Divorce and custody issues aren’t easy for anyone, and fathers especially often feel that they’re at a disadvantage in family court when it comes to advocating for their rights in regards to their children. But fathers do have a right to ask for primary or joint custody in family court. If you’re a father facing a custody hearing, understanding your rights as a parent and the types of custody and visitation options that may be available to you can help you assert those rights. Take a look at what you need to know about your father’s rights in Colorado family courts.
In order to be considered for paternal rights in Colorado, you may first need to establish in the eyes of the court that you are the father of the child in question. When it comes to biological children, it’s usually easy to establish who the mother of the child is – she’s the one who gave birth to the child. Paternity is sometimes less cut and dried.
In Colorado, you’re assumed to be the father of the child if you were married to the child’s mother when the child was born and your name is listed on the birth certificate. Unmarried fathers need to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity and may need to take court action if the mother of the child doesn’t agree to also sign the acknowledgment. If the mother of the child disputes your paternity, a paternity test may be ordered to determine whether or not you are actually the father of the child.
Adoptive fathers can show their paternity through the adoption paperwork. In some cases, certain non-biological fathers who assume a paternal role, like step-fathers, may be eligible for rights if they can show that they acted as a parent to the child and that the child is not in the physical custody of either biological parent.
It’s a common misconception that fathers and mothers are not equal in family court. In Colorado, the father’s rights are equal to the mother’s rights, and there’s nothing in Colorado law that gives mothers greater consideration when it comes to matters of custody and visitation.
Courts do take many other factors into consideration, such as the health, financial stability, and housing situation of each parent, the relationship that the child has with each parent, and any past history of abuse or neglect by either parent. Overall, the court is looking for what custody arrangement serves the best interests of the child. That means that the court is less concerned with an equal split or arrangement that seems fair to the parents, and more concerned with making sure that the custody arrangement will meet all of the child’s needs and promote their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Types of Custody
In many cases, parents end up with some type of shared or joint custody. That means that parenting time is split – not necessarily completely evenly – between both parents. Family court judges understand that it’s usually in the best interest of the child to have an ongoing relationship with both parents, absent any issues of abuse or unfitness, so shared custody arrangements are usually preferable.
If parents can agree on a shared custody arrangement, Colorado law allows for them to work out a parenting plan on their own and submit it to the court for approval. This is often the best-case scenario, as parents know best what schedules and arrangements will work for them and for their child. The court will review the plan, make changes if necessary, and enforce the plan.
However, if both parents can’t come to an agreement on their own, the court will intervene to come up with a parenting plan that parents will be required to follow. Whether a parenting plan is determined by the parents or the court, it’s important to realize that it can be changed in the future if necessary. In fact, because parenting is a many-years-long obligation, it’s common for parenting plans to change as the needs of both parents and children change. A toddler has different needs than a teenager, and parenting plans should change to reflect that difference.
Shared or joint custody is preferable, but not always possible. In some cases, one parent might be awarded full or primary custody, while the other parent is given partial custody, visitation, or no involvement at all. Often, this happens when there are questions of fitness, a past history of abuse, or some incapacitation on the part of one of the parents.
Like joint parenting plans, custody can change over time if necessary. A parent who was awarded no custody may be given partial custody if they can show that their circumstances have changed and that they can now parent effectively. A parent who was given supervised visitation may eventually be given unsupervised visitation if they meet the family court requirements. It can work the other way as well. A parent who was given sole or primary custody may eventually be required to share parenting time if the other parent is granted more rights by the court, and a parent with joint custody can lose their custody rights if abuse, drug addiction, or other types of issues arise that negatively impact their ability to parent their child.
Preparing for Family Court
Fathers who want to assert their parental rights in family court should be aware of the types of custody and visitation arrangements that are available. They should be ready to ask the court to consider their custody petition and base their request on what’s best for their child, even if it’s not necessarily what they want. For instance, you may want sole custody, but if your child’s other parent is fit and poses no danger to the child, then you should probably be working toward a shared custody arrangement that encourages a relationship between the child and both parents. On the other hand, if you feel that your child’s best interests aren’t being served by a relationship with their other parent, you might need to push for sole custody.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare for family court. They can answer questions, help you prepare filings and testimony for court, provide record-keeping services, and direct you to experts who can help with your case.