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Child Support

When a couple divorces or separates, partners may find themselves worried about how to care for their children with a reduced income. If there is a paternity dispute, you may be worried that your spouse will try to dodge his responsibilities. Colorado’s child support laws are designed to ensure that the basic needs of children are met and that parents are held accountable for supporting them.

Like many other orders in Colorado family law cases, child support obligations are subject to change as the circumstances of the parties evolve. However, there is much more to the child support modification issue than this basic concept reveals. As with other issues related to minor children, the laws affect the interests of both parents as payors or recipients. Plus, changes to child support may impact the related areas of custody and visitation. These and other legal complexities make modifications extremely challenging, whether you are the one seeking the change or fighting it.

In the sections below we will explain the relevant child support laws and help you understand what to expect before, during, and after court. Retaining an experienced Colorado family law attorney can relieve some of the confusion and concerns you may have about the child support process.

Colorado Springs, CO Child Support Attorney

Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC has years of experience handling family law cases in Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas of El Paso, Arapahoe, and Denver Counties. We have represented Colorado clients in a wide variety of family law cases including divorces, separations, paternity disputes, and custody cases. We are committed to making sure the process goes as smoothly as possible and guiding you every step of the way.

Instead of putting your rights as a parent at risk, trust our team at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC to advocate on your behalf. Our legal services in connection with modifications to child support include:

  • Assessing your circumstances and objectives
  • Developing a strategy to seek or defend a child support modification
  • Assisting with creating and negotiating an agreement to modify child support
  • Filing a petition to increase or decrease child support obligations OR responding to a petition filed by your child’s other parent
  • Representing you in court at a contested hearing on child support modifications

Rely on our skill and knowledge in this trying time to give you some peace of mind – call (719) 328-1616 today to schedule your first consultation. Please note, the first half hour of the consultation is free of charge.

Overview of Child Support Law in Colorado

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Establishing Paternity in Colorado

Before a child support order can be issued by a court, there must be a decision as to who a child’s parents are legally. Mothers are considered legal parents simply by giving birth to a child, but determining who the father is can be more difficult. For married couples, courts operate on the presumption that the husband is the father if a child is born in wedlock.

For unmarried couples, an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” signed at the hospital following the birth of a child becomes a legal finding of paternity after 60 days. Without this document, the father must either admit paternity voluntarily or the mother can request a court-ordered genetic test to establish paternity through DNA matching.

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How Much is Child Support in Colorado?

Once legal paternity is established, the next step in the process is for courts to calculate the amount of support owed using a complex formula called the “Colorado Child Support Guidelines,” which are designed to make the amount consistent and predictable. The guidelines factor in child-rearing expenses like food and clothing, health insurance, doctor visits, and education.

Which parent receives the payments will depend on how parental responsibility, otherwise known as custody, is divided. Usually the parent with primary custody gets the child support, but this can vary in cases of shared custody. Another major consideration is the gross income of each parent, which is defined as total income from sources including wages, tips, pensions, and benefits. For example, if the parent raising the child has very little income and the noncustodial parent has a large income, payments may be higher. If the reverse is true, the noncustodial parent may have to pay nothing.

The guidelines start with the determination of a “basic child support obligation” based mainly on the combined amount of both parents’ income and the number of children. The amount of support owed is then factored based on the parents’ proportional incomes. A competent Colorado family law attorney can assist you in understanding the complicated formulas used to calculate child support.

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Deviating from the Child Support Guidelines

Judges presume that the amount specified in the guidelines is fair, but a request for an adjustment can still be made before the final child support order is issued. Whether you are the one paying or the one receiving child support, you can request a “deviation” if you think the amount is either too high or too low.

Requests for a deviation require a court hearing at which you must convince the court that there is a good reason for adjusting the amount. The court will not consider optional expenses – for example, simply being unable to buy a nicer car or purchase a flat screen TV will not entitle you to pay a lower amount.

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Modifying an Existing Child Support Order

A “modification” is similar to a “deviation” but is done after the order has already been issued rather than before. Modifications also require a hearing, and courts will only grant a modification if there has been a change in circumstances.

Child support obligations often arise in connection with divorce proceedings, but an order could also be issued in a paternity case or via the administrative process. Regardless of its origins, once a judge enters an order for child support, it remains in full force and effect unless replaced by another valid order. It acts as a type of private “law,” and there can be serious consequences for such violations as nonpayment.

Scenarios for Child Support Modification: Despite the strict nature of child support obligations, they are subject to change. Colorado law provides for two situations in which child support may be modified by the parties:

1. Major Life Changes: To modify child support, you have to show the court that there has been a “substantial” and “continuing” change of circumstances. Specifically, it must be one that would either increase or decrease the current child support order by 10 percent or more AND the new situation must be more than just temporary.

Note that this percentage applies to the support owed – not the payor or recipient parent’s income. A 10 percent increase or decrease in income would likely not trigger a child support modification according to state guidelines. Still, the parties are required to exchange financial information on an annual basis, so each parent knows the other’s situation.

Oftentimes, the changed circumstance can be:

  • The loss of a job
  • A change in income
  • A change in expenses
  • The removal/addition of a child onto the current child support order

While it may seem straightforward (and sometimes it is), that is not always the case. What if your ex is requesting a modification that lowers the child support so significantly that you can’t afford to support your children? What if your ex is requesting a large increase in support that you cannot afford?

2. Modification for Medical Reasons: A current child support order may also be modified if it does not include provisions regarding medical care, health insurance, and extraordinary or unreimbursed medical expenses. There is a relatively low bar for meeting this standard, considering the importance of the child’s health and well-being.

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Child Support Modification Options in Colorado

While the legal criteria for changing child support are strict, there are multiple options for modifications. Our child support attorneys at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC can explain the following in more detail:

Agreement to Adjust Child Support: Parents are allowed to make agreements regarding a modification to child support obligations, and are actually encouraged to do so whenever possible. However, as with any matter involving minor children, any changes are subject to scrutiny by the court. A judge will review the agreement to ensure that it complies with:

  • Statutory child support guidelines, which encompass the combined income of the parents, certain expenses, the number of children being supported, and other factors
  • Colorado’s standard on the best interests of the child, which focuses on the child’s needs, standard of living, and related matters

Contested Hearings on Child Support Modifications: If co-parents cannot agree on an increase or decrease to child support, the one seeking the change must file a petition in court. Both parties will have the opportunity to present their respective positions at a contested hearing, including witness testimony, documents, and other evidence.

The judge will assess the parties’ arguments and evidence in the context of the child’s best interests and Colorado’s child support guidelines. After granting or denying the child support modification, the court will enter the appropriate order.

Termination of Child Support by Operation of Law: While not a modification in the strictest sense, there are situations where child support will change by law. When a child turns 19 years old, he or she attains status as an adult, and parents are no longer obligated for support. Child support may also terminate when the child emancipates through marriage, joining the military, or related scenarios that demonstrate he or she is self-sufficient.

Retroactive Child Support Modifications: The default rule is that a motion to modify child support takes effect upon the date filed, so a recipient is not entitled to amounts due before the change. However, in some cases, it is possible to obtain retroactive payments when the underlying circumstances involve a change in physical custody.

When parents switch up the amount of time the child spends with either of them, one might be taking on additional financial responsibilities. He or she may be entitled to reimbursement through a retroactive child support modification.

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Failure to Pay Child Support

Failure to pay child support consistently will result in back payments, call “arrearages,” adding up until they are paid in full. If arrearages are owed, the state can take up to 65% of your disposable earnings by issuing a “Writ of Garnishment” to collect part of each paycheck you receive. The state can also issue a one-time garnishment and dip into your non-income personal property, like your bank accounts. Child Support Services can also “intercept” other monetary sources, such as IRS refunds, unemployment or workers’ compensation benefits, and even lottery winnings.

Your personal property, such as homes and vehicles, can have liens placed on them that will prevent you from selling or transferring the property until all arrearages have been paid. Finally, not paying child support can even result in criminal charges for contempt of court. A warrant may be issued for your arrest, and you may have to remain in jail until the back payments are paid.

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Additional Resources

Colorado Child Support Guideline – Here is the full text of the law that courts rely on to formulate the amount of child support payments. Before even hiring a lawyer, doing some of the math contained here can give you a better idea of what your payments might look like. An attorney may be able to help convince a court to adjust the suggested amount in your favor.

Child Support Services – Visit this site for official resources about child support in Colorado. Access the site to view information about making, receiving, and changing child support payments. You can also find instructions about how to enforce an order if you are not receiving what your child is owed.

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El Paso County Child Support Attorney, CO

Whether you want to increase the amount of child support you receive, limit the amount you have to pay, or hold your ex accountable for not paying what they owe, Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC can assist you. We have years of combined experience handling family law matters in Colorado Springs and around the surrounding counties of El PasoPuebloTellerDouglas, Denver, ElbertFremontPuebloLincoln and Arapahoe.

Issues that arise from divorces, separations, and paternity disputes can lead to confusion and stress, but we are here to help you navigate the family law process from start to finish and put you in the best position for a favorable outcome. Call (719) 328-1616 today to schedule a strategy session, the first thirty minutes are free.

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Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC