Child custody is one of the most complex aspects of divorce. It is a highly emotional matter deciding who will be physically and legally responsible for your child. The courts of Colorado do not take custody decisions lightly. They analyze many factors and will hear from both sides of the case before determining what custody arrangement is best for the child. Learning what to expect from a custody battle in Colorado can help you prepare for what is to come.
What Are Parental Responsibilities?
Parental responsibility is the term Colorado now uses for child custody. Colorado has two types of parental responsibility: physical (parenting time) and legal (parenting responsibilities). Parenting time describes the physical care of the child at a parent’s home. Legal parental responsibility is the right to make important decisions as to the child’s religion, education and health care. Most custody cases will involve both parents sharing both types of responsibilities. It is possible, though rare, for the courts to assign one parent only one type of custody and not the other.
Factors Involved in Custody Decisions
As is the case in all states, Colorado bases custody decisions during a divorce case on one main priority: the child’s best interest. During your fight for custody of your child after a divorce, you or your child custody lawyer will have the opportunity to present arguments and evidence as to why your desired custody arrangement is best for your child. The courts will assess many factors to understand what will benefit the child the most.
The fitness of each parent. The courts will analyze each parent’s background and history, including any history of drug or alcohol abuse, criminal convictions, domestic violence charges (even if not convicted), and mental health disorders.
The relationships between the child and each parent. A judge will assess the child’s relationship with each parent, as well as with his or her siblings and grandparents, to determine what would be in the child’s best interest.
The child’s establishment in a location. A judge will look at how established the child is in his or her community, including school, church and after-school activities, as well as how well the child might adapt to a new environment.
The child’s wishes. If the child is old and mature enough to have an independent opinion (unbiased by a parent’s), a judge may consider the child’s own wishes in terms of where he or she wants to live.
You can improve your odds of attaining the child custody arrangement you desire by hiring a lawyer. A divorce lawyer will know what to say and do to position your case in its best light. A lawyer knows what a judge is looking for when assessing each parent in terms of fitness. You can trust your attorney to do and say what is right for your case while you focus on building a better future for you and your family after divorce.
Common Custody Arrangements
While the courts recognize co-parenting is not appropriate in all situations, they also believe that, in most circumstances, frequent and continuing contact between the child and each parent is in the best interest of all parties (Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-124). An exception is if the case involves physical, sexual or emotional abuse by one parent, in which case the courts may decide the child is better off 100% in the care of the other parent.
Joint custody is more common than sole custody in Colorado. Joint custody is a split arrangement that gives both parents physical custody some of the time. Some joint custody arrangements are 50/50, but most use another type of division for practical reasons. One parent may have the child every weekend, for example. Sole custody gives one parent 100% of physical custody (and often legal responsibility). The other parent may or may not have visitation rights in a sole custody agreement.