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Colorado's child support guidelines: the income shares model

One of the most basic responsibilities of parenthood is the obligation to support the child financially. In Colorado this obligation generally continues until the child reaches the age of 19. It does not stop when the parents divorce, even if the child is living with the other parent.

In Colorado child support is set either by a judge or by a county child support enforcement unit. The amount of a noncustodial parent's child support obligation is calculated based on a mathematical formula set forth in the state child support guidelines. The use of a formula is intended to promote consistency in child support orders by making sure parents in similar financial circumstances pay similar amounts of support.

In some states child support is based solely on a percentage of the noncustodial parent's income. This can result in unfairness if the custodial parent earns significantly more money. Colorado and about half the other states use a different model known as the income shares model. Under the income shares model the child is deemed entitled to a share of both parents' combined incomes.

The income shares formula starts by adding together both parents' gross incomes. The guidelines provide a table in which the parents' combined gross income is matched up with the number of children to arrive at a combined child support obligation for both parents. The noncustodial parent will be obligated to pay a percentage of this combined obligation, corresponding to the percentage that parent contributes to the parents' combined gross income. If one parent is paying directly for health insurance, child care or certain extraordinary expenses, those amounts are added into the formula and divided on the same percentage basis.

Determining gross income can be complex in cases involving parents who are self-employed. Stay-at-home parents with older children may be subject to rules regarding imputed income. In these and other cases, consulting an experienced child support attorney can help ensure a parent gets a fair result.

Source: Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement, "A Father's Guide to Child Support," accessed June 27, 2014

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