Child Custody in Colorado
The intent of the Colorado legislature was to provide a statute that would put the best interests of the child as the basis for determination of child custody hearings. For this reason, a majority of Colorado judges prefer to rule in favor of joint custody over other types of custody. Colorado courts encourage frequent and continuing contact between the parents and the child. Joint legal custody provides both parents with the ability to be custodial parents of the child. The parents share the responsibilities of childrearing.
Joint physical custody means that both parents may have the child live in their residence at different times. The court may determine this to be a 50/50 split or can adjust the time-share depending upon the child’s needs. Sole physical custody, where the child only resides with one parent, may result upon the presentation of evidence to the court that the child would be in danger if the other parent were given physical custody.
Procedural Process of Child Custody in Colorado
Child custody is determined through the allocation of parental responsibilities. This will be brought into the court through a separation proceeding, such as a divorce. The parents each are to submit parenting plans, which detail the assignments of parental responsibility between the parents. Again, the primary consideration is the best interests of the child. If the parents fail to reach an agreement on their parenting plans or if the court determines that the plans are not sufficient, the court may create a parenting plan on its own. The court may also order the parents into mediation in order to better facilitate the creation of a proper parenting plan.
Child Custody Decisions in Colorado
The court makes determinations regarding the assignment of parenting time and the assignment of decision-making. Parenting time is given with regards to several factors. The main concern, as always, is the best interest of the child. The court will also look at: the wishes of the child’s parents, the wishes of the child if he or she is mature enough to express such opinion, the child’s relationship with each parent and other significant people in the child’s life, the child’s adjustment to home, school, and the community, the mental and physical health of all the parties involved, each parents ability to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent, whether the parents history with the child evidences a system of values, time commitment and mutual support, the physical distance between the parents’ homes, whether one parent has been a perpetrator of child abuse and/ or spousal abuse, and the ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of their own.
Assigning decision-making responsibility is equally important. The assignment reflects which parent the court views will make the best decisions for the child’s upbringing. These decisions include the child’s education, religion, health care, recreational activities, and others. Like custody, decision-making responsibility can be jointly given to both parents or solely given to one. Factors in determining the assignment of decision-making include: the best interest of the child, whether the parents can operate and make decisions together, whether the parents past pattern of involvement with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support that shows decision making that is supportive and positive, whether the mutual decision-making will help the parents have continuous and more frequent contact with the child, and whether each parent has any convictions for child or spousal abuse.
Visitation Rights for Parents without Primary Custody
Because Colorado courts prefer for there to be frequent and continuing contact between the parents and the child, they afford visitation rights (parenting time) to the parent who is not given primary physical custody. Typically, these rights will be granted based on factors such as the wishes of the parents, wishes of the child, the child’s adjustment to home, school, and the community, and the mental and physical health of the parties. Parenting time is not guaranteed, however. If there is evidence of child endangerment, a parent can be barred from parenting time. Convictions of child or spousal abuse, other violent crimes, alcohol-related driving convictions, and possibly other evidence of endangering activity where there was no conviction can evidence child endangerment.
Modification of Child Custody in Colorado
Since Colorado child custody is broken down into two assignments, there are two statutes dealing with the modification of each assignment. Parenting Time modification is located under C.R.S 14-10-129. The modification must first be shown to be within the best interest of the child. If the request for modification would result in a change in the majority residential parent (primary custodian), new facts must have arise from the time of the original decree and the parties must agree to the modification, the child’s integration into the moving party’s family must be with the consent of the other parent, the majority residential parent is seeking to relocate with the child, or the present environment endangers the child’s physical or emotional health and development. In order to restrict the other parents parenting time, the moving party must file a motion alleging that the child is in imminent physical or mental danger. Following this motion, there will be a seven day supervisory period of the accused parents parenting time, which is then followed by a hearing and ruling by the court.
Modification of decision-making responsibility must be accompanied by a change in circumstances making the modification necessary. The best interests of the child must be served and the decision-making ability can then only be modified if the parties agree to the modification, or the child has been integrated into the requesting party’s family with the consent of the other party and integration warrants change, or there was modification of parenting time which justifies the change, or one party consistently allowed the other to make unilateral decisions for the child, or the child in endangered by the current allocation either physically or mentally.
Non-compliance with Child Custody Order in Colorado
If there is non-compliance with an order, the parent wishing to ensure compliance must file a motion with the court alleging the non-compliance or the court may even do so itself. Within thirty days of the filing of the motion, the court may deny the motion, set the matter for a hearing, or require the parties to attend mediation. In the event that a hearing is ordered and the court finds non-compliance, the court may issue an order imposing addition terms and conditions to the previous order, modify the previous order to meet the best interests of the child, order either parent or both parents to join an education program, order the parties to participate in family counseling, order the violator to post bond or security to insure future compliance, order that make-up parenting time be provided for the aggrieved parent or child, order a finding that the non-complying parent schedule in contempt of court and impose fine or final sentence, an order imposing a civil fine on the non-compliant parent, an order scheduling a hearing for modification of the existing order, or any other order that may promote the best interests of the child.
Joint Custody in Colorado
Colorado courts prefer joint custody in order to promote frequent and continuing contact between the child and his or her parents. When determining joint custody, the courts consider whether the parents have the ability to make joint decisions, which show the promotion of values, whether each parents relationship with the child is encouraging and loving, and the effect of a split custody on the promotion of frequent and continuing contact between the parents and child.
Primary Custodial Parent Moving
Colorado courts have held the belief that if parents without primary care of the child can move out-of-state, so too can parents with primary care. In order to accomplish relocation, the primary custodian seeking relocation with the child, who will substantially change the geographical ties between the child and the other parent, must provide the other parent with written notice of the intent to move, the location where the party intends to reside, the reason for the move, and a proposed revised parenting plan.
At a relocation hearing, the court determines if removal is permissible based on: the reasons the party wishes to relocated with the child, the reasons opposing party objects, the history and quality of each parties relationship with the child, the educational opportunities the child will have following a move, the presence or absence of extended family following the relocation, the advantages of the child remaining with the primary custodian, whether a reasonable parenting time schedule can be accomplished following relocation, and any other factors which represent the best interest of the child.
Child’s Decision in Colorado
Colorado courts do take into consideration, the child’s wishes when it comes to a primary custodial parent. However, the child’s decision is not a guarantee of placement. The court will consider the child’s decision along with the child’s comprehension, maturity, and ability to make such an informed decision. The child’s decision will also be considered with the parent’s wishes, the mental and physical health of the parents, the parents proximity to one another, the parents abilities to place the child’s needs above his or her own and other factors based on the best interest of the child.
Rights of Grandparents in Colorado
Grandparents may seek court orders for contact and visitation rights only if the one of the following situations is present:
1. When the marriage of the grandchild’s parents has been declared invalid or dissolved or the court has entered a decree of legal separation
2. When the legal custody has been given to a party other than the parent, or the child has been placed outside of the home of the parent, excluding children placed in adoption.
3. When the grandchild’s parent, who is the child of the grandparent, has died.
Following one of these situations, the grandparent must file an affidavit for visitation. The grandparent must set forth facts and must notify the party who has legal custody of the child. If the child is adopted, the grandparents’ rights may automatically be terminated unless the child is in the legal custody of the natural parent. Visitation rights may be modified if the modification is in the best interest of the child.
Enforcement of Child Custody in Colorado
Non-compliance of a child custody order can be brought to the attention of the court by the filing of motion by the parent seeking compliance. The court may make the decision to deny or uphold enforcement. Upholding enforcement results in the court issuing an order imposing addition terms and conditions to the previous order, modify the previous order to meet the best interests of the child, order either parent or both parents to join an education program, order the parties to participate in family counseling, order the violator to post bond or security to insure future compliance, order that make-up parenting time be provided for the aggrieved parent or child, order a finding that the non-complying parent schedule in contempt of court and impose fine or final sentence, an order imposing a civil fine on the non-compliant parent, an order scheduling a hearing for modification of the existing order, or any other order that may promote the best interests of the child.