The process of determining custody arrangements for children is a very delicate subject, and for good reason—these decisions can drastically affect the health and wellness of the children in question. Of course, the physical and mental health of a child must be taken very seriously. Therefore, the goal of any Colorado Springs child custody case should be to make decisions with the best interests of the children in mind.
While parents are entitled to participate in the care of their children, instances like divorce can necessitate one or both parents making concessions to continue to care for their children. Unfortunately, the legal aspects of these arrangements can often be confusing, even for parents who want to protect the best interests of their children. The best way to pursue a child custody agreement that suits your needs, as well as the needs of the children involved, is to work with a skilled Colorado Springs child custody attorney.
The best time to discuss child custody is before the divorce process begins. The best way to be proactive in child custody proceedings is to establish, in writing, exactly who has legal responsibility for the child before filing any divorce papers. By clearly stating who will care for the child, you ensure that everyone involved is aware of their responsibilities and can plan for any necessary changes during negotiation or mediation.
Waiting too long to come to an agreement regarding child custody will result in a family court judge making the decision for you during divorce litigation. In Colorado, changes to child custody after the final divorce decree may require a post-divorce modification. If you want to preserve your rights in the matter of child custody, speak with a Colorado Springs child custody lawyer who can help you protect yourself and your children from an unfair settlement.
If you are unable to reach an agreement regarding child custody during negotiation or mediation, family court will determine who is best suited to have custody of the child. Because Colorado’s court is required to rule in the best interest of your child, the judge will consider several factors when making this decision, including:
- The wishes of both child’s parents and potentially other family members involved in the child’s care.
- Any evidence that one parent has either abused or neglected the child.
- The relationship between the parent and child.
- The child’s wishes if the child is mature enough to decide. A Colorado judge can consider the wishes of children 12 years old and above, but it is not likely that this factor alone will determine custody.
- The child’s adjustment to their current and potential school, home, and community.
- The mental and physical health of everyone involved. In particular, the court will consider instances of mental illness or addiction on the part of either parent.
- Who can best provide for the child’s medical needs and other requirements. This may include which parent has health insurance to cover necessary medical attention, who is more likely to provide healthy food options, and who can ensure that all school requirements are met.
- Other factors the court finds to be important in determining custody.
By considering the above factors and striving to be a positive influence in your child’s life, you can help your attorney defend your rights and make a case for custody of your child. It is impossible to plan for every situation, but you can give their attorneys the best chance to advocate for you in court by trying to settle these issues before formal proceedings begin.
A Colorado child custody case may have one of several outcomes, depending on the unique circumstances of the family involved. Here are some of the most common:
- Joint custody or shared custody. Joint custody means that the parents will share all rights and duties relating to the child. This includes legal decision-making power, residential placement, and physical placement with each parent. Parents can also agree to joint legal decision-making and joint residential placement. Shared custody means that each parent has certain rights and duties relating to the child that is more split down the middle. For example, each parent might have a physical placement with the child for four days and three nights a week. Joint legal decision-making means that both parents have the right to be involved in decisions regarding religion, education, medical care, extracurricular activities, and the child’s upbringing.
- Physical custody for one parent, legal responsibility for the other. In this situation, one parent is awarded primary physical custody. The other parent still shares full legal responsibility for the child with the other parent and has regular visitation rights. Alternatively, the other parent may care for the child over holidays or the summer.
- Shared care arrangement. A shared care arrangement is one in which each parent has physical and legal responsibility for the minor for specified or alternating periods. This is appropriate when both parents live in the same area. If one parent lives out of state, it is not usually possible to have a shared care arrangement.
- Sole physical custody and decision-making to one parent. Sole custody means that one parent is awarded physical placement of the child, and all decision-making rights are given to that parent. In this case, the other parent does not have any residential time with the child but may have solo or supervised visitation.
- Sole legal and physical custody to one parent with no parenting time for the other. One parent is given sole physical custody and legal responsibility for the child, while the other parent has no parenting time or legal custody. This is usually not a very favorable arrangement but may be necessary when one parent is unfit to care for the child.
While it can be difficult to predict how much child custody will cost in Colorado, it is important to have a basic idea of the expenses involved. Legal fees can vary depending on the type of custody arrangement you are seeking, your attorney’s experience in child custody law, and the number of times they will need to argue your case in court. These fees can range anywhere from $1,000 to nearly $5,000. However, the cost of custody involves much more than determining how much a custody lawyer costs in Colorado.
While attorney fees are likely to be one of the most substantial costs, each case is unique and involves a number of complex considerations. Other expenses to consider include:
- The costs of gathering evidence, police reports, records, and more
- The costs of expert witnesses if your case requires them, which range from $275 to $500 an hour, or even thousands for a full parental responsibility evaluation
- Mediator costs, which can range from $100 to $300 an hour
- Guardian ad litem fees, which may pay a court-appointed guardian from $25 to $100 per hour to represent your child’s best interests
- Court filing and registration fees, including the petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, or a motion to amend or modify your original divorce decree—these can cost anywhere from $100 to $225
Parents wishing to receive full child custody in Colorado should make gathering evidence a top priority with their attorney. Evidence is crucial, especially if the case goes to trial because it will make the judge aware of why the child’s other parent should not receive custody. This evidence can come in many forms, but some of the most common include:
- Witness testimony. A witness can be anyone who has either witnessed or been affected by the other parent’s behavior. This could include members of the family, friends, teachers, or personal physicians.
- Documents. Documentary evidence usually includes reports from police officers, school officials, and the Department of Human Services. It can also include evidence such as medical reports or photos that support your claims. For example, if you are seeking sole custody based on allegations of child abuse, you could include evidence such as medical reports proving the child has been injured in the past.
- Physical evidence. Most physical evidence includes items such as weapons, drugs, or pornography that provide proof of the parent’s behavior.
- Diaries and journals. These can include written statements from either party about the other’s behavior to help establish patterns of abuse, intoxication, or neglect.
- Social media. Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter messages can help demonstrate why one parent is unfit to have custody.
- Videos: Video recordings are among the best piece of evidence you can have, as they can provide insight regarding the other parent’s behavior and relationship with the child.
Child custody determinations can be stressful and emotionally daunting, but it is possible to smooth the process by hiring a skilled Colorado Springs child custody lawyer. Whether you are seeking sole physical custody of your child or have been denied parenting time, the Johnson Law Group provides legal representation for those who need it most. Our family law attorneys have over 20 years of experience protecting the rights of parents and the best interests of children in child custody disputes. For more information regarding child custody or to schedule a consultation, contact us online today.