What Does It Mean When People Say Colorado Doesn’t Provide for “Child Custody”?
Since February 1, 1999, the State of Colorado does not recognize the concept of “child custody” and instead provides for Parental Responsibilities, Decision Making and Parenting Time.
Is There Such a Thing as Sole Parental Responsibilities and Decision Making?
Yes, in rare cases, Colorado courts can award Sole Parental Responsibilities and Decision Making to one party only.
What Is More Typically Ordered in Cases Involving Children?
More typically, judges in Colorado award joint/shared parental responsibilities, decision making and parenting time.
If the Judge Orders Joint Parental Responsibilities, Decision Making, and Shared Parenting Time, Does This Mean 50/50 Parenting Time for Each Parent?
No. Joint parental responsibilities and decision making refers to how decisions are made, not the amount of parenting time.
Why Kinds of Decisions Are Included if the Judge Orders Shared Decision Making?
Typically all major decisions concerning the health, development, and welfare of the children. This includes but is not limited to medical decisions, dental decisions, therapy decisions, religious decisions, extracurricular decisions, education decisions, camps, tutoring.
If We Have Joint Parental Responsibilities and Decision Making, Do I Have to Call My Co-parent Before I Can Take My Child to the Emergency Room?
No. In the event of an emergency, it is expected that you take the child to the emergency room and call the other parent from the hospital. If it is not an emergency requiring an emergency room visit, then Colorado judges tend not to see it as an emergency.
What if My Co-Parent Is Using Drugs or Alcohol During His/Her Parenting Time?
If your co-parent is doing something that is putting the child at risk of harm to his/her physical health or emotional development, then you can file an emergency motion to restrict parenting time. This type of hearing results in an immediate cessation of parenting time for the endangering parent and a hearing must be held within fourteen days. If the judge finds that the allegations are not sustained, then attorney fees can be awarded. While the statute says attorney fees shall be awarded, the judges don’t always do this.
What if My Co-Parent Is a Domestic Violence Perpetrator?
One of the factors the court needs to consider in evaluating parental responsibilities, decision making, and parenting time is whether one of the parents has committed an act of domestic violence. If a parent is found to have committed an act of domestic violence, then the court shall not order joint parental responsibilities and decision making over the objection of the other party, unless the court finds that the parents are able to make joint decisions together. The statute says nothing about how much parenting time each parent should get, so even a parent found to have committed an act of domestic violence against the other parent may have 50/50 parenting or may be the primary residential caregiver.
Do Judges in Colorado Favor 50/50 Parenting Plans?
Yes. If you are unable to resolve your parenting issues and submit the dispute to a judge, in Colorado you are likely to receive an order for 50/50 parenting time. Considerations include the distance between the parents’ residences, school child or children attend, involvement of the parents, hours available for parenting given employment requirements, etc. The statute spelling out the required factors is set forth in Section 14-10-124, C.R.S.
While Colorado judges favor 50/50 parenting plans, they may not order it right away. If children are young, they may do a step up plan where they start with one overnight a week and work up to a 50/50 when the child is 3 or 4. Colorado does not have a presumption of 50/50 parenting time, but many judges believe that it is best to work up to such a schedule to keep both parents actively involved.
Older child development research suggested that prior to 2 ½ children should not be away overnight from their primary caregiver. More current research stresses that children adapt differently and that some children, even prior to divorce, spent significant time away from the primary caregiver at daycare and/or grandparents. It’s more important to focus on what this specific individual child is used to and how involved both parents were rather than to overly fall back on social science research.
Another recent development is the increase in cost of rent. Many families were struggling to get by when they had two parents and one housing expense. With divorce, both parents will have a housing expense. Colorado’s recent growth in population is also creating more congested roadways such that a drive from Downtown Denver to Castle Rock might only be 30 miles, but could take an hour and a half on a school day morning.
What Happens if My Co-Parent and I Can’t Agree on Something Important?
In Colorado there is something called a decision maker who can be appointed by the court to end a dispute. This person is granted authority to make a decision after hearing both sides. Such an appointment requires an agreement by the parties to delegation of this authority. Pursuant to Section 14-10-128.3, C.R.S. Appointment of a decision maker cannot be for more than two years. This is different from a parenting coordinator pursuant to Section 14-10-128.1, C.R.S. A parenting coordinator has no decision making authority and can only attempt to assist the parents in reaching an agreement.
Can I Move Out of State With My Children After the Court Issues Orders?
Not without the other parent’s written authorization or a court order. Upon the filing of a divorce case or a case for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities when the parents were never married, a mandatory injunction issues preventing removal of the minor child(ren) from the State without permission of the other party or a court order.
Once final orders enter, a relocation with the child to a residence that substantially changes the geographical ties between the child and the other party requires permission of the other party or a court order. A parent must notify the other parent of the proposed relocation and the following factors are to be evaluated by the court in deciding whether to approve the request to move pursuant to Section 14-10-129(2)(c), C.R.S.:
The reasons why the party wishes to relocate with the child;
The reasons why the opposing party is objecting to the proposed relocation;
The history and quality of each party’s relationship with the child since any previous parenting time order;
The educational opportunities for the child at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
The presence of absence of extended family at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
Any advantages of the child remaining with the primary caregiver;
The anticipated impact of the move on the child;
Whether the court will be able to fashion a reasonable parenting timeschedule if the change requested is permitted; and
Any other relevant factors bearing on the best interests of the child.
Are Mental Health or Other Professionals Ever Used to Assist the Court in Determining the Best Interests of the Child(ren)?
Yes, frequently. There are two types of professionals who can be appointed by the court to do an evaluation and submit a report to the court with recommendations concerning the best interests of the child(ren). Those people are Child and Family Investigators (C.F.I. pursuant to Section 14-10-116.5, C.R.S). and Parental Responsibility Evaluators (P.R.E. pursuant to Section 14-10-127, C.R.S).
A CFI may be a lawyer or a mental health professional. Currently, Colorado law provides that their maximum retainer is $2750. This does not mean that their fee is $2750, and most bill on an hourly basis. A CFI may require additional funds to complete their evaluation, but they can only get this if it is approved by the Court. Since instituting this cap, many mental health professionals stopped providing CFI services. A CFI is required to do an analysis of a very specific legal question and to provide a recommendation to the court on that limited issue.
A PRE must be done by a mental health professional. Such evaluations usually include psychological testing and are often not authorized unless a court believes there is a specific mental health issue which needs professional assessment. If the only question is formulating a parenting plan in the best interests of the child(ren) then a CFI is usually capable of doing that. If there is a history of mental health challenges, substance abuse, domestic violence, or complicated history, then a PRE might be useful to the court. Such evaluations typically start at over $10,000 and can cost upward of $40,000 by the time they are done. The statute dealing with appointment of a PRE specifically requires the moving party to articulate why a CFI would not be sufficient.
What if You Disagree With the Professional’s Evaluation? Can You Get a Second Opinion?
Maybe. It would likely be at your expense. Typically judges order parents to share the cost, especially of a CFI. If you are seeking a second opinion of a CFI, you would likely be responsible for the entire cost.
How Does the Court Pick the CFI or PRE?
The judicial districts in Colorado have lists of CFIs who are approved to handle cases in that jurisdiction. Judges often have certain CFIs that they especially like or don’t care for. If a CFI always needs extra money to complete their evaluation, the judge will likely notice that and may or may not agree to appoint them. It is important for the Attorney to contact the CFI and make sure that they are currently taking new cases before requesting that individual to be appointed.