Child Support: Myths and Reality

Child support is an area of law which generates more myths than almost any other area of family law. Dispelling the myths encourages resolution of support issues with a minimal amount of adversarial attorney involvement. Whether you need to assess your own child support situation or the financial condition of someone who is making claims about support received or paid, this article should eliminate some of the myths.

Myth: Only fathers have to pay child support.

Reality: A father or a mother can be ordered to pay child support. Generally, the parent who spends most of the time with the child will receive support from the other parent.

Myth: Divorcing parents can pick the child support amount they think is fair for one parent to pay to the other.

Reality: The amount of child support required to be paid in divorce or other support proceeding is controlled by a Colorado law which contains a mathematical formula for determining child support. The formula is based on each parent’s income, amounts paid for health and dental insurance for the child, the number of overnights spent with each parent, transportation expenses for the child to travel from one parent to another, extraordinary medical expenses, and other matters. A judge will rarely deviate from the formula amount by ordering child support in a lesser or greater amount.

Myth: A parent who is required to pay child support can claim the child as a tax exemption.

Reality: Unless the parties agree otherwise, the court is required to allocate the dependency exemption in proportion to the parties’ contribution to the cost of raising the children. Even the parent who receives child support from the other may be allowed to claim the exemption. If a parent has not paid all court ordered child support in any given year, he or she can’t claim the child as a dependent.

Myth: Parents can make their own private agreements regarding support issues.

Reality: Private agreements regarding child support are not enforceable unless they are in writing, signed, filed with the court, and approved by the court.

Myth: Child support obligations end when the child turns 18.

Reality: Child support obligations terminate when the child turns age nineteen or is otherwise emancipated, unless the child is disabled. “Emancipation” is determined on a case by case basis. Even though child support terminates at age nineteen, the court can order the parties to contribute to the child’s college expenses if the original child support order was made prior to July 1, 1997 or if the parties agree to pay for college expenses.

Myth: Child support money has to be spent directly on the children.

Reality: There is no law which states that the money has to be used directly for the children. Child support can be used by the receiving party in almost any manner as long as it is not detrimental for the children. For example, the money can be put into a checking account and checks can be written for food, rent, mortgage payments, vacations for the receiving party (as long as the children are not suffering), toys, car insurance, and other expenses. If the paying party feels the money is not benefitting the children, the court can order the parents to mediate the dispute.

Myth: If a paying parent remarries, child support should increase because of the new spouse’s income and contributions to the paying parent’s living expenses.

Reality: A new spouse’s income usually has no effect on the paying parent’s child support obligation. It is the parent of the child who has to pay, not the new spouse.

Myth: Child support can not be modified.

Reality: Child support can be modified when there is a change in circumstances which is substantial and continuing and which would result in a change in the amount of monthly child support by ten percent or more.

Myth: Quitting a job to take one with less pay will reduce the amount of child support owed.

Reality: If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, child support will be calculated based on the parent’s potential income. Child support will probably not be reduced because of firing unless the termination is involuntary and not the paying parent’s fault. Child support will probably not be reduced because of voluntary departure from employment unless the new, lower paying employment is temporary and is reasonably intended to result in higher income within the foreseeable future, or the employment is a good faith career choice which is not intended to deprive a child of support and does not unreasonably reduce the support available to a child. If employment termination is to allow the paying parent to go to school, child support will probably not be lowered unless: the decision is a good faith career choice; support won’t be unreasonably reduced; a degree or certification is likely within a reasonable period of time; and it will result in higher income.

Understanding child support basics can enable you to make appropriate decisions regarding employment, career choices, education, new relationships with significant others, your children’s welfare, and litigation.

Gregg A. Greenstein is a shareholder in the law firm of Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein, P.C., a Colorado law firm. His practice areas include Real Estate, Litigation, Family Law, Divorce, and Adoption. Contact Gregg Greenstein.

Disclaimer -- Content is general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter, nor does its publication create an attorney-client relationship. Laws vary from one state to another. For legal advice on a specific matter, consult an attorney.

GREGG A. GREENSTEIN