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 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.
Child Custody in Colorado
Unlike other states, Colorado uses the term “parental responsibility” to describe the parental rights, duties, and responsibilities each parent owes their children, including decision-making and parenting time.
Colorado recognizes two types of child 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. However, unlike sole legal custody, 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.
Is Colorado a 50/50 Child Custody State?
Yes, in most cases, Colorado courts are inclined to grant shared custody (shared parental responsibilities) so that each partner remains equally present and involved in the child’s life. Statistically, there’s no apparent preference given to mothers or fathers. In most cases, the court expects parents to reach a fair agreement on their own and communicate the decision in a joint Parenting Plan.
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 about the “allocation of parental responsibility.”
In this case, we’ll discuss how to file for child custody as a divorcing couple.
Review the Parenting Plan
Colorado court provides a state-issued Parenting Plan form parents will need to fill in and submit. The document prompts the parents to determine the following:
- Where will the child live during the school year?
- How will you make major decisions on behalf of the child — father, mother, or jointly?
- When will the child be in each parent’s care during weekends and weekdays?
- How would the summer schedule be different?
- Where will the child spend all major holidays?
- What happens if one of the parents decides to relocate?
- How will child expenses be paid, and how will child support payments be allocated?
The court also offers worksheets parents can use to calculate equitable child support contributions.
The Parenting Plan form is highly comprehensive and covers most aspects of the standard elements. For that reason, it also may be hard for a couple to negotiate all the terms. If you cannot agree on matters, consider retaining a divorce attorney or undergoing divorce mediation.
Prepare Child Custody Paperwork
Apart from the Parenting Plan, you will need to complete and submit several other legal forms for child custody if you are filing for divorce and child custody at the same time.
- 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
You may also be seeking a modification of earlier child custody and visitation arrangements. 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 using alternative forms.
- Verified Motion/Stipulation to Modify Parental Responsibilities
- Affidavit in Support of Motion to Modify Parental Responsibilities
- Parenting Plan (updated)
- Order Re: Modification to Custody or Decision-Making Responsibilities
The court will then review your motion within 49 days and issue a ruling on the matter. If you are a non-custodial parent seeking child support modifications, it’s best to consult with an attorney before filing.
Attend the Initial Status Conference (ISC)
An initial status conference is a provisionary meeting with the court clerk to explain the next steps of the proceedings. At this point, the clerk will review all the submitted forms and suggest the next steps.
Remember, the Parenting Plan form can be submitted as:
- Joint —when you agree on everything
- Partially joint — when some issues are unresolved
- Prepared by one party — when you have not reached an agreement
From this point, several scenarios are possible. In case of an uncontested divorce, the court will review and approve the parenting plan without your further involvement. If some unresolved issues remain, the divorce moves into the contested territory.
Decide If You Want to Attend Child Custody Hearings
When couples cannot agree on child custody matters, two scenarios are possible. You can either:
- Attempt to settle out of court using a mediator or collaborative divorce attorney
- Prepare for a custody battle in a Colorado court.
Mediation is less emotionally and financially draining than court hearings. Consider it as an option even if matters are heated between you and your spouse. However, if you cannot reach an agreement, then the court will develop and approve a parenting plan.
Similarly, parents seeking child custody modification can experience push-back from the other party. The resolution to such issues is similar — settling matters out-of-court with the help of a mediator or family law attorney. Or if your ex objects to your modification, then your attorney will have to file a summons for child custody with the court. Your ex will then have the opportunity to respond to your requests in court. Your attorney will help you collect and prepare good evidence and handle the hearing.
Learn more about what to expect during child support modification hearings from our previous post.
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. Essentially, you will have to prove in court that the other parent has abandoned their child or is recognized as unfit to perform their share of parental responsibilities. Providing both can be rather challenging.
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
To claim either of the above, you have to have compelling reasons for seeking sole custody and compelling evidence to present to the court, such as:
- History of unfulfilled parental responsibility activities.
- Proof of unacceptable 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.
Seeking child custody is both an emotionally draining and legally complicated procedure. Having legal support can be critical. Our Denver Family Law firm stands ready to help you build up your case.