When a Colorado couple with children decides to end their marriage or relationship, they will face one of life’s most difficult questions: who will have custody of the children. The Colorado legislature does not use the term “child custody.” Instead, it employs the concepts of “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibilities” in determining how much time the children will spend with each parent after the divorce is complete. Understanding how these concepts are applied can help one or both parents navigate the rocky path of deciding where the children will live and who will have the power to make decisions affecting the child’s life.
The legislature has officially urged parents to “share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing” and to “encourage the love, affection and contact between the children and the parents.” Because many couples are not able to follow this advice, the legislature has also provided standards that the courts can use to answer these questions. The courts are directed to make provisions for parenting time that will serve the child’s best interests. The term “best interests of the child” is inherently vague, and the legislature has provided some standards that can be used.
Perhaps the most significant standard is evidence that one or both parents engaged in physical abuse of each other or the child. If such abuse is proved by a preponderance of the evidence, the court may prevent the parent who is guilty of the abusive conduct from having any significant contact with the child. In the absence of evidence of abuse or any other evidence that one or both parents is not able to provide for the child’s well-being, the court will usually review other factors, including:
- Paramount consideration of ensuring the child’s safety and physical, mental and emotional needs of the child
- The wishes of the child if he or she is old enough to properly express a preference
- The nature of the child’s relationship with the parents
- The abilities of the parents and the child to share love and affection
In issuing an order allocating parenting time, the court will allocate that time to serve the best interests of the child. Parenting time may largely be given to one parent with the other parent having the right to visit the child at prescribed intervals. If the court finds that the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with each other, the parenting time may be equally divided.
Anyone who is considering a divorce may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice on how the court is likely to resolve the parenting time issues.