You went from beers in LoDo brewpubs to strollers in Washington Park. But your relationship proved to be as mercurial as the Rocky Mountain weather patterns. Now that your Mile High romance has come down to Earth, you need to figure out which one of you will make the big decisions for your children and how. Consider this article the bunny slopes to get you ready for the possible double black diamond, back country ski runs that can be a child custody case. Here’s your introduction to the child custody law in Denver.
How Does Child Custody Work?
Denver courts no longer use the legal term "custody.” Instead, “Parental Responsibilities” is a term that includes both parenting time and decision-making responsibilities regarding children. The process of determining how much time you will spend with your child and who will make legal decisions for him or her is called “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.”
“Parenting time” is used instead of visitation, and refers to how time with the child is divided between you and your ex. Courts usually designate parenting time for one parent, and the other parent is termed the “primary care parent,” with whom the child resides the majority of the time. This designation can be important in determining significant parenting decisions, such as whether you can permanently leave the state with your child.
How Do I Apply For Parental Responsibility in Denver?
You might not need to battle with your ex over custody. If you can both agree on parental responsibilities, you can file the case together as Petitioner and Co-Petitioner. If you cannot agree on all the issues, you can file the Petition For Allocation of Parental Responsibilities on your own or with the help of an attorney and name your ex as the Respondent in the paperwork. Your ex can then file a response to the petition in writing if he or she agrees or disagrees with the information in the petition.
Denver courts also require a Parenting Plan that will identify all of the issues relevant to the facts of your case and explain who will have court-ordered parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. If you and your ex can agree on the major issues and can file a joint parenting plan, each of you should be familiar with the plan to be sure that it accurately represents what you and your ex have agreed to regarding the children.
If you cannot come to an agreement, you can each file your own parenting plan. Without an agreement, the court may enter its own plan which might be a plan filed by you or your ex, or might be entirely different. The court may also require parenting education classes.
If there are remaining unresolved issues, a judge or magistrate may review all the documents filed and enter an order to grant allocation of parental responsibilities, parenting time, child support, and other issues, if any. A short hearing may be required if both parties are not represented by an attorney.
How Does the Court Determine Parental Responsibilities?
If a hearing is necessary, a judge or magistrate who will decide the allocation of parental responsibilities based on the best interests of your child. Denver child custody courts consider all relevant factors and give more consideration to factors that affect the safety of your child. Some of those factors include:
- Your child's wishes;
- Each parent's wishes;
- Your child's relationship with you, your ex, and other influential people;
- Your child's adjustment to school, home, and community; and
- The mental and physical health of all involved parties.
Colorado statutes states that judges should assume there should be “frequent and continuing contact” between the children and both parents, unless a parent presents a danger of physical or psychological harm to the children. Statutes also prevent courts from taking into account the parents’ genders when making determinations about decision-making and parenting time.
What Happens After the Court Issues an Order?
If you want to modify a child custody order, you can file a Motion to Modify Decision-Making Responsibility. You can also appeal a judge’s decision after a hearing. It is important to read all court paperwork carefully in order to avoid missing any deadlines for proceedings or appeals.
Figuring out decision-making responsibility for your child can be a complex and complicated process, both legally and emotionally. Help with filing petitions or appeals can be available through an experienced family attorney or you can look for free legal aid in Denver. More general information on this topic can be found in FindLaw’s child custody section.