Guideline found at C.R.S. 14-10-115, revised in January 2014. In Denver and the surrounding areas, divorced parents must meet their child support obligations until the child is emancipated. This happens when the child graduates from high school, turns 19, joins the military, marries, becomes self-sufficient, or dies, whichever is earliest. Child support orders entered after July 1, 1997 terminate automatically when the youngest child reaches 19, unless the court has ordered otherwise. Sometimes the court orders child support to extend after this point, such as when a child is physically or mentally disabled and incapable of supporting himself or herself.

What happens if a parent fails to pay child support and the children are out of the home? Child support arrearages–child support that is still owed–must be paid even after the kids move out. The court must modify a child support order if the support is to be reduced for any reason. This means, for example, that if you owe child support for two children, and one child is emancipated while the other is not, you must still pay the total amount of child support until you obtain a modification from the court.

Generally, if you think there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a change in child support, you should consult an Arapahoe County family law attorney to help you request a modification, rather than simply allowing arrearages to accumulate. A parent who is not paid child support for many years doesn’t waive the right to bring a claim for arrearages by delaying in seeking it.

In the recent appellate case In Re Marriage of Johnson, a father appealed an order that entered judgment requiring him to pay child support arrearages and interest. The case arose when the father’s marriage to the mother of their two children ended in 1983. The court ordered him to pay $400 per month as child support. In 2012, the mother asked the court to enter judgment in the amount of $893,285 for child support arrearages plus interest. The father objected. He argued that there was a 20-year statute of limitations, which limited the mother to collecting arrearages that accrued after September 1992. The father wanted a hearing to establish how much child support he had paid after September 1992, but the magistrate did not address the father’s arguments or request and simply entered judgment for the full amount.

The father asked the district court to review. The court agreed with the father that the 20-year statute of limitations applied. It vacated the magistrate’s order and sent the matter for an evidentiary hearing to review the amount of arrearages for which the court needed to enter judgment. On hearing the father’s arguments, the magistrate rejected the contention that child support had terminated when the parties’ last child turned 19 in 1995 and that the mother was barred from collecting interest by laches. The magistrate awarded a judgment of $155,000. Again, the father asked the district court to review, but the district court adopted the order, and the father appealed.

On appeal, the father argued that there was no support in the record for finding $23,260 in arrearages and that child support terminated automatically when the last child turned 19. He also argued that the district court was wrong to find that laches didn’t apply to the interest. The appellate court agreed that the child support obligation terminated when the last child turned 19 and sent the case back to the magistrate to recalculate the arrearages owed.

At the time the parents divorced, child support was owed until a child was emancipated–at that time, at age 21. The amendment modifying the emancipation age to 19 specified that the modification applied to any child support obligations established before July 1, 1991, except in the case of kids who turned 19 before that date. In this case, the last child turned 19 on 1995. After that date, the father no longer had an obligation to pay child support. The court also noted that interest is owed at 4% more than the statutory rate on any arrearages, compounded monthly unless waived by the parent to whom it is owed. Importantly for divorced parents in Douglas, Jefferson, or Denver Counties, the court found that a waiver is not implied by pursuing arrearages.

If you are getting a divorce and are concerned about the financial consequences of the court’s orders, or your circumstances have changed substantially and you need to obtain a modification of child support, you should consult an experienced Denver divorce attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys of Plog & Stein can help you understand your rights and responsibilities with regard to child support, and can prepare the best possible case for you. To schedule an initial consultation with a dedicated Colorado family law attorney, contact us today through our website or at 303-502-9422.