By: Leslie Hansen, JD

Let me state from the onset that I am not a single parent. However, I am a mother of three and I know the financial costs associated with raising children, so I assume that child support is a significant concern for single moms.

Child support is a mandatory obligation in Colorado, and you and your children are entitled to receive child support from the other parent. How to go about getting a child support order may seem to be a daunting task. However, it is not that complicated, and there are services available to assist you.

Below, I will explain how child support is determined, how you obtain a Support Order, what a Support Order it looks like, and how it is enforced.

How The Child Support Amount Is Determined

First, let’s talk about how the amount of child support is determined. In Colorado, there are child support guidelines that a court will apply to determine the amount of child support that you and your children are entitled to receive. The amount of child support depends on the incomes of the parties, the number of children that you share, and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. You must also consider the cost of work-related childcare and health insurance, as well as other extraordinary costs associated with the children.

Once the various numbers are established, they are put into a worksheet, and a calculation based on a standardized formula is produced. The court will almost certainly follow the guideline amount and enter a Support Order. For a comprehensive guide to child support, take a look at my firm’s guide to divorce and child support.

The Process for Obtaining Child Support

If you are in the middle of a divorce or you have a related case pending, you are probably already aware of the process and your ability to get a court order for child support. But even if you have never been in a court case regarding your children, you can still receive child support. You can file a motion with the court in the county in which you live, requesting that the court enter an order for child support.

The legal process involves the exchange of financial documentation like tax returns and pay stubs in order to establish the parents’ incomes. If either party disputes the other parent’s income or any of the different amounts, such as the cost of child care, then the court will hear the evidence and decide as to the amount of child support. You can hire a lawyer to help you with the legal process or you can represent yourself. The forms necessary to file a Motion for Child Support can be found at www.courts.state.co.us under the heading, Self Help/Forms.

But there is an easier way to obtain child support. Every judicial district has a Child Support Enforcement Unit that will assist you in establishing the amount of child support and getting a Support Order issued by the court. The caseworkers and attorneys who work in the Child Support Enforcement Unit are experts in the area of child support. They can help obtain the right income documentation, prepare the child support calculation and submit the correct forms to the court so that an Order may be issued. They can even help locate an absent parent. In my experience, these people are accommodating and helpful. You do not have to retain an attorney and they will help anyone who needs assistance. Their website can be found at https://childsupport.state.co.us/. Their services are provided free of charge.

What Happens After A Support Order Is Entered

The Support Order will set forth the amount of monthly support and will set the date when the payor must pay support. It will also set forth which parent must maintain a health insurance policy for the children. The payment date is usually the 1st of every month but can be another date if one is requested. The court can also divide the monthly payment into two monthly installments, for example, when the parent who is paying support gets paid on a bimonthly basis.

As part of the Support Order, the court will direct the person who pays child support to either pay the other parent directly or pay the child support through the Family Support Registry. If you decide that you want to be paid directly, you can ask that the payment be made by direct deposit. You can also obtain a wage assignment, but the court will not do that for you. If you want to have a wage assignment issued to collect child support directly from the other parent’s paycheck, you will need to do that yourself, or hire an attorney to prepare the necessary documents. The appropriate forms can be obtained at www.courts.state.co.us under the heading, Self Help/Forms, and there is an information sheet that provides instructions.

There are several benefits to having child support collected and distributed through the Family Support Registry. There is an official record of each payment along with the date and amount of each payment. The registry also keeps a running total of payments made, so arrears (the amount not paid and still owed) can be calculated easily. Records from the Family Support Registry are admissible in court to prove when payments were made and the amounts paid, which is beneficial if the other parent does not pay, and you have to take enforcement measures.

There is a downside to having payments go through the registry. There can also be a short lag between the time when payment is made into the registry and when payment is received. This lag time is usually only a few days, but sometimes that can make a big difference. If you absolutely must have the child support by the first of the month or another precise date, then you should ask that the monthly payment date be set 3-5 days before that drop-dead date each month.  

How To Enforce A Support Order

Past due child support does not go away and remains an obligation of the parent who is ordered to pay child support. Interest will also accrue on any unpaid balance. This is true whether the child support is paid directly to the other parent or through the Family Support Registry. All parents owe a duty of financial support to their children. Once a Support Order is issued, the obligation never goes away, and the parent who is supposed to receive support can enforce that order even years after the order expires and the children are grown. (Some defenses may be raised depending on how long after the order expires, a parent seeks enforcement).

If a parent is not paying child support or is not making regular or timely payments as required by the Support Order, you can file a contempt citation against the party, but you must show that the parent has the present ability to pay support. The Child Support Enforcement Unit can assist with enforcement efforts, which can be difficult. You can also elect to seek a wage assignment to ensure timely payments, even if you did not ask for a wage assignment initially.

In my experience, if you allow the other parent to get away with not paying child support or making payments when it is convenient for them as opposed to making payments on the date specified in the Support Order, it will just continue. It is essential to enforce the order as written. Once you let the other parent know that you are not going to ignore non-payment or late payments, he/she will usually fall into line. Your children deserve the financial support of both parents.

Modification of Support Orders

Either party may move to modify the amount of child support owed if there is a change in circumstances that is continuing and substantial. A modification that would not result in at least a 10% change in the amount of support owed is deemed not to be a substantial and continuing change of circumstances that would justify a modification of child support. You can seek a modification of child support by filing a motion or by contacting the Child Support Enforcement Unit and requesting their assistance.

Leslie Hansen, JD
Senior Counsel
Griffiths Law PC