I have lost track of how many times the Colorado Assembly has modified the child support statute in the past couple of decades – it seems like about every other year or so. The good thing is that the changes are invariably improvements, as they clarify ambiguities which have been discovered in the law, codify court decisions, or update the statute to address new issues. The last substantive changes to the Colorado child support statute were in 2021, when the Assembly reduced the interest rate on support arrears and gave courts flexibility to waive interest.
One source of change is the Colorado Child Support Commission, which reviews the statute and issues recommendations every four years, including this year, 2023. The 2023 changes to Colorado’s child support law, contained in Senate Bill 23-173, Concerning Recommendations of the Colorado Child Support Commission which, as the name suggests, implements their recommendations.
2023 Child Support Law Changes
SB 23-173 modifies Colorado’s child support statute, C.R.S. 14-10-115, in several ways – some are technical changes to how the commission operates, but among the more significant changes are the following:
More Relaxed & Flexible Imputation of Income
When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the family law judge will impute an income to that parent for purposes of calculating child support. Often that imputation is based upon a full 40-hour workweek, for all 52 weeks of the year. That has led to two problems:
- Not all jobs are 40 hours per week. While courts would often accept as low as 36 hours as fully-employed, sometimes courts would accept lower hours, or insist on a full 40 hours, resulting in inconsistent standards.
- It is not realistic to expect 52 weeks per year of work. Many employers do not offer paid time off (other than mandated sick time), so a parent who takes a vacation or holiday does not get paid, so the reality is they are only paid for 49-50 weeks of work, and not 52.
The bill modifies C.R.S. 14-10-115(5)(b.5)(II) to require a more nuanced determination – the court or child support services must now consider the “typical hours available to workers in the parent’s job sector”, utilizing a variety of sources. And absent such information, the presumption will be that a parent’s income is based upon “a reasonable rate of pay for a thirty-two-hour workweek for fifty weeks each year” with potential adjustments based upon a parent’s health, age, child’s needs, transportation issues, etc.
Health Insurance Information Must Be Provided
This one seems common-sensical, and realistically is already included in any halfway-decent parenting plan or court order, but parents are now required to provide health insurance documents to the other.
The child support statute has caught up with the reality that not all parents are forthcoming with information, and C.R.S. 14-10-115(10)(a.5) now requires the parent securing coverage, or the employer or insurer, to provide:
- Insurance provider’s name & telephone number
- Group and policy number
- Claim address for non-policy holder.
It also requires the parent providing coverage to notify the other party or child support services “as soon as practicable”, and not later than 14 days, of any change to or discontinuation in the coverage.
Curious that the child support statute does not go further to require providing health cards and a full packet of information including information about covered services, co-pays, etc, but I suspect most judges and parenting plans will still require more information, not less.
Deadline to Seek Reimbursement for Extraordinary Expenses
Our model parenting plan at Graham.Law has long contained two clauses which are designed to avoid litigating old expense claims:
- Deadline to Seek Reimbursement. “The paying parent shall provide the other with an invoice or other documentation showing the nature of the expense and proof of payment within three months of the expense being incurred, or be deemed to have waived the right to reimbursement.”
- Deadline to Seek Court Order. “An allegation that a parent failed to reimburse as required must be brought within two years of the noncompliance, or the claim is deemed waived.”
These clauses arise from cases where one parent has stockpiled expense receipts for years, and never once asked for reimbursement, lulling the other parent into a false sense of security in two ways: (1) by paying for expenses without keeping proof, or (2) incurring his own expense without saving the receipts, thinking that both parents are simply paying their own way. And it is almost impossible to defend against such old expenses where records have disappeared over the years.
With changes to C.R.S. 14-10-115(10)(h)(III), the child support statute imposes a new deadline of July 1 of the following year to provide proof of payment to the other parent, absent extraordinary circumstances or written agreement to the contrary, and obligates the other parent to pay the reimbursement within 49 days. (We have now modified Graham.Law‘s model parenting plan to reflect these new deadlines not just for medical expenses, but all reimbursable expenses).
Written Advisement to Parents
This will be another form handed out by judges at hearings, but the child support statute now requires judges to advice parents of the following:
- The judicial and administrative remedies for non-payment of support. (See our Colorado Family Law Guide article for a discussion of some of those remedies)
- Obligations concerning proof of child support payments
- Basis for modifying child support.
- Effect of agreement to modify support
- Effect of a child’s emancipation, and
- Effect of spousal maintenance.
Changes Adjustments for Non-Taxable Spousal Maintenance
In 2019, a change in federal law resulted in spousal maintenance no longer being tax-deductible for orders issued after 1/1/2019. As a result of that, a change to the Colorado child support statute that year modified the maintenance credit to plus it up with a 1.25 multiplier – see our blog post for more details.
- The 25% plus-up applies to maintenance paid between parents with combined incomes below $10,000/mo.
- The 25% plus-up applies to spousal maintenance paid to or received from a third party (i.e. any maintenance not between the parties to the child support case).
- A new 1.33 multiplier applies to maintenance paid between the parties if they have a combined incomes above $10,000/mo.
- The 25% or 33% plus-ups are now rebuttable presumptions, and the parties may introduce evidence that a different multiplier more accurately reflects the tax implications. In most cases, that would likely not be worthwhile, but for high-income parties, retaining a CPA to show tax implications may well be worth it.
My takeaway? With the potential exception of adding notice requirements (yet another piece of paper!), all of these are sensible changes, and if anything, they should have gone a bit further. Note also that most of the changes take effect now, or by July 1, 2023, with some exceptions.
Kudos to Rami Cohen from Math4Law for not only bringing these statutory changes to our attention quicker than the various family law organizations I belong to, but also for modifying his child support software so quickly to incorporate the changes.
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