If you are considering getting a divorce, or are already in proceedings, and you have kids, you’ll need to begin thinking about (if you haven’t already) what custody is going to look like. Unlike many other states, custody in Colorado is legally referred to as “parental responsibilities''. Custody can be complex, both legally and practically but also emotionally. Determining how parenting will be split is the hardest part of any divorce; particularly if you’ve never been through custody proceedings before, you may not know what to expect, or what your options are, or how custody even works.
At New Leaf Family, we understand how challenging it can be to navigate a life-changing transition, which is why it is our mission to empower parents with the education, guidance, and advocacy they need to make the best decisions and lay the best foundation for their family’s future. Here are 5 things that we believe every parent should know about custody in Colorado!
In Colorado, the courts believe that it is overwhelmingly in a child’s best interests to have frequent contact with both parents and have both parents as active participants in raising them. Any discussion or determination of custody will start with this presumption in mind. Now of course, there may be exceptions, such as when one parent is accused of domestic violence against the other parent or the child(ren), but danger or unfit parenting will have to be proven. Neither parent begins with a greater right to custody in Colorado than the other.
For you, this means going in knowing that you will probably need to (and you should expect to) share responsibilities and time with your spouse.
While the court has an expectation of shared parenting responsibilities, there are two different types or categories of these responsibilities: parenting time, also known as physical custody, and decision-making, also known as legal custody. Legal custody is giving one or both parents equal or greater authority to make choices about the child’s life, including where and how they will be educated, what medical care they will receive, etc. Physical custody is giving one or both parents equal or more time physically spent with the child.
Again, the courts will operate from a presumption that each of these responsibilities should be shared equally as much as possible, but in cases where that simply isn’t an option, they may separate these two types of custody. For example, a court may give one parent sole legal custody while requiring that both parents spend equal amounts of time with the child. A court may give each parent sole legal custody over different areas of the child’s life. A court may order joint legal custody, but find that it is in the child’s best interest to have one primary home and spend specified amounts of time at the other parent’s home.
For you, this means knowing that there are many different aspects that you will need to consider when it comes to working out a custody agreement and parenting plan.
Even if you and your spouse are on amicable terms, a court in Colorado may require both of you to attend parenting classes, which may instruct you on the impact of divorce on adults and children, basic co-parenting skills, and more. These classes can be incredibly helpful, though they may be inconvenient depending on your schedule and responsibilities; be prepared that they may be required.
Mediation is another legal avenue that may be required. If you and your spouse aren’t able to work together to develop a custody arrangement, or if there is bitter conflict, or if one of you is set on pursuing sole custody, then according to Colorado law you will have to participate in mediation before beginning any type of contested custody process. You can and should have an attorney to represent you at this stage!
The reason why mediation is required is because contested custody in Colorado can be difficult on all parties involved - it takes longer, is more expensive, and can be more stressful for children and parents. Courts want to avoid a legal battle. If one can’t be avoided, though, ultimately the outcome will rest on a judge’s decision, not your own (which is one of the reasons that a legal battle should be your last resort).
A judge will take into consideration the child’s wishes (if mature enough), each parent’s opinion, the child’s current relationship to each parent and other family members, the child’s past relationship to the parent and other family members, the child’s health and parent’s health, each parent’s ability to encourage the relationship between the child and the other parent, the physical proximity of the parents’ homes to each other, the child’s relationship to their school/community, the ability of each parent to put the child’s needs first, and other factors.
Because this can be unpredictable, and because a judge doesn’t know all of your unique family dynamics and complete history, it is in your and your child’s best interest for you to do everything in your power to cooperate with the other spouse so you stay in control over how the parenting plan is set. If a judge will make the final decision, it is also in your best interests to work with a Colorado custody attorney who can build a strong case for your parenting and advocate for your rights.
Did you know that where you live is a big factor when it comes to setting custody in Colorado? If you live more than 20 miles from the other parent (or move that distance away), a court may order there to be a primary physical custodial parent, because it is too difficult on the children to have them traveling that distance 50 percent of the time. Also, if you don’t have adequate room in your living space for your child or children, a judge may take that into account, depending on how old they are (they don’t need to have their own room necessarily, but should not be sleeping on a couch, for example).
These are just a few of the things about custody that parents should know before wading into the process - there are tons of other nuances and questions you may have, and New Leaf Family is here to support you every step of the way. Contact our custody firm today to discuss your case (your initial call is complimentary) and learn more so you can move forward with confidence! Call now.