Understanding Colorado Custody Laws

Colorado custody laws consist of using the term, “parental responsibility.” The Court will “allocation parental responsibility” of certain things in a child’s life (health, medical care, education, religion, etc.) to one or both parents. This term, “parental responsibility” primarily means “decision making” ability.  Parental responsibility here also includes visitation rights (called “parenting time”). Each parent has ‘parenting time’, although one parent might have more parenting time than the other parent. In the state of Colorado, the courts decide parental responsibility on several factors. This includes a parent’s ability to care for his/her child, arrangements the parents have made together, and the child’s own preferences. Yet above all, it’s the child’s best interests that matters most.

The courts do not award parental responsibilities based on gender in Colorado child custody cases. Judges in Colorado prefer that parents share the parental responsibilities of making important decisions, especially around issues such as education and upbringing. These issues are usually referred to as legal custody. However, joint custody (shared allocation of parental responsibilities) can be difficult to implement in certain cases, especially those where parents disagree on major issues.

Often, one parent has physical custody (majority parenting time) of a child, while the other receives parenting time and/or visitation rights. While there are arguments for and against co-parenting presumptions in divorce, there is definitely a growing movement towards joint custody / share decision making even though sole custody (one parent having primary allocation of parental responsibilities) is still common. In cases where parents cannot agree on a parenting time plan, a judge must make a ruling on how to split parental responsibility and parenting time.

Focusing on the “Best Interests” of the Child

Under Colorado custody laws, the main factors that determine the division of parental responsibilities largely depend on the best interests of the child. Some of these include, among others:

Child’s relationship to their parents and the rest of the household
Cultural and religious considerations
The child’s (or children’s) physical and emotional needs
The child’s (or children’s) own wishes
Each parent’s financial, emotional ability to provide for their child
Household geographical distance

There is no set age for when children’s wishes take on more weight. But, the more mature and convincing their argument is, the more likely it becomes that their choice of parent will be taken into consideration. Judges decide this on a case-by-case basis, and base their final decision on a combination of all factors.

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Non-Custodial Parents’, Grandparents’ Visitation Rights

In Colorado, visitation rights or “parenting time” does not extend only to parents, but may extend to non-parental custodial guardians (step-parents) and grandparents as well. Colorado awards parental responsibility to non-biological (de-facto) parents if the biological parents are not a viable option. Grandparents also have the right to spend time with their grandchildren under Colorado custody laws. However, there are limits on how much they can insert themselves into a child’s upbringing – it is generally not within their rights to restrict the rights of the child’s parents.

What Makes an “Unfit Parent” in Colorado?

Colorado is a state which prefers joint or 50/50 parenting. To achieve full custody (primary allocation of parental responsibilities) in Colorado, you must almost always prove to the court that the other parent poses a risk to your child. An unfit parent, in this case, is a parent who is a proven danger to a child. This can either be due to the indirect effects of their current behavior, or due to past crimes related to physical and/or sexual violence.

Any significant and proven history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from the other parent towards your child(ren) is grounds for the Colorado courts to award you sole custody. To protect your child from an unfit parent, seek legal help. After that, the first step is usually to file a complaint for allocation of parental responsibility. You must also create and file a parenting plan suggesting full custody.

The new plan should include both legal and physical custody (determining that you control the upbringing and living situation of your child which would be primary parenting time and primary decision making abilities). In normal cases, parenting plan disputes must go through mediation before they are brought before the court. If you can prove that the other parent was abusive, though, you may take the parenting plan directly to the judge.

Seeking Colorado Child Custody Help and Guidance

As overwhelming as the whole process can be, it’s simplified if you think of it in this way: Colorado custody laws are meant to help separating couples distribute parental responsibilities between themselves. The ideal outcome is an arrangement that allows both parents to play significant roles in the upbringing of their children. Unfortunately, things are not always ideal, and it’s important to seek legal representation to avoid losing your rights as a parent.


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