Your children are the most important part of your life. They may be one of the reasons you decided to get a divorce.
You must protect them during and after you split from your spouse. This means shielding them from divorce rhetoric, inflammatory comments, and legal maneuvering. You may also be worried about their emotional response and health during the divorce.
We can handle the legal stuff. And you can get the help you need to ensure your children stay emotionally and physically healthy.
When parents divorce, deciding who gets custody of the children is one of the most difficult decisions that must be resolved before parents can begin rebuilding their lives. Often, it is the most emotionally wrenching aspect of divorce with the potential to not only affect the rest of each parent’s life but also their children’s.
Parents are Encouraged to Create Their Own Parenting Plans
In a Colorado divorce, child custody laws are fairly complex. Ultimately, the judge makes the custody decisions, but parents are strongly encouraged to come to an agreed-upon parenting (or custody) plan through mediation. A skilled child custody and divorce attorney is your best asset during this sensitive and highly important negotiation.
Parents can submit an agreed-upon parenting plan to the court or each party can submit its own plan and have the judge decide on the merits of each.
In cases where no plan is submitted, the court will rely on its own observations to determine the parenting plan that must be followed.
How Does the Court Decide Who Gets Custody?
In every situation, the court’s primary concern is to rule in the best interests of the child. Colorado is what is called a “gender neutral” state, which means that child custody is not awarded strictly based on the gender of the parents.
In the absence of mitigating circumstances, such as a history of abuse or neglect, judges prefer to award joint custody to parents, which they feel is in the best interests of the child. However, the younger the children are, the more likely that the majority of custody time will be given to one parent.
The Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
There are basically two types of custody to be determined: legal and physical.
Legal custody refers to the right to make key decisions about the child’s upbringing, for instance, medical care, schooling, and religious faith. Physical custody refers to where the child lives.
In deciding whether to award joint legal custody to parents, the judge expects to see evidence that the parents can cooperate, that joint custody will encourage healthy contact between the child and the parents, and that neither parent is neglectful or abusive.
In making the decision about who will have physical custody of a child, the judge considers five key factors:
- The age of the parents and the children and physical health and mental state
- The relationship that exists between each parent and the child
- The role each parent has played the children’s upbringing up to this point
- The condition and stability of the home in which the child will live
- The children’s wishes – where do they want to live?
Something else to note: common sense dictates that if parents live hours apart, equal parenting time is not likely to be in the child’s best interests. In these cases, often one parent will have the child for a higher percentage of the time during summers and vacations in order to even things out to an extent. Parents often will share the transportation costs associated with shuttling the child between homes according to their ability to pay.
When Can My Child Decide Who They Want to Live With?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no set age in Colorado when the court takes into account a child’s wishes. It depends on the court’s assessment of the child’s maturity.
Can I Modify My Parenting Plan?
Your custody arrangements can be modified if circumstances change and the best interests of the children are affected.
Two things that will likely bring about alterations in a Colorado child custody agreement are:
- situations where a child becomes endangered by the actions or environment provided by the parent with physical custody
- dramatic changes in a parent’s circumstances (for instance moving away from the area)
Our Family Law Team Can Help You
Get a Case Assessment
The best thing you can do if you have children and are considering a divorce is to talk with a family law attorney who is an experienced and skilled negotiator with a strong track record of working out amicable parenting agreements between the parties. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your case assessment.