What Are the "Best Interests" of a Child?

There a number of factors a court will consider when deciding child custody in Colorado. To learn more about how a judge will factor in a child’s best interests in a custody decision, keep reading today’s blog post.

Determining Child Custody in Colorado

When divorcing parents can't agree on a parenting plan on their own, they must defer to a Colorado court to decide, based on the best interests of the children. Keep in mind that 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.

Note that unlike many other states, Colorado does not define custody as joint or sole custody. Instead, the court uses the term "parental responsibility," which can be primary or joint. Typically, if a parent has less than 90 overnight visits with the child, the court considers the other parent to have primary parental responsibility, and if both parents have an equal amount of overnight visits with the child, the court considers them both to share joint parental responsibility.

Colorado also classifies child custody under two categories – physical (parenting time, as above) and legal (decision-making power). Physical custody refers to the child's physical presence with a parent. Legal custody refers to a parent's authority to make fundamental decisions regarding the child's welfare, including education and health choices.

Note that a judge who awards joint legal custody doesn't always order joint physical custody. The judge may instead find that it's in the child's best interests to have one primary physical home and spend specified periods of time at the other parent's home—sole legal custody with visitation. Whether parents share joint legal custody depends on whether:

  • they can cooperate and make decisions jointly;
  • the past pattern of the parents' involvement with the child reflects a mutually supportive environment;
  • the parents can work together to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child; and
  • any particular allocation of authority will be more likely to facilitate frequent contact between the child and both parents.

Note that a court will not ordinarily order joint legal custody in a case where one of the parents is abusive or neglectful.

Your Child’s Best Interests

The court takes all custody cases seriously, and the law requires judges to evaluate all the following factors when creating a parenting agreement in the child’s best interests:

  • the child's wishes (if old enough and mature enough);
  • each parent's opinion;
  • the child's relationship with each parent and siblings;
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community;
  • the parent's and child's mental and physical health;
  • each parent's ability to encourage the love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent;
  • whether the parent's past involvement with the child shows values, time commitment, and mutual support;
  • the physical proximity of the parent's homes to each other; and
  • the ability of each parent to place the child's needs ahead of their own.

The judge may also find that it's in the child's best interests to have one primary physical home and spend specified periods of time at the other parent's home—sole legal custody with rights of visitation. If the parents are going to have relatively equal parenting time, the court would order joint physical custody.

Be aware that while ensuring frequent contact with both parents is important, it is secondary to the importance of ensuring a child's physical safety. A judge will consider any issues that may affect the child's physical well-being, such as evidence that a parent is guilty of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect. In some cases, the judge will require supervised parenting time; in an extreme case, the judge may deny contact entirely.

The policy favoring frequent contact with both parents is also secondary to the importance of preventing any significant impairment in a child's emotional development. In considering a child's emotional and developmental needs, a court will assess the strength of the relationships between the child and each parent, as well as each parent's past pattern of involvement in childcare. Judges expect parents to put the needs of their children first and will consider the degree to which a parent has committed time to a child and provided the child with emotional support.

Courts tend to favor arrangements that maintain stability in a child's home life, minimize disruption to school and community activities, and support relationships with people who are important to the child, particularly siblings. A court may also consider the distance between the parent's homes. While this is primarily a practical consideration, long-distance travel or frequent travel between homes may have an impact on the child's school and social activities and is thus an important factor in determining custody and support.

Questions? Let Our Firm Help.

Parents are allowed to develop their own parenting arrangements, but if they are unable to, a judge must interfere with a decision. The primary factors a court will consider when determining custody orders in Colorado are the child’s best interests, specifically how a decision will affect the child.

For more information about how a court may determine child custody, contact the Law Office of Alexandra White, P.C.