Whether you are seeking a divorce and have children or want to make your current custody legally binding, it's important to have a qualified, Colorado Springs lawyer on your side. Before entering this process, you may have some concerns about the potential outcomes of your case.
Understanding the factors that determine the allocation of parental responsibilities can help prepare you for this difficult time. What are the parental rights the court can assign? What are the most common parenting schedules? Can agreements be modified? For any concerns about your specific case, schedule a consultation with The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates to discuss it with a Colorado Springs family law attorney.
Is Colorado a 50/50 Child Custody State?
The belief that mothers receive preferential treatment over fathers in child custody disputes is an outdated misconception. Sure, it was true for a time, but that is no longer the case. Although Colorado has no specific child custody laws that require 50/50 allocation, studies have shown that 50/50 is the most commonly awarded schedule in the state. Judges are most concerned with the well-being of the child. In most cases, what's best for the child is equal time with both parents.
How Physical Custody is Decided in Colorado
Physical custody, commonly referred to as parenting time, is the amount of time the child is physically with each parent. There are multiple arrangements for the allocation of parenting time. Each parent could receive anywhere from 0% to 100% of physical custody depending on the circumstances. Sole custody is when one parent has full responsibility for parenting time. In this case, the other parent may be awarded visitation rights. Joint custody refers to a schedule in which both parents share physical custody.
Of course, the court always tries to act in the best interest of the child. In order to do so, they will consider numerous factors including:
- The preferences of the parents
- The preferences of the child (if they are old enough and mature enough to have reasonable wishes)
- The relationship of the child with each parent, siblings, and other friends or family that could affect their well-being
- The child's relationship to their home, community, and school. And the child's ability to adjust to changes in those areas.
- The mental health and physical health of the caretakers and other persons in the home as it relates to the child's development
- The presence of child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence
- The parent's ability to cooperate with the court and with each other
- The location of the residence of each parent
- The ability of each parent to provide for the child, not just financially, but also with time and emotional support
- The health of the home.
The court is entitled to use these factors and anything else they deem relevant to the case in order to determine the best parenting time schedule.
How Legal Custody is Decided in Colorado
Legal custody also referred to as decision-making responsibility, is a parent's right to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes decisions about education, health care and medical care decisions, choice of religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities.
Just as with parenting time, decision-making responsibility can be given solely to one parent, primarily to one, or can be shared equally. To determine this responsibility, the judge will consider many of the same factors as with parenting time as well as a few others:
- The structure of the responsibilities of the parent prior to the custody case
- The parent's ability to cooperate on decisions
- Each parent's pattern of involvement with the child's care
- What decision-making responsibilities would be required based on the physical custody structure
- What will foster the best relationship between the child and each parent
The judge will always decide on an allocation that supports the best interest of the child. What will create the most supportive environment? If one parent is deemed unfit, the other party will be awarded sole custody.
Learn More: How to Get Primary Custody After a Divorce
Child Custody Modification
Child custody agreements designated by the court can be modified. One parent may file a petition to make alterations to the mandate. They must be able to prove a significant change in circumstances to do so. A judge will not take kindly to attempts to make changes due to petty or personal reasons between the parents. If one parent files just because they are angry and want to deprive the other parent of contact without just cause, they could harm their own parenting rights.
Valid changes in circumstances include dramatic changes to one party's financial resources, an injury or illness in the child or the parent, unaddressed physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child, relocation of a parent, and other major life events. The presence of domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, or criminal history of a parent is taken very seriously and can be used as evidence to modify a custody arrangement.
If you are dealing with any of the above scenarios it is important to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer as soon as possible to make the changes necessary to keep your child safe and supported.
What Is Considered an Unfit Parent in Colorado?
In general, a family law judge wants the child to have as much contact as possible with each parent. However, in situations where one parent is deemed unfit, the court will award sole custody to the other party. In cases where both parents are seen as unfit, custody will be awarded to a family member, guardian, or to the state. Factors that are used to determine whether a parent is fit or not include:
- History of child abuse, child neglect, or domestic violence
- History of substance abuse
- Presence of a criminal activity or present incarceration
- Mental illness that threatens the safety of the child
Though some disabilities may affect the capacity of a parent to provide adequate care for a child, disability alone does not qualify a parent as unfit. These and any other factors that indicate past or potential physical, emotional or mental endangerment of the child can be used to help a judge determine whether the parents are fit or unfit.
When Should I File for Child Custody?
Child custody hearings are a mandatory part of the divorce process. Child custody cases should also be filed if the parents are unmarried and would like a legally binding allocation of parental responsibilities. Whether divorcing or unmarried, the parents may work together to create a plan through mediation with the assistance of legal representation.
When the two parties cannot come to a compromise, they may file for a court-ordered arrangement. In the event of suspected child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, filing a child custody case should happen as soon as possible to protect the safety of the child and yourself.
No matter the specifics of your situation, it's imperative to seek legal counsel. A child custody attorney will help you navigate the process and build a case that will lead to the best possible outcome for your child. At our family law firm in Colorado Springs, we pride ourselves on strong attorney-client relationships. We understand any changes to the family structure can be stressful and emotional and should be treated with delicate care. Contact us today to book a consultation and begin your journey for the well-being of you and your child.