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How Are Child Custody Decisions Made in Colorado?


If you and your ex-spouse share children from your marriage, you will need to determine child custody, visitation and support during your divorce case. Child custody – called parental responsibilities in Colorado – may be the most important aspect of your divorce. Many people hire child custody attorneys for assistance. Learn more about how child custody decisions are made in Colorado to better understand your rights and legal options as a parent.

Can I Make My Own Child Custody Plan?

Yes. You and your ex-spouse can work together to create your own custody arrangement, also known as a parenting plan. First, you will need to determine legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions for your child, such as what school or church your child attends. Physical custody is the physical care of the child. Both parents may share both types of custody (the most common scenario). However, it is also possible for one parent to have legal custody but not physical custody, and vice versa.

What Does “The Best Interests of the Child” Mean?

If you cannot compromise with your ex-spouse to create a child custody arrangement that is fair and reasonable, you will have to take the matter to a judge in Colorado. Despite the common misconception, a judge does not automatically grant custody to the mother. According to Colorado Revised Statutes Section 14-10-124(3), a judge must determine a custody arrangement based on the best interests of the child. This means what is best for the child’s physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.

In general, the law holds that co-parenting, where the child stays in frequent and continuing contact with both parents, is in the best interests of a child. If this is not safe or plausible, however, a judge may allocate parental responsibilities solely to one parent. A judge may also order joint custody, where both parents share custody of a child. The arrangement will depend on many factors but will always work toward one main goal: to serve the child’s best interests.

What Factors Will a Judge Consider?

Child custody decisions during a divorce are extremely complicated. Your case may require an in-depth look at your family life, home, relationships, psychological state, background, job and many other factors to determine the best custody arrangement. Some of the factors that a judge in Colorado will consider when determining parental responsibilities include:

  • The emotional bond between the child and parent
  • How much the child is attached to his or her home, school and community
  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • Social factors, such as a parent’s lifestyle
  • Each parent’s living situation
  • How far away the parents live from each other
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • Any history of criminal accusations or drug or alcohol abuse
  • Domestic violence accusations or convictions
  • The age and needs of the child
  • The child’s preferences, if old enough and mature enough

A judge will often enlist the assistance of child health and wellness professionals, such as therapists, to determine the best interests of the child. The professional may interview you or your child. You may need to undergo a psychological evaluation, as well, if your spouse or a judge requests one. Overall, a judge will make a custody arrangement based on what is best for the child’s health, safety, development and emotional needs.

Can I Modify a Child Custody Agreement?

It is difficult, but not impossible, for a parent to modify a custody order in Colorado. However, the courts require a valid and compelling reason to make the change. For example, one parent’s situation must have substantially changed, such as the parent moving out of state or going to jail. Additionally, the parent must demonstrate that the existing custody order is no longer in a child’s best interests. For more information or assistance with a child custody matter in Fort Collins, contact an experienced attorney.

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