Although you are not guaranteed equal parenting time, it is important to know that Colorado recognizes the value of a child having a relationship with both parents. The Colorado legislature has declared that it is generally preferable to encourage frequent contact between both parents and their minor children after a divorce. However, co-parenting is not always appropriate, and the courts must always consider the best interests of the children when settling a custody dispute.
Whereas some states use the terms “physical custody” and “legal custody,” Colorado uses the terms “parenting time” and “decision-making.” Parenting time refers to the residence of the child, whereas decision-making refers to each parent’s right to make legal decisions on behalf of the minor child, such as healthcare or education decisions. When a court allocates the parental responsibilities in a child custody agreement, it must consider both parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.
While parents are divorcing, there are sometimes two different child custody agreements. Not only are they trying to find a long-term solution after the divorce is finalized, but parents also have child custody rights during the divorce.
When parents cannot determine how custody will work while the case is pending, a court may need to issue a temporary custody order. To file a motion for a temporary order, you must have already filed a petition for the dissolution of the marriage or a petition for the allocation of parental responsibilities. The judge will consider the best interests of the child and create a temporary arrangement for parenting time and decision-making, in addition to other temporary arrangements related to the divorce, such as child support, maintenance (sometimes referred to as alimony), and use of marital assets, like the family house.
While it is usually ideal for the parents to reach an amicable co-parenting arrangement, we understand that this is not always possible, especially in particularly contentious divorces. When parties cannot reach an agreement by themselves, courts may, by request of either party or by itself, intervene and set the terms of the parenting time arrangement. The most important guiding principle that courts will consider in making parenting time provisions is the best interests of the child. Some of the factors the court may consider include:
There is a common misconception that parenting time preference is given to mothers. Colorado courts do not consider the gender of the parent when determining the custody arrangement. While the wishes of the child can impact a judge’s ultimate decision, they do not have the final say. If the judge believes that the child’s best interests will be met by living with the other parent, its custody order may be contrary to the child’s stated wishes.
When determining whether the parents can split decision-making authority, the court will consider how well the parents can co-parent. If the parents appear that they cannot make decisions jointly or cooperate, then the court may decide that the parents cannot share decision-making authority without causing harm to the child.
Because Colorado’s policy is to encourage amicable co-parenting, divorcing spouses with minor children may be required to take parenting classes to teach them not only how to fulfill their parental responsibilities, but also to manage the disruption to their children’s lives. These classes may cover:
It is important to remember that these classes do not presume you are a bad parent. Divorce puts a strain on everybody involved, especially children. A disruption to children’s routine can impact their social and emotional development, so the goal of these classes is to minimize the impact on the child.
Ultimately, your rights are determined by the parenting time arrangement. You are bound by the court order, which means that if you are denied parenting time or decision-making, then you lose your child custody rights. You cannot appeal the decision simply because you disagree with the outcome.
However, it is possible that a family law judge may make a mistake. If you believe that the judge made a mistake in determining the custody arrangement, you have the right to appeal. Depending on the court where your case was heard, the process for appealing may vary. For example, if your case was heard by the district court, you must file your appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals within 49 days of the order. Consider visiting with an experienced family law attorney at Johnson Law Group if you want to appeal your custody case in order to ensure your legal rights remain protected.
If you are going through a divorce, trust the experienced Denver family lawyers at Johnson Law Group to represent your parental rights. We know that this is often one of the most difficult times of our clients’ lives, so we fight tirelessly for their child custody rights during and after a divorce. Contact us at (720) 463-4333 to set up a consultation and tell us about your case.