In addition to the other conflicts that come with negotiating a divorce or other custody matter, child support can cause substantial tension. While both of you want to provide for your children, it can be difficult to agree on an appropriate level of child support.
In Colorado, parents can make their own agreements for how much child support is appropriate. Still, if they are too far from the standard guidelines, courts will not approve an alternative arrangement unless strong reasons are provided to illustrate that the arrangement is fair to each parent and also in the best interests of their child. Questions about how a parent may use child support funds often arise, so it is important to understand what the basic payment is supposed to cover.
This is what you should know about child support funds and how they may be used.
How do courts decide on the amount?
Colorado’s child support system is based on the expectation that both parents will contribute to the support of their child, whether through direct payments of living expenses or through the payment of child support payments to the other or both. Many parents incorrectly assume that the child support figure in their case will be based on computing the cost for the child’s food, clothing, activities and other expenses. That is NOT the case, Rather, the statutory calculation of child support is based on factors such as:
- Gross income of each parent, including wages, tips, pensions and unemployment
- Time spent with each parent
The more physical time one parent spends with the child, the more his or her child support obligation will be covered by the parent directly providing food, shelter, clothing and the like. . The State of Colorado has worksheets to guide parents through the calculation.
Child support payments continue until the child reaches age 19. If your child is still in high school, the payments can continue until they complete high school, or they reach age 21, whichever comes first. For children who have such severe mental or physical disabilities that they cannot support themselves, child support payments can continue indefinitely.
What should child support cover?
When you consider the expenses associated with raising a child, the idea that child support is for those expenses seems ambiguous. There is no itemized list of approved or unapproved expenses, but it could help pay for costs such as:
- Education and extracurricular activities
- Food, shelter and clothing
- Medical expenses and health insurance
It can be challenging to maintain the same standard of living when you transition from one household to two. Often, after parents ‘separate, they find they need to make significant changes in their lifestyle, especially if one parent earns more money than the other.
When determining child support payments, Colorado considers that children should not have to adjust to a drastically different lifestyle from what they were accustomed to before their parents separated. In many ways, child support works to even out the income of the two households. However, one common reasons relationship break down has to do with financial struggles. Concern for the lifestyle of a child does not mean that unrealistic spending levels will be continued.
There is significant flexibility on how a parent can use child support funds.
Conflict over expenses
Ultimately, it is up to each parent to determine the budget for their own household. The parent paying child support does not get to reduce his or her payments based on a claim that he or she paid for a child’s toy, clothing or activities or incurred other expenses related to the child. The parent receiving child support generally does not have to account for how the money was used.
Getting the right help
Determining child support can be emotional and complex. When you are negotiating or litigating child support payment agreements, it is essential to have a knowledgeable attorney who can support the goals you have for your child and your life going forward.