How Does Child Custody Work in Colorado?
Child custody is an issue that comes up frequently. The Colorado legislature has actually done away with the term “custody.” People still speak in terms of custody; I still hear attorneys talk about custody, but technically custody no longer has any role in the law in the state of Colorado. The legislature decided that word was too divisive. What we have now are “parental responsibilities cases.” A case that determines issues regarding children where there is no marriage are referred to as “allocation of parental responsibilities cases.” They are similar to divorce cases in that the same documents need to be filed: a petition, a summons, and a case information sheet. They both go through basically the same process in Fort Collins. You must go to an initial status conference and take a parenting class. The difference is you do not address all the issues in a parental responsibilities case that you would address in a divorce, such as property division, debt division, or spousal support.
The way a parental responsibilities case works is one party files the necessary documents to start the case: the petition, summons, and case information sheet. The other party then has to be served with those documents. That can be done either by the other party signing a waiver of service, agreeing that they have received the documents, or by having the other party served personally by a process server. At that point, the court will set an initial status conference that the parties have to attend. The initial status conference is usually 30 to 40 days out from when the case is filed. At the initial status conference, the court will determine if there have been any agreements yet, make sure that both parties have taken the court mandated parenting class, and order the parties to attend mediation. At mediation, the parties will try to reach agreements on as many issues as possible.
The one issue that has to be addressed in any allocation of parental responsibilities case is who gets decision-making authority. That issue involves who makes the major decisions for the children, such as educational decisions—like where do they go to school, whether they need to move up a grade, move down a grade, and whether they need an individualized education plan. Major decisions also include medical decisions—such as who their doctor is, who their dentist is, whether they need an elective medical procedure, and what medications they are on. To some extent, major decisions can also be decisions regarding extracurricular activities and religion. Decisions either get made jointly, meaning that the parties must agree on the decision, or there can be a sole decision-making situation, where one party makes the decision without having to get the agreement of the other party.
The second issues in any parental responsibilities case is parenting time. This issue is fairly self-explanatory. Parties have to agree on—or the court must determine—the amount of time the children spend with each parent.
The last issue in any parental responsibilities case is child support. In the state of Colorado, there are guidelines that determine the amount of child support. There is a worksheet where each party’s income, the number of overnights, and certain other expenses like health insurance premiums and childcare are placed in the worksheet. That worksheet then determines the guideline child support amount, which is generally what the court orders.
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