When a marriage dissolves, uncertainty about what will happen to the kids can be one of the most frightening and contentious issues. Will my former partner stop me from seeing my children? If I live far away, how will visitation work? If my work hours are demanding, will we be able to come up with a schedule that fits? A competent Colorado family law attorney can help sort through questions like these and guide you through the child custody process.
Our team at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC is ready to support you in your goals regarding parental responsibilities, as well as the associated concepts of parenting time and child support. We can assist by:
- Advising you on the laws, particularly the details of the child’s best interests standard
- Helping you define your objectives concerning allocation of parental responsibilities
- Engaging in negotiations to reach an agreement on child custody
- Drafting essential documents regarding a custody agreement
- Reviewing any agreement or paperwork presented to you by your child’s other parent
- Requesting appointment of a CFI or PRE where appropriate
- Representing you during mediation if ordered by the court
- Advocating on your behalf at a contested hearing on parental responsibilities
In this article, we will explain the applicable laws and teach you what you can expect in court and afterwards. Learning more about child custody law in Colorado will allow you to better understand the process and help ease some of the concerns you may have.
Child Custody Attorneys | Colorado Springs, CO
With years of collective experience representing clients in all manner of family law cases, Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC can use our skill and knowledge to fight for your best interests and guide you through this difficult time. With a primary office in Colorado Springs, we have represented clients across El Paso County, Denver County, and Arapahoe County in a wide variety of divorce-related matters.
Oftentimes the earlier you retain counsel in a family law matter the better the overall outcome you can expect. Don’t hesitate – call (719) 328-1616 today. The first half hour of your consultation is free.
Overview of Child Custody Law in Colorado
- Overview of Child Custody Laws
- Changes in Custody Terminology
- The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
- Co-Parenting and Equal Parenting Time
- Gender Roles and Parenting Time
- Options for Dividing Parenting Time
- Additional Resources for Child Custody
Colorado Child Custody Laws
While the same general concepts apply regarding your traditional understanding of child custody, Colorado now uses a new term: APR, which stands for the “allocation of parental responsibilities.” What is APR? Parental responsibilities include parenting time and decision-making-authority regarding the important issues involved with raising the child, such as:
- Health care
- Extracurricular activities
- Participation in religion
The general preference is for both parents to share in joint custody. The exception is where violence or the presence of other factors makes it appropriate for one parent to be in charge of parental responsibilities.
In divorce cases with children, the court will divide marital property, address spousal maintenance and child support, and allocate parental responsibilities. The judge will enter an order regarding custody that will be in effect during divorce proceedings. The final divorce decree will also include the specifics on parental responsibilities.
However, questions regarding custody may also come up in connection with paternity matters. Once parentage is established through an affidavit, a paternity case, or by a government agency, both mother and father have the right to take on parental responsibilities. In cases where the parties have children but are unmarried, the case is simply referred to as an “APR” case. In such cases, the court will allocate parental responsibilities and address child support.
Changes in Custody Terminology
“Custody” and “visitation” are the words that usually come to mind when the question arises of how parental duties will be divided following a divorce or separation. Even if they are unfamiliar with the specific laws, most everyone knows what is generally meant by these terms.
The terms “custody” and “visitation” no longer appear in the Colorado statutes, however. Following an amendment to the law in 1999, Colorado replaced “custody” and “visitation” with “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time” respectively. The sections discussing the custody process and relevant laws below will typically use the newer, amended terminology.
The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
In every family law situation, Colorado courts always apply a “best interests of the child” standard. While you and your spouse may have personal preferences about how parental responsibilities should be divided, these desires will be ignored by Colorado courts if your preferred plan is not in the child’s best interests.
Though the standard may seem simple, there are many facts that courts will weigh against each other in making their ruling. In determining what is in a child’s best interests, courts consider relevant information such as the child’s wishes, the parents’ wishes, health issues affecting the child and parents, difficulties children might have adjusting to a new school or home, and the nature of the relationship between parent and child.
These factors include but are not limited to:
- The parents’ ability to support the children’s relationship with the other parent
- The parents’ ability to place the children’s needs ahead of their own
- The past pattern of involvement between the parents and the children
- The wishes of the parents and, occasionally and where appropriate considering maturity level, the children
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and the community
- The child’s relationship with siblings and other individuals
- The geographic distance between the parents’ respective households
- Whether the parties can cooperate and make joint decisions
The reasons for a marriage ending can be extremely contentious, with spouses sometimes blaming each other for various wrongdoings such as extramarital affairs or the loss of a job. Yet even things like unfaithfulness may not be relevant to the best interest standard unless courts think that a child’s safety or stability is threatened.
Co-Parenting and Equal Parenting Time
In the absence of a compelling reason that only one parent be allowed contact, courts strongly prefer that parents share in the responsibility of raising a child. Courts may prevent a spouse from having contact with their child when the child will be endangered physically or emotionally, but usually parents will have to share responsibilities whether or not they think the other spouse is a fit parent. In fact, speaking poorly of the other parent in the presence of a child can be something that courts look upon unfavorably. A good family law attorney can help you file a motion to restrict parenting time if you think your spouse will put your son or daughter in danger.
Though not required by statute, Colorado courts tend to lean toward granting parents equal time unless there is a good reason that one parent should have more time than the other. Reasons why one parent might get more time include if a parent has a history of substance abuse or domestic violence, if a child is very young and is not used to being apart from a particular parent, if the parents have different work schedules or live far away from each other, or simply if one parent does not want equal time.
Gender Roles and Parenting Time
You may be wondering whether Colorado courts favor giving more time to mothers than fathers. Courts are supposed to be gender-neutral, neither favoring the mother nor the father. But because, at least traditionally, mothers often work less and spend more time with the children, women tend to be awarded more parenting time overall.
If you are the father, rest assured that this is not necessarily the case. These days lots of couples split duties between the spouses equally, and in many modern couples it is actually men who are the primary parental figure. A competent lawyer can aid you in pushing for the amount of time you think is fair.
Options for Dividing Parenting Time
Equal time can be divided in various ways. One simple option is to trade alternative weeks, so that the child goes with one parent for a week and then partway through a final day transfers to the residence of the other parent.
Another option is for parents to each have two regularly scheduled days of the week and then switch off for alternating long weekends. This is sometimes called a 2-2-3 split. Major holidays are usually shared by dividing them up or by switching on alternating years. An experienced family law attorney can help explore other possibilities.
Filing for Child Custody in Colorado
Not every child custody matter involves the type of drawn-out, bitter court battle you might see on TV and in film. You have options for addressing the allocation of parental responsibilities, including:
- Child Custody Agreements: Colorado law encourages compromise, so when the parents agree on how to allocate parental responsibilities, they can simply file a parenting plan with the court and ask that it be adopted as a court order. A judge will typically approve it as long as it complies with the child’s best interests standard.
- Minor Disputes: When the parents agree in principle but disagree on minor details, it can be helpful to ask for the appointment of an expert, such as a Child & Family Investigator (“CFI”) or a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (“PRE”). These are court-appointed experts who investigate the disputed issues and then issue a report that includes recommendations to the court about how parental responsibilities should be allocated between the parents.
- Mediation: When parents are unable to smooth out custody issues, a court may order them to participate in mediation. During this proceeding, both parties and their attorneys will meet with a professional mediator who is specially trained in tactics that facilitate compromise. Mediation often results in an agreement on the allocation of parental responsibilities, so our lawyers can draw up the documents and enter the appropriate order. However, if you do not reach an accord, the mediator will not make a decision on custody. You will return to court for a hearing on the remaining disputes.
- Contested Child Custody Hearings: If disputes remain on some or all issues, a court must decide how to allocate parental responsibilities. A contested hearing is similar to a trial, in which each side has the opportunity to present testimony, arguments, and evidence in support of their respective positions. The judge will evaluate all information and apply the child’s best interests factors as designated by statute.
Additional Resources for Child Custody
“Connecting with Your Kids: Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado” – This publication by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children explores many issues surrounding parenting time. Topics include a discussion of the law, tips on resolving common disputes between parents, advice about how to develop a parenting plan, and more. Though court forms are included, you should visit the link below to ensure you are using the most up-to-date version.
Instructions for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Colorado Judicial Branch – Follow the link to read instructions about how to file for the division of parenting responsibilities. Detailed information about the entire process, including fees and deadlines, is provided and is relevant to both parents and non-parents. A helpful list of necessary forms and how to obtain them is also provided.
Child Custody Attorney in Colorado Springs, CO
Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC has years of experience handling family law cases ranging from divorces and annulments to child custody, child support payments, and restraining orders. We will use our knowledge to fight for the best outcome possible in your child custody case. We know this is a stressful time and we strive to make the process as simple and easy as possible.
Don’t let the mother or father of your child force a custody arrangement that is unfavorable to you. Call (719) 328-1616 today to schedule a strategy session and let us fight for you and your kids. The first half hour of your session will be free of charge.