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Getting the Legal Help You Need For Your Fort Collins Child Custody Dispute

Deciding on fair and reasonable child custody arrangements (now referred to as parenting time in Colorado) that are in the best interests of the children may be the most stressful aspect of your divorce. Therefore, it is important that you have an experienced Fort Collins family law attorney who understands how judges make these decisions and how emotionally wrenching child custody matters can be for all concerned. Fort Collins child custody attorney, Stephen Vertucci, can guide you through the decision-making process, help you understand the pros and cons of various custody arrangements, help you make an enforceable child support plan, develop strategies to place you in the best position to meet your goals, and negotiate an agreement that best suits your needs and desires and those of every member of your family.

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.

Fort Collins Child Custody, Legal Custody, and Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

One of the most difficult things to consider when a couple with children divorce is how the needs of the children will be best met following the breakup of the family. What was once termed “child custody” is now referred to as “parental responsibilities” under Colorado law, which is really a more accurate description of what needs to be determined. The dissolution of a marriage is not a dissolution of either parent’s responsibilities toward their children. The question is, when parents are living separately, how are those responsibilities divided and what rights does each parent have to make decisions affecting their children and to spend time with them?

In an ideal world, parents should be able to put their differences behind them and work out a plan to share rights and responsibilities as well as time with the kids. Emotions often run high and it is sometimes difficult for divorcing parents to focus on a solution that offers the least disruption, stress, and unhappiness in the children’s lives. The Fort Collins child custody attorneys at the Law Office of Stephen Vertucci understands how difficult this time can be, which is why we make it our mission to make the process as smooth and conflict-free as possible.

When you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse just can’t seem to come together, a compassionate and experienced child custody attorney who can develop strategies with you to place you in the best position to reach your goals, who can focus on negotiating a compromise that meets your needs and those of your kids, may have long lasting benefits to you, your children, and your case.

The Colorado family court will have the final word on how parental responsibilities will be shared. If you and your spouse can agree, the court will usually go along with your decision. It is nearly always preferable for the parents to work these things out on their own, rather than having them determined by a judge who doesn’t know your children or your family. Parental rights and responsibilities that must be settled will include:

  • Who makes or participates in major life decisions—such as schooling, religion, and health-related decisions.
  • Where the children will live and what part of their time will be spent with each parent.
  • The decisions affecting child custody must be those deemed by the court to be in the children’s best interest.

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Types of Colorado Child Custody Plans

There are several different child custody agreements – now legally referred to as “parental responsibilities” – possible in any divorce case with children. Learning the types of child custody can help your family prepare for what may lie ahead. Always speak to a divorce attorney about child custody to learn more about your particular situation. At the heart of all custody agreements is what will be best for the child or children.

Primary Responsibilities

Colorado no longer has “sole custody.” Instead the state uses primary residential and decision-making responsibilities. The courts may give primary responsibilities to one parent if it determines that one parent is unfit or incapable of having any responsibilities toward the child. The courts may grant primary responsibility if one parent struggles with drug/alcohol addiction or if there is evidence of child abuse. Even if one parent has primary residential responsibility, the non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights depending on whether the court thinks it in the best interest of the child. The court may order supervised or unsupervised visitation.

There are two types of sole responsibilities – residential and decision-making. Sole decision-making responsibility means that one parent has full authority to make important life decisions for the child, such as where the child goes to school, the child’s religion, healthcare, and everyday activities. Sole residential responsibility means the child will live with only one parent or caregiver. This arrangement can benefit children by not uprooting them and keeping them on a set routine. The courts may grant sole responsibilities of a child to one parent if it’s in the best interests of the child.

Joint Responsibilities

If a parent has less than 90 overnight visitations with a child, the other parent has primary parental responsibility. More than 90 overnight visitations is joint responsibility, in which parents share residential and decision-making tasks. Two parents may share overnight visitation with a child equally or in a different agreed-upon arrangement. Parents often work out joint responsibility arrangements between themselves, either voluntarily or through a mediator or attorney. Download the Colorado Parenting Plan worksheet if you’re interested in creating your own arrangement with your spouse.

Factors Considered by the Court in Determining Child Custody – What Is Best For The Children?

If you have to bring your divorce case to the Colorado family court, it will use several important criteria to determine child custody. It’s important to contact a Fort Collins divorce lawyer to guide you through the legal process. The number one doctrine determining matters in child custody cases is the “best interests of the child.” All states have their own list of factors that a judge considers to figure out what custody arrangement would serve the child’s best interests. Here’s what goes into the decision-making process in Colorado:

  1. Wishes of Parents and Child – A judge doesn’t completely ignore the wishes of the parents. Each parent will have the opportunity to say his or her piece and make a claim to parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. If the child is old enough (around 12 years old or older) to form a reasonable opinion, the judge will take the child’s wishes into consideration. Again, all child custody questions come down to one main answer – the child’s best interests. A judge can create a variety of different custody agreements to accommodate the child’s individual needs and concerns. Things such as a history of abuse might bar one parent from custody or even visitation rights, because it signals to the judge that the child might be at risk in this parent’s custody. A judge will carefully look at all relevant factors, decide what would be best for the child, and create a child custody agreement.
  2. Child’s Relationship with Guardians -The judge won’t necessarily ask a child which parent he or she would rather live with – although they have the right to, but the judge will take each parent’s relationship with the child into consideration. One parent may not have been as involved as the other parent, meaning the child would be more comfortable in primary custody with the more involved parent. If it appears that a parent is suddenly closer to a child during a divorce just to “win out” over the other parent, the judge will notice this and probably rule in the other parent’s favor. When the change of heart is sincere, the judge may award shared custody of children.
  3. Child’s Adjustment to Surroundings – If possible, a judge will keep the child in the home, school, and church he or she already knows. Uprooting a child during a divorce is often not in the child’s best interests, and judges typically try to prevent doing so if at all possible. Keeping the child in a comfortable community may play a role in who gets the most parental time with the child.
  4. Best Arrangement for the Child – Joint custody is a common solution the courts will deliver to keep a child close to both parents. A joint custody agreement involves both parents sharing decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. A 50/50 time division is uncommon, as it can be difficult to implement. Instead, the court will often award something like a 20/80 split, where children stay primarily with one parent during the week and another parent on the weekends (or a similar arrangement).
  5. What Makes the Child Safe – The Colorado courts have the power to decide exactly which responsibilities each parent will have. For example, one parent may have the right to decide a child’s religion and education, while another is in control of healthcare decisions. These split arrangements are uncommon but can occur depending on the circumstances of the case. Sole custody to one parent is also rare, but the courts might find it appropriate in a case involving child abuse.
  6. Living Situation of Both Parents – The judge will also look at where the child would be living with each parent. In some cases, the judge may rule for the parent who is staying in the family home to have custody, because this is the environment with which the child is the most familiar. The judge is mainly looking for a safe, productive, and comfortable setting for the child. If you’re living on your friend’s couch during your divorce proceedings, the judge will likely not give you custody. If you and your ex-spouse live close nearby to one another, this can affect the arrangement. The judge might allow a more flexible time-sharing plan if there is not a large distance between the two homes.
  7. Family History – The child’s best interests are at the heart of everything a judge will decide during divorce proceedings. At the end of the day, this is what the judge will look at to make decisions, regardless of all other factors. One factor that could affect the child’s well-being is a family history of neglect, abuse, violence, and drug or alcohol use. The judge will examine each parent’s past behaviors and take them into account. If one parent is a convicted criminal, has not been in the child’s life, or has a history of violence – the judge will likely award the other parent sole custody of the child. Sole custody gives one parent the right to make the decisions for the child, such as where the child will live and go to school.

Every child custody battle is different. The one constant is that the judge will rule in the child’s best interests. Sole custody, joint custody, and supervised visits are all possible outcomes and the choice will come down to what the judge thinks is best for the child.

If you are going through a divorce and need help establishing a parenting schedule or need representation against your soon-to-be-ex spouse, contact the experts in family law at the Law Office of Stephen Vertucci. Call (970) 900-1800 to schedule your consultation with a Fort Collins child custody attorney.

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