Colorado child custody and visitation law puts the child’s best interest in the forefront, with specific factors enumerated for consideration by the judge.
Any Colorado parent facing divorce or separation has questions about where the children will live, how often they will visit with the other parent and which parent will have the power to make major life decisions for the kids. These are commonly known as issues of child custody and visitation, but the Colorado legislature adopted different terms: allocation of parental responsibilities, including decision-making responsibilities, and parenting time.
The backdrop of child-custody policy in Colorado is a legislative declaration that it is in everyone's best interest in a family to "encourage frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the minor children of the marriage ..." after divorce or separation. Further, the legislature urges the sharing of parenting "rights and responsibilities" and that parents "encourage the love, affection, and contact" between kids and each parent.
The child's best interests trumps all others
Above all, however, Colorado law puts absolutely first the best interests of the child him or herself, especially when safety and "physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs" are considered. For example, despite the official recognition of the benefits of keeping ongoing contact with each parent, if a state court finds that spending time with a particular parent would "endanger ... physical health ... or emotional development" of the child such as when the parent has a history of domestic violence, child abuse or child neglect, parenting time and decision-making authority can be denied, strictly limited or controlled.
Nuts and bolts
The typical scenario in a divorce is that the parties try first to negotiate a marital settlement agreement, including decisions about parental responsibilities. Usually the negotiation is conducted between their respective divorce attorneys. If the couple is unable to agree, these issues will be decided by the state-court judge handling the legal proceeding.
In court, other parties may become involved, usually at the discretion of the judge, including the possibility of a family investigator or a child's legal representative. Family members could be referred for psychological evaluation, or a parent or the judge can request a custody evaluation by a neutral third party.
Colorado statute requires the judge to weigh "all relevant factors" in determining the child's best interest in custody and visitation matters, including specifically:
- The parents' wishes
- The child's wishes, if mature enough
- The child's relationships with the parents, siblings and any other person who "significantly" impacts the child's best interests
- The child's "adjustment" to his or her present living situation, including school and community
- Everyone's mental and physical health
- Each parent's ability to support and encourage "love, affection, and contact" between the son or daughter and the other parent, unless there are issues of violence or neglect
- The parent's history of meaningful involvement with the child
- The location of each residence
- The parental ability to put the child's needs first
In most situations, the judge considers these same factors in deciding which decision-making powers to grant to which parent, either alone or shared, as well as additional factors related to their ability to make decisions mutually.
Colorado law does not allow the judge to favor a parent because of gender. Also, a parent's conduct that "does not affect that party's relationship to the child" is not relevant.
Professional guidance and advocacy
The law itself as applied to individual circumstances can be quite complicated and nuanced, so consulting an experienced, knowledgeable Colorado family lawyer is essential to help protect the interests of a father or mother facing custody or visitation issues in the state.
Keywords: Colorado, child custody, visitation, best interest, factor, judge, parental responsibilities, parent, parenting time, divorce