In the state of Colorado, the term custody is becoming less common. Instead of awarding custody in a divorce, Colorado statutes now legally use the term allocation of parental responsibilities or APR to refer to the conventional notions of child custody and visitation.
Custody, also known as the legal right to care for a child, was made up of two components: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody referred to which parent the child would primarily live with, while legal custody referred to the authority of each parent to make major decisions pertaining to the child’s needs.
The allocation of parental responsibilities is comprised of two components: The division of parenting time between the two parents, and the sharing or division of parental decision making. Parenting time refers to what time and how often a parent has a child. Decision-making, on the other hand, refers to whether one parent has sole authority to make major decisions pertaining to the child or both parents are to make major decisions jointly. The parenting time schedule and distribution of authority for parental decision-making is outlined in a parenting plan, which becomes an order of the court.
When it comes to parenting time in Colorado, there is no presumption for a 50-50 division. Instead, the state court judge determines the schedule for the children based on what is in the children’s best interest considering the particular divorce or legal separation at hand. No formula is followed, and the court instead takes into account the specific needs of the children whose parents are getting divorced.
In the past, a “tender-years doctrine” favored mothers over fathers when it came to child custody cases. Today, Colorado courts must be gender neutral when making decisions on parenting time. They must not favor either mothers or fathers when deciding on how a child’s time is to be divided between the parents. The judge must also not consider a parent’s behavior if the behavior does not impact his or her relationship with the child.
Courts may decide to require both parents to make joint decisions in some cases, or require a specific parent to make all major decisions. In some cases, the court may even divide the decision making between both parents. A mother, for instance, may be required to make all decisions pertaining to education and health, while the father may be required to make decisions on extracurricular activities and religious upbringing. Minor day-to-day decisions are typically made by the parent who is with the child at the given time.
Colorado law supports co-parenting and keeping both parents regularly involved in the lives of their children after divorce as it is typically in everyone’s best interest. As such, the statute urges parents to share child-rearing rights and responsibilities, as well as encourages love, affection, and contact between the children and both parents.
However, Colorado laws takes into great consideration a child’s safety as well as mental, physical, and emotional needs. If joint custody is not in the child’s best interest, then courts must make a different decision. When determining a child’s best interest in terms of parenting time, the following factors must be considered:
- The wishes of the parents;
- The child’s wishes for parenting time, if he or she is mature enough;
- The relationships of the child with his or her parents, brothers and sisters, and anyone else who impacts the child’s best interests significantly;
- Past patterns of parental involvement in the child’s life;
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community;
- The physical and mental health of the child and both parents;
- Physical proximity of the parental homes;
- Parental ability to prioritize the child;
- Parental ability to encourage a relationship with the other parent, except when violence, neglect or abuse is involved.
When domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse is involved, judges must refer to the law in determining what is both best and safe for the children.
When determining how decision-making responsibilities should be allocated, Colorado judges consider the above-mentioned factors for parenting time, as well as other relevant factors such as:
- Credible evidence of the ability of both parents to cooperate and make joint decisions;
- Whether past involvement of the parents with the child suggest a system of time commitment, values, and mutual support that reflect an ability for both decision makers to provide a positive, nourishing relationship with the child;
- Whether allocating mutual decision-making responsibility on one or multiple issues will promote frequent, continuous contact between the child and each of the parties.
If you are a parent facing critical parental responsibilities, consult an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible. A knowledgeable and aggressive attorney can fight for you.