Child custody laws can vary from state to state, so if you’re in a custody dispute currently or you expect to be filing for custody soon, general knowledge is not enough. You need to understand the laws in your state so that you can effectively advocate for yourself in family court.
If you’re a Colorado parent who is facing a custody case, take a look at a guide that will help you understand the Colorado child custody laws that you need to know about.
Understand the Best Interests of Your Child
Like most family courts, Colorado child custody laws view decisions through the lens of the best interests of the child involved, so as you’re presenting evidence or crafting your own testimony, keep in mind that the judge in your case will be evaluating it to see if your custody preferences are in the best interests of the child. But what does “best interests of the child” really mean?
Best interests of the child can encompass a lot of factors – the child’s relationship with both parents, their relationship with any siblings, any adjustments that will need to be made to the child’s home, school, and overall community, and of course, their physical and mental health and safety.
Ideally, family courts are looking for a custody solution that preserves the child’s relationship with the entire family unit. As well as one that ensures the child’s health, safety, living and learning situation. This means that under Colorado child custody laws, a judge may give preference to a custody arrangement that will:
- Allow the child to continue attending the same school if that’s a possibility.
- Prevent the split up of siblings except in unusual circumstances.
- Not cut one parent off from their child completely, unless that parent poses risk to the child’s health or safety.
Of course, all of these factors have to be considered on an individual basis, and individual cases may vary.
Colorado Divorce and Parenting Classes (“Parental Education”)
One thing that might come as a surprise to many parents is that they may be required to take mandatory parenting classes. In Colorado, these classes are mandatory for divorcing couples – divorce is generally understood to be traumatic for children, and the classes are aimed at helping parents learn tools to help their children navigate that trauma.
Even if you’re not divorcing, if you’re involved in a custody case, a judge may order you and your child’s other parent to attend parenting classes if they believe the classes will benefit your family. Typically, both parents must attend parenting classes in order to meet the court’s requirement – it’s not enough for just one parent to complete the course.
In some cases, you may be eligible for a waiver, but if you can reasonably complete the courses, it’s probably in your best interest to do so. Courses that satisfy the court’s requirements are available online as well as in-person.
Colorado Child Custody Laws: Joint and Shared
Like many states, Colorado family courts prefer to keep both parents actively involved in their child’s life and look for solutions that allow parents to share both child-rearing duties and decision-making responsibilities. When possible, Colorado child custody laws encourage shared custody, which is slightly different from joint custody.
- In joint custody arrangements, one parent may live with their child and occupy most of the parenting time, but both parents make major decisions about their child together.
- In shared custody arrangements in Colorado, parents share relatively equal parenting time as well as equal financial responsibility for the child.
Parents generally come up with shared custody schedules together, with guidance from the family court judge. If the family has teenage children, they can also give input into the schedule that may be taken into account, although the adults involved have the final say.
What If One Parent Wants to Move?
It’s not uncommon for one or both parties to want to move following a relationship split. However, when children are involved, things become more complicated, and a parent may have some restrictions on where they can move to with their child.
Under Colorado child custody laws, a parent who wants to leave the state with their child will have to either get permission from the other parent, or take their request before the family court judge and get permission to move out out of state. This doesn’t mean that no parent can ever move out of the state with their child.
However, if you want to move and your child’s other parent doesn’t agree, you need to be prepared to provide the court with a reason for the move, and a proposed parenting plan revision that addresses your child’s need to remain in contact with their other parent. Even relocating within the state can be a cause for concern, including (but not limited to):
- If you plan to move more than a 45-minute drive away from where your child’s other parent lives, that can affect the sharing of parenting time.
- It may be difficult to arrange overnight visits during the week when your child is in school when you live that far away.
- If you’re considering making this kind of move, you’ll probably need to revisit the parenting plan and make changes that reflect the new geographic changes.
Remember, while some parents may opt to work these issues out informally between themselves, it’s always preferable to update the court paperwork so that the official parenting plan on file reflects what both parents currently agree on. That way, if one parent changes their mind later on, they can’t claim that the other parent broke the official agreement.
Custody can get complicated, but generally, most parents can represent themselves in a custody hearing. Fear of racking up hefty attorney’s fees can prevent parents from pursuing custody in family court, and many parents don’t realize that they’re able to represent themselves.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help by providing you with guidance, helping you prepare testimony, and assisting with document storage.