If you have children, custody is a significant concern for you in a divorce or the end of a relationship. There are specific considerations Colorado courts must consider when determining custody. The first thing to know is that Colorado uses the term “allocation of parental responsibilities” (APR) when deciding how parents will share time and decision-making, and for determining child support.
The Basis of APR
Colorado courts decide APR using a legal standard called best interests of the child. The court decides where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent based on what is in the best interests of that particular child in their particular circumstances. Colorado Statutes section 14-10-124 says: “The court shall determine the allocation of parental responsibilities, including parenting time and decision-making responsibilities, in accordance with the best interests of the child giving paramount consideration to the child’s safety and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs of the child.”
Best Interests Factors
That same statute sets out nine distinct factors the court must consider when determining APR. They are:
- The parents’ wishes about parenting time. This is what you and the other parent are asking the court to do.
- The child’s wishes. The child’s opinion about APR is considered only if they are mature enough to have a reasoned and independent preference. A six-year-old would not meet that standard. A 16-year-old probably would. However, it depends on the individual child. A very mature 12-year-old’s wishes could be considered, but a very immature 15-year-old’s might not be. Children rarely have the opportunity to speak to the judge. A child’s preference would be determined by them talking with an expert and that expert testifying about the child’s wishes and their level of maturity.
- The child’s interaction and relationship with the parents, siblings, and other people who impact their best interests. This includes half-siblings and anyone else who lives in the home with them. It could also include extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Your attorney will present evidence and testimony that shows the judge the importance and closeness of your child’s relationship with these people. This is an opportunity to help the court see what the child’s home and family life is like.
- The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community. This is another window into your child’s life for the judge and helps them see what your child is involved with at school and in the community. This factor is particularly important if one parent wants to change the child’s primary residence or switch them to another school. A court would be reluctant to make changes if a child is doing well in their current situation.
- The mental and physical health of the parents and child. The statute specifically says that a disability alone is not enough to deny or restrict parenting time. The court can consider the mental and physical health of the parents with reference to how it impacts their ability to care for the child properly. A child’s mental and physical health is relevant because the court wants to ensure that the child’s needs are being met.
- The ability of the parents to encourage the relationship between the child and the other parent. This is one of the most important factors. The court wants to see parents who encourage their child to have a full, loving, and healthy relationship with the other parent. Parents should support ongoing contact between the child and the other parent. Parents who try to withhold contact could be considered to be creating alienation. The only exception to this is if the parent is withholding contact to protect the child from being abused or neglected or from witnessing domestic violence. In that situation, a parent who is acting to protect their child is acting reasonably.
- The past pattern of involvement of the parents with the child. The statute directs the court to consider whether this reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support. Your attorney will present evidence about how involved each parent has been, what your values are, and any concerns about the other parent’s values and time commitment to the child.
- The physical proximity of the parents to each other. This is considered a practical matter. If you and the other parent live several hours apart, an every other day parenting plan will not work. How closely your homes are will impact the schedule as well as where the child will go to school.
- The ability of each parent to place the child’s needs ahead of their own. This is the most important factor the court is going to consider. The court wants to see evidence that you can set aside your own personal problems with the other parent and work together for what is best for your child—making concessions that might go against what you want but what your child needs is another example of this. Parents who are able to communicate reasonably with each other about their child are meeting this standard. Parents who send inflammatory texts to each other and are unable to communicate and compromise are frowned upon.
How to Frame Your Case
Your attorney will help you gather the evidence needed to make your case, but it is important to preserve relevant evidence, such as calendars, texts, emails, voicemails, notes you take, and photographs. To achieve the best outcome in your case, try to approach the other parent in a business-like and detached way. Do not let the emotions you are experiencing influence the business of exchanging your child, creating schedules, and making joint decisions.
Remain involved with your child, and don’t let the other parent dissuade you from maintaining an active role in their life. When possible, always take the high road. This will position you in a positive light in the eyes of the court.
There is nothing more important than your relationship with your children. Burnham Law provides experienced and skilled representation in divorce and family law cases. Make an appointment with us today to talk about your case.