Colorado child custody: allocation of parental responsibilities

Colorado custody decisions must be in the best interests of children.

Divorce in and of itself is difficult enough, but when the couple has children, ending the marriage is more complicated and usually more emotional. A divorcing parent has concerns about the future well being of the children as well as about the parent's legal rights to physical custody and parenting time, and to make decisions that impact the children's lives.

These concepts under Colorado law are known collectively as the allocation of parental responsibilities, which includes both parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. Parenting time is known traditionally by the term physical custody, meaning which parent provides care and control of the child or the primary residence as well as visitation, the time with the child allotted to the parent with whom the child does not primarily live.

Decision-making responsibility is known in most states and historically as legal custody, meaning which parent has the power to make major life decisions for the child like those concerning health, education, religion and so on. In Colorado, the judge may grant this power jointly between the parents, in which case they must work together to make decisions, solely to one parent, or in a more complex division of responsibility in which each kind of decision is assigned either solely to one or jointly.

When a state court judge decides how to allocate these responsibilities, he or she is required by law to do so only in the best interests of the child. The best-interest standard applies to matters of child custody and visitation in every state in the nation.

The judge is not to consider a parent's behavior that does not impact his or her relationship with the child, nor is the judge to favor either parent because of the parent's gender.

Colorado law declares a public policy that it is usually in everyone's best interest to encourage co-parenting and keep both parents regularly involved in their children's lives after divorce. To that end, the custody statute encourages parents to "share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing and ... encourage the love, affection, and contact between the children and the parents."

Of course, despite this official preference for joint custody, if it is not in the child's best interest, a different decision in the child's best interest is required. Colorado statute says that in determining a child's best interests, the court should give "paramount consideration to the child's safety and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs of the child ..."

To determine the child's best interest regarding parenting time, the court must consider all relevant factors, including nine specific factors:

  • Parental wishes
  • Child's wishes if sufficiently mature
  • Relationships between the child and parents, siblings and anyone else who significantly impacts the child's best interests
  • Child's adjustment to "home, school, and community
  • Everyone's mental and physical health
  • Parental ability to encourage contact with the other parent, except in cases of violence, abuse or neglect
  • Past patterns of parental involvement with the child
  • Physical proximity of the parental homes
  • Parental ability to put the child first

In cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, or child abuse or neglect, the law contains detailed instructions for judges to follow in determining what will be best and safe for children vis-à-vis custody decisions.

This only introduces the themes of Colorado custody law and policy. Anyone facing custody matters should speak with an experienced family lawyer for advice and representation.

With offices in Parker and Colorado Springs, the attorneys of Susan Fuller & Associates, P.C., represent parents facing divorce in the Denver and Colorado Springs metropolitan areas.

Keywords: Colorado, child custody, parental responsibilities, divorce, physical custody, parenting time, legal custody, visitation, best interest, child, parent, factors, judge