By: Jessica A. Saldin
One of our recent blog posts detailed some fairly significant changes to the Colorado child support law as relates to the consideration of voluntary unemployment and underemployment. However, those changes are not the only changes passed by the legislature. This article will detail some of the additional changes recently made to the Colorado child support law.
The changes to the voluntarily unemployment/underemployment section are the primary 2019 changes. The only other 2019 change requires parties filing a verified entry of support judgment (a method by which to enforce child support orders) to send such to all parties. That being said, the legislature has preemptively enacted changes to go into effect in 2020, which will be discussed further below.
The 2019 changes are immediate and affect all child support proceedings. Specifically, the law states that it “shall apply to all child support obligations, established or modified, as a part of any proceeding…regardless of when filed” (C.R.S. 14-10-115(1)(c)). In other words, if you filed a divorce case two months ago, the current child support law, including all recent changes, affect your case (new law, not old law applies). This could cause a multitude of difficulties for individuals facing potential underemployment claims. For example, if you were not working at the time your case was filed because you were caring for a child twenty-five months of age, you would not have been considered voluntarily unemployed at the time the case was filed; but, due to recent statutory changes, you now could be considered voluntarily unemployed. As the changes are very recent, it is yet to be seen how judges will take this into consideration, if at all.
Beyond the 2019 changes to the child support law, there are additional changes coming July 1, 2020. One such change was to amend the description of adjustments to gross income, including the descriptions of the low income adjustments. Most notably, the minimum monthly amount of child support, when the paying party’s monthly adjusted gross income was less than $1,100, was $50. Starting July 1, 2020, when the paying party’s monthly adjusted gross income is less than $650, the minimum amount of child support is only $10 per month. Starting July 1, 2020, the table of child support amounts will also be adjusted.
Additionally, starting July 1, 2020, the child support law codifies child support cases law regarding how support is calculated when there are two or more children subject to the child support calculation but each child has a different number of overnights with each parent. Prior to this case, there was case law that explained how overnight parenting time should be calculated, but it was not clearly laid out in the law. Starting July 1, 2020, the law will clarify the way to calculate the number of overnights. Specifically, you will add together the number of overnights for each child, then divide that number by the number of children included on the worksheet. For example, if a parent has 104 scheduled overnights per year with two out of the three children and 182 scheduled overnights per year with the other child, you would add up all the overnights (104+104+182) and divide by 3 to arrive at the number of overnights to use on the worksheet. For this scenario, you would then run a child support worksheet for three children with the parent having the average,130, scheduled overnights per year.
Furthermore, starting July 1, 2020, mandatory school fees, defined as “fees charged by a school or school district, including a charter school, for a child attending public primary or secondary school for activities that are directly related to the educational mission of the school, including but not limited to laboratory fees; book or educational material fees; school computer or automation-related fees, whether paid to the school directly or purchased by a parent; testing fees; and supply or material fees paid to the school…[but] not… uniforms, meals, or extracurricular activity fees,” will be addressed (C.R.S. 14-10-115(3)(c.5)). Currently, the child support statute only addresses payment of fees for expenses for special or private elementary or secondary schools to meet the particular educational needs of the child. However, next year, the mandatory school fees will also be divided by parents in proportion to their incomes (for example, if father earns $7,500 gross per month and mother earns $2,500 gross per month, mother will be responsible for 25% of mandatory school fees and father will be responsible for 75% of such).
Finally, starting July 1, 2020, there are changes to the disability section of the child support law. Specifically, if a noncustodial parent receives disability benefits or employer-paid retirement benefits from the federal government, the noncustodial parent shall notify the custodial parent, and child support enforcement, if they are a party to the case, within 60 days of receipt of notice of said benefits. The custodial parent must then apply for dependent benefits for the child(ren) within 60 days of receiving this notice. The ultimate conclusion, when benefits are received, will be a dollar-for-dollar reduction in child support paid. Though this scenario is not that common, it will impact some cases and is certainly worth mentioning.
Clearly the point of these statutory changes was to fill in holes (like including the payment of mandatory school fees) and to solidify prior case law (like with the calculation of overnights). However, there are still some areas of the child support statute that lack clarity that these legislative changes did not resolve. My next blog post will detail these additional areas that still need clarification. Perhaps one day they will make it onto the legislature’s radar, too.