By: James K. Townsend
August 15, 2023
Navigating through the intricacies of child custody, or as we refer to it in Colorado, the “allocation of parental responsibilities” or “APR,” can be both complex and emotionally draining. It’s a topic that all divorcing parents, and those considering divorce should understand. The following is a helpful summary of some of the basic concepts of the allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado.
1. The Best Interests of the Child Standard
Central to Colorado’s APR laws is the child’s well-being or “best interests of the child.” This concept is so important that it is worth re-emphasizing; the court will place the interests of the child ahead of the interest of the parties requesting APR.
2. Understanding the Difference Between Parenting Time and Decision-Making
The allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado is separated into two important parts:
- Parenting Time (often referred to as Physical Custody): Parenting time is often referred to in other jurisdiction as custody and relates to where the child will physically stay and when. In Colorado, there is no presumed or default parenting time.
- Decision-making (Legal Custody): This involves the authority to make significant life decisions concerning the child’s upbringing such as: education, healthcare, and religious guidance. Decision-making can be joint or sole.
3. Parenting Time and Parenting Plans
The parenting time schedule is spelled out in a “parenting plan.” A parenting plan is a detailed agreement outlining parenting time schedules, decision-making responsibilities, and other relevant stipulations. If the parties agree on a parenting plan, the court will adopt it, and it becomes an order of the court, enforceable with the contempt powers of the court. If the parties cannot agree, the court will create a plan based on the child’s best interests.
4. How Do Court Decide Parenting Time?
When determining parenting time schedules in the “best interests of the child,” the court will consider:
- The child’s wishes, contingent on age and maturity
- The wishes of each parent
- The relationship between the child, parents, siblings, and other significant individuals
- Adaptation to home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of everyone involved
- Any history of abuse or neglect
- The ability of each parent to foster a loving relationship with the other parent
5. Modifying Parenting Time Orders
For simple changes, the court has the power to modify a previous parenting time order any time a party makes such a request, and the court believes the change will be in the child’s best interest. However, for changes in the parenting plan that result in a change of the primary parent, i.e., the parent with the majority of parenting time, the court can only make such a change if something significant has happened in the child’s life, and the change is in the best interests of the child.
6. Enforcement of Parenting Plans
If a party violates the parenting plan, the non-offending party can seek enforcement through the court. Non-compliance with a court order can lead to serious legal consequences including, but not limited to, being held in contempt, being fined, or even being put in jail.
The allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado is complicated and can be emotionally taxing. Focusing on the best interests of your child and seeking the guidance of an experienced family law attorney can help the process be more manageable.