How is child custody handled in Colorado?

When a married couple with children decides to divorce, typically the most pressing and difficult questions involve how decision-making responsibilities and the children's time will be divided. In Colorado, the courts consider a number of factors before making these decisions.

Physical custody is referred to as "parenting time" in Colorado. Parents are also responsible for making decisions on behalf of their children regarding a variety of issues, including decisions about medical treatment and schooling. Courts can choose to divide both sets of duties between parents or award sole custody or decision-making responsibilities to one parent.

In addition, courts may make different decisions for each type of responsibility. For instance, a judge may award parenting time primarily to one parent, but allow for joint decision-making responsibilities.

The basic benchmark considered by courts in determining both parenting time and decision-making responsibilities is the "best interest of the child." With this focus in mind, courts consider a number of factors in determining which arrangement will be best for the child or children.

Parenting time in Colorado

Parenting time can be awarded to one or both parents in Colorado. Even if parenting time is awarded to both parents, the division of time between the two need not be equal. Colorado Statute 14-10-124 outlines the factors courts must consider to determine how parenting time should be divided to promote the best interests of the child. These factors are not exclusive. The court is instructed to consider the factors listed in the statute, plus any other relevant factors specific to the case at hand. Each family situation is unique.

To begin with, the court considers the wishes of the parents and the child, if the child is old enough to express an opinion. In addition, the court considers the child's relationship with his or her parents and siblings and the parents' abilities to "encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child" and the parent.

Of course, practical factors must also be considered. The location of each parent's residence will be considered, as sensible parenting time plans must allow sufficient time for the child to travel between homes. For instance, if one parent lives in Colorado but the other in Maine, a parenting time schedule that requires the child to switch houses on a weekly basis would be impossible.

In certain rare cases, parenting time may be refused to one parent altogether. For example, if the parent has been convicted of specific crimes, including sexual assault and child abuse, he or she may not be awarded parenting time. That parent will most likely have supervised visits at a facility.

Decision-making responsibilities in Colorado

In addition to the factors used to determine parenting time divisions, there are a few other considerations when determining whether parents should share decision-making responsibilities.

For parents to share decision-making responsibilities, there must be evidence that they are capable of cooperating and making decisions together. The courts will look at the parents' history of decision-making to determine "whether it indicates an ability...to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child."

If you are currently considering or in the midst of a divorce, consulting with a skilled, Colorado family law attorney will ensure your rights are protected.