At Ciancio Ciancio Brown, P.C., our Denver child custody attorneys represent biological parents, nonbiological parents, adoptive parents and other parties in custody matters in Colorado. Our firm has extensive family law experience and focuses on protecting the rights of our clients while obtaining outcomes that provide children with the relationships and environment they need and deserve.
In most divorces or breakups between couples with children, allocation of parental responsibility is the most contentious issue to be resolved. In a time when same-sex couples, stepparents, unmarried parents and multiple-parent households are prevalent, determining what is in the best interest of a child is more complex than ever.
Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities parents have regarding their child. Responsibilities involve meeting the child’s basic needs, including housing, health care, education and fulfillment of emotional needs. Rights include having the power to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and spending adequate time with the child, as it is in the child’s best interest to have both parents in their life. After a legal separation or divorce in Colorado, parents should agree on a parenting time plan to define responsibilities and obtain parenting time.
Colorado family courts consider the best interests of the child as their legal standard and primary concern in a divorce between parents. To that end, there are specific matters the court considers when deciding on child custody, or what the court calls the “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.” Because each family situation is unique, the courts consider a variety of factors in deciding the amount of parenting time each parent will have with the child after the divorce as well as whether one or both parents can make important decisions for the child. The Colorado statute states that the child’s physical safety and emotional well-being are the primary consideration.
Divorcing parents must complete a court-ordered parenting class during the divorce process. This class prepares them for dealing with common emotional issues children face during divorce. The courts offer classes both in person and online.
Parents may work with a mediator to compromise on their own jointly approved division of parenting time and decision-making responsibilities which then requires a judge to review and finalize, or the judge must decide these aspects of custody during the divorce hearing when parents are unable to come to their own agreeable terms. When the court must decide on parenting time and decision-making responsibility they consider the following matters:
One of the most critical factors in deciding custody matters is the last consideration on the list. The Colorado courts look favorably upon parents who put their child’s needs ahead of their own and show a willingness to communicate and compromise for the child’s best interests.
Colorado law refers to child custody as parenting time. Your best effort to gain quality parenting time with your child(ren) is by filing an action with the Domestic Relations County Court. The Court will require good faith efforts for the parents to mediate and attempt to come to their own resolution. Mediation is an informal meeting between you, the other parent and an unbiased third party called the mediator. The mediator can help you resolve your child custody case but does not have the authority to issue a child custody order at the end of the meeting.
Many parents can arrange parenting plans during mediation and avoid family court trials. This is called an uncontested custody case, and it is generally preferred for its capacity to save time, money and stress – as well as give parents more control over the outcome of a custody case. If matters cannot be resolved in mediation, then a parent may request a hearing for the judge to make custody orders for parenting time. In this case, both parties will go to family court in Denver to state their cases and have a judge determine parental responsibilities, including visitation rights.
During the divorce process, parents should always attempt to work out their own agreed-upon parenting plan in the best interests of their child rather than leave the decision in the hands of an impartial judge who could never fully understand each child’s needs and desires as well as the child’s parents. To this end, parents should fill out a parenting plan form issued by the state. The form addresses parenting concerns through the following prompts:
Part of the parenting plan also offers tools to calculate child expenses and allocation of child support. A family attorney can help parents navigate the issues related to the complex parenting plan forms and child support calculations before the plan goes before the Colorado court system for approval.
Divorcing parents can expect to address the following paperwork:
Depending on the parents’ ability to communicate and compromise, the parenting plan may be submitted jointly, partially jointly, or prepared only by one party in the divorce. When parents agree on all points the divorce quickly moves forward as uncontested. When parents can’t come to agreeable terms the divorce moves into the contested category. In this case, the parents may attempt mediation or turn the matter over to the court to decide.
The allocation of parental responsibility, commonly called “child custody,” is separated into two primary issues:
Our team of Denver child custody lawyers can work with you to ensure both of these child custody issues are properly addressed in your parenting plan.
Unlike most states, Colorado family courts do not use the terms joint or sole custody. Instead, they address custody issues as matters of deciding “parenting time” with the goal of keeping both parents as involved in a child’s life as possible, which is in the best interests of the child. There are four types of parenting time categories in Colorado:
When parents have equal numbers of overnights with the child.
If your child spends fewer than 90 days per year with the other parent, the parent with the greater number of overnights with their child has primary Parental Responsibility.
When one parent has the right to make all important decisions for the child including medical, educational, travel, and extra-curricular activities. The other parent retains the right to remain informed about these decisions but does not play a legal role in making them.
Parents share equally in making important decisions for the child. This is considered to be in the best interests of the child and typically occurs in uncontested divorces when parents demonstrate a willingness to communicate and compromise.
With these four aspects of child custody addressed as separately decided issues, parents may have any one of a variety of parental responsibility arrangements. For example, they may share both physical parenting time and decision-making equally, or one parent may have primary parental responsibility both physically and for decision-making while the other parent has visitation and the right to remain informed of major decisions.
If your child custody case goes to trial in Colorado, a judge will always set a parenting time schedule that is found to be in the best interests of your child. This generally means what will serve the child(ren) best by providing them adequate love, support and care. A judge will carefully review all the facts of a case to make a parenting time determination. Some of the factors involved in this decision are:
It is a common misconception that the courts favor the mother during custody decisions. These child custody cases are decided purely on what is best for the child(ren). One parent can receive both legal and physical custody, but it is more common for both parents to share custody. Unless there is a reason to remove custody from one parent – such as a history of child abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction or child abandonment – the courts in Colorado believe it is best for a child to remain in continuing contact with both parents after a dissolution of marriage.
When the courts decide on matters of custody, they always take a child’s wishes into consideration, but the age and maturity level of the child factor into their final decisions. While Colorado has no set age for a child’s wishes to become of primary importance when the child shows a level of maturity in expressing what they choose and what they believe is in their own best interests the court strongly considers their wishes. For example, a 12-year-old’s wishes may not hold as much weight in the court as those of a 16-year-old who is more mature in the eyes of the court and better able to make decisions independently of their parents’ wishes.
While the court always considers a child’s wishes, their desires are just one of many factors the court considers in making their final decisions.
In Colorado, child support is based on a specific formula that takes into account who is the primary parent, the number of overnights each parent has with the children, the income of both parties, maintenance payments, and other health- and education-related payments that each parent makes in support of the children.
Our Denver child custody attorneys can help you understand how your choices regarding a parenting plan and separation agreement may affect your child support payments.
With high-income individuals, the “formula” does not apply. These child custody cases require a special analysis that takes into consideration the needs of the child and the standard of living prior to the parental separation.
With self-employed individuals or business owners, the determination of income can be very complex. Our Denver child support attorneys pride themselves on understanding the income of a business and reading and understanding tax returns. Determination of income is a critical factor in determining child support.
Families are not one size fits all, and nonbiological parents are often responsible for the care and nurturing of children in a household. The rights of nonbiological parents is an emerging area of the law that our firm has taken an interest in. We are published in two precedent-setting Court of Appeals opinions regarding nonbiological parents seeking custody of a child.
Once a parenting time court order is in place, both parties must comply with its requirements until the end of the order. Typically, a child custody agreement lasts until the children turn 18 or leave home. There are exceptions, however, for major life changes that take place. If you or your ex-spouse experiences a substantial change in circumstance, you can petition the courts in Denver for a modification of your child custody and/or child support order.
A substantial change in circumstance can mean anything that makes it no longer possible to continue your court-ordered arrangement or a change that endangers the safety and health of the child(ren). Issues that could lead to the courts granting a child custody modification request include child neglect or abuse, parental child abduction, one parent moving out of state, incarceration, and substance abuse. Changes to child support orders are generally related to income losses or major fluctuations. If you wish to modify any type of court order after a divorce or legal separation in Denver, our Denver modification attorneys can help.
Our Denver child custody attorneys, handpicked by renowned attorney Cynthia L. Ciancio, understand what it takes to protect the rights of parents and other parties seeking custody rights. Contact us to schedule a case evaluation with our Denver, Westminster and Breckenridge child custody lawyers.
Litigation is a journey. This is a journey we have taken with our clients a countless number of times. If you face the uncertainty, risk, fear, anger, or disbelief that comes with the prospect of going through a legal dispute, the law firm of Ciancio Ciancio Brown, P.C. will help you through it.