Colorado Custody Laws for Unwed Parents

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.

Establishing Paternity

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.