Divorce is a complicated matter even under the most amicable of circumstances, but divorce often becomes contentious when matters of child custody arise. No parent relishes the idea of an impartial judge setting the parameters of their time with their own children, but family court judges in Colorado are tasked with making these difficult decisions.
What’s already a difficult circumstance for parents to navigate becomes much more complex when one parent faces pending criminal charges. Some Colorado parents ask, “How do pending criminal charges impact child custody in Colorado?”
Colorado Courts Decide in the Best Interests of the Child
In Colorado, the law compels judges to act in the best interests of the child in all family court decisions. The courts refer to child custody in Colorado as parenting time or parental responsibilities. This includes both physical custody and the right to make important decisions for a child, including matters of medical and educational decisions. When one parent faces pending criminal charges the court must carefully consider how it impacts a child’s best interests. Depending on the nature of the crime, a judge may consider the following:
- Is the crime related to the custody case, such as absconding with the children or failing to pay temporary child support orders?
- Is the crime violent in nature, or a matter of domestic violence against the children?
- Would a conviction involve a lengthy prison sentence?
- Is the crime a first offense or does the parent have a criminal history?
- Is the crime related to drug or alcohol dependency?
In Colorado, the court considers continued and frequent contact with both parents as the optimal arrangement for children after a divorce or for children of unmarried parents; however, with a child’s best interests as the highest priority, pending criminal charges may have a significant impact on a child custody decision. Any criminal history or pending charges that indicate a child could be in harm’s way could result in a parent losing custody, losing visitation rights, or having only supervised visitation with their children.
What is Supervised Visitation?
When a parent faces pending criminal charges of a nature that would put a child at risk, such as a violent crime or a crime of abuse, neglect, or substance dependency, the court may order supervised visitation. This type of visit takes place with a third party—typically a professional—who is present for the entire duration of the visit. A judge may order supervised visitation for a parent facing the following types of criminal charges:
- Violence, abuse, or child neglect
- Emotional abuse or harm
- Substance abuse
- Child abduction/kidnapping
In some cases, pending charges such as a first DUI could result in a judge requesting a third party transport the children but then allow unsupervised visitation.
Charges vs. Conviction and Child Custody in Colorado
If you’ve been wrongfully accused of a crime, your Denver child custody attorney may argue to the judge that pending charges are not the same as a criminal conviction. In some cases, a judge may postpone a final custody order until after the criminal trial to await the results of the charge. A parent who faces lengthy incarceration is not a good candidate for child custody, but a judge may consider a more traditional division of parenting responsibility for less serious charges or for a parent found innocent in a criminal trial.
If a parent is convicted of a crime and loses their share of parenting time, they can request a modification of the custody order after serving out the terms of their sentence.