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How is Child Support Determined?

Updated March 8, 2024 by Stephen Plog

Calculating Colorado Child Support: Understanding C.R.S. 14-10-115 and New Income Imputation Standards

In Colorado, Child Support is determined based on several factors set forth in statute, specifically Colorado Revised Statutes Title 14, Article 10, Section 115. The end result of a child support calculation is a monetary, monthly figure that one of the parent will be required to pay to the other.

When navigating through the complexities of child support in Colorado, the primary relevant statute attorneys look to is C.R.S. 14-10-115. The statutory sections provides specific guidelines for determining child support obligations. Those guidelines set forth the Legislature’s numerical determination of what specific monetary figure a child needs for appropriate monthly support. The primary determining factor for calculating Colorado child support is income. However, “income” may not be readily discernible.  In many cases, parents will have a set wage or salary, thereby making income easily determinable. However, issues can arise in instances in which a parent doesn’t work full time, or perhaps doesn’t work at all.  In cases in which the court believes a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court can impute, or assign, a specific income figure to that parent. For many years, the standard for imputing income has been 40 hours per week times 52 weeks per year. Changes to C.R.S. 14-10-115, in place starting in 2023, have lowered the proverbial bar by allowing for imputation based on someone working 32 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. This scenario only applies in certain situations. This article will peer into the nuances of these changes to C.R.S. 14-10-115, focusing on  how its application may be good for some, but not for others.

An Overview of C.R.S. 14-10-115

C.R.S. 14-10-115 sets forth the statutory formulate for calculating child support, whether an original assessment or in a modification. Specifically, the statute looks at the number of children, each parent’s income, the allocation of overnight parenting time, and other factors, such as child care costs, health insurance costs, and other known, recurring factors. Most calculations are done using applicable software and most courts, absent good reason, are going to follow the guidelines/formula.

Statute specifically includes a table laying out what the monthly, combined support obligation for a child would be between two parents given their combined, adjusted gross incomes. That monthly, combined figure increases with each child added to the family. For example, the Section 115 table indicates that in a family in which the parents have a combined, adjusted gross income of two- thousand, nine-hundred dollars ($2,900) per month, the amount necessary to support one child, given their incomes, would be $517 per month. With two children, the figure would be $797 per month, and with three children the figure would be $974 per month. The figure goes up with each new child added to the equation, though it does not go double, or triple. As the number of children goes up, the “per child” figure goes down.

If the parents in another family have a combined, adjusted gross monthly income of twelve-thousand, seven-hundred, and fifty dollars ($12,750), the combined support obligation for one child would be $1,421 per month. Adding a second child would raise the monthly figure to $2,146, and adding a third child increases it to $2,569. Thus, the higher the combined adjusted gross monthly income for a family, the greater amount the state legislature has determined they can, or should pay, to raise their children.

Once the support obligation combined between the parents is determined, the next step in the calculation is apportioning what percentage each parent pays of that combined monthly support obligation. For example, using the family making $12,750 per month, if the mother makes $10,000 of that income and the father makes $2,750, mother’s proportionate share of the income would be 78.43 percent, and father’s share would, therefore, be 21.57 percent. Statute then applies those percentages to the support obligation. Thus, if there is one child, mother would be responsible for $1,114.49 of the $1421 and father would be responsible for $306.51. This does not necessarily mean this is the monthly child support figure either parent pays to the other.

The next major factor to be looked at is residential custody and parenting time. When parents share or split custody, the monthly child support figure one might pay to the other starts to go down incrementally. The specific number of overnights at which support starts to go down is 93 over nights per year. Again, using the $12,750 example above, if the child lives primarily with the mother and father has less than 93 overnights of parenting time per year, he will pay the $306.51 per month in child support to her and the calculation will be set forth on a “Worksheet A.” If father has the child 93 overnights per year, or more, the child support figure will conceivably start to go down and he will be on a “Worksheet B.” Infact, at some point along the overnight range, mother could end up having to pay child support to father. The variation tied into overnights stems from the fact that at the 93 overnight point, the other parent is starting to share primary duties, including financial duties, a decent portion of the time.

Why Impute Income?

While it’s presumed that all parents love and will do what’s necessary for their child, the reality is that some parents will try to lower their income so as to either void paying appropriate child support, or with the hope of receiving more child support than would be equitable. As a result, statute allows imputation to ensure that child support is calculated based on a parent’s true ability to earn.  Imputation is not an issue in cases in which both parties are appropriately employed, or in which one has a valid reason why he or she cannot work. In essence, imputation keeps a parent from avoid their obligations regarding child support by lowering their income in a deliberate fashion.

The New 32 Hour/50 Week Standard

In cases in which imputation is needed, the court does not have to impute at 32/50.  In fact, the traditional 40/52 standard is still at play.   C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b.5) lays out various factors a court should look at when determining imputation of income for a parent.  Subsection (b.5)(N) states:

“Prevailing earnings level in the local community. The typical hours available to workers in the parent’s job sector as established by any reliable source generally used and relied on by the public or persons in a particular occupation, including, but not limited to, verified statements, work history, the United States department of labor’s bureau of labor statistics or other reliable compilations, the department of labor and employment, or other information provided by the parent. In the absence of any such information, the court or delegate child support enforcement unit shall determine the parent’s income based on a reasonable rate of pay for a thirty-two-hour workweek for fifty weeks each year, subject to other factors set forth in this section that may affect the number of hours the parent is capable of working, such as age, health, or the specific needs of the subject child.”

This new standard can wash away the decades old norm of 40 hours per week/50 weeks per year and can cut a parent’s imputed income by 20 percent, not withstanding the further reduction of 2 weeks per year. Now, a new burden is placed on the party seeking imputation to clearly demonstrate to the court the typical work schedule or number of hours worked in an industry or industries.  If the child support attorneys is unable to demonstrate to the court that 40 hours per week, 50 per year, are traditional, then the 32/50 standard will govern. One could argue this is unfair to the other parent, for an array of reasons.

Implications for Child Support Cases

  • Lack of Parity: It can be argued that the new 32/50 standard creates a double standard for how parties to a child support case are treated.  Most people do work “full-time” jobs, meaning they are require to work a 40 hour week. Additionally, in most situations, those with the 40 hour per-week job are also provided with 2 weeks, or more, of vacation each year.  Thus, while their income is not being imputed, they are nonetheless working or being paid for 2080 hours per year. The child support calculation will reflect such. The 32/50 standard will allow some to work less, or to choose employment paths that lead to lower income calculations (1600 hours per year). Given the inherent tendency for almost all people to want to reduce their income when calculating child support, the new standard may lead people to intentionally take jobs that do not offer, or traditionally provide for 40 hours per week. This new standard may deprive some kids of proper support and treat other parents unfairly.
  • Changing Work Landscape:  It can also be argued that 32 hours per week/50 weeks per year may be more realistic for today’s employment dynamic, in which many companies may strive to keep workers from hitting their 40 hours, so as to keep them from being obligated to pay benefits. This phenomenon is more common in lower paying, unskilled jobs.  As such, the 32/50 standard may be more favorable to lower earning parties, which may be inherently be fair.  It may also just be a reflection of the new “work-life balance” younger generations are demanding and striving for.
  • Modifications:  Child support can be modified based on a substantial and continuing change leading to a 10% or more change to the monthly child support payment. I have run multiple child support calculations, using multiple income figures and scenarios. In all of them, when running a parent at the 32/50 standard, or roughly 80% of full time income, then running them at 100%, the increase in income to the 40 hour per week standard did not lead to a 10% or more change to the monthly child support figure. Thus, when child support gets set at the 32 hours per week, the beneficiary of that standard can easily move to the full 40 hours and not be at risk of that factor alone triggering a 10% or more change. One has to question if this is fair.
  • New Litigation Topic:  The law is about argument. Any grey area will be litigated. Where we Denver divorce attorneys have relied on the fact that imputation was at 40 hours a week for years,  there is now a new variable at play which will lead to battles over how many hours to impute someone. As can often be the case, while the Legislature believes it is doing something designed to make things easier, sometimes that’s just not the case. New battles will now certainly ensue regarding 32 vs. 40 hours per week.

When dealing with calculations, Denver child support attorneys are not writing out these figures which pencil and paper (and calculator). Instead, attorneys use specific software which easily runs the calculations once the proper data is inputted.

Beyond the calculation of the basic support obligation, there are other factors which can affect the monthly child support amount. If either parent is paying support for or caring for his/her own child of another relationship, statute reduces his/her incomes to be used for calculation purposes. More commonly, there may be various, known child expenses which properly get built into the child support worksheet. These factors are work or school related child care, monthly health insurance premiums, and other known, static child expenses. These types of expenses are split proportionately between the parents on the child support worksheet and can lead to the monthly child support figure increasing or decreasing from the basic calculation baseline.

Child support matters can become quite complex when it comes to determining what figures are appropriately inputted into the calculation. Legal battles can arise over income, the overnight figure to use, or what the cost of monthly health insurance really is. It should be noted that the same calculation used for an initial establishment of child support is also used for modifying child support.


As someone practicing Denver family law for over quarter century, I can reasonably state that broad changes to the law do not come too often. The new, sometimes applicable standard of imputing 32 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, is a big change. It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the courts and whether it has made things easier for people and courts, and better for children. If you find yourself in a child support case and need the help of an experienced family law attorney, contact Plog & Stein, P.C.