If your family is going through a divorce or legal separation, child custody is most likely one of the most contested factors in your case. If you are a non-biological parent, such as a stepparent, caregiver or legal guardian, you have child custody rights in Colorado. Under state law, there are many circumstances where non-biological parents can be awarded custody and visitation rights. Protecting your legal rights in this situation may require assistance from a child custody attorney.
How is Custody Determined in Colorado?
There is no hard and fast rule for who gets child custody in a family law case. Instead, the courts determine custody on a case-by-case basis according to the best interests of the child (Colorado Revised Statutes Section 14-10-124). This means a judge will choose the arrangement that best protects the child’s physical, emotional and developmental well-being. In making this decision, a judge may look at many factors unique to the case, including:
The fitness of the child’s biological parents
The child’s emotional ties to both parents and other family members
The parents’ wishes
The child’s wishes, if old and mature enough
Which parent is most likely to allow the other to remain in contact with the child
Whether either parent has a history of substance abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, etc.
Overall, a court will rule on a child custody case based on what arrangement will be in a child’s best interests. If this is for a non-biological parent to obtain custody of a child, this is what the courts will decide. As there is a strong underlying notion that a child does best in the custody of his or her natural parents, however, fighting for custody as a non-biological parent or another family member can be difficult.
How to Protect Your Custody Rights as a Non-Biological Parent
You may have child custody rights as a non-biological parent in certain circumstances in Colorado. You or your attorney must prove, however, that you have either become a psychological parent to the child or that allocation of custody with you is what’s best for the child. There are two main scenarios where a non-biological parent has a standing right to file for custody under state law. In these situations, you can submit a request for both physical and legal child custody:
If you are legally the child’s guardian, such as a stepparent, adoptive parent or someone who has had physical custody of the child for at least six months.
If the child is currently not under the care of either biological parent, you can file for custody as any third party – even if you currently don’t have the child in your care.
Protect your rights to custody as a non-biological parent by hiring an attorney to represent you during this complicated type of case. An attorney can help you state your case before a judge, such as demonstrating that the child would be better off in your care. Your attorney can also help you refute allegations or evidence presented by a biological parent, if applicable. An attorney can guide you with trustworthy legal advice as to if and when you are eligible to request custody of a child.
Third-Party Custody Rights
If you are a relative other than a parent, you can also fight for custody. Certain third parties that have a relationship with the child have custody rights, in some situations. In Colorado, a relative such as a grandparent can initiate an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR) case to request custody at any time, even outside of a divorce or legal separation.
An APR has the power to award parenting time (physical custody), decision-making (legal custody), visitation and child support for minor children. This type of case can be critical for someone who is caring for a minor child but is not the child’s parent, as it can allow the individual the right to see and make important decisions for the child. For more information about how to handle a child custody case as a non-biological parent, contact an attorney in Fort Collins today.