Child Issues

Of the many issues in domestic law, child custody is perhaps the most emotionally charged. For this reason, it can also become the most expensive sort of litigation that might result from your separation. In most cases, however, couples are able to compromise on custody without forcing this issue into court.

Colorado's custody guidelines
Joint or sole custody may be awarded by the Colorado courts based on the best interests of the child, without regard to the gender of the parents, and the following factors:
  • the preference of the child if the child is sufficiently mature and capable of independent thinking
  • the desire and ability of each parent to allow for an open, loving and frequent relationship between the child and the other parent
  • the wishes of the parents regarding parenting time
  • the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community
  • the mental and physical health of all involved
  • any child abuse or spouse abuse by either parent
  • the relationship of the child to the parents and siblings
  • the ability of the parents to make joint decisions
  • the ability as joint custodians to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child
  • physical proximity of the parents
  • whether joint custody would promote more frequent or continued contact between the child and both parents
  • the ability of each party to place the need of the child ahead of his or her own needs

Colorado's medical insurance guidelines
In Colorado, either or both parents must include the child under a medical insurance policy currently offered by their respective employers, or purchase or in some manner provide medical insurance for the child. The payment of a premium for medical insurance for the child will be added to the basic child support obligation and will be divided between the parents in proportion to their income.

How permanent are the provisions for Colorado child support and custody?
The court will grant a modification of the initial court order if it finds that there has been a substantial and continuing change of circumstances or if it finds that the order does not contain a provision for medical support such as insurance coverage, payment for medical insurance deductibles and co-payments or un-reimbursed medical expenses.

If there is less than a 10% change in the amount of support owed after applying the child support  guidelines, the change is not considered a substantial and continuing change of circumstance and no modification will be granted.

How does joint custody work?
Joint custody is a sharing of time with the child and a sharing of rights and responsibilities of the parents regarding major decisions. If the court finds that awarding joint custody is in the best interest of the child, then it will order it.

Whether joint or sole custody is awarded, the court wants the parties to encourage continuing and frequent contact between the child and each parent.

How Colorado determines child visitation
Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree, the standard visitation schedule, now accepted in most states, is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays

Every child holds the right to be supported by both parents.

Past Support and Arrears
When a current order is established, the state has the option to simultaneously set a support award for a prior period of time. Support for a previous time period is variously called past, back, or retroactive support, or accrued arrears. The past support award represents the amount of support that should have been paid during the period between parental separation and the establishment of a formal award. If states choose to establish a past support award, they must apply the state child support guidelines and "take into consideration either the current earnings and income at the time the order is set, or the obligor's earnings and income during the prior period"

Colorado statutes allow past support to be set "in an amount as may be determined... to be reasonable under the circumstances, for a time period which occurred prior to the entry of the order of support" C.R.S. 19-4-116(4)

The policy of Colorado CSE is to calculate past support from the "date of the physical separation of the parents if they were living together" or "from the birth of the child if the parents were not living together" The decision to establish past support is left to each county.

In Colorado, retroactivity relates back to the birth of the child.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:
Colorado has a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent obligated to provide support. It is withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to parent designated to receive the support.

Employers must honor out-of-state wage withholding orders as if the order were issued in Colorado. An employer that fails to comply with the terms of the wage withholding is liable for contempt of court charges.

If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.

That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.

How is Colorado child support determined?
In Colorado, either parent may be ordered to provide child support. The factors the court considers include:
  • the financial resources of the child
  • the financial resources of the custodial parents
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not ended
  • the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
  • the financial resources and needs of the non-custodial parent

Colorado has specific, standardized child support guidelines that outline the amounts to be paid. The court will follow these guidelines, which are assumed to be in the best interests of the child, unless the parents have agreed to an amount of child support considered fair and reasonable. Generally it’s at least equal to the amount calculated by using the state guidelines.

At what age do child support payments end?

If your child support order was entered on or after July, 1997, the support obligation stops when the child turns 19 unless:

  • the parties agree otherwise by a stipulation signed after July 1997
  • the child is mentally or physically disabled, and the court orders past age 19
  • the child is in high school, or an equivalent program; in this case, support continues until a month after graduation but not beyond the age of 21
Child Advocacy
  • Guardian Ad Litem Court-appointed attorney representing the best interests of a child.

  • Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA): Volunteer, generally a layperson, who speaks to the court for abused and neglected children.
  • Child and Family Investigator (CFI): “created by statute in 1997 and authorized to investigate, report, and make independent and informed recommendations to the court, following a court appointment by order which clearly sets forth the subject matter and scope of the child and family investigator’s duties.” (Chief Justice Directive 04-08). A CFI is an un-biased, investigative arm of the court. A CFI’s “primary role is to provide information and make recommendations that will allow the parties, counsel and the court to craft orders that best serve the child/ren.”

Exclusivity of CFIs in Divorce Cases
Pursuant to section 14-10-116, C.R.S., child and family investigators and child’s legal representative are the only possible appointments in dissolution cases and those involving allocation of parental responsibility or parenting time. Although guardians ad litem remain in juvenile and probate cases, the statute removed guardians ad litem from domestic relations cases.

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