Colorado Child Support

In Colorado, child support may be obtained by anyone primarily responsible for the care of a minor child, through a child support order from the child's parent(s). A child support order is a legally enforceable command to the non-custodial parent to pay for some of the child's care and expenses.

A child support order can be obtained from a judge during the process of a divorce or during the process of determining child custody. A separate petition to the court can also be filed that just deals with establishing paternity and/or with obtaining a child support order.

A division of the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) called the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) unit will work with parents to try to help them obtain a support order if one does not yet exist. CSE can help to locate missing or absentee parents and can help to prove paternity. In addition to helping with these tasks and with the establishment of a support order, CSE also works to enforce existing orders and make sure parents pay as required. 

Parents who wish to seek help from CSE may begin the process by submitting an online application or by requesting an application from their local county office. The online application can be found on the Colorado Department of Human Services' website.

Calculating Child Support in Colorado

Regardless of whether parents seek a support order as part of a divorce, as part of a separate court action or with the help of CSE, there is a specific set of guidelines that is used by the court to determine how much the non-custodial parent must pay. The amount of support determined by these guidelines is presumed to be the correct support amount and a support order will not deviate from this amount unless there is a good reason to do so. When parents create a support agreement on their own outside of court, they should consult with the guidelines and either follow them or be ready to explain why the support amount they are proposing instead is in the best interests of the child.

According to the Colorado guidelines found in C.R.S. § 14-10-115, child support is to be determined based on the combined annual income of both parents. Colorado has determined what intact families at various income levels spend to provide basic support for their children. Using this information, they have created a table specifying how much families with different combined incomes spend on their kids. Both the income level of the parents and the number of children they have determines how much is to be spent for basic care, so the table contains both adjusted gross income ranges and appropriate amounts for people at each income level to spend.

To calculate the income level used for the table, the income made by both mother and father from all sources is added up. Subtractions may be made for any support obligations that either parent already owes to kids or spouses from previous relationships. The resulting number is the adjusted gross income that determines the basic support amount. Each parent is responsible for covering a percentage of the basic support amount equal to whatever percentage of the combined family income he/she earns. This means that the non-custodial parent would have to pay the appropriate percentage of the total basic care obligation to the custodial parent.

In addition to basic support, other costs associated with raising children include medical care and health care. These costs are thus added to the basic support obligation.

The parent paying support may also have some visitation time with the children. If so, it is assumed he or she will bear some costs during the time the child is visiting. The support obligation is thus reduced depending upon how often the child spends with the non-custodial parent.

Enforcing Child Support in Colorado

Income withholding is generally required when a support order is issued. This means the employer of the paying parent is notified to take some money from the parent's paycheck out for child support before the parent is paid. Money may also be withheld from unemployment or workers compensation benefits to pay child support. This helps to ensure that support orders are followed.

Unfortunately, sometimes parents still do not pay. In these cases, CSE has a number of methods used to help parents enforce a support order. This may include suspending a professional license, a recreational license or a driver's license; intercepting tax returns; and obtaining a judgment or lien. A judge who issued the support order may also hold the non-paying parent in contempt.

Modification of a Support Order

Sometimes, circumstances change and the amount of support ordered is no longer appropriate. As such, there are a variety of circumstances under which a parent may request modification of a support order.

A support order may be requested as a result of a significant change, such as the emancipation of the child, a change in income or a change in the cost of raising the child. If the number of overnight visits with the non-custodial parent changes in number, this can also trigger a review. Finally, if at least three years have passed since the order was issued or last reviewed, then a request may be made.

Requests for review can be submitted to the CSE unit responsible for overseeing the case. The form to request a review is available online.

Getting Legal Help

CSE provides parents with assistance in obtaining support because doing so is in the best interests of the child. CSE, however, does not represent or provide legal advice or counsel to parents. CSE also restricts the aid provide to support cases and does not advise or assist parents in custody or divorce matters. Parents who need more assistance than CSE can give should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney.