When parents break up (or were never in a relationship to begin with), child custody is often the biggest legal issue they will encounter. If you're facing this situation, it helps to have a basic understanding of how Colorado law deals with these types of cases.
While many people call it "child custody," Colorado law actually uses the term "parental responsibility." Indeed, the decision regarding how a child is to be raised is more complex than just deciding where they will live.
In an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities case, the court makes a decision based on what is in the best interest of the child. Parents are encouraged to come up with a parenting plan on their own, which the court can accept or modify based on the child's best interests. If the parents cannot agree, the court will consider the evidence presented and issue a ruling.
Why seek an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities?
There are three main situations that call for an allocation of parental responsibilities. These include
- When parents end their marriage or relationship
- When a child is born to parents who are not living together, or not in a relationship
- When changing circumstances require a previous agreement (or court ruling) to be modified
What types of custody arrangements are available?
In determining parental responsibilities, Colorado courts look at both legal custody and physical custody. In most cases, legal custody is not affected by the variables present in the child's life or the parents' lives. It is about making major life choices for the child, or guiding them toward making good choices for themselves. If abuse is not a factor, the court usually awards joint legal custody. In matters of healthcare, religion, education or similar issues, parents are encouraged to make these decisions together.
Physical custody refers to the amount of time the child spends with each parent, and there is more gray area involved when deciding how this will be allocated. The court will look at several factors and weigh them in order to make a decision that is in the best interest of the child. Some of these factors include:
- Existing bonds between parents and the child
- The wishes of the parents
- The wishes of the child, considered with their individual maturity level in mind, not an exact age
- The child's ties to their existing school and community
- The physical and mental health of each parent
- The ability of each parent to help the child maintain relationships with both sides of their family
- Where each parent lives or plans to live
Based on these factors, the child may live primarily with one parent, and with the other parent during shorter specified periods of time, such as some weekends or school breaks. In some cases, the other parent's time with the child may be restricted to visitation only.
Getting help from a lawyer
No one should embark on a parental responsibilities case alone. The stakes are simply too high. If you're seeking custody of your child, be sure to get help from an experienced family law attorney.