For a long time in Colorado, following a divorce, the mother would typically receive full custody. This was in large part because of the stereotypical gender roles of the mother being the stay-at-home parent while the father went to work. However, times have changed and the courts have made efforts to change with them.
The Colorado family courts recognize that absent extenuating circumstances, a strong relationship with both parents is usually in the best interest of the children. Therefore, assuming both parents pose no danger to the child(ren), it is very unlikely that the courts will deny either parent parenting time.
“Parenting time” is defined by Colorado courts as how physical custody of the child(ren) is split between the parents. In Colorado, the term “Parental Responsibilities” has replaced the concept of “custody”. “Parental Responsibilities” encompass where the child(ren) reside (i.e. who the primary parent is), who makes the major decisions for the child(ren), and what parenting time the non-primary parent is entitled to.
Children’s Rights and Parenting Time
The intent of Colorado Statute 14-10-123 is to place the needs of the child(ren) above all else. Children have the right to be emotionally, mentally,and physically safe when in the care of either parent. The statute understands that co-parenting is not appropriate in all circumstances, but “when appropriate” parents should share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing and encourage the love, affection, and contact between the children and each parent.
The court will look at each unique situation and determine the parenting schedule that is in the best interests of the child(ren). The court will consider many factors,including but not limited to:
- The wishes of the parents;
- The wishes of the child (if she/he is sufficiently mature);
- The interrelationship of the child with his parents, siblings, and others;
- The mental and physical health of the individuals involved; and
- The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
By considering the best interest of the child(ren) above all else, fathers have as much opportunity for an award of primary responsibility as mother. Primary responsibility, often thought of as “sole custody”, is when the non-primary parent has fewer than 90 overnights a year with the children. Just because one parent has primary responsibility that does not mean that parent makes all of the decisions. The courts separate the decision-making authority from the parenting time allocation.
The Colorado Courts may split decision-making responsibilities between parents, or they may assign all decision-making responsibility to one parent. Courts may also allocate individual issues one by one to a specific parent. Every family is unique, so courts in Colorado attempt to tailor each individual plan to the family, with the ultimate goal being the best interest of the child(ren).
In deciding how to apportion decision-making responsibility the court considers the same factors as when deciding parenting time, but additionally consider:
- The parties’ ability to cooperate and make decisions jointly;
- Past patterns of involvement with the child which may indicate an ability as mutual decision makers to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child; and
- Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibility will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parties.
Child Custody and Child Support
Colorado Statute 14-10-115 establishes that both parents owe a duty to support their child(ren) financially to the best of their ability. The courts consider each partys’ circumstances and order one or both parents to make child support payments for the benefit of the child(ren). It is important for both parents to recognize that these payments are intended to provide the child with items such as food, housing, clothing, and education.
In determining how much child support is appropriate, the court will look at the financial resources of both the custodial and non-custodial parent, as well as the child(ren), the standard of living the child(ren) would have enjoyed had the marriage not ended, the physical and emotional condition of the child, and his/her educational needs. The parenting schedule can further affect the calculation of the order, but it is important to note that even if the parties split parenting time 50/50, there may still be an order to pay child support.
A Colorado Child Support calculator can be used to provide an estimate of how much child support may be ordered. The calculation is dependent upon several factors, including the incomes of each party, child related costs, maintenance received or paid, who provides health insurance, and the number of children. Given the complexity of the calculation it may be difficult to determine with 100% accuracy, but it can be helpful in estimating payments.
The Colorado Court’s website provides a link to a free online version of the Colorado Child Support Calculator.
The experienced family law attorneys at Burnham Law can assist you with protecting your parental responsibility rights, decision making, and establishing the proper child support for your child(ren).
Burnham Law has offices in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.