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Colorado Child Support Guidelines


When relationships don’t work out, the fallout can affect many things. In some relationships, that may mean that the couple’s children go through a change in environment, especially whenever parents are divorcing. However, both parents have an obligation to care for their children, even when the parents’ relationship changes.

To help ensure that children have suitable financial support after a divorce or breakup, Colorado law requires child support payments. These payments intend to provide children with the same standard of living they would have had if their parents had stayed together. To do this, Colorado’s child support guidelines follow a complicated set of equations to determine the appropriate amount of support for the family’s circumstances. Our

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What Types of Expenses Are Part of Child Support?

A child support order will include expenses for:

  • Childcare
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Medical care
  • Education
  • Travel

Travel expenses only apply when they are for transport associated with visitation, not for general travel.

What Factors Determine Child Support?

Several circumstances impact child support payments, all working to ensure that the parent responsible for the children can take care of them. One major factor in this is custody, determined by a separate agreement. In most cases, the parent with primary custody of the children will receive child support, though this can vary for parents who share custody.

Both parents’ income is also essential in determining custody. Cases where parents have grossly disparate incomes can lead to larger support payments when combined with other factors. The number of children and the amount of time they spend with each parent will also play a role. Other factors include:

  • The financial resources and needs of both the custodial and non-custodial parent
  • Physical and emotional condition of the children
  • The children’s educational needs

The goal is to prevent major disruptions in a child’s well-being through the removal of financial resources. For young children especially, a divorce can be an emotionally impactful time. Preventing additional shocks from sudden changes in the standard of living can help to lessen the overall changes.

How Does Income Work in Determining Child Support?

The income of both parents plays one of the largest parts in establishing and fulfilling child support agreements. Many different sources of money can serve as your income for the sake of determining child support, such as your salary, independent contractor payments, bonuses and benefits, overtime pay, alimony, and workers’ compensation, to name some.

While lottery winnings do not count as part of your income, other monetary prizes can. Other types of monetary gain excluded from your child support case include child support received for children from other relationships or public assistance.

Aside from including all sources of monetary gain, Colorado uses adjusted gross income in calculating child support payments. However, this adjusted gross income is not the same as you would use for tax purposes.

Parents who are already paying some form of alimony or child support for another relationship can take those amounts out of their adjusted gross income. It’s also possible to deduct support amounts for children from other relationships who are living in the same household. This amount varies based on basic support obligations and the number of children.

Both parents can also deduct certain recurring expenses, such as work-related childcare, adding children to health insurance policies, additional health care expenses, as well as costs related to education and transportation for visitation purposes.

Non-custodial parents who earn between $900 and $1,900 gross monthly income can potentially qualify for a low-income adjustment to child support payments. However, parents who are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed may have the court determine an imputed income based on evidence of earning capacity, rather than their actual income. The imputed income is an amount attributed to the parent who has shown the capacity to earn that amount even though they do not earn it now. Parents who are usually exempt from this process include parents who:

  • Are caring for children under the age of 30 months
  • Have mental or physical limitations
  • Will be incarcerated for more than a year
  • Are making a good faith career change to increase income

Once the court has determined the appropriate levels of gross income for the parents, remaining child support calculations will use that amount.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

Along with adjusted income, the child support calculation factors all the applicable variables into consideration. The calculation takes the combined gross income of the parents and draws a percentage to serve as the child support amount. For one child, the percentage is roughly 20%, with an additional 10% added per additional child. For example, two children would have a base child support amount of 30%, three children for 40%, and so on.

After that base amount is established, the courts split support between both parents. The other determining factors of custodial time, income, etc. determine which parent is responsible for how much child support. The main custodial parent will pay his or her portion in normal expenses, while the non-custodial parent will pay the remaining amount in child support payments.

When trying to calculate child support payments on your own, you must still follow Colorado guidelines. The state also provides worksheets to help determine amounts. You can use the manual worksheets or use the electronic worksheet to automatically calculate your amount after entering all the relevant information.

Depending on the custody arrangement for your children, you may need to fill out a different worksheet:

  • Form JDF 1820M works for most cases where children spend no more than 92 overnights with the parent with less physical custody.
  • Form JDF 1821M works for cases of shared custody where children spend at least 93 overnights with each parent.

When parents have different levels of custody for separate children, it will also impact the amount of child support payments. If you are trying to determine your own child custody payments, you may need to fill out different worksheets to account for the different children payments, and then compare the support amounts for the different situations.

Is It Possible to Deviate from the State Child Support Guidelines?

In some cases, parents may decide to set up their own form of child support agreement. When both parties agree on this child support amount, the court may approve it. However, if the agreed amount of support deviates too far from state guidelines, the court may order a new child support amount more in line with the guidelines.

Additionally, a court may choose to deviate from the state outlined guidelines. This is likely to occur whenever the strict application of the guidelines would be unfair to a child or one of the parents. Some circumstances could involve an underpayment for support or too much financial strain on the non-custodial parent in a way that would severely impact their quality of life.

However, these situations are the minority. Most cases of child support will follow the state’s guidelines.

When Do Child Support Payments Stop?

The support-paying parent will continue to pay child support until the child turns 19. If the child still attends high school, the payments will continue until the child turns 21. For children who have mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from supporting themselves, child support will continue indefinitely.

In cases where a parent pays support for multiple children, payments for children who turn 18 or 21 respectively will stop at those points, while payments for younger children will continue until they are of age.

Is It Possible to Modify a Child Support Agreement?

Many higher-income parents worry that the discrepancy between their own income and their partners will result in high child support payments. However, the amount determined by a child support agreement is not permanent. As children and parents’ circumstances change, Colorado law allows for adjustments to child support agreements.

Either parent may request a review of the child support order, so long as it connects to changes in circumstances. Some of the major factors that allow for review are:

  • A child under support has become emancipated
  • One of the parents has had a change in income
  • The cost of raising the child has changed, such as daycare or healthcare expenses
  • The number of overnight visits with parents has changed
  • Three years have passed since your last reviews

Including supporting information for the reason for the request will help facilitate the process. It can take up to six months to completely review and change child support. The new child support calculations will use the current adjusted gross income and expenses of the parents, rather than the previous amounts. However, an order will not change if the dollar amount has not adjusted 10% or more or there is an adjustment to medical support costs.

Determining Child Support for Your Situation

Calculating the appropriate amount of child support can be a challenge, especially in complex situations that include more variables. Even so, children have a right to fair amounts of child support for their situation. In cases where parents don’t agree to the terms of child support, it may be necessary to enter negotiations, enlist the help of a family law attorney, or dispute the matter in court.

No matter the path or result of your child support order, the most important part is to remember that payments are for the sake of your children’s well-being. As circumstances change, so may child support payments. Having the help of a skilled child support attorney can help ensure that your children have the best quality of life possible, given the changing circumstances.



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