Fort Collins Child Custody Attorney
Representing Parents in Custody Disputes
Instead of the term “child custody,” Colorado has adopted the term “parental responsibility.” Parental responsibility means the same thing as child custody and includes both decision-making authority and parenting time. If the parties are going through a divorce, parental responsibility decisions will be integrated into the divorce process.
When facing a child custody dispute, be sure to retain a trusted lawyer to protect your rights and fight for your best interests. As an experienced Fort Collins child custody lawyer, I consider my clients’ needs and keep the child’s best interests in mind as I guide my clients toward positive solutions in custody disputes.
Call (970) 293-8371 now to get started with a free consultation.
Issues in Parental Responsibility Cases
The court addresses two major areas in parental responsibility cases: parenting time and decision-making authority. The court will make these decisions according to the best interests of the child.
Parenting time refers to the amount of time that the minor child spends with each parent. Not only do the parties have to figure out the regular parenting schedule, but they also need to determine pick-up and drop-off arrangements, the holiday schedule, and the vacation schedule.
Parenting time can either be joint or primary. A parent has primary parental responsibility if the other parent has less than 90 overnight visitations with the child. If the parents equally share in overnight visitation, there is joint parental responsibility.
Decision-making authority refers to who gets to make significant decisions relating to the minor child.
There are three different areas of decision-making:
- Educational decisions. Education decisions include such things as where the child goes to school, whether the child needs to move up or down a grade, or whether the child needs special education services.
- Medical decisions. Medical decisions include decisions like who the child’s doctor is, who the child’s dentist is, whether the child needs an elective medical procedure, and what medications the child needs to be on.
- Extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities can be any activities the child participates in after school, during summer vacation, and throughout the year outside of school.
The court can order either joint decision-making authority or sole decision-making authority. If there is joint decision-making authority, both parties must agree on the decision before it is made. If there is sole decision-making authority, one party makes the decision without needing the other party’s consent.
How Does the Court Determine a Child's Best Interest?
The court will make its decisions on parental responsibility based on what it believes is in the best interest of the child. The court starts with the assumption that frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the child is in the best interest of the child.
When determining the child’s best interest, the court will consider:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time
- The wishes of the child if he or she is mature enough to make a reasoned and independent decision
- The relationship of the child to his or her parents or siblings
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of all the individuals involved – though a disability alone is not a reason to deny or restrict parenting time
- The ability of the parties to share responsibility and time – though if a party is trying to shield their child from abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, a parent’s protective actions will not be considered
- Past patterns of involvement with the child that reflect time commitment, values, and mutual support
- The physical proximity of the parties to each other
- The ability of each parent to place the child’s needs above their own
- Whether one of the parties has been a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect
- Whether one of the parties has been a perpetrator of spousal abuse
The court is not allowed to favor the mother over the father automatically.
Modifying Child Custody
Child custody can be modified if it would be in the best interest of the child. The court will not order a substantial restriction of parenting time unless it is shown that the present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or emotional development.
Supervised visitation is when the child’s time with a parent must be supervised. The court will order supervised visitation if the parent is a danger to the child either physically or emotionally. A judge may order supervised visitation if there are signs that the parent would abduct the child, if the parent has a history of abusive behavior, or if the parent has substance abuse issues.
There are many different ways the visit can be supervised. For example, the visit could take place at a supervision facility. Alternatively, a friend, family member, or therapist could be present during the visit.