Can Child Custody Be Settled Out of Court?
Child custody issues are some of the most stressful and difficult family law matters to resolve. Not only does it involve the welfare of your child, but you may also be anxious about having to appear in court. Fortunately, many custody matters can be worked out without litigating the case before a judge. While the courts can step in (and often do in cases where parents cannot agree), it is generally considered less disruptive to the children and the family for parents to come to a custody agreement on their own, outside of court.
As part of the divorce process, parents must reach an agreement regarding parenting time and visitation. This is usually done while developing their parenting plan. Parents can work with their attorneys, mediators, and other professionals to help them determine the custody schedule that will meet their child's needs the best. Many parents share physical custody of their children post-divorce, and most commonly, parents split time with their children 50/50.
Things to consider when developing your custody agreement with your co-parent:
- Both parents' work schedules and responsibilities
- The children's school schedules
- The children's extracurricular commitments
- Who is available to care of the children when they are on summer break
- Who will take the children to and from school
- Where will exchanges or drop-offs happen
- What will happen when a parent needs the schedule adjusted
- How will you communicate with your coparent
- Are there any rules regarding where parents may take the children on vacation
Another important thing to consider is how you and your co-parent will manage future problems, such as scheduling conflicts or disputes. Many parents choose to include dispute resolution provisions, such as mediation requirements, in their parenting plans. Some courts encourage and/or require parents to utilize alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods before appearing in court. The general thinking behind requiring parents to use ADR methods is that most child-rearing disputes can be resolved with less animosity and better overall outcomes when the parents handle them outside the courtroom.
The Colorado Judicial Branch offers parents Access & Visitation (AV) Mediation services through their Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR). As noted on their website, "ADR processes bridge the lines of communication between the custodial and noncustodial parents, preferably without court intervention or involvement.
Colorado Child Custody Guidelines
According to Colorado Revised Statutes § 14-10-124, it is the state's perspective that, in most cases, a coparenting arrangement that fosters continuing and frequent contact between a child and both their parents is generally in the child's best interests. Consequently, parents are encouraged to share child-rearing responsibilities post-divorce or separation jointly. This includes parenting time.
When determining parenting time, the courts may consider the following factors:
- The age of the child
- The wishes of the parents
- The relationship between the child and their parents
- The relationship between the child and their siblings
- The location of the child's school
- The child's connection to their community
- The proximity of the parents to each other
- The physical and mental health of both parents
- Any special needs the child may have
Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?
Yes, according to the statute mentioned above, the wishes of the child regarding which parent they will reside with may be considered when making parenting time and custody decisions. However, for the child's wishes to be considered, the child must be of sufficient maturity "to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule."
What About Child Custody Disputes or Modifications?
Just as you can establish a custody agreement out of court, you can also work to resolve custody disputes or seek modifications out of court. While any changes to your custody order will need to be approved and registered with the courts, if you and your coparent can work together to resolve the matter, you will not have to appear before a judge to litigate the matter.
According to C.R.S. § 14-10-129, "the court may make or modify an order granting or denying parenting time rights whenever such an order or modification would serve the child's best interests." This can mean different things for different families.
For example, a parent may decide to relocate to get access to a better school district for their child, while a noncustodial parent may relocate to take a better job to better provide for their child. Both of these circumstances may necessitate a custody order modification.
Common reasons parents seek custody modifications include:
- Change in employment
- Change in health of a parent or the child
- The child's needs have changed
When Disputes Cannot Be Resolved Outside of the Courtroom
The above statute also provides that parents may also seek to modify a custody order in cases where the child is in danger for some reason, such as instances of domestic violence or abuse. Additionally, if one parent violates or refuses to adhere to the existing order, the other parent may need to request a modification to resolve the issue.
While many custody disputes can be resolved out of court, in cases where the child is in danger or the other parent refuses to comply with a court order, it is unlikely that you will be able to resolve this without intervention from the courts. If you are in a situation like this, reach out to our law firm for help.
What to Do If You Need a Custody Modification
If you are in a situation where you need a custody modification, your first step should be to consult with an experienced attorney, like ours at the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC. Your attorney can help you determine if you have grounds for a modification and can help you figure out the best way to pursue the modification.
For help petitioning for a custody modification, reach out to our law firm. Send us a message online to schedule a free consultation.
Review our blog for more tips on modifying a custody order peacefully.