Your children are the most important part of your life. They may be one of the reasons you decided to get the divorce.
You must protect them during and after the divorce. 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 help your children. Child custody and parenting time attorney James Townsend briefly discusses some of the issues to consider to protect your parental rights.
When parents divorce, deciding who will get 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 the parents’ lives, but also their children’s.
In a Colorado divorce, child custody laws are fairly complex. Ultimately, it is the judge in the divorce who will make 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 by the parents, the court will rely on its own observations to determine the parenting plan that must be followed.
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.
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 will expect to see evidence that the parents can cooperate that the award 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 will consider 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?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no set age in Colorado when a child’s wishes begin being taken into consideration. It depends on the court’s assessment of the child’s maturity.
On another 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.
Once the court has decided the child custody arrangements, these arrangements can still be modified if circumstances change and the best interests of the children are impacted.
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)
The best thing you can do if you have children and are considering a divorce is to engage an attorney who is an experienced and skilled negotiator with a strong track record of working out amiable parenting agreements between the parties. With offices in Castle Rock (including Douglas County), Denver and Colorado Springs, you will receive knowledgeable, caring legal representation and advice from the child custody lawyers of Robinson & Henry. Call 303-688-0944 for a free consultation.