THE REPRESENTATION YOU NEED IN ORDER TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
Dealing with a divorce can be difficult for any family. As a stay-at-home mom, however, you may worry more than most about what your life might look like post-divorce. You may have forfeited an education or career to care for children, relying on your spouse for financial support. Now, you may lose this support, on top of dealing with expensive divorce fees and court costs. Luckily, Colorado law looks out for stay-at-home moms and other divorcees in financial binds.
The Right to Hire an Attorney
If you have a complicated divorce, hire an attorney to help you work through your case. As a stay-at-home mom, your divorce case will most likely involve complicated matters that deserve legal attention, such as spousal support and child custody. A Fort Collins family lawyer can protect your rights from the beginning, taking over communications with your ex-spouse and his or her attorney. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, ask about including your legal fees as part of a divorce settlement. Many lawyers will work with you to arrange a payment plan that works for your family.
The Right to Fight for Primary Custody
The courts in Colorado will not automatically award you child custody, even as the stay-at-home parent. However, this fact will most likely work in your favor during custody negotiations. First, you and your spouse will have the opportunity to work together to create your own parenting plan. This plan will include custody, parenting time and parental responsibilities. If you can, work with your spouse during mediation to compromise on child custody matters. That way, you can both avoid surprises that may occur if your case goes to court.
If you and your spouse cannot work out a custody arrangement, use an attorney to help you fight for primary custody. An attorney can help you prove to a judge that you are the right choice with evidence such as your close relationship with the children, your role as the primary caregiver, their emotional bond to you and other factors. Your children will not have a say in custody unless they are old enough to give their opinion. In that case, a judge may consider what your children have to say. Ultimately, the judge will rule on a custody matter based on the best interests of your children.
The Right to Seek Child Support
As a stay-at-home mom, you will most likely be eligible for a child support order if the courts grant you primary custody. Colorado’s child support laws offer money in monthly installments or lump sums to help the primary parent pay for the care and support of children. Your spouse may owe you child support based on both parties’ incomes, education, jobs and parental rights. The courts may award child support if it is reasonably necessary to give children the same quality of life they had before the divorce. A child support order will typically last until the child turns 18 unless the child is still in high school or has a disability.
The Right to Request Spousal Support
Spousal support, or spousal maintenance, is a monetary award the courts may grant one spouse in circumstances of financial need. Spousal support is not a guarantee, even as a stay-at-home mom with little to no income. A judge in Colorado will only award spousal support if you exhibit financial need and if your ex-spouse has the means to pay the award. The amount and duration of the award, if any, will depend on your situation.
Colorado law uses the length of the marriage to determine how long spousal support will last. The law has a long list outlining how many months a spouse may receive support. For a marriage lasting 5 years, for example, the support order will last 21 months. The longer your marriage, the longer you could receive spousal support. You should use the months in which you receive spousal maintenance to get an education or job training that will help you find a position to support yourself and your children on your own. An experienced and local lawyer could maximize your odds of gaining spousal support during a divorce case.
A history of crime could impact your child custody case in Colorado. All child custody matters boil down to one main consideration: what is in the best interest of the child. If a criminal record demonstrates to a judge that you may put your children at risk in any way, it could impact his or her decision on custody matters. With criminal charges pending against you, a judge may rule in the other spouse’s favor. Should the criminal courts dismiss the charges against you, however, you may be able to file a request to modify the custody order.
Your Criminal Record Will Be Part of a Divorce Trial
It is impossible to conceal your criminal past from a judge during a child custody trial. Your record is public and an important piece of your past in the eyes of the family courts. The best you can do is to seal your criminal record, which may be an option if the courts convicted you of a petty offense, minor violation or crime involving certain drugs. A sealed or expunged record could help your custody case by showing a judge you did not commit a major offense or completed probation.
If the criminal charges against you are still pending, a judge may wait to make a custody decision until the resolution of your criminal case. It is possible that a criminal courtroom will drop the charges against you or find you not guilty. In these cases, you may not have to worry as much about a criminal history impacting your child custody case. If, however, the criminal courts do not rule in your favor, a judge will consider your propensity toward crime when determining custody. If a custody case must proceed while criminal charges are still pending, it could hurt your odds of a positive outcome.
How a Judge Decides Custody in Colorado
The Colorado courts refer to child custody as parental responsibilities. Parental responsibilities include physical custody of the children and the right to make important life decisions for them, such as education and health care. It can also refer to visitation rights for a noncustodial parent and/or grandparents. Parental responsibility court decisions center on the standard of a child’s best interest.
- Each parent’s relationship with the child
- Children’s connections to the community
- Parents’ wishes
- Children’s wishes (in some cases, if children are old enough)
- Both parents’ abilities to care for children
A judge will rule according to what would be best for the children. Each parent’s character and habits are relevant in this consideration. A judge will hear testimony from character witnesses and review things such as each parent’s criminal record, history of domestic violence and drug or alcohol dependencies. Pending criminal charges may or may not impact your custody case depending on the identity of the victim, nature of the offense and whether it was your first encounter with the law.
Modifying Your Custody Order in Colorado
A pending charge is not a criminal conviction. If a judge has already decided against you in a custody matter, but the criminal justice system in Fort Collins drops the charges against you, you may be able to fight for a better outcome. A judge may agree to modify your custody order if doing so suits the best interests of the children. Receiving an order modification will take proving that your situation has significantly changed since the date of the first order; for example, dropped charges, an expunged record or the completion of your sentence.
A judge will still take your criminal history into account when deciding child custody. If you or your lawyer can convince that different custody or visitation rights are in the child’s best interest, however, the judge may agree to modify the original order. Hiring an attorney and staying out of legal trouble can optimize your odds of a positive parental responsibilities agreement, as can proving you can provide a safe and stable environment for your children.
Posted in Child Custody on April 3, 2019
When a married couple with children decides to divorce, they must draw up a custody agreement that preserves the best interests of their children. It is in the best interests of both spouses to come to mutually agreeable terms and focus on what is best for their children. When either divorcing spouse attempts to “weaponize” the children against the other spouse or otherwise tries to interfere with the children’s relationship to the other spouse, this is ultimately destructive for everyone involved. Having a family law attorney may be able to help mediate this process to make the transition smooth for both parties involved.
Parents may have strong negative feelings for one another following a divorce, but they should do their best to keep these feelings from affecting their relationships with their children. In almost every case, children benefit most from having consistent contact with both parents. Developing a custody agreement that works for the best interests of the children may not be equally appealing to both parents, but the system strives for fairness and practicality, and the court ultimately has the responsibility to rule in favor of the best interests of the children in a divorce case.
- 50/50 Custody Arraignment
- 80/20 Custody Arraignment
- 70/30 Custody Arraignment
- 60/40 Custody Arraignment
Determining Child Custody in Colorado
The court refers to many factors in deciding custody in a divorce case. Generally, the court wants to minimize disruption to the children’s typical daily schedule. When a couple decides to file for divorce, the court will assess each parent’s income, work schedule, criminal background, and the reasons for the divorce in determining an appropriate custody arrangement. For example, if one parent has a substance abuse problem or a criminal record, the court will likely find these issues as grounds to deny primary custody, or the court may require a specific set of visitation terms for the noncustodial parent with a spotty background.
Ultimately, the court uses various factors to determine the fitness of both parents. The parent deemed more fit than the other for any reason will likely win majority custody of the children, also called primary physical custody. The parent with physical custody generally has the power to make important decisions on behalf of the children and is primarily responsible for ensuring a safe and nurturing upbringing. The other parent (the “noncustodial” parent) must have permission from the custodial parent with primary physical custody before making any major decisions for the child, such as enrollment in school, medical decisions, or other decisions concerning major life events.
50/50 Joint Custody
If the court deems both parents fit, and both parents have work schedules that allow them to spend an equal amount of time with their children, the court may approve a 50/50 joint custody agreement. In such an agreement, both parents share physical custody of their children and must come to an agreement for any major decisions on behalf of their children. A 50/50 joint custody agreement can take many forms, but in most cases the children will spend one week with one parent and then the next week with the other parent. The court may approve a different joint custody arrangement on a case-by-case basis, but as long as the parents qualify for physical custody and can spend an equal amount of time with their children, the custody agreement must be 50/50.
A 50/50 agreement could involve the children switching between parents every week at the same time. For example, the children may switch parents every Friday after school, alternating each week. The court may also approve a less consistently disruptive schedule and approve a switch every other week, effectively allowing each parent two weeks at a time with their kids.
Other formats are more complex but ensure a more even distribution of time with each parent, such as a 3-4-4-3 schedule with three days with one parent, four days with the second parent, four days with the first parent, and then three days with the second parent. A 2-2-5-5 schedule would entail two days with each parent followed by five days with each parent.
Other Possible Visitation Schedules
When one parent has primary physical custody and spends more time with the children than the other parent, the divorcing couple will need to develop a visitation agreement to ensure the noncustodial parent has time to spend with his or her children. These visitation schedules usually follow an 80-20, 70-30, or 60-40 framework.
When one parent has custody 80% of the time and the noncustodial parent only has custody 20% of the time, the children may visit the noncustodial parent every other weekend. Another possible schedule could be the children spend the first, third, and fifth weekends each month with the noncustodial parent. An 80-20 arrangement could also include visitation every third weekend.
In a 70-30 custody arrangement, the custodial parent has custody every week and then the children spend each weekend with the noncustodial parent. Another option could be a simple 5-2 schedule in which the children live with one parent for five days per week and then spend the other two days with the other parent. The parents may also decide on a week-based arrangement, with the children living with one parent for two weeks and then the other parent for one week.
Many 60-40 custody arrangements function on an extended weekend framework. For example, the children would spend the week with one parent and then spend an extended weekend with the other. While some visitation schedules may end on Sunday afternoon, a 60-40 extended weekend arrangement would entail the children leaving school on Friday to go to the other parent and then returning to school Monday morning, leaving to go to the other parent’s house that afternoon. A 60-40 schedule could also entail the children spending four days with one parent and then three days with the other parent. This option often works best for parents who arrive at a 50/50 custody agreement but their schedule involves too many switches throughout the week.
If both parents remain living in the same area, working out an equitable custody agreement is much easier. Since the children can remain in the area they already live, a custody agreement may simply mean they take a different bus home every Friday and the parents can handle important decisions as they arrive with equal authority. However, if one parent has shown the court any reason why he or she cannot provide the same level of parental care and support as the other, the court will likely rule in favor of awarding primary physical custody to the other parent.
Making Your Visitation Schedule Work
It is vital for divorcing parents to remember that the court has a duty to rule in the best interests of their children, regardless of the fitness and availability of the parents. Both parents may have equal ability to handle a 50/50 custody split, but the court may deem that repeated switching is detrimental to the children’s lives and instead opt for a 60-40 or 70-30 split. It is also possible for the court to rule in favor of reasonable visitation, or allowing parents who share joint custody to work out a reasonable custody agreement between them. However, factors like one parent moving out of the area could influence the court to rule in favor of the children remaining with the parent who will stay in the family home to preserve day-to-day stability.
Parents’ best option for making the custody and visitation system work more smoothly is communication with their exes. Although a divorced couple may have many personal issues with each other, they should do their best to avoid allowing these issues to seep into discussions about their children. Remaining cooperative and patient when deciding custody is the best option; there is almost always an opportunity to adjust an existing custody agreement later.
Posted in Child Custody on March 2, 2019
Child custody is often the most critical part of a divorce case for the parents involved. No parent wants to lose custody of his or her child. However, the Colorado courts will make a decision based on the child’s best interests. Unfortunately, your spouse may take a custody hearing as an opportunity to raise grounds to prove that you are an unfit parent. One such ground in Colorado is substance abuse. Don’t face this battle alone, speak to a Fort Collins child custody attorney today.
If your ex-spouse is raising alcohol or drug claims against you, the courts must take these allegations seriously. A judge may request evidence of substance abuse, or send investigators to look into the issue further. If the allegations are at all truthful, and the courts deem your substance abuse as a possible danger to children, it could negatively influence your likelihood of securing child custody.
- What are the different types of custody arrangements in Colorado?
- How can you prove a parent is unfit in a child custody case?
- How do Colorado courts decide who gets custody?
- What happens after a substance abuse allegation?
- How can substance abuse hurt your child custody case?
- What if neither parent is fit?
- How can marijuana use impact a child custody case in Colorado?
Types of Custody Arrangements in Colorado
Colorado law now refers to child custody as parental responsibilities. In Colorado, the family courts can assign parental responsibilities according to many different setups. The most common is joint legal custody, or joint parental responsibilities. Joint custody is a shared system, in which both parents divide the amount of time they spend with the child. Both parents will share decision-making responsibilities for major life choices, such as the child’s religion, education, and healthcare.
Joint custody, however, often does not mean a 50/50 split. Splitting parenting time directly in half can be difficult for the child – especially if one parent lives out of state. It is more common for the courts to order a different type of joint custody division, such as 75/25. One parent may have custody during the week, while the other may have the child on the weekends. If parents cannot come up with their own schedule, a judge will make the arrangement for them.
Sole custody is less common, since the courts generally want the child to stay in touch with both parents, whenever possible. Sole custody refers to one parent having 100% of physical and/or legal responsibilities over the child. The other parent may or may not retain visitation rights depending on the situation. The courts typically only grant sole custody if a case involves domestic violence or child abuse.
Grounds for Proving an Unfit Parent in Colorado
A parent who wants full, primary custody of a child in a divorce settlement may try to prove that the other parent is unfit. That way, the courts will have no choice but to award the first parent custody. Different states have different grounds on which the courts will determine a person to be an unfit parent. What could earn you the title of an unfit parent in Colorado?
- Child abuse or neglect
- Mental illness
- Domestic violence
- Drug or alcohol use
If your ex-spouse brings any of these allegations forward during a custody hearing, the judge will most likely ask for evidence supporting the claim. It will then be on your ex-spouse (or his or her attorney) to prove that you do have a history of one of these grounds, and that it could put the life of your child in danger. You could lose child custody if your ex-spouse succeeds in this burden of proof by showing you currently use drugs or alcohol.
How Do the Colorado Courts Determine Custody?
Proving you are an unfit parent is not the only way your ex-spouse may secure primary custody during a divorce case. The Colorado courts examine many different factors when making a custody judgment. The number one factor will always be what is in the child’s best interests, but the full picture will include an analysis of many parts of your life.
- Your income, education, and job training
- Your relationship with your child
- The amount of time you spend with your child
- How well you understand and respond to your child’s needs
- Any social issues that could negatively affect the child
- The attitude the child has toward you
- The child’s wishes, if he or she is mature enough
Overall, a judge’s goal will be to assess the abilities of both parents, as well as their living situations, to determine what custody arrangement will best serve the child’s interests. If you have a history of alcoholism or drug abuse, this could negatively affect how the courts see your ability to provide a safe home for your child. A substance abuse disorder could ultimately take custody away from you.
What Will the Courts Do After a Substance Abuse Allegation?
If your ex-spouse has raised an alcohol or drug allegation during your Colorado custody case, the courts will most likely order you to submit to immediate drug or alcohol testing. The courts have the right to request a urine screen, blood tests, breath screens, hair tests, or nail tests to find out whether you have substances in your system.
The courts may order different panels for specific drug testing, depending on the allegations against you. A five-panel test, for example, can show traces of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP, and amphetamines, while a 17-panel test can test for 17 different substances. Generally, you will have to pay for your substance-screening test on your own. A positive test result that demonstrates chronic alcohol or drug use could result in a negative child custody outcome.
How Substance Use Can Hurt Child Custody Cases
From a judge’s perspective, intoxicating substances could impact your ability to be a safe, responsible, and present parent. Most courts will not rule in favor of a parent with proven substance use issues during a custody hearing, for fear of the drugs or alcohol negatively impacting the child. The courts may fear that drugs or alcohol could lead to domestic violence, child neglect, or other serious issues.
Suffering a substance use disorder will most likely result in your ex-spouse getting primary or full custody of your child – at least temporarily. The courts may give you the opportunity to join substance education classes and prove your sobriety at a later date. You may have the option to file a Motion for Child Custody Modification with your local courts once you have gotten the substances out of your system and are on the path to recovery. If you can prove you have changed, the courts may award at least partial custody to you.
Most courts in Colorado will require you to prove your sobriety through steps such as submitting to random alcohol and drug testing, or to regular substance monitoring. You may need to complete a recovery program, and bring evidence to your future custody hearings that you have not imbibed drugs or alcohol. Evidence could include chemical tests and the testimony of friends, relatives, or program sponsors.
If your ex-spouse is raising drug or alcohol allegations after the courts have already made a custody decision, the legal process will look different. The spouse may have made these allegations during a hearing to modify the existing custody order. In these cases, the courts may agree to modify the order to either remove custody from you, or to arrange some type of supervised visitation until you can prove you are clean and sober.
What If Neither Parent Is Fit?
If the courts determine that neither you nor your ex-spouse are fit to have custody of children, either due to substance abuse or other issues, your child may end up in the custody of the state. The Department of Child Protective Services may provide a temporary home for your child while you and/or your ex-spouse stabilize your family situation. Your child may go to a trusted friend or family member, or with a foster family or group home until you can prove you are in a position to properly care for your child.
You may regain custody and parental responsibilities over your child after the state has intervened if you can prove that you have changed. Again, the courts may demand to see clean chemical tests or proof that you have completed a substance abuse education program. Follow the court’s instructions on how to regain custody, and you may earn back some or all of your parenting rights.
The Impact of Recreational Marijuana Use on Child Custody in Colorado
As one of the laxest states when it comes to cannabis legalization, Colorado has experienced some of the first significant issues regarding recreational marijuana use and child custody. It is legal to possess and to use certain amounts of marijuana in Colorado recreationally if you are an adult over the age of 21. You do not need a medical card to purchase or consume cannabis within the state. The consumption of cannabis recreationally or medicinally, however, is still against federal law – and it could interfere with child custody during a divorce case.
It does not matter whether you consumed marijuana legally according to the state’s laws. If your ex-spouse brings up a drug allegation for using marijuana, you could lose custody of your child. Most judges will consider the impact your drug use may have on your child, whether lawful or not. The same would be true if you took prescription medications, such as painkillers, that could potentially interfere with your ability to safely care for children. Your use of recreational marijuana will not automatically bar you from custody. Instead, the courts will assess your individual situation.
According to federal regulations, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug that can pose a danger to children if parents use it irresponsibly. It is likely, therefore, that a judge will view a parent’s use of marijuana negatively when determining child custody – especially if the parent uses it recreationally and not for medicinal purposes. Note, however, that in 2010, a Colorado appeals court ruled that the courts could not deny child visitation rights based on marijuana use, if the parent does not use the substance around his or her child.
How to Improve Your Custody Case
Nationally, parental marijuana use has had mixed impacts on child custody cases. In some cases, it has swayed a judge’s decision and affected custody, while in others the courts have ruled that marijuana use is not negatively affecting the child. The decision in your case would depend on your unique situation and use habits.
While the courts will weigh many factors in its decision, a custody choice will ultimately come down to what is best for the child. To maximize your odds of a favorable outcome, hire an attorney. An experienced attorney may be able to help establish you as a stable parent who is willing to put his or her child’s needs first, even in the face of alcohol or drug use allegations.
The most common form of child abduction is parental kidnapping. Parental kidnapping occurs when a non-custodial parent takes children without the custodial parent’s knowledge or consent. Colorado laws define taking a child as kidnapping, even if the abductor is a parent, if that parent does not have custody or parenting time privileges. If a non-custodial parent unlawfully takes a child, the other parent has available options for the child’s safe return.
Examples of Parental Kidnapping in Colorado
A non-custodial parent in a situation with a court-ordered custody agreement can never be too careful with what he or she does with children. Surprising children at school, for example, might not be a good idea if a parenting time order expressly forbids unsupervised parental visits. Picking children up from school, church, or elsewhere and taking them somewhere – even for ice cream down the road – without the legal right or the other parent’s consent, is parental kidnapping.
One of the most common examples of family abduction is removing a child from the state in violation of a custody order. Some families may live in one state, but have a child custody order from another state. This can present issues, as state officials can only enforce orders from within their state. If you moved to Colorado with a custody agreement from a different state, get a Colorado court order as soon as possible. That way, law enforcement will have the right to recover children and return them to the custodial parent. Otherwise, your ex-spouse may be able to escape liability because of a loophole in the system.
In Colorado, a parent with primary custody of minor children has the right to move out of state with them, without the other parent’s consent. This does not constitute parental kidnapping. However, the non-custodial parent has the right to petition the court to prohibit the removal of children from the state. The courts will hold a hearing to decide whether it should prevent the move or permit it to happen. Blocking the move may occur if the courts believe it is in the children’s best interests.
Colorado is unique in that most states do the opposite: the custodial parent must petition the courts to move out of the state. Note that removing children from the state or taking them elsewhere is not parental kidnapping if the courts have not issued a custody order. If the parents never went to court and received an official custody agreement, it is not kidnapping for one parent to take the children – even without the other parent’s consent or knowledge. Both parents will retain equal responsibilities and rights, until the court says differently with an official custody order.
What to Do About Parental Kidnapping
Finding out your ex-spouse breached a custody order and took physical control of your children without consent can be frightening. If you have already filed for allocation of parental rights and won, then your ex-spouse is in violation of the custody agreement and may be guilty of parental kidnapping. Your first step should be to call the police, especially if you believe your children to be in danger. The other parent could be guilty of 2nd-degree kidnapping, or wrongfully retaining a child under 18 years old. This is a class 5 felony.
Colorado law enforcement will have the power to take steps to retrieve your child as long as you have a state-issued court order granting you custody of the children. If your ex-spouse receives a conviction for parental kidnapping, he or she could face up to three years in prison and $100,000 in fines. The police may ask if you want to press charges, and the city may decide to prosecute regardless of what you say. Once you call the police, the matter is generally out of your hands.
Posted in Child Custody on February 13, 2019
Child custody is one of the most complex matters in a Colorado divorce case. Determining which parent will receive joint, shared, or full custody of children will become a decision of the court, if the parents cannot agree to custody terms on their own. The number one factor a judge will consider when making custody determinations is the best interests of the child. Colorado law makes it mandatory for a judge to consider this first when deciding parental responsibilities.
If you are going through a divorce in Fort Collins and children are involved, do not wait until this important decision is entirely in a judge’s hands. Call the Fort Collins child custody lawyers at the Law Office of Stephen Vertucci at (970) 900-1800 today and arrange for a consultation.
What Factors Affect a Custody Decision?
Although a child’s best interests come first, many different things can influence a judge’s decision during a child custody case. Both parents will have the opportunity to state their cases for custody. The judge will listen to both sides, speak to people close to the child, and may discuss the matter with the child depending on the situation. The judge will then use a variety of factors to make the final determination.
- Child’s age
- Interaction between the child and parents and siblings
- Home, school, and community adjustments
- Parents’ mental and physical health
- Willingness of parents to share the child
A judge may also take into account the child’s own wishes. However, that is not to say your child will have the ability to decide whom to live with during a divorce. A judge may ask a child who is old enough (typically 12 to 14) which parent he or she prefers to live with the majority of the time. A judge will typically do this outside of the courtroom, to keep the child out of the case as much as possible. A judge will use a third-party evaluator to ascertain the child’s wishes. Then, the judge may consider this during the decision.
The Power of a Child’s Wishes
Each child custody case is unique. In Colorado, as in most states, no hard and fast rule exists with an age at which children are old enough to make custody decision on their own. Instead, judges will take each case as they come. Most courts agree that age 14 is old enough to give kids some say in custody battles. By ages 16 and 17, children may have more influence over which parent they live with. Some courts will place significant weight with the opinions of children this old. Children younger than 14, however, will have a harder time getting a judge to take their wishes into account.
A judge will never base a custody decision solely on the wishes of the child, regardless of age. However, a judge may consider an older child’s wishes in the final determination. A child’s wishes may come true if a judge determines that is what is in the child’s best interests. Otherwise, the child will have to live with the other parent, even if he or she does not want to. A judge will always rule in favor of the best interests of the child, regardless of what the child wants or does not want. Yet a child old enough may be able to sway the judge’s decision.
Can a Child Change a Custody Order?
No, the wishes of a child to go live with the other parent are not enough on its own to change a custody agreement in Colorado. Colorado Revised Statutes Section 14-10-129 states that a child must be in physical or emotional danger for the judge to approve a change in primary residential child custody. Even if a teenage child wants to live with the other parent, he or she lawfully cannot do so without proving physical or significant emotional endangerment. Going to live with the other parent without an official custody agreement modification could put the parent in violation of the order.
More Information / FAQ’s on Child Custody
- Factors Parents Should Consider When Determining Child Custody
- Are Mothers Favored in the Child Custody Process?
- Can You Lose Custody of Your Child if You Miss Too Many Visitations?
- Is Co-Parenting Right for Your Child Custody Case?
- Colorado Child Custody Laws
When a person with a biological child marries another person, the new spouse becomes the child’s stepparent. There are many situations in which a stepparent may wish to raise the child permanently with the child’s biological parent, and adoption is the best way to ensure the child has the legal protection afforded to a biological child. An adoption can also help bring a family closer.
In Colorado, a stepparent may adopt a spouse’s biological child under certain conditions. First, the stepparent must not have any prior felony convictions that involve child abuse, violent crime, or crimes of a sexual nature.
Under Colorado law, a child is eligible for adoption when the other biological parent is deceased, or the court has officially ended the parent-child legal relationship between the child and the other biological parent. If the other parent is still alive, he or she must voluntarily relinquish parental rights or provide written permission for the adoption to the other biological parent.
Benefits of Stepparent Adoption
Stepparent adoption can help a mixed family feel more “whole” in several ways. The adopted child may take the new adoptive parent’s last name and feel like more of a family. Depending on the age of the adopted child, a stepparent adoption can be a great way to overcome the difficulties of a divorce or the death of a parent.
The adopted child will have all of the rights that a biological child would, including inheritance rights and the right to pursue a wrongful death claim if the adoptive parent dies due to the negligence of another party.
The Adoption Process
Once a biological parent obtains the consent of the other biological parent for the adoption to move forward, the adoptive parent will need to undergo a federal and state criminal background check. The adoptive parent must also obtain and complete several forms, including:
- Petition for Adoption
- Verified Statement of Fees Charged
- Consent to Adoption – Custodial Parent
- Consent to Adoption – Child Over Twelve Years of Age
- Notice of Hearing
- Petition to Terminate the Parent-Child Legal Relationship
- Consent to Adoption – Non-Custodial Parent
- Waiver and Acceptance of Service
An experienced family law attorney can help an adoption applicant fill out the necessary paperwork and track down any other documentation that may need to accompany the petition.
After completing and submitting this packet of paperwork, the court will likely send an investigator to conduct a home check. This person’s job is to determine whether the adoption would be in the best interest of the child. The investigator will likely ask the child a few questions about his or her home life, school, and his or her relationship with the parents. The investigator will also interview the parents, relatives, step-siblings, and other parties who may be able to provide insight into the family’s dynamics.
The Adoption Hearing and Beyond
Once the investigator provides the court with his or her findings, the adoption process will proceed to a hearing. During this hearing, the adoption applicant will provide the judge with his or her reasoning why the judge should end the legal parent-child relationship with the other biological parent and approve the adoption. If the other biological parent does not contest the adoption or has voluntarily relinquished his or her parental rights, the judge will likely approve the adoption petition.
After the judge approves the adoption, he or she will issue a Final Decree formalizing the adoption and recognizing the legal parent-child relationship between the adoptive parent and adopted child. The parents may also arrange for a name change and a reissued birth certificate. Adoption can help safeguard a family’s financial future and protect an adopted child in several ways. If you believe that an adoption would be right for your family, consult an attorney as soon as possible.
A custody agreement is a complex, very detailed legal document that outlines both parents’ obligations and rights concerning their children after a divorce. There are different types of custody, and countless possible formats a custody arrangement might take. Some parents may wonder if they must still pay child support in a joint physical custody arrangement in which the parents split their time with the children 50/50.
Logic would dictate that if the parents spend equal time with their children, then neither parent should have to pay child support since they share equal responsibility. Child support generally exists so that a higher-earning parent who divorces a lower-earning parent will still contribute toward the children’s living expenses. While a 50/50 custody agreement may seem like it would preclude child support, this is rarely the case. The most important factors in any child support agreement are the time each parent spends with their children and each parent’s individual income. For more detailed about this, contact an experienced child support attorney in Fort Collins, CO.
Income Models for Child Support Determinations
Each state has unique laws concerning child support, and this includes the income models used to inform custody arrangements. In an income shares model, the court would determine the percentages of each parent’s income toward the total family income. If the family’s annual income is $200,000 and one spouse earns $125,000 per year while the other spouse only earns $75,000 per year, the lower-earning spouse would be responsible for a smaller share of the children’s living expenses.
Ten states and Washington, D.C. use a percentage of income models to determine support payments. In these cases, the court only considers the amount of income the noncustodial parent earns and requires him or her to pay a flat percentage in support to the custodial parent.
Time Spent vs. Support Payments
Courts also take the amount of time the children spend with each parent into account when determining child support payment amounts. The court will usually consider the number of overnights a child has with each parent to determine the level of custody each parent has in the agreement. Rather than requiring a perfectly even split of 182 overnights per year with each parent, courts generally consider “significant” amounts of overnight time as any custody arrangement beyond every other weekend with one parent. For example, a state may uphold that 123 overnights per year are enough to qualify as joint physical custody.
The amount of support a parent pays generally reflects the time he or she spends with his or her children. For example, a parent who only has about 100 overnight visits per year with his children may need to pay 20% of his income in support while a parent who has 180 overnights may only need to pay 10%. Some custody agreements may include payment schedules that fluctuate over the course of a typical year. For example, if one parent only sees the children on weekends during the school year but has them during the weekdays in the summer, that parent may pay more in child support over the school year and less during the time he or she has the children.
Adjusting Your Child Support Agreement
It’s important for co-parents to stay in touch regarding issues with their children as well as important life events that may impact a custody agreement. For example, one parent may receive an offer for an out-of-state job that would require him or her to move. Another example could be a noncustodial parent losing his or her job and being unable to pay required child support payments.
There are many resources available to divorced parents in these situations, and it’s important to speak honestly about these issues with your ex-spouse. If you are concerned about your obligations under your custody agreement or believe your agreement requires an adjustment, speak with a Fort Collins divorce attorney about your concerns.
Posted in Child Custody on June 28, 2018
Family law leans heavily on the concept of parental rights, which include a parent’s rights to make decisions about a child’s education, healthcare, and upbringing, as well as the right to make major decisions on behalf of a child. However, parental rights also come with significant responsibilities. A parent must provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter, but must also arrange child support, healthcare, and other similar needs. In some cases, a parent may decide to voluntarily relinquish his or her parental rights.
The court will often consider a parent’s request to voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights if another individual is willing to step in and care for the child, as in the case of adoption. If a child’s parent remarries a new spouse who is willing to assume legal custody and parental rights of the child, the other parent may voluntarily terminate his or her rights to allow for the adoption to take place. Some of the most common reasons for a person to voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights include:
- Making way for an adoption.
- Long-term mental illness or mental deficiency of the parent.
- Long-term substance abuse of the parent.
- Failure to maintain contact with a child.
In these cases, a parent may recognize his or her own inability to care for the child and voluntarily relinquish his or her parental rights. In other cases, the court may revoke an individual’s parental rights for a number of reasons, such as incarceration, a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect of children.
What Happens If I Give Up My Parental Rights?
If you voluntarily terminate your parental rights, you won’t have any financial obligations to your child anymore, but you will likely also lose the ability to play a role in your child’s life or have any say in major decisions about your child’s upbringing, education, spiritual life, or any similar matters.
It’s very important to take this decision very seriously, as it is very difficult to reverse or alter. In some cases, you and your ex-spouse may be able to devise a mutually agreeable solution that allows for visitation, but this will only be an option if your ex-spouse is agreeable to the idea after you voluntarily terminate your parental rights.
It’s also important to remember that you have no guarantee of approval with a request to terminate your parental rights. The court’s primary focus is the best interests of the child. If your ex-spouse does not wish to have a role in your child’s life but you cannot afford to support your child on your own, the court may decide that what is expedient for the parents is not in the child’s best interests. There must be good cause for a parent to voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights. Simply not wishing to be a parent is not good enough. A judge will also refuse to grant a termination of parental rights simply so you don’t have to pay child support.
In adoptions, birth parents voluntarily give up parental rights to the adoptive parents. However, if a birth parent does so under coercion or duress and does not truly wish to give up a child, he or she can sometimes secure a reversal through the family law system. The parent arguing for reversal and reinstatement of parental rights will need to provide evidence that the termination occurred under coercion or duress.
Ultimately, when it comes to voluntary termination of parental rights or reinstatement of involuntarily terminated parental rights, the court will decide with the child’s best interests in mind. Just remember that if you file for termination of your parental rights voluntarily, it is very difficult to reverse such a decision, and you may be giving up any chance of having a relationship with your child.
Posted in Child Custody on June 7, 2018
The state of Colorado handles custody battles between unwed parents in much the same way as custody issues between married parents, with a few notable exceptions. It’s vital for unwed parents in Colorado to understand their rights and obligations and know what to expect from the Colorado child custody system. An child custody attorney can help either parent sort out his or her documentation and build a strong case for custody.
When married couples file for divorce and child custody becomes an issue, the parents will likely submit a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP). Unwed parents who agree to the paternity of the children in question can also submit this form. The Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity allows fathers to legally establish their paternity in child custody matters. It’s essential for fathers to take this process seriously and refrain from acknowledging paternity without evidence. If the parents disagree on a child’s paternity, the judge handling the case will likely issue a paternity test to confirm the child’s parentage.
This is an important step, because a man who voluntarily acknowledges paternity without evidence runs the risk of winding up locked into a custody agreement for someone else’s child. This can cause serious problems for the parents and the children if the truth comes out later, and some individuals want solid proof of paternity before acknowledging children as their own. It’s also a crucial step for fathers who want legal certainty of their parental rights. If the child’s mother denies the father’s paternity, the father can request a paternity test for indisputable proof of parentage and secure his rights to custody.
By law, an unwed father has no parental rights without proof of paternity. However, a judge cannot require an unwed father to pay child support without proof of paternity. In such a case, either the court or the child’s mother would petition for a paternity test.
Deciding Child Custody After Establishing Paternity
Once the court documents a child’s official parentage, a custody battle between unwed parents will function almost identically to a custody battle between married or divorcing parents. The court’s first priority is the child’s best interests, and the judge handling the case will review each parent’s financial status, living situation, past criminal record, and parental responsibilities.
The judge will likely want to rule in favor of an arrangement that includes minimal disruption to the child’s typical schedule. If the parents live separately in different school districts, the judge will likely consider each school district’s overall rating and proximity to the parents’ homes to decide which school would be the best fit for the child. The court will sometimes take a child’s preference into account if the child can articulate his or her thoughts on the matter.
Unwed parents do not go through the divorce process (when divorcing parents would typically decide child custody), so they can instead draw up a mutually agreeable child custody agreement that includes visitation rights as well as legal and physical custody. For example, the judge may award physical custody to both parents, but only one parent may receive legal custody and have the authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child.
Ultimately, unwed parents in a child custody battle need reliable legal representation to protect their personal rights as well as their rights to child custody. An attorney can help an unwed father establish paternity to secure his custody rights, or to help him fight an inaccurate allegation of paternity if necessary. Both unwed mothers and fathers can also reach mutually agreeable child custody and child support arrangements with the help of experienced family law attorneys.