Child custody battles can be emotionally and legally challenging for parents and children. In Colorado, the primary consideration in negotiating child custody is the child's best interests. However, several factors influence the court's decision, including the child custody agreement, parents' work schedules, parenting styles, and effective negotiation. This comprehensive guide will delve into the top five things to consider when determining a child custody agreement in Colorado. We will address these aspects while highlighting common pitfalls in child custody negotiations and the importance of child custody representation.
In Colorado law, child custody is actually referred to as allocation of parental responsibilities, or APR. This term is always used when deciding how parents will share time and decision-making, and for determining child support. For the sake of this article, we will be referring to it as “custody,” since that’s the most understood term outside of the courtroom. A Colorado custody agreement is a legal document that outlines how parents will share the rights and responsibilities of raising their children after their separation or divorce. It is important to note that a court must approve the agreement before it becomes legally binding.
It is also important to note that Colorado does not have “joint custody” or “sole custody”. Instead, the courts decide how parental responsibility is divided. You will either have primary parental responsibility or joint parental responsibility. If you (roughly) equally share in overnight visitation with the minor child, you have joint parental responsibility.
Colorado also divides residential responsibility from decision-making responsibility. Sole decision-making responsibility occurs when a parent makes all major decisions (education, religious, extracurricular, and medical) regarding the minor child without consulting with the other parent. Joint decision-making responsibility occurs when parents share the responsibility for those decisions. However, emergency medical decisions can always be made by either parent.
In Colorado, the overriding principle in child custody determinations is the child's best interests. The courts usually prioritize the child's physical, emotional, and psychological well-being above all else. The Child's Best Interests standard is a flexible guideline that encompasses various factors, including:
Child's Age and Developmental Needs: The court considers the child's age, maturity, and specific needs. Younger children may require more stability and routine, while older ones may need a say in the decision-making process.
Emotional and Physical Safety: Ensuring the child's safety and protection from any form of abuse or harm is paramount. Courts take allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, or neglect seriously.
Educational and Social Considerations: The child's educational and social needs should be met as closely as possible to their pre-divorce environment.
Emotional Bond with Each Parent: The court examines how the bond with each parent contributes to their emotional well-being. If the child is closer to one parent, that parent is likely to get a greater percentage of custody time.
Parental Cooperation and Support for the Child's Relationship with the Other Parent: Courts favor parents who encourage and facilitate a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
Understanding the child's best interests is crucial when negotiating effectively during child custody agreements. Both parents should be prepared to demonstrate how their proposed custody arrangement serves these interests.
Another critical consideration in child custody determinations is the parents' parenting styles. While parents have the right to their approaches, the court assesses how these styles align with the child's best interests. The courts may look at multiple elements of each parent’s parenting style, including:
Consistency and Routine: Courts often favor parenting styles that provide a stable routine for the child, promoting a sense of security.
Emotional Support: Demonstrating the ability to provide emotional support and nurture the child's well-being is crucial.
Discipline and Boundaries: Courts look at how parents establish and maintain appropriate boundaries and discipline, ensuring the child's safety and development. If you have no boundaries with your children or insist the other parent is the disciplinarian, your custody will seem less favorable to the court.
The inverse is also true; parents who are too harsh will also see penalization. It's essential for parents to understand how their parenting styles align with the child's best interests. They must be willing to adapt where necessary to secure a favorable custody arrangement.
Encouraging the Child's Relationship with the Other Parent: Both parents should foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent, regardless of personal differences. Hostility is met with negativity by the court.
Co-Parenting Skills: The court can highly value the ability to co-parent with the other party effectively. They can encourage parents to work together, even if separated, to provide the best possible support for the child.
A parenting plan is a foundational document in child custody negotiations in Colorado. It serves as a detailed roadmap for how parents will share responsibilities and time with their child or children.
An experienced attorney can help you develop a well-structured parenting plan can help smooth negotiations while also providing clarity and stability for the child's future. It can also serve as a valuable reference point if case disputes arise, reducing the need for future modifications.
Ultimately, the parenting plan should be designed to promote the child's best interests and ensure their well-being remains the top priority throughout the custody arrangement. Not developing a clear parenting plan is a major reason that custody issues arise down the road. This pitfall is one of the reasons that child custody representation is so important.
Communication Guidelines: Outline how communication between parents will occur. This might include regular updates on the child's well-being, notification of significant events or changes, and methods of communication (e.g., phone calls, emails, or a shared calendar).
Conflict Resolution Mechanisms: Including a dispute resolution process within the parenting plan is crucial. Detail how conflicts related to parenting decisions or scheduling issues will be addressed. Mediation is often a preferred method, and the plan can specify who will pay for mediation services if needed.
Flexibility and Modification: Recognize that circumstances can change over time. Include provisions for modifying the parenting plan if necessary due to factors such as the child's changing needs or the parents' work schedules. Ensure that the process for requesting and agreeing to modifications is clearly outlined.
Special Considerations: If the child has specific needs or requirements, such as medical or mental health conditions, address them in the plan. This demonstrates your commitment to meeting the child's unique needs.
Holidays and Special Occasions: Provide a clear schedule for how holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions will be shared between the parents. This can help prevent conflicts and ensure the child has opportunities to celebrate with both parents.
Legal Review: Before finalizing the parenting plan, consider having it reviewed by a reputable family law attorney. Our attorneys at Johnson Law Group can ensure that the plan complies with Colorado's legal requirements and offers adequate protection for your rights and the child's best interests.
One of the central elements of Colorado custody arrangements is the parenting time schedule, which outlines when and where the child will be with each parent. The schedule should be clear, specific, and considerate of the child's age and needs. Be sure to address weekdays, weekends, holidays, school breaks, and any unique circumstances. You must also clearly define how transportation of the child between homes will occur. As part of the parenting plan, you will need to arrange all of the important details about drop-off and pick-up locations, responsibilities, and any contingency plans for unexpected situations.
If a parent wishes to move a child to a new location as part of the initial custody determination, the judge is required to accept where each party wants to live, then make appropriate parenting time decisions considering what is in the best interests of a child. Essentially, this means that the court makes the decision based on the effects of the move. The court can’t deny an adult’s permission to relocate– but a judge can assign parenting time differently based on the effects of a move, and can deny permission for the child to move– effectively granting primary custody to the parent who isn’t moving.
Colorado judges are tasked with weighing the preferences of children in custody matters, but this hinges on the child's ability to articulate a well-reasoned and independent viewpoint regarding which parent they wish to live with. Notably, there isn't a specific age threshold stipulated; instead, it's left to the judge's discretion, taking into account the circumstances and the rationale behind the child's preferences.
Importantly, children are not compelled to testify openly in court regarding their custody preferences. Instead, the judge may opt for a private interview with the child in chambers, although this procedure is not obligatory.
In cases where parents have not arrived at a mutual custody arrangement, it is commonplace for judges to arrange for interviews with custody evaluators to glean insights into the children's desires. These evaluators are typically mental health professionals who adhere to specific legal standards. Ultimately, the Colorado court system wants to protect children and make sure their rights and happiness are respected during divorce proceedings.
If you are going through a divorce or separation in Colorado, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney about child custody. A family law attorney can help you understand the law and your rights to best negotiate a fair custody agreement. Johnson Law Group puts Coloradans first and offers a complimentary initial consultation. Our experienced family law attorneys will ensure that you and your ex-spouse reach the best custody agreement for your child. Call or text 720-445-4444 to connect with our legal intake team.