Dealing with a soon-to-be ex-spouse can be challenging. When children are involved, matters can get even more complicated and emotional as you are asked to build up your case legally. If you are going to file for child custody, you need to understand how to prepare for such a case in your state. This blog offers some essential guidance.
Shared Parental Responsibilities vs. Full-Custody in Colorado
Colorado custody laws, known as “parental responsibilities," relate to the parental rights, duties, and responsibilities each parent owes their children, including decision-making and parenting time.
Colorado recognizes two types of custody arrangements:
- Full custody, also known as sole legal custody, is when only one parent has time and decision-making authority regarding education, health, and basic welfare. If you are seeking sole custody, it must be for valid reasons, and you must seek the advice and services of an attorney if you plan to move forward with such a request of the court. An attorney with Denver Family Law is an excellent step to take.
- Joint custody, also known as “shared parental responsibilities,” is when both parents remain present in the child’s right and have equal decision-making power. Each parent receives equitable visitation rights and parenting time with the child. Joint custody also stipulates where the child leaves and how much each parent contributes to child support.
However, under joint custody, one parent may be granted sole physical custody. In this arrangement, the child permanently lives in their household rather than staying with the other parent for a period of time. Unlike sole legal custody, however, you still retain your rights concerning visitation, decision-making, and other contributions to the child’s well-being.
If your ex has sole custody and you are seeking shared parental responsibilities, you will still need the advice of an attorney. You have to prepare your case carefully, and you can’t do it alone.
How to File for Child Custody in Colorado
Child custody decisions are made during the divorce proceedings. However, if the child’s parents are not married, you’ll have to petition the court separately by filing a complaint for “allocation of parental responsibility.”
The standard steps for filing for child custody in Colorado are as follows:
- Discuss the parental time allocation with the other parent. Download a Parenting Plan form from the Colorado website and discuss the matters together.
- Consider mediation if you cannot reach an agreement. Mediation is a more cost-effective alternative to court appearances.
- Prepare the legal forms for child custody. These include Case Information Sheet, Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Summons to Respond to Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Order for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. Consult with an attorney if you do not fully understand the forms’ contents.
- Attend the initial status conference (ISC). This is a provisionary meeting with the court clerk aimed at explaining the next steps of the proceedings.
- Finalize the parenting plan or prepare for court hearings. If you have reached an agreement, detail all the arrangements in the Parenting Plan and file it with the court. If some unresolved issues remain, prepare to attend the hearings.
If you are in the midst of a divorce, then Colorado custody laws will be a factor in the final disposition of the case. A parenting plan will be developed and approved by the court. If the divorce is already final, and you are not filing for sole custody or a modification of child custody, a new filing will have to be made.
Often in cases of modification requests, your attorney may advise that you first meet with your ex and determine if an agreement can be reached with the help of mediation. If so, then the modification can be filed with the court and approved.
If your ex objects to your modification, then you will have to present your evidence in your filing with the court, and your ex will have the opportunity to respond. Your attorney will draft your petition and handle the hearing.
How to Get Full Custody of Your Child in Colorado
Colorado is a joint-custody state, meaning courts will always prioritize shared custody arrangements over sole legal custody unless there’s some grave misconduct on behalf of another parent.
The common grounds for getting full custody in Colorado are:
- Termination of parental rights of another parent
- History of irresponsibility, physical abuse, substance abuse
- Proven records of child abandonment
- Legal incarceration of one parent
- Ongoing mental or emotional illnesses in severe form
- Court-issued decision stating that the parent is unfit for providing timely care
You have to have compelling reasons for seeking sole custody and compelling evidence to present to the court, such as:
- Past history of unfulfilled parental responsibility activities.
- Proof of unfit behavior such as police reports, affidavits, depositions, and such.
The evidence must be credible and supported. If you are seeking modification of custody rather than sole custody, again, you must have compelling reasons, and your attorney will outline these for you.
Remember that the judge has one overriding concern – what is in the child(ren)’s best interests. Your credibility matters. Never stretch the truth to gain an advantage. It will work against you.