Colorado, like most states, places the best interests of children as its highest priority when deciding on family court matters, particularly in child custody cases. While some parents assume that a chronic illness makes a parent less suitable for primary custody or a substantial amount of parenting time, the courts consider continued frequent contact with both parents and minimal disruption to a child’s life as in a child’s best interest—this includes parents with chronic illnesses. In 2018, Colorado courts addressed concerns over biases and pre-conceived beliefs regarding parents with physical limitations and their ability to care for their children in the Family Preservation for Parents With Disabilities Act.
Does a Parent’s Illness or Medical Condition Impact Custody?
Since the 2018 act which addresses the issue of disability, chronic illness, and child custody cases, the courts put protections in place for parents with physical limitations. This act does the following:
Prohibits denying or restricting a parent’s custody based on their disability without a clear basis on how the limitation impacts the parent’s ability to care for the child
Ensures that the court considers the available accommodations and benefits to help a parent with chronic illness or disability to care for the child
Determines that welfare agencies provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled parents fulfill their parental duties
If a formerly healthy and active parent sustains an injury or suffers an illness that impacts his or her physical ability, Colorado courts are extremely averse to making modifications to existing custody orders based on the parent’s new physical limitations and instead explore options for providing any necessary accommodations for the parent. Only in cases of extreme disability or mental illness that significantly impact child safety or a parent’s ability to provide care would the court consider a request for modification of child support orders.
Parental Mental Illness and Child Custody
Family courts take allegations of parental mental instability seriously since they must make all decisions based on the child’s best interests. The courts may order an evaluation of the parent by a mental health expert to determine the parent’s fitness if one parent makes the request. The evaluation helps the court to understand the parent’s disorder and its potential impacts on the parent’s ability to care for the child, including looking for recognizable signs of neglect, abuse, or patterns of domestic violence. Some disorders the court considers for evaluations include:
Alcoholism or drug abuse
The court believes all parents should have a fair chance to parent their children. A mental illness diagnosis does not disqualify a parent from custody or shared parenting time, but the courts will examine the parent’s treatment to see how the parent addresses their mental health problem. A parent who is in counseling, on recommended medications, or receiving treatment may be looked at much more favorably than one who has refused treatment.
What About the Impact of a Child’s Chronic Illness on Custody Cases?
When a child has a chronic illness, the court considers it as a relevant factor in determining child custody and parenting time schedules. The court may carefully weigh the following matters before making a decision:
Has one parent been the child’s primary caregiver and manager of the child’s treatment, healthcare appointments, and educational needs?
Does the child have a great deal of medical equipment that requires moving back and forth with the child?
How far apart do the parents live?
What is the ability of each parent to prioritize their child’s needs over their own
Do the parents have a shared history of supporting the child’s needs?
Is the child able to adjust to a new setting?
Because a child with a chronic illness or disability has needs and requirements that extend beyond the basics of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education, the court may take a close look at the above-determining factors as well as the standard ones in child custody cases.