Both parents, regardless of their marital status, owe their children financial support to cover basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, and an education. Most states—including Colorado—have specific rules for calculating the responsibilities of parents and for ensuring that parents pay support.
Although parents can enter into agreements about child support, such agreements must meet the guidelines set by law and receive court approval. This is because the right to receive support belongs to the child—not the parents. Parents can't waive their child's right to support.
Parents have to support only their own children. That's why, before child support can be ordered, there has to be a legal decision about who a child's parents are. Identifying a child's mother is usually straightforward, but things can get more complicated when it comes to identifying a child's father.
If the parents were married at the time of the baby's birth, and are now separating or divorcing, this part is easy. The court will "presume" (make a strong legal assumption) that the parties to the divorce are the natural parents of any children born during the marriage, and move to the next phase—deciding the amount of child support based on the information submitted to the court during the divorce.
If you were never married, but you and the baby's father signed an "Acknowledgement of Paternity," this acknowledgement will work to establish "paternity" (the legal father-child relationship) in court. An acknowledgement of paternity becomes a legal finding of paternity 60 days after signing.
If you never married your child's father, and he did not sign an acknowledgment of paternity, things will take a little longer. In order to establish paternity under these circumstances, you have a few options.
First, you can ask the child's father to voluntarily admit to paternity. Then, if he refuses, you can ask a court to order the father to submit to genetic testing and have the results presented to a judge, who will make the final decision about who the father is. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-4-105.5 (2022).)
Once paternity is established, the next step is to apply for child support services.
Colorado follows the "income shares" method of calculating support, which says that children are entitled to a portion of each parent's income. The goal behind using this method is to ensure that the child is supported financially in the same way they would have been if their parents were together.
In Colorado, child support is calculated by applying the "child support guidelines." The guidelines are in place to make support awards uniform and predictable.
To calculate a parent's child support obligation, the guidelines take into account factors such as:
How much income each parent makes before taxes is a major part of the calculations used to determine the base child support amount. Colorado includes in the definition of "income":
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-115(5)(a)(I) (2022).)
Some types of payments are excluded from Colorado's definition of "income," including:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-115(5)(a)(II) (2022).)
A parent can't evade their child support obligation by refusing to work. So when a parent can't provide evidence of current or average income, or is underemployed (meaning they have the potential to make more), the court can impute (assign) a potential monthly gross income to the parent. Colorado law provides a long list of considerations for calculating a potential income, including the parent's:
The court can also consider the overall job market and prevailing earnings level in the local community. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-115(5)(b.5)(II) (2022).)
Alimony payments received by a parent might also count as income if it is not taxable to the parent receiving it.
Once the court has assessed both parent's incomes, it determines the parents' combined basic child support obligation by using the schedule of basic child support. To use the schedule, find the parents' combined income in the left hand column, and cross-reference it against the top row indicating the number of children to be supported.
After finding this base number, the court may adjust it up or down depending on a number of factors.
The court may adjust the basic child support obligation after considering:
All of the factors discussed above are used to arrive at a number that the court considers to be the parents' total cost of caring for this child. In other words, the number that the court arrives at is an estimate of the amount the parents would spend annually on the child if the parents and child were living in an intact household.
Once the court has estimated the parents' total child support obligation, it will divide the amount between the parents based on how many overnights the child spends with each parent every year. There are two different child support calculation worksheets the court can use to determine each parent's obligation:
The calculations behind these worksheets is complex. If you're interested in the details about how the worksheets manipulate the numbers you enter into them, check out the explanation provided by the Colorado courts.
Once you enter all the numbers into the worksheet that applies to your situation, the result will give you a good idea of what amount a Colorado court might order for child support.
Generally, the parent who has the child for the most overnights is the parent who will receive child support, but the breakdown of who owes whom what depends on the calculations made in the child support worksheets.
All child support payments are processed through Colorado's Family Support Registry (FSR). The paying parent can have the child support funds withheld from a paycheck and sent into the FSR, or can set up automatic bank account withdrawals. (It's not unusual for a child support order to require that funds be withheld from the paying parent's paycheck.) One-time payments can also be made online or by check.
The receiving parent can set up direct deposit of the child support funds or have funds put onto a child support payment card.
A modification is an increase or a reduction of an existing child support order. To obtain a modification, a parent has to show that there has been a change of circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms of the current support order unfair. Under Colorado law, a substantial and continuing change of circumstances doesn't exist if the new circumstances would result in less than a 10% change in support under the guidelines. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-122(b) (2022).)
Common reasons parents request modification of Colorado child support orders include:
You can submit a request for review of your child support order in writing at the county child support office that handles your case.
If the paying parent stops paying child support, the unpaid amount keeps adding up until it's brought current again. The total amount of unpaid support is called "arrearages."
To help prevent arrearages, many Colorado child support orders are paid through "income assignment." Income assignments occur when the state sends a notice to the paying parent's employer instructing it to withhold child support and forward it to the Family Support Registry.
Depending on the circumstances, income assignments might also be applied to retirement benefits, workers' compensation, unemployment checks, and other forms of gross income. Income assignments can last as long as the support order does.
Despite the fact that many child support payments must be paid through income assignment, some parents fail to stay current with their payments. When this happens, the Colorado Child Support Services (CSS) program works to enforce the child support order. To start an enforcement action, contact the county child support office that handles your case. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a child support order might be enforced through court action or an administrative proceeding (an official hearing that occurs outside of a courtroom).
Parents who pay less than the full monthly child support payment can face penalties such as:
Child support in Colorado ends automatically when a child turns 19, unless the:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-115(13) (2022).)
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