About Child Custody and Parental Responsibilities
In any family law case involving children, the issue of child custody will have to be addressed. You may hear lawyers, parents, and even judges referring to this type of child care decision process as “child custody” or “visitation.” However, Colorado law no longer refers to it as such, but rather “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.” This is divided into two parts: parenting time (physical custody) and decision-making responsibility (legal custody). Like many situations regarding divorce and family law, every case is unique and no single child custody plan works for every situation. The experienced child custody lawyers at The Gasper Law Group can help guide you through the process and protect your rights.
If you are involved in a disputed child custody case or going through a divorce, it is important to understand that courts have significant discretion when making determinations about the Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. For this reason, it is important for you to retain legal counsel as soon as possible. To set up a FREE initial consultation to discuss your case with our skilled Colorado Springs lawyers, contact us today.
Colorado Child Custody Laws
In Colorado, Parental Responsibility can be primary or joint. Colorado law recognizes that it is generally in a child’s best interest to have frequent contact with both parents and to have both parents participate in child-rearing. Typically, if a parent has less than 90 overnight visits with the child, the court considers the other parent to have primary parental responsibility. If you and the other parent have an equal amount of overnight visits with the child, the court considers you both to share joint parental responsibility. Contrary to popular belief, neither parent begins the process with a greater right to custody than the other.
How Physical Custody is Decided in Colorado
Parenting time, or physical custody, refers to the actual time that parents spend with their children. When making decisions about how parenting time will be allocated between parents, courts look to the best interests of the child. Under Colorado Revised Statutes § 14-10-124, a court will consider the following factors when determining the best interests of the child for the purposes of allocating parenting time:
- The wishes of the parents
- The child’s wishes (if they are mature enough to express independent and reasonable preferences)
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with their siblings, parents, and anyone else who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s adjustment to their home, community, and school
- The mental and physical health of everyone involved (however, a disability cannot be used by itself to limit or deny parenting time)
- The willingness of both parties to keep things amicable and encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party (except in cases where the court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence)
- Whether the way in which the parties have been involved with the child in the past reflects a system of values, mutual support, and the commitment of time
- How close the parties involved with the case live from one another as this related to the practical issues of shared parenting time
- Whether each party can prioritize the child’s needs over their own needs
How Legal Custody is Decided in Colorado
Courts also consider the best interests of the child when making determinations about how to allocate decision-making responsibilities between parents. Decision-making responsibility, or legal custody, refers to a parent’s right to make major decisions regarding medical treatment, religion, education, and extracurricular activities. In determining the best interests of the child with respect to decision-making responsibilities, a judge will consider the same factors as when making decisions about parenting time, as well as the following:
- The ability of the parties to cooperate and to make decisions jointly
- The pattern of involvement of the parties with the child in the past, and whether or not it reflects an ability to make decisions that will provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child
- Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibility on a number of issues will promote continuing contact between the child and each of the parents
A history of domestic violence or child abuse carries additional and special considerations for the court when it comes to decision-making authority. If there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse in your case, you should discuss the matter with your attorney.
Child Custody Modification
If the court has already established a child custody agreement through a divorce or a stand-alone custody case, there may be options to modify the agreement. However, parents must prove modifications will benefit a child, and that they are justified due to changing circumstances. This may include changes to a child’s physical or emotional needs, a parent’s injury or illness, criminal activity or domestic violence, parental relocation, and other major life changes.
Contact Our Colorado Springs Child Custody Lawyers
Disputes regarding the allocation of parental responsibility and visitation can be difficult to resolve and are often the most emotional legal issues families face. For this reason, it is extremely important for parents who are involved in a child custody dispute to retain an experienced custody lawyer as soon as possible.
From child custody modification to establishing paternity, our family law attorneys can help you understand your rights. The Gasper Law Group has handled countless child custody arrangements and disputes and can advocate for what’s best for the child and you.
For a free consultation with a Colorado Springs family law attorney, call us at (719) 227-7779 or complete our contact form.