A child’s best interests. That simple sentence says it all. No matter if a child custody matter is decided by negotiation and agreement between parents and their attorneys or through a the family court judge’s decision, the key emphasis in any custody case should be arriving at a remedy that is in the child’s best interests.
The Colorado legislature has made it clear through law that all determinations involving children must be made according to the child’s best interests. To put it another way, this approach must be followed when creating a parenting plan and in deciding all matters pertaining to custody, visitation, and decision-making. The goals are to encourage and develop a child’s happiness, their emotional development, their mental well-being, and their physical security.
In general, it is in a child’s best interests to keep regular and frequent contact with each parent. Instilling a loving and close relationship with them is of vital importance, as well as having both parents involved in the child’s upbringing. There are times, though, where keeping such relationships on track may be a difficult, especially while trying to settle a child custody dispute.
While it can be difficult to judge what the best interests of a child are in all cases, there are certain elements commonly considered in almost all custody cases in Colorado. These include:
- Permanency of a stable atmosphere at home, at school, and in the community
- A child’s relationship with each parent before the divorce
- Ability of a parent to put the child’s needs ahead of his or her own
- Willingness of each parent to support the other parent’s relationship with the child
- Each parents’ living situation
- Physical and mental health of the child’s parents
- Opportunity for interaction and support from grandparents and other extended family members
- If the child is with special needs, how each parent takes care of these needs
- The child’s age and sex
- Religious or cultural considerations
- History and evidence of domestic violence at home
- History and evidence of parental use of emotional abuse or excessive discipline
- History and evidence of parental alcohol, drug, or child abuse
It can be especially hard to decide on a child’s best interests when one parent thinks there is endangerment. The court must be presented with convincing proof that endangerment exists at home, such as by a police report attesting to domestic violence or drug abuse.
A child in Colorado may only make the final determination on parenting time when they become 18 years old. Unless they are legally emancipated, children under 18 years of age are not allowed to make their own decisions on parenting time. One must be aware as well that courts are often hesitant to interview children regarding their wishes. The courts instead key in on other things and perhaps the physical expressions of the child’s wishes.