According to Colorado law, custody “may be awarded to either parent based on the best interest of the child, and shall consider all relevant factors.”
When minor children are involved in a dissolution of marriage, the Colorado courts will do everything possible to help lessen the emotional trauma the children may be experiencing. If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the issues involving the children, the court will establish the custody order at its discretion.
The court may, upon the motion of either party or upon its own motion, appoint an attorney, in good standing and licensed to practice law in the state of Colorado, to serve as the legal representative of the child, representing the best interests of the child in any domestic relations proceeding that involves allocation of parental responsibilities.
Standards for Custody Determination
The court, upon the motion of either party or upon its own motion, may make provisions for custody and parenting time that the court finds are in the child’s best interests In determining the best interests of the child for purposes of custody and parenting time, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including: (I) The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time; (II) The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule; (III) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests; (IV) The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community; (V) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time; (VI) The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party; (VII) Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support; (VIII) The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; (IX) Whether one of the parties has been a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect under section 18-6-401, C.R.S., or under the law of any state, which factor shall be supported by credible evidence; (X) Whether one of the parties has been a perpetrator of spouse abuse as defined in subsection (4) of this section, which factor shall be supported by credible evidence; (XI) The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs. (Colorado Statutes – Article 10 – Sections: 14-20-123, 14-20-124, 14-20-129)
Best Interests of the Child
Colorado makes it mandatory to consider the best interests of the child first in deciding parental responsibilities. The court considers the interaction of the child with the parents, brothers and sisters, and any other person who affects the child. Home, school and community adjustments are considered, as is the mental and physical health of everyone in the child’s life.
Colorado courts examine the willingness of each parent to share the child. The parent’s past involvement with the child will be considered, including the value system each parent holds and time spent with the child. Proximity is considered when practical decisions concerning visitation are made. For example, if the parents live one to four hours apart, it would not be in the best interest of the child to divide parenting time equally. An every-other-weekend scenario is more likely in those cases. In Colorado, the parents submit a parenting plan to the courts that outlines physical custody and visitation. Absent a plan from the parents, or in the face of a rejected plan, the court makes a plan. Courts consider the wishes of the child as long as he or she is mature enough
The law prevents one party from removing the child from Colorado without permission of the other parent or of the family law judge. If a parent intends to relocate, he or she must give written notice, the location, the reason and a proposed revised parenting plan for consideration to the other parent. The judge then decides at a hearing.
Relocation means 45 minutes or more of travel time to get to the other parent, not just for moving out of state. Relocation can be a factor when parents share the child on school nights.
Joint Custody Preference
Colorado law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case. Parents generally share decision-making responsibilities. This routine prevents one parent from making all the major decisions for the child. Parents need to consult with each other on issues pertaining to health, education, religious upbringing and general welfare, but not on routine day-to-day decisions. Parents sometimes need a parenting mediator.
Joint custody rulings in Colorado are different than in other states. Colorado judges strive for shared custody solutions rather than traditional joint custody. Shared custody involves both parents sharing equal time and financial responsibility for the child.
In shared custody, the parent who makes more money is required to make payments to the other parent. It is not official child support, as both parents are splitting the cost of child rearing.
Parents work together with a judge to set up a shared custody schedule. Teens are allowed to give input on the schedule but adults make the final decision.
Joint legal custody in Colorado is different from shared custody. One parent has most of the parenting time and responsibility but both parents have the right to make decisions in the best interest of the child.
The best interests of the child are always at the heart of determining custody. When one parent is unfit, the other will receive sole custody.
In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child. Any past child abuse, spousal abuse, or neglect is considered as long as there is credible evidence. Colorado courts will also consider how much each parent puts the child’s needs ahead of his or her own.
The Colorado courts have full discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. The courts can establish visitation between one or more parent, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy. In Colorado, visitation is called parenting time. Courts consider the age of the child in determining visitation. When a child is under 2 1/2 years old, a judge usually restricts overnight visits with a non-custodial parent. After the onset of school age, the court usually prefers that the child stay in one place, especially during the school year. The court generally attempts to divide time between parents for holidays and summers. However, where there has been a history of abuse or neglect, the principle of the “best interest of the child” reigns supreme.