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In re Marriage of Boettcher

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

September 23, 2019

In re the Marriage of Ryan E. Boettcher, Petitioner: and Christina L. Boettcher, Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 17CA262.

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Eckelberry Law Firm, LLC John L. Eckelberry Denver, Colorado.

          Attorneys for Respondent: Aitken Law, LLC Sharlene J. Aitken Denver, Colorado.

          Peek Goldstone, LLC Amanda M. Peek Greeley, Colorado.


          HART, JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Colorado's child support guidelines provide district courts a framework for determining the amount of child support they should award in dissolution of marriage proceedings. One part of these guidelines is a schedule of child support obligations that sets specific presumptive payment amounts based on the number of children and the parties' combined income. But that schedule does not include an award amount for every conceivable family income level.

         ¶2 In this case, we must determine how a district court should calculate child support obligations when the parties' combined income exceeds the uppermost specified combined monthly income of $30, 000. Because we conclude that the plain language of the statute provides that the uppermost award identified explicitly in the schedule is the minimum presumptive award for families with higher incomes, we determine that the district court may, within its discretion, award more than that amount so long as the court supports its order with findings made pursuant to section 14-10-115(2)(b), C.R.S. (2019). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 At the time of the dissolution of their marriage, Ryan E. Boettcher ("father") and Christina L. Boettcher ("mother") agreed that neither party would pay child support. Several years later, mother, citing a substantial change in father's income, sought a modification of the original decree so that she could receive child support. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether modification was appropriate. At the hearing, the parties admitted evidence of their incomes showing that mother earned $13, 343 per month and father earned $92, 356 per month-a combined monthly income far exceeding the highest combined income of $30, 000 per month listed in the schedule contained in the statutory child support guidelines. See § 14-10-115(7)(b).

         ¶4 Father requested that the district court impose a monthly child support obligation of $1, 424.82, which would be the presumptive award amount if the parties combined income were $30, 000 per month. Father argued that the presumptive amount of child support for that income level was also the presumptive amount for any higher income level. If the court ordered a higher payment, father argued, such payment would constitute a deviation from the statutory presumptive amount and would require specific findings under section 14-10-115(8)(e).

         ¶5 Mother disagreed. She contended that the district court should extrapolate father's monthly child support obligations from the uppermost level of the guidelines in light of the parties' actual combined income. This approach would result in a monthly support payment of $5, 024.

         ¶6 The district court rejected both arguments. In doing so, it observed that section 14-10-115(7)(a)(II)(E) provides that a court "may use discretion" in setting child support amounts where the parties' combined income is higher than $30, 000, "except that the presumptive basic child support obligation shall not be less than it would be" if the combined income were $30, 000. That statutory provision, the court explained, was inconsistent with both father's and mother's respective positions because both parties argued for an approach that denied the court the discretion explicitly granted to it by the General Assembly.

         ¶7 The court proceeded to set a monthly child support award of $3, 000. In doing so, the court examined the factors set forth in section 14-10-115(2)(b) for determining the amount of support and made the following findings: (1) the child had no financial resources of his own; (2) the child was entitled to benefit from his father's financial good fortune following the dissolution of his parents' marriage; (3) there was a disparity in the parties' abilities to provide for shared activities and experiences with the child; and (4) the mother's testimony-that she would spend child support payments to improve the child's standard of living and to save for his future college expenses-was credible.

         ¶8 At the conclusion of the proceedings, the district court awarded mother a portion of her attorney's fees under section 14-10-119, C.R.S. (2019), which permits the district court to apportion costs and fees equitably between parties based on their relative ability to pay. Concluding that there was a disparity between mother's and father's resources and income, the court determined ...

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