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COLORADO CHILD SUPPORT: 2014 CHANGES

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As 2013 draws to a close, attorneys know that various changes are coming to Colorado statute in 2014, that relate to many aspects of family law, including statute related to child support. The general child support statute is set forth in Colorado Revised Statutes section 14-10-115. C.R.S. 14-10-115 covers the majority of topics related to the calculation of child support, specific dollar amounts owed, definitions of income, and other specifics on the subject. Commencing January 1, 2014, certain changes, some significant, will come into play which will likely affect parties with child support cases moving forward. Perhaps the most significant change relates to the restructuring in the acutal guidelines set forth in the statute in terms of what should be paid based on income levels.

Colorado child support is calculated based on a formula. The primary factors for establishing child support are the incomes of the parties, the number of children, the amount of overnight parenting time spent with the children, each year, by the non-custodial parent, day care costs, if any, and health insurance costs, if any. The numbers leading to a child support calculation are plugged into software, which then generates a monthly child support amount, based on a statutory formula. C.R.S. 14-10-115 contains a basic table setting forth the amount the legislature has deemed needed to support a child, or children, depending upon the parties’ combined monthly gross incomes. This figure is titled the “basic support obligation” and is not the actual monthly child support amount owed. Without any adjustments, which will not be discussed in this posting, the software would, in essence, divide the monthly support obligation between the parties proportionate to their incomes, with the presumption that the payor is paying his or her proportionate share to the custodial parent.

Current support obligation figures were established commencing 2008. On the low end of the table or chart, parties with a combined monthly gross income of $850 would have a combined support obligation of $184 for one child. On the high end of the current table, the maximum combined monthly income set forth is $20,000 per month and the combined support obligation for one child would be $1858. The 2014 changes not only increase or decrease the combined support obligation, depending on the combined income and number of children, but also raises the upper most limit of the guideline combined income amount to $30,000 per month between the parties. This is significant in that some courts in the Denver metropolitan area have taken a position that they are not generally willing to exceed the $20,000 maximum guideline income amount for calculating child support. Thus, despite case law on the subject, there has been a gray area as relates to calculating child support for families making over $240,000 per year. That figure will now change to $360,000 per year. As such, persons with significant income over $240,000 will now lose any gray area as to what child support should be, up to the new $360,000 threshold. This change makes sense in that some sort of standard should be in place which limits potential litigation over what child support amount is fair for higher earning families. Perhaps such a change was long overdue.

Aside from the raising of the upper threshhold limit for combined income between the parties, the new guidelines also contain some significant changes in terms of what the combined support obligation should be depending upon combined income of the parties, particularly when there are multiple children involved. Logically, the fluctuation in actual combined monthly obligations amounts based on incomes varies. In some portions of the income spectrum, the cominbed obligation goes down, when looking at the obligation for one child. In others, it goes up. However, as soon as a second, third, or fourth child is added to the mix, the dollar amount goes up. For example, the combined support obligation for a family with four children making $9000 per month, pre-2014, would be $2202. Commencing January 2014, the combined obligation for the same family with four children making $9000 would be $2510 per month. As the combined support obligation goes up, so will the amount the child support payor will likely owe each month.

Again, the changes discussed within this posting are the most significant. Child support recipients will be pleased, payors likely will not. This is not the first time there has been a change, nor will it be the last. The revised C.R.S. 14-10-115 also contains additional changes related to definitions of income for self employed people and independent contractors, as well as various additional recitations of what can be included in a calculation. Though courts will still have the same same discretion they had, meaning a Douglas County child support case might be handled differently than a Denver County child support case as to some particular, lesser nuance, the changes discussed herein will be statewide and will have a financial impact on all involved.