Colorado Child Custody & Parenting Time

Child Custody Law and Visitation in Colorado:  In Colorado, the terms Custody and Visitation have been replaced with Parental Responsibility and Parenting Time.  Parents by agreement, or the court if there is no agreement, form a Parenting Plan during their dissolution of marriage (divorce) proceeding or in their allocation of parental responsibility (custody) case: this Plan defines the rights and obligations of the parents toward their children, decision-making responsibilities and parenting time schedules.  Martin Law Firm is experienced in drafting and negotiating parenting plans, and in presenting the parent’s proposed plan to the Family Court.

Allocation of Parental Responsibility (APR):  Parental responsibility for children involves making decisions (legal custody) and providing physical care (physical custody).  The Parenting Plan specifies who is to make the major parental decisions for the children.  This decision-making authority may be granted (allocated) to both parents equally (shared or joint custody) or to just one of the parents (sole custody).  The grant of authority, or allocation, may be for all or some of the major decision-making areas including residence, education, religion and health care.  Typically, minor day-to-day, routine decisions are left to the parent with whom the children are being physically cared for on any particular day.

Parenting Time:  The Parenting Plan should have a schedule for when the children will be with each parent – usually both a “regular” schedule and a “holiday” or vacation schedule.  The regular schedule is followed from week to week unless there is a holiday or vacation, in which case the holiday or vacation schedule takes precedence.  When the child is with a particular parent, that parent is having “parenting time” (physical custody).  For school age children, the parenting time schedule typically tracks the school schedule and makes specific provision for summer vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Breaks.

Best Interests of the Child:  Although the parents have significant input into the allocation of decision-making responsibilities and parenting time schedules between them, and the court usually will defer to the parents in making such decisions, the court by law must determine whether the Parenting Plan is in the child’s best interests.  If the parents cannot agree on how they are to make decisions or what the parenting time schedule will be, the court (a District Judge) will make the decision for them based upon the “best interests” of the child.  The statute sets forth a list of factors the judge is to consider in determining what is in the child’s best interests.  To assist the court in this process, either the court or the parents may retain the services of a mental health professional to investigate and make recommendations.

Child & Family Investigator (CFI):  When there is a high degree of conflict between the parents, or the court believes it may be helpful for outside investigation and reporting on matters involving the children, a Child and Family Investigator may be appointed.  A Child and Family Investigator is either an attorney or a mental health professional having particular training and experience in conflicted family or parenting matters.  Parents or other parties to the case may request a Child and Family Investigator, or the court may act on its own and make the appointment.  Formerly, the court appointed a Special Advocate to investigate, report and make recommendations regarding the children, and, before the Special Advocate, the court appointed a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).  With the exception of Juvenile Court cases, the role of a Guardian ad Litem has been replaced in domestic relations cases by a Child and Family Investigator (formerly a Special Advocate) and a Legal Representative (lawyer).  Usually, only a Child and Family Investigator is appointed.  In some counties the court may appoint a “CASA” volunteer to conduct an investigation and file a report.  CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is a volunteer group with training in parenting disputes.  Finally, to assist the parents in dealing with future parenting disputes, the court may appoint a Parenting Coordinator or a Mediator, with (only by consent) or without the power of an Arbitrator ( “Decision Maker”) to make decisions resolving the dispute.

Evaluators:  Allocation of Parental Responsibility Evaluators (formerly custody evaluators) are mental health professionals appointed by the court at the specific request of one or both of the parents.  The professional typically holds a masters or doctorate decree in psychology and has training and experience in parenting and custody matters.  The evaluator conducts a thorough investigation, which may include psychological testing, interview of the parents, children and other involved persons (known as “collaterals”) and files a comprehensive report and Parenting Plan recommendations with the court.  The evaluator may testify as an expert witness at the hearing.

The information provided above is general in nature, is not intended as legal advice for your particular situation and should not be relied upon without first consulting with legal counsel.