By: Stephen J. Plog
As July 1 soon approaches, it’s that time of year again when revisions to Colorado statutes often come into effect. Family law statutes related to divorce, child custody, and child support are no exception to this phenomenon. While things do not generally change too radically, even simple, nuanced changes can have an impact on family law cases. In this blog post, I will discuss changes to the primary Colorado child support statute, C.R.S. 14-10-115, which go into effect in 2019. Interestingly, the 2019 version of statute also references changes which will go into effect in 2020. I will leave those changes to another blog post, to be drafted by one of our other attorneys, Jessica Saldin.
The first somewhat significant change ties into you children and imputation of income to their caregivers. Pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-115, a child support court has the ability to assign or “impute” income to a parent based on their earning potential. Imputation can be requested when one parent is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed. For years, in recognition of the involved nature of raising young children, Colorado statute has indicated that a court cannot impute income to a parent “who is caring for a child under the age of thirty months for whom the parents owe a joint legal responsibility…” The 2019 changes now make that age 24 months. The Colorado legislature, in making this change, likely formulated the belief that today’s society is filled with two income households, with both parents working. With that comes children becoming accustomed to day care or preschool at an earlier age than they may have in the past. Right or wrong, the change is here.
Those parents facing a new child support obligation will be jumping for joy at the notion of being able to have at least some income imputed to the other parent at an earlier age. Conversely, those parents who are the ones tasked with primarily caring for the children will now be forced to make the decision much sooner as to whether to go to work or have income imputed to them. In cases in which that imputation would be minimum wage, the impact on the bottom line child support amount may not be that great. However, when that stay at home parent had a career or professional degree, he or she can expect their child support to potentially be impacted sooner. Thus, while some parents will be happy with this change, others will not.
The second 2019 change to C.R.S. 14-10-115 also relates to income. While courts have been able to impute income for years, they have largely been guided by case law in making determinations as to underemployment or unemployment. Now courts have some statutory guidance enumerated in Subsection (b.5)(II), which sets forth a specific list of factors the court must look at, including the parent’s assets, residence, employment and earning history, job skills, educational attainment, literacy, age, health, criminal record, other employment barriers, record of seeking work, the local job market, the availability of employers hiring in the community, without changing existing law regarding the burden of proof, and other relevant background factors in the case. While attorneys have found it relevant to present some or all of these factors when dealing with child support cases, they are now codified, requiring courts to make findings as to them.
At risk of bashing my own profession, it is safe to say that the more statutory factors listed, the more attorneys (or parties) will have to argue over. It will be interesting to see, over time, how the new enumerated factors compete in any given case and which ones a court might give more weight to over others. Only time will tell.
Previously, I had indicated a second post will be coming regarding additional changes, particularly those set to go into effect in 2020. Should I find additional 2019 changes I find significant enough to warrant writing about I will do so. While your child support attorney will certainly be charged with being abreast of these statutory revisions, it’s important for you to also be aware.