Frequently Asked Questions about Child Support
Authored By: Colorado Legal Services
How is a Child Support Order set up?
Child Support will be set up in any dissolution of marriage (divorce), legal separation, annulment, paternity, or parental responsibilities (custody) case. It can also be set up in a separate Child Support case.
How is Child Support determined in Colorado?
Courts follow a formula to determine Child Support that was decided upon by the state legislature. This formula generally combines the gross incomes of both parents, sets a basic Child Support obligation based on the combined parental incomes, and divides the Child Support obligation between the parents based on their shared total parental income.
If parents are not employed at all or only part-time, courts can also determine a "potential income" on them to be used in the formula. Courts cannot, however, determine a potential income for disabled adults or those parents caring for a very young child (less than 30 months).
Various factors taken into account in determining Child Support include, but are not limited to:
- The Appropriation of Parenting Time
- Whether a parent is currently paying Child Support for another child and whether he/she is paying alimony/maintenance to the other parent or a previous spouse
- Courts may take into consideration whether and how healthcare is being provided for the child and work or education-related childcare.
How long will I have to pay Child Support?
Child Support will generally continue until a child reaches the age of 19, unless the child is disabled or has not graduated from high school. If you disagree with the amount you have to pay or are being paid, see the next section on how to ask for a modification of Child Support.
My Child Support needs to be modified (changed - for example increased or decreased). How do I do this?
Child Support orders can be modified if parental incomes have increased or decreased enough to result in at least a 10% change in the amount of the Child Support order, OR if a parent is requesting that health insurance be added to the Child Support order.
Common reasons for such a change in circumstance include:
- The child is now living with the other parent
- Either parent's income has changed significantly and not temporarily; or there is no longer a day care cost for the child
- Added expenses (new car, house, etc.) DO NOT qualify for a modification
First, to ask the court to change the Child Support in your case, you should file a Motion to Modify Child Support - click here for instructions and copies of the forms, instructions - JDF 1403l, form - JDF 1403). The information in the caption - the name of the Court and parties, case number, etc. - should be the same as the information on the caption for your divorce or custody paper.
In the main section of the Motion, state why you believe it is necessary for the Child Support to be modified (for example if your income has gone up or down). At the end of your motion, request that the Child Support be modified as of the date of filing the motion so that if you are successful, the modification will take effect sooner. Once filed, you will be given a date for a Status Conference and a copy of the Case Management Order by the Clerk of the Court.
Second, you must mail a copy of the Motion, status conference information, and Case Management Order to the other parent, or to their attorney if they are represented. On each form you send, include a "Certificate of Mailing" that confirms you've sent it.
Third, within 45 days of the date that you filed your Motion, the Court will review the matter and decide whether it can be determined without a hearing based on the documents presented or whether a hearing is necessary.
Fourth, it is important that you go the hearing on time and take a completed Financial Affidavit - click here for copies of this form, JDF 205, or, complete it electronically and print it out by clicking here and selecting Request that the Courts Waive your Filing Fee; also, find the Child Support Worksheet (click here, for an electronic copy) complete it, and take it with you, if you have not already filed one. If the other parent comes to court, the Judge may ask you to talk to see if you can agree about these matters. If you are able to reach an agreement, tell the Judge so and he may enter those orders.
For more in depth instructions on how to modify Child Support provided by the Colorado Judiciary click here and select JDF 1403l.
What is the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) unit? Can they help me?
CSE is a federal, state and local program that helps parents to receive appropriate Child Support. CSE Units exist for every Colorado county, through the Department of Social Services, to help parents establish a Child Support order, collect Child Support that has been ordered or modify an existing order, as well as establish paternity. Support from CSE is possible everyone, not only for those families receiving TANF. The Department of Social Services serves the entire population if they wish to open a case.
For more information on CSE Services, click here.
I need to file for Divorce or Custody. Will Child Support Enforcement (CSE) unit handle this for me?
No. The CSE Unit only handles matters related to establishing and enforcing Child Support orders. If you need to file for divorce or custody, you will either have to do it yourself or secure the services of an attorney.
What if I am not on TANF? What other ways can I collect Child Support owed to me?
If you are not on TANF, you can apply for Child Support Enforcement services for a $20 fee, this always applies with no exceptions. You do not have to hire a private attorney or seek represerntaion outside CSE. Click here to learn more about the Colorado Child Support Enforcement Unit.
What other ways can Child Support be enforced and collected?
There are several different means that CSE and you can enforce Child Support owed to you through the legal system. Such methods include:
- Contempt Citation: In a case where an order of support has been made, a contempt proceeding may be started by filing a Verified Motion and Affidavit for Citation for Contempt of Court (form can be found by clicking here, form - JDF 1816) which would order the absent parent to pay support or to show up to court and explain why he or she has failed to pay support as ordered. Because there is a possibility of a criminal charge and incarceration, the absent parent has a right to legal representation (through the public defender's office if they are not able to obtain a private attorney).
- Suspension of Driver's License or Professional/Occupational Licenses
- Reporting the debt to a credit bureau
- Criminal Charges: "Any person who willfully neglects, fails, or refuses to provide reasonable support and maintenance for his spouse or for his children under sixteen years of age . . . or any man who willfully neglects, fails, or refuses to provide the proper care, food, and clothing to the mother of his child during childbirth and attendant illness, is guilty of a class 5 felony . . ." A class 5 felony is punishable by one to four years imprisonment.
There are also several ways to collect Child Support from those not paying. These methods include:
- Wage Assignment: CSE may require employee's to withdraw a percentage of money due for Child Support (including back wages) out of the absent parent's paycheck and disburse it to the other parent. A benefit of wage assignment is Child Support takes precedence over other claims on the obligor's income, so you are ensured your support. Click here for more information on income related enforcement.
- Garnishment of wages or bank accounts
- Seizure of property or placing liens on property
- Tax Intercept: The Colorado Department of Revenue and the IRS can withdraw owed Child Support from the absent parent's tax refund
- Interception on lottery wins
I'm being sued for Child Support and I don't think the child is mine. What can I do?
Colorado Legal Services has put together an informative page that relates to paternity issues (click here to view page).
What happens if the other parent lives out of state?
The court action to collect Child Support will be heard in the state in which the absent parent lives. The Child Support Enforcement Unit can refer the case to a unit in the state where the absent parent is located.
What if the absent parent is not living in the United States? Would I still be able to collect Child Support?
The U.S. Department of State has put together a website that lists all the countries that the U.S. federal government and individual state governments have Child Support enforcement agreements with, as well as what to do if there is no federal or state reciprocal arrangement on Child Support enforcement. Click here to view the site.
I'm a victim of domestic violence. Do I have to reveal my location to collect Child Support?
While normally this information would have to be disclosed, parents who are victims of abuse from the absent parent can request that their information be kept confidential and not be revealed to the other parent.
The absent parent who owes Child Support is in the military. Does that affect how I will collect the Child Support he/she has not paid?
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service has put together a website that has information about garnishing the pay of active, reserve, and retired members of the military and the pay of civilian employees of the Federal government for payment of child and/or spousal support. Click here to view the site. It also provides you information to learn more about the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. Click here to view the information.
This communication is made available by Colorado Legal Services, Inc., (CLS), as a public service and is issued to inform not to advise. No person should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of an attorney. The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the authors and not those of CLS or its funding sources.
If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, consult an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services, 303.837.1321.