How Do I Modify My Child Support?
When original child support orders are entered in a Colorado child custody or divorce case, they are based on circumstances current at that point in time. Those specific factors going into the calculation are going to be the income of each party, the number of children, the overnight parenting time for each parent, work or school related daycare costs, monthly health insurance premiums, and other potential factors which may be relevant. Those numbers are input into a child support calculation, the result of which is a statutorily dictated monthly payment amount. Child support in Denver and throughout Colorado runs until a child turns 19. In cases in which there are multiple children, the obligation of support continues until the last child turns 19 or is otherwise emancipated. Over time, circumstances can change which affect both the factors going into the child support calculation and the monthly amount. In recognition of the fact that things can change over time, Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-122 authorizes child support modifications until the last child is emancipated.
When considering modifying your monthly child support amount, or having to respond to motion to modify filed by the other side, there are various standards and procedures to keep in mind. Pursuant to Section 122, the specific standard for seeking a modification of your child support orders is that there has been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances warranting a modification. In practice, that standard is quantified with the requirement that the change in circumstances (factors going into the calculation) results in a 10 percent or more change to the monthly child support amount, either higher or lower.
The most common factor leading to a modification of child support is that one party’s income, or the income of both parties, has changed. When pleading a change in income, litigants should be aware that a court, or the other side, is not going to blindly just accept a reduction in income without there being a valid reason for the reduction. Valid reasons might include job loss, reduction in pay, reduction in hours, or injury or disability. Just quitting one’s job is not going to be considered a valid basis. Modifications can also derive from increased income. For example, one party may make $90,000 per year at the time child support is first calculated. Via promotions, increased compensation, or otherwise, that person’s income might go up to $150,000 per year. Such a significant increase might lead to that 10 percent change. Increase or decrease in income can be pled by either the payer or the recipient as a basis for seeking the modification. It should also be noted that termination of alimony can lead to a change in child support, as the income used for both parties inherently changes when alimony ends.
Another common reason people might seek to change child support is when one of multiple children emancipates for child support purposes. For example, when a family has three children and one turns 19, child support may go down, depending on the other factors. A common misconception people have prior to speaking with a Denver child support lawyer is that a child dropping off automatically leads to a proportionate reduction, which is just not the case, or that they can just reduce support on their own. Other common reasons might include changes to child care costs or a change in overnight parenting time for one of the parents. Each case is different.
Also pursuant to Section 122, a modification of child support can be applied retroactively to the date of the filing of a motion. Generally, it can take months from filing to the conclusion of a modification case, whether conclusion comes via settlement or a court hearing. As such, it’s important to file promptly when circumstances change. If there is overpayment or underpaying during the months the motion is pending, the norm is for courts to order that the aggregate amount of over or underpayment be dealt with over a 24 month period.
Procedurally, after a motion to modify is filed and the $105 filing fee is paid, the responding party will have 21 days to file a written response. Failure to do so may result in the entry of default orders. In some cases, such as a Douglas or Arapahoe County child support case, the parties will be required to attend an initial status conference and will be ordered to attend mediation prior to any hearing. In other counties, there may not be a required status conference, though most will require mediation. The process will also include the parties being required to exchange financial disclosures, which will include a sworn financial statement, pay stubs, tax returns, and any relevant daycare or health insurance information. Formal discovery requests might also be issued. Again, if agreement is not reached, the court will ultimately decide the new monthly amount, or if a modification will even occur.
With knowledge that child support may be modified at various points along the way, it’s not uncommon for orders to be entered regarding an annual exchange of relevant financial information so that each party can assess whether a modification is warranted. Child support litigation can be complex, particularly as relates to proving your case and the right figures needed to do so. Seeking assistance and guidance from a child support attorney right away is advisable.