Child custody is probably the most contested part of any divorce proceedings because it determines how parents will raise their children and can determine the child’s well-being for the rest of their life. To learn more about child custody laws and father rights in Colorado, call our Colorado Springs child custody lawyers at (719) 225-4443 to discuss your options.
Father Rights in Colorado: Is Colorado a Mother or Father State?
Nothing in Colorado’s “best interests of the child” statute states that mothers have more rights than fathers, and vice versa. Thus, theoretically, Colorado courts are gender-neutral when applying the statute to determine child custody.
However, the “best interests of the child” principle contains many factors that sometimes “favor” the mother, especially in households where the mother stays at home to care for the children and household while the father works outside the home as the sole provider for the family. When separation or divorce happens in such a family, several “best interests of the child” factors come into play and may lead to mothers having more parenting time, these include:
- Their role as the primary caregiver;
- The need to make day-to-day decisions about the child without the father present;
- Their understanding of the child’s daily routine; and
- The one-on-one bonding time throughout the day.
Sometimes, the father may be the one who stays at home with the children, or both parents may work outside of the home. Here, the “best interests of the child” statute requires a thorough look into both parents to determine the best outcome for the child. Thus, the assumption that mothers have an advantage in a custody determination isn’t always the case in Colorado.
To win your custody case, make sure you and your Colorado Springs divorce attorney inform the court about your family structure. Also, you must present relevant evidence on all the best interest factors.
What makes a parent unfit in Colorado?
A parent may be considered unfit if they can’t fulfill the child’s needs or have endangered the child’s emotional or physical well-being. However, Colorado courts have high standards in declaring a parent unfit–they don’t make a judgment based on generalizations. Instead, Colorado family courts look at specific circumstances of your case and look at factors such:
- Severe bodily injuries on the child;
- Physical or sexual abuse towards the child;
- The parent’s neglect of the child;
- The parent’s excessive use of alcohol or other drugs;
- The parent’s history of sexual assault or violence;
- The parent’s involvement in the death or injury of another child, if any;
- The termination of parental rights ordered by another judge in another state, if any;
- The parent’s emotional or mental well-being; and
- The parent’s involvement in previous cases of dependency or neglect, if any.
It’s essential to note that every one of these offenses doesn’t guarantee that a parent is declared unfit. For instance, a parent who once had an alcohol or drug problem that has successfully got treatment isn’t likely to be declared unfit. The same applies to a parent who has finished parenting classes and meets other requirements after social services involvement.
Who has Custody of a Child When the Parents are not Married in Colorado?
When a child is born to married parents, the husband is assumed to be the father. However, if the parents were never married, the mother has sole legal and physical custody of the child until a court orders differently. Further, a child born to unmarried parents will assume the mother’s surname by default. However, a father can consent to have the child take his last name.
Unmarried fathers have no legal rights to custody or parenting time of their kids because there’s no assumption of paternity. Unwed fathers are not, by default, assumed to be biologically related to their child. Thus, an unwed father must take steps to establish paternity.
What are the Custody Laws in Colorado?
Under Colorado law, custody can be awarded to either parent depending on the best interests of the child, and courts must consider all relevant factors.
Often, Colorado family courts require divorcing parents with minor children to finish mandatory parenting classes before granting a divorce. This requirement helps both parents and children deal with the trauma of separation and divorce. Unless the court grants an exemption, both parents must complete this requirement.
Under Colorado law, family courts must consider the best interests of the child when deciding parenting responsibilities. Courts consider the child’s interaction with the parents, siblings, and any other person who affects the child. Also, courts consider the home, school, and community adjustments, as well as the mental and physical well-being of everyone in the child’s life.
Colorado family courts consider the willingness of each parent to share the child. They also consider the parent’s past involvement in the child’s life, including time spent with the child.
Family law judges consider proximity when making practical decisions concerning visitation. In Colorado, the parents submit a parenting plan to courts outlining physical custody and visitation. If parents don’t have a parenting plan or if the courts reject a parenting plan, then the courts make a plan.
Colorado family courts must consider the child’s wishes, especially if he or she is mature enough to make an independent decision.
Colorado law prohibits parents from moving out of Colorado without permission of the other parent or the court. If a parent wants to relocate, they must give written notice, the location, the reason, and a proposed revised parenting plan for consideration by the other parent. A family law judge then makes the final decision at a hearing.
Relocation means 45 minutes or more time of travel away from the other parent, not just moving out of Colorado. Relocation can be a factor, especially when parents share the child’s school rights.
Colorado child custody laws consider the best interests of the child when deciding child custody and child support issues in divorce and separation cases. Colorado family law judges are gender blind, so both parents are on equal footing.
Colorado child custody laws prefer for parents to share child custody equally. Parents share decision-making responsibilities. Further, Colorado judges strive for shared custody solutions instead of traditional joint custody. Shared custody entails both parents sharing equal financial responsibility and time with the child. In Colorado, joint legal custody differs from shared custody. This means one parent has most of the parenting time and financial responsibility, but both parents must make decisions in the best interests of the child.
Under Colorado custody laws, family courts have full discretion when deciding visitation between children and parents. The courts can award visitation between one or more parents, even though both parents agreed on a no-visitation policy. In Colorado, visitation is also known as parenting time. Courts consider the child’s age when determining parenting time. For example, when a child is under 3 years old, the court usually restricts overnight visits with a non-custodial parent. Once the child starts school, the court prefers the child stays in one place, especially during the school year. Family courts divide time between parents for holidays and summers. However, if there has been a history of abuse or neglect, the principle of the “best interest of the child” reigns supreme.
At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?
The family law judge ruling upon your divorce case will consider your child’s wishes. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 are allowed to state which parent they prefer to live with primarily. However, older children between the ages of 16-18 will have more influence on the judge’s decision as to which parent they choose. Although the judge weighs the child’s wishes in their decision, they never base their ruling solely on the child’s preference.
Contact a Colorado Divorce Attorney for Legal Help Today!
You can do everything right, but in custody battles, the most important thing is having an experienced family lawyer by your side.
Although the Colorado custody laws might seem straightforward, navigating through them isn’t always easy. Only an experienced divorce lawyer can help you present your best case to the court and get the outcome you want. At Brighter Day℠ Law, we have decades of experience handling custody cases. We know how stressful family law cases can be for all involved. Our team of competent family law lawyers in Colorado Springs, CO, strives to deliver an outcome you’re happy with.
For a free case review, contact us today at (719) 225-4443, or chat with us online.