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Each spring, family law attorneys in Colorado hold our collective breaths waiting to see what bills emerge from the Colorado assembly that affect divorce and family law.

This year, our patience was rewarded with House Bill 19-1215, signed by Governor Polis on May 23, 2019. The act makes several changes to the Colorado child support statute, of which some changes take effect for orders issued after July 1, 2019, while others take effect on July 1, 2020. That means if you have a currently-pending divorce or child support case, you need to read the new law to see how it affects your case.

Note that as of the date of this blog, the statute has itself has not yet incorporated the changes from the bill, so you will need to review the actual text of HB 19-1215 linked above. Here is a summary of the key changes to C.R.S. 14-10-115, the child support statute:

Mandatory School Fees Defined & Allocated Between Parents

A new section C.R.S. 14-10-115(3)(c.5) adds a definition of mandatory school fees:

“‘Mandatory school fees’ means 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. ‘Mandatory school fees’ does not include uniforms, meals, or extracurricular activity fees.”

And C.R.S. 14-10-115(11)(a)(I) of the statute includes in the child support worksheet any mandatory school fees.

What This Means: In reality, the impact is probably not that great to most of us, since it formalizes what courts have typically already been doing in ordering that school fees be shared between the parents. But it is helpful to have this defined further, and curious that the definition excludes school uniforms.

As with unreimbursed medical, practically speaking school fees will likely be shared “off the worksheet” rather than built-in to the child support calculations, as they will likely not be predictable enough to include in the worksheet.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2020.

Imputing Income to Primary Caregiver of Young Child

While the Colorado child support statute has long required courts to impute income to able-bodied parents who are not in school, there was an exception if the parent was caring for a joint child with the other parent who was under 30 months of age.

The statute now tightens that standard up to 24 months. C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b)(I)(B).

What This Means: For purposes of child support, a custodial parent will now need to return to work six months sooner than before, when the joint child reaches two years-old instead of 2 1/2 years old. While there is no requirement the parent actually work, should a parent choose not to work, an income will be imputed to that parent based upon his/her earning potential.

Note also that this change only affects the child support statute. Curiously, the definition of income under C.R.S. 14-10-114(8)(c) is unchanged. This has the anomalous result that a primary parent caring for a 2 y.o. joint child is imputed an income for purposes of child support, but not for purposes of maintenance until the child reaches 30 months.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2019.

Imputing Income to Parent in Jail

Since 2008, Colorado courts have been prohibited from imputing an income to a parent or spouse serving a sentence of 1 or more year of incarceration. The new C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b)(I)(B) shrinks that to 6 months of incarceration.

What This Means: More parents sentenced to jail for misdemeanors will now no longer have an income imputed to them while they are serving their sentence, so custodial parents will receive less or no support in those cases.

Note that, as with the child under 30 months vs 24 months, strictly-speaking this statutory change only applies to child support, not to maintenance.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2019.

Imputing Income to Parent in School

While the child support statute has long had a provision not to impute income to a parent who was engaged in good-faith higher education, the statute adds flexibility to C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b)(I.5)(C) by specifying that there should be no imputation for a full-time student, or to a part-time student who is also working part-time.

What This Means. Previously, a parent who was in school part-time was in a legal limbo. Graham.Law had successfully argued that part-time school plus part-time employment equals a full-time schedule, but it was strictly on a case-by-case basis. And we advised clients that if they were taking fewer than 15 credit-hours, they ran the risk of the court imputing a full-time income to them.

While the statute does not include any “sliding scale” common sense suggests there should be one. So, for example, assuming that 15 credit hours is considered full-time for purposes of this statute, if a parent is taking 10 credit hours, then 2/3 of his/her time would be taken up as a student. And out of a 40-hour working week, that leaves 1/3, or 13 hours, of expected part-time employment.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2019.

Factors for Determining if a Parent is Voluntarily Unemployed

While the child support statute has long had a provision for courts to impute an income to a parent who was voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it provided no guidance other than the examples cited above when a parent was in college, raising a young child, or incarcerated.

Now the child support statute contains a list of factors, borrowed from federal requirements, that the court is required to consider when determining whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Per C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b.5)(II), those factors include the following circumstances of the parent:

  1. Assets;
  2. Residence;
  3. Employment and earnings history;
  4. Job skills;
  5. Level of education
  6. Literacy
  7. Age
  8. Health
  9. Criminal record
  10. Any other barriers to employment
  11. Record of seeking work
  12. Local job market
  13. Availability of employers in the community
  14. Prevailing earnings in community
  15. Any other relevant factors.

What This Means:. This is another of those “nice to see the factors in writing” changes that will probably not significantly change the way courts approach a claim that a parent is voluntarily not working to his/her potential. In reality, most Colorado child support lawyers have long put on evidence of most of the above, but now we can point to the statute in support of our evidence.

One curious factor – the age of the parent – does that open the door to arguing that a 60 y.o. parent, for example, will have a hard time re-entering the workforce, or is this only intended to mean a parent who has reached the normal retirement age? Time will tell…

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2019.

Child Support for Lower-Income Parents

Some significant changes to the child support guidelines which reduce the child support obligation for lower-income parents as follows:

  • Combined Incomes Under $650/mo. The non-custodial parent has a flat $10/mo support obligation, regardless of number of children.
  • Combined Incomes $651-1500/mo. The non-custodial parent pays $50 for the first child, and the obligation increases by $20/mo per child up to a maximum of $150/mo for six or more children.
  • Combined Incomes $1500-$3400/mo. The support obligation is generally lower – see the chart in the bill for specific details.

See C.R.S. 14-10-115(6)(b) and the chart at C.R.S. 14-10-115(7)(a)(II) for more details.

What This Means: Lower-income child support obligors get a break. But lower-income custodial parents are left with less money!

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2020.

Children on Different Overnight Schedules

The child support statute has long been based upon the children being on the same schedule as each other, or that each parent has custody over specific children. Shared custody situations where the children were on different schedules was not explicitly addressed in the statute, such as the parents sharing equal time over two kids, father having 250 overnights over a teenager, and Mother having 300 overnights over a 2 y.o.

Fortunately, the courts stepped in long ago to provide us with guidance – add up the number of overnights with each child, divide by the total number of children, and that becomes the adjusted overnight schedule for purposes of child support. Quam.1In re: Marriage of Quam, 813 P.2d 833 (Colo.App. 1991). And the child support statute reflects Quam. C.R.S. 14-10-115(8)(g).

So in the example above, Father’s overnights would be 182 + 183 + 250 + 65, or 680 total. Dividing by 4 kids, he ends up with 170 overnights on a Worksheet B for 4 kids.

What This Means:. Absolutely nothing to parents who had lawyers, as we’ve long used the Quam case in our calculations. However, the change is useful for pro se clients who do not have lawyers, as they can now find out the calculations in one place without having to research the law beyond the child support statute.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2020.

Receipt of Child Dependent Benefits

A non-custodial parent who is receiving Social Security Disability benefits or employer-paid retirement benefits must notify the custodial parent within 60 days of receiving notice of the benefits. C.R.S. 14-10-115(11)(c)(I).

The custodial parent, in turn, must apply for whatever dependent or retirement benefits are available to the children within 60 days of receiving such notice. C.R.S. 14-10-115(11)(c)(II).

What This Means: There is no change to the substantive law here – as discussed in the article linked above, a parent’s disability benefits have long counted as income, and any disability benefits paid to the child by virtue of the non-custodial parent’s disability reduce the support obligation dollar-for dollar. This statute sets up a notification procedure, and a requirement to actually apply for benefits, to implement what was already the law.

Effective Date. Per Section 9 of the bill, this change takes effect on July 1, 2020.

More Information

For a more comprehensive discussion of the Colorado Child Support Guidelines and articles on various aspects of support and income calculations, see the index to articles in the Colorado family support section in the Colorado Family Law Guide.

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