As you are preparing for a divorce in Colorado, child custody can often be a difficult issue to navigate. At Liberty Law Center, we have the answers to the many questions you have over your parental rights and child custody issues when ending a marriage, and here on our blog we want to unpack a few basic ideas around child custody and child support.
What is Parental Responsibility and How It Is Determined?
Colorado uses the term “parental responsibility,” not custody. This refers to decision making responsibility, and it refers to a parent’s authority to make major decisions about a child’s overall welfare like health decisions, religious activities, and education. It can be shared jointly, awarded to one parent or divided. Divorcing parents may agree on parental responsibility for themselves, which they will document for the court in their separation agreement or parenting plan. If no agreement is reached, the decision will be left to the Court using the standard of what is in the best interests of the child.
What Is Parenting Time?
Parenting time is about when, where, and how long each parent will spend with their children. In addition to day-to-day parenting time, divorcing parties will want to consider how holidays, vacations and breaks from school will be divided. Consideration will need to be given to the child’s activities and how transportation of the child will be handled. A good parenting plan needs to have some flexibility however a detailed plan will minimize areas of future dispute or confusion.
The Colorado court will use various factors to determine parenting time. As always, the decision is based on the best interests of the child. Factors such as the parents’ wishes, the child’s wishes, the child’s relationship with his or her parents or siblings, the child’s adjustment to home, school and community, the parents’ physical distance from one another, the mental and physical health or all involved the history of parental issues (for example, domestic abuse), the ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other party and the ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs, all go into determining parenting time. Restrictions on parenting time may be imposed if parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
What is Mediation?
Oftentimes, parents will reach an agreement on parental responsibility and parenting time that is reduced to writing and submitted to the Court for approval. But if parents can’t agree, they’ll have to go to court. Colorado courts usually will have parents go to mediation—which is a meeting with a specially-trained, objective mediator—to help parents figure out how to arrange their custody plans. If a mediation doesn’t work, the court will have to decide at a hearing where witnesses and evidence will be presented to the judge.
Does a Child Have A Choice in Their Custody?
A judge may consider the wishes of the child in cases where the child is mature enough to express independent and thoughtful preferences. This might occur with older children.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Both parents are required by law to support their children, whether married or not. Colorado courts uses specific guidelines to calculate child support from each parent involved, and this is based on parents’ incomes, extraordinary expenses and time spent with children. Child support will legally continue until the age of 19 or the emancipation of the child. Payment of support can be made directly to the parent or by a wage assignment.