Trying to help a relative navigate the tricky waters of child support
June 15, 2008 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Can anybody school me about child support enforcement laws in the state of Colorado?

My sister is a divorced mother of two young children. At the time of her divorce, she was granted custody and awarded a monthly child support stipend. Her ex-husband’s payment record is spotty and frequently nonexistent, and my sister resolved this past week to return to the court that had ordered the child support (Jefferson County, Colorado) to file the paperwork that would compel her ex to pay the back child support, plus arrearage. The document she filed is called a “Verified Entry of Judgment”.
Upon being notified of this fact by the court, my sister’s ex came to her with a side deal of sorts. He wanted her to sign a document (which they would have notarized), whereby she would agree to receive 12 monthly lump sum payments which amount to roughly 60% of back child support, minus arrearage, after which time my sister would grant him settlement for his debt. I am no lawyer (and by the way, I know you are not my lawyer), but something tells me that even if my sister were to sign this document, it would be in no fashion legally enforceable. How can two parties renegotiate something a court of law has already ruled upon, without first bringing the matter back to the court again? Who would enforce penalties should her ex fail to make timely payments? I think my former brother in law is a dork, and hasn’t a legal leg to stand on. My hunch is that she shouldn't sign it, because it could only complicate matters further, but I was hoping for some further insight.
posted by msali to Law & Government (15 answers total)
It's going to be said: Your sister should be in touch with her original divorce lawyer, maybe she is, but you didn't say.

If I were giving my sister advice, I'd tell her to continue pursuing the new court decision. Her ex has every right to bring up his proposed settlement, it's(very, very slightly) possible that the judge may allow it if both parties agree. But I doubt it, it is money that was already covered by the last order and orders of support usually work going forward from the day they are issued.

Her ex owes the back support, even if it takes him fifty years to pay off, it will always be out there, affecting his credit, his ability to hold a drivers license... and it is completely within his ability to decide how badly he wants his life messed up by his non-payment, so don't let her feel guilty about reporting him either.
posted by Jazz Hands at 11:02 AM on June 15, 2008

A quick google turns up this website titled "Colorado Child Support Enforcement" which seems to have a ton of information on the subject.

In many states, not sure about Colorado, child support enforcement falls within the ambit of the proescutor's office. If that's the case, I would guess that they would be able to "school me about child support enforcement laws in the state of Colorado". Otherwise, a competent divorce or family lawyer would be your best bet.

MeFi is not a law firm.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:15 AM on June 15, 2008

Your sister should no sooner attempt to do this without a lawyer than she would remove her own appendix without a surgeon. The result will be messy and painful, possibly causing permanent harm due to her lack of expertise.

She thinks she can't afford a lawyer? She can't afford the lack of one. Neither can her kids.
posted by mikewas at 12:09 PM on June 15, 2008

Okay, let me refine. I have familiarized myself to a certain extent with respect to how my former brother in law can be compelled legally to pay child support. I am more interested in knowing if any extra-judicial agreement that my sister entered into with her ex would be valid and enforceable.
posted by msali at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2008

I agree with most of what the other two posters said, except perhaps this: it's(very, very slightly) possible that the judge may allow it .

If the money is owed to her (as against to, say, the Colorado version of the Department of Social Services), then the parties can probably come to a private agreement, and a judge might well so order it. At base, child support is meant for the support of the child, rather than the support of the custodial parent, or as a punitive measure against the non-custodial parent. So long as the private agreement doesn't compromise the well-being of the child, a judge might have no problem with it.

That having been said, I agree that it is probably best for your sister to continue her suit so as to have the Court's oversight over any settlement she reaches with her ex-spouse. It's cleaner, likely more enforceable in the event he continues to default, and it reduces the chance that she'll succumb to any pressure from her ex-spouse to settle for less than their child deserves. An added guarantee would be for her to have a lawyer standing by her side when she's in Court.
posted by lassie at 12:13 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

On postview, msali, in my opinion your refined question is an example of the kind of legal question that a lawyer on this forum should not answer. Because of its specificity, you should pose it to a lawyer familiar with Colorado's laws governing child support. If you were my client here in NY, I'd be able to give you a specific answer -- since neither of those things are true, I don't think I can.

FWIW, I bring this up only because of the ongoing debate about lawyers giving advice on Ask Metafilter, and not to cast any judgment on your question.
posted by lassie at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2008

IANAL The money is specifically for the support of their child(ren), so special rules apply. It's a really bad idea. He owes the money, he may want to avoid having non-payment of support on his record. He has a history of not living up to obligations. It's a really bad idea.
posted by theora55 at 1:12 PM on June 15, 2008

There are undoubtedly people here who can school you on the broad outlines of Colorado child support law.

However, the specific case presented here? The best way for you to help your sister is to help her find legal representation. The question you've asked is not the one you actually want answered, unfortunately, and no legal professional on MeFi is likely to answer it for you.

(I used to be a clerk for another state and county's child-support enforcement division, as a temp job. Two months of exposure to how child support is allocated and enforced convinced me that anyone doing this needs professional assistance to navigate the bureaucracy.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:59 PM on June 15, 2008

If the money is owed to her (as against to, say, the Colorado version of the Department of Social Services), then the parties can probably come to a private agreement, and a judge might well so order it.

Put this idea out of your head. In no state of which I am aware is child support owed to the mother (money owed to the mother is called by a different name). It is owed to the child, and the custodial parent is charged with administering it. Once the state gets involved, in most cases, no amount of pleading from the mother is going to negate the liability of the father.

This is done mainly to protect children from manipulative dead-beats and stupid decisions of the custodial parent.

As has been mentioned, your refined question is even less suited for AskMe than your original.

The woman needs a lawyer. Period. In a state where child support is handled by the prosecutor's office, it's possible to get by without one, but it is much less efficient. I don't have any first-hand experience with other bureaucratic schemes with respect to child support, but one thing is certain: her life will be easier with someone representing her interests and those of her child.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2008

Thanks y'all. I guess that the more I read your answers, and think more about it, I realize that I have completely mis-phrased my question, but you have managed to answer it anyway. My real question should have been: Were my sister to enter into an extra-judicial agreement with my former brother in law to settle his debt, would she actually be capable of providing him with legal release from his financial obligation, and the answer is obviously and resoundingly no. Not that this is what any of you have specifically said, but the way that you have all approached have led me to reshape the fundamental question in my own mind. Toomuchpete, I am in complete agreement that askmefi is not a law firm, but I never cease to be amazed by how much great advice (be it legal and otherwise) can be found on the green.
Thank you all so much for your assistance in getting this issue straight in my own head. When next I speak with my sister, my grounded advice to her will be to lawyer up, because she cannot afford not to. I will tell her that metafilter told her to do it, so it must be the right thing to do.
posted by msali at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2008

Put this idea out of your head.

I'm not sure which part of my comment you're referring to, toomuchpete. If it's the part about money being owed to the mother, then I think I clarified immediately thereafter that child support is for the support of the child. If it's the idea of the non-custodial parent owing money to DSS, then that is completely a possibility if the child was ever a ward of the state (such as if the custodial parent ever received public assistance for the child).

Anyway, good luck to you and your sister, msali.
posted by lassie at 3:36 PM on June 15, 2008

I am a divorce attorney in another state. If I was advising a client of mine based upon the scenario presented here, my answer would be "It depends," and then I would proceed to ask a whole lot more questions and look at all of the court filings, make some calls to the local human services enforcement agency, and any prior enforcement proceedings (if any) in order to give a specific, definitive answer. In many cases, the question the client asks initially (i.e., can I give an extra-judicial release) is not really "the" ultimate question (which, in this case, is probably, how can I get the support the court has ordered him to pay).

My advise for someone limited in funds is to explore the following alternatives:

1. Talk to your local country child support recovery unit. This is most likely a division of your state's department of human services. In my state, they will enforce an child support order for a $25 one-time fee regardless of whether or not the support has been assigned to the State due to the receipt of public services by the children or parent;

2. Do some searching for a local family law attorney and hire him/her. Look for someone who practices primarily in family law. A good way to find a specialist is by looking for membership in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers or the American/Colorado Bar Association Section of Family Law.

Remember, that you tend to get what you pay for. The local state child support recovery unit may only charge a nominal fee, but you will be one of many, many, many people in the same boat. Hiring a lawyer may cost more out-of-pocket, but your case will be dealt with on an individual basis. It's a decision to be made by her after evaluating all of the options, including cost/benefit in dollars and time.

Her situation is not a difficult or unusual one; it is, however, one in which many more specifics need to be know in order to give a correct answer.
posted by webhund at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2008

Again, despite what toomuchpete may think, I firmly believe that askmefi is one of the best places to come for advice, and if not advice, than certainly perspective. I appreciate greatly the fact that people have taken time out of their busy day to provide me with their particular expertise. Thank you so much.
posted by msali at 5:43 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what was unclear, lassie, but I'll answer a different way:

If the money is owed to her...

It's not. There may be some small, relatively insignificant portion of the debt that is reimbursement for, say, birth expenses, but child support is not owed to the custodial parent. Saying things like this suggests a possibility that almost certainly does not exist.

The reason this, and many other law-related questions, end up "working" is because people come in and answer one or more questions that were not asked, while deflecting the actual question. Is that "working"? I don't know.

Of course, in the mean time, many requests for legal advice draw wildly incorrect answers from people who haven't the first clue what they're talking about (aka Internet Lawyers). The risk doesn't out-weigh the benefit, especially when all of the information in this thread (less, maybe, some of webhund's comment) could have more easily and quickly been obtained from any number of people involved in the collection and enforcement of child support in the state in question. And there would've been no question as to the accuracy.

AskMe is a great place for advice, generally speaking. And a great place for legal information if you can't find it on your own. But legal advice is another matter all together.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:18 AM on June 16, 2008

Actually, toomuchpete, under the federal Child Support Standard Act (which is applicable to all the states), an award of child support is made after determining the net income of the two parents, and then prorating each parent's share. The award is then made to the custodial parent, and against the non-custodial parent. If the child were to leave the custody of the custodial parent and strike off on his or her own, which normally happens when the child is emancipated by either aging out or getting married, the child support obligation would end for both parents. If the child were to leave the custody of the custodial parent and enter the custody of someone who is not a parent at all, then both parents would have to pay the new custodian child support based on their combined parental income.

As I've already said above, I agree with you so far as to acknowledge that the award is made for the welfare of the child. However, if a non-custodial parent defaults on his or her obligation to pay child support, it is to the custodial parent that the Court will award a final money judgment, and it is that person, not the child, who has the authority to enforce it. This stands to reason, since the money is meant to compensate the custodial parent for having shouldered one hundred per cent of the financial obligation relating to raising the child while the child was unable to fend for itself.

Perhaps we're arguing semantics here, and disagreeing over whether "it must be paid to" is the same as "is owed to". Still, it sounds like msali got whatever help she was looking for, so all's well that ends well.
posted by lassie at 5:39 AM on June 16, 2008

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