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In re Parental Responsibilities Concerning M.E.R-L.

2020 COA 173. No. 20CA0111. Uniform Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act—Veteran’s Disability Benefits—Child Support.

December 18, 2020


Father and mother are the unmarried parents of two children. The parties lived together for 15 months, but when the relationship deteriorated, father moved out of the house. He then initiated this allocation of parental responsibilities action. Following a contested permanent orders hearing, the trial court calculated child support based on mother’s $5,547 monthly income and father’s $7,504 monthly income, which consisted of his military retirement pay ($4,071 per month) and veteran’s disability benefits ($3,433 per month). The calculation resulted in an order for father to pay mother $1,042.31 in monthly child support. The court also ordered father to pay $5,000 of mother’s attorney fees.

On appeal, father contended that the trial court erred when it allowed mother’s witnesses to testify at the permanent orders hearing even though mother had not timely disclosed them. However, father failed to demonstrate that the court’s decision was manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the witnesses to testify.

Father also argued that it was error to include his veteran’s disability benefits in his gross income because they are not “insurance benefits” and are not taxable. Under CRS § 14-10-115(5)(a)(I), “gross income” includes income “from any source,” and the statutory exclusions from income do not encompass father’s benefits. Thus, veteran’s disability benefits fall within the broad definition of gross income. Further, the nontaxable nature of the benefits is irrelevant. Accordingly, the trial court did not err.

Father further argued that the use of veteran’s disability benefits in the calculation of gross income is contrary to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, which should be given preemptive effect. However, nothing in federal law prohibits the use of such income in calculating a child support obligation. Thus, the trial court did not err.

Father also contended that the record does not support trial court’s attorney fees award. Here, the court found with record support that the parties had disparate incomes for a substantial portion of the litigation. Further, father filed hundreds of pages of documents and repetitive pleadings, and the court was within its discretion to conclude that mother’s fees incurred in responding to these filings were reasonable and necessary.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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