An important issue for courts in a divorce or custody matter is child support, or the cost of raising the children until they are each nineteen, or otherwise emancipated. In Colorado, child support is considered a right of the child; therefore, the courts generally will not recognize an agreement between the parents regarding collecting child support, unless it exceeds the “Child Support Guidelines.” The guidelines represent a formula based on what the family would have theoretically spent for the child’s care had the parties not separated. Some factors considered in a support calculation include the gross income of both parents and (if any) the child’s income, the number of overnights the child spends with each parent, and significant expenses specific to the child, such as health insurance, work or school related daycare, private school, orthodontia or other extraordinary medical expenses, travel for parenting time, etc. A judge may deviate from the guidelines for good cause, but this is rare.
Child support, along with each parent’s contribution to daily expenses during his or her parenting time, is intended to cover most of the receiving parent’s costs of raising the child. While significant extraordinary costs, such as those described above, may become part of the child support calculation, most ordinary, and even somewhat unusual costs, such as extra-curricular activities, hobbies, dance lessons, relatively inexpensive sport participation, seasonal clothing, ordinary doctor visits, etc. are considered ordinary costs to be covered by regular child support.
Child support is often a significant source of friction between divorced parents. The paying parent often feels the money is not being used to the children’s benefit while the receiving parent may believe the money is not nearly enough to cover the true cost of raising a child. Generally, the receiving parent can determine how child support is to be spent. The paying parent can ask the court to require the receiving parent to account for how the money is spent; however, such orders are rare and, even where entered, the court may order the requesting parent to pay the cost of such accounting.
Divorced parents also often believe that a parent who is not meeting a child support obligation loses his or her right to parenting time. Colorado law specifically indicates this is not true. A parent who is not meeting a child support obligation may lose the right to request an accounting of child support, or may lose a tax exemption for a child, may forfeit a driver’s license, license to do business, or an income tax refund or may even be fined or jailed; however, a parent cannot legally deny parenting time to the other parent based on a lack of child support payments.
Child support is not taxable to the recipient nor is it deductible to the payor.
Colorado courts have established a Family Support Registry, which acts as a go-between and record keeper for parents desiring such service. This free service provided by the State of Colorado is an excellent way to officially “track” payment dates and amounts. Another option is a direct deposit from the payor’s paycheck into the receiving parent’s bank account.
Because of the difficulties associated with many child support cases, Colorado domestic judges routinely order an income assignment (or “garnishment”) when requested by the receiving parent. Under such assignment, the payor’s employer deducts the child support amount prior to paying the payor his or her wages. Many payors object to such assignment, particularly because of the “deadbeat parent” connotation; however, as employers see increasing numbers of such routine assignments, the stigma is diminishing. Direct deposit and income assignments also relieve the paying parent from what may be an onerous task of writing checks to an ex-spouse.
On January 1, 2003, a new law raised child support guideline limits and created new provisions for lower income earners. Some highlights include:
- A “low income adjustment” that applies to the parent with the fewer number of overnights and an adjusted monthly income less than $1,850;
- A “very low income adjustment” for cases where the party ordered to pay support has less than $850 adjusted monthly income. The minimum monthly obligation in these cases is $50;
- Extraordinary medical expenses now include co-payments and deductible amounts that exceed a combined $250 per child per year, and;
- The Federal Child Care Credit has changed from 35% to 20% for annual incomes, which are scaled up to more than $43K (formerly $28K).