Parents, regardless of whether they were married, in a domestic partnership, in a civil union or never legally formalized their relationship, sometimes struggle to get past the emotions of a breakup and put their focus entirely on the children. If you and your child's other parent are unable to come to a decision about the custody and care of your children, it might be necessary for a Colorado court to make decisions on your behalf. Should this be the case, having a basic understanding of how the law works could make the process easier and less stressful for you.
Understanding relevant laws
Colorado law uses the blanket term the "allocation of parental responsibilities" to include child custody, visitation and decision-making authority. In order to determine the most appropriate way in which to allocate parental responsibility, judges are instructed in Colorado Revised Statutes Section 14-10-124 to act in the "best interests of the child." Even understanding that determinations are made in the "best interests of the child," though, there is still some confusion about what exactly that entails.
Thankfully, § 14-10-124 also includes a list of factors that judges can use to ensure that their decisions made in a way that serves to meet the children's physical, emotional, educational and developmental needs. These factors include - but aren't limited to:
- Child's preference (provided the child is of sufficient age and/or maturity to express a preference)
- Parental preference
- Relationship between child and each parent
- Ability of the parents to make joint decisions
- Relationship between child and other important people (family members, friends, etc.)
- Child's current living situation, particularly focusing upon the child's safety and educational or community interactions
- Mental health, physical condition and age of all parties involved
- Proximity between parties (so as to determine the feasibility of shared parenting time)
- Ability of each party to prioritize the child's needs above his or her own
- Prior relationship between each party and the child(ren)
- Whether the parties show they can impart in the child a system of values
- Whether the parties can convey their mutual support to the child
- Ability of each party to commit time and resources to the child
Once the court has analyzed these and other factors it deems relevant, a decision will be made about the level of parental responsibility (i.e. custody and visitation / parenting time) each parent will have with the children. Of course, there are opportunities built into the system for each parent to make a persuasive argument as to why he or she should receive ample time and authority when it comes to the child, as well as opportunities to appeal or modify any determination made by a family court judge.
Still, it is important to make the best, most coherent case possible in the first place. Having the assistance of an experienced family law attorney can ensure that your argument is both complete and persuasive the first time around.