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Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (Child Custody)

Child custody cases in Colorado involve the “allocation of parental responsibilities” between a child’s parents, or a third party acting as a parent to the child. Child custody can either be sought via an independent case or as part of a dissolution of marriage (divorce) case, if there are children.

Child custody cases are heard at the district court level and will be assigned to either a judge or magistrate’s courtroom. For a brand new child custody case to be filed in Colorado, the state must be the child’s “home state,” which generally means that the child has lived in Colorado for at least 182 days prior to the filing of the case. This jurisdictional requirement stems from the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Though child custody cases are generally between the two parents, Colorado statute, specifically C.R.S. 14-10-123, allows for non-parents to also seek allocation of parental responsibilities of a child if certain conditions exist. Generally speaking, non-parents can seek custody of a child if the child is in their primary care and is not in the care of either parent, or had been in their care for 6 months, with less than 6 months passing since the child left their primary care. In a custody case between a parent, or parents, and a non-parent, the court must have “clear and convincing” evidence that it is in the child’s best interest to allocate custody to a non-parent over a parent’s objection.

A child custody case is commenced with the filing of a Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, a Summons, and a Case Information Sheet. Unless the parents file jointly, the respondent will either need to be personally served or sign a waiver of service.

In any new child custody case, the primary issues to be resolved are:

If the parties are able to agree on how to resolve these issues, they can submit a final agreement or parenting plan to the court and be done. If they do not agree on these issues, a judge or magistrate will ultimately have them decided at a contested hearing. Parenting Time schedules will normally entail regular parenting time provisions, as well as provisions for holidays and vacations. As relates to decision-making, orders will relate to major medical, educational, or general welfare decisions and will be allocated either jointly between the parents, solely to, or a mixture.

Procedurally, after the petition is filed, an initial status conference with either a judge/magistrate or family court facilitator will be scheduled, to occur within 42 days of the case being filed. At the ISC, substantive issues will be discussed in terms of what each parent is seeking as relates to parenting time, decision-making, and child support. Any emergency issues can also be raised. In most jurisdictions, the court will allow for the setting of a temporary orders hearing should there be disagreements regarding what parenting time should be while the case is pending. Also in most jurisdictions, the court will require the parties to attend mediation prior to going to their final orders hearing. If the parties are able to settle prior to any contested hearing, temporary or permanent, they can avoid going to court via submission of an agreement (stipulation) resolving the issues.

When child support is also an aspect of a custody case, the parties will be required to exchange sworn financial statements and other financial disclosures pursuant to C.R.C.P. 16.2. Additionally, when issues are disputed, the result of which is the scheduling of a hearing, parties will need to adhere to deadlines tied into witness disclosure, including the disclosure of any child custody experts. In a child custody case, the court can appoint either a Child and Family Investigator, pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-116.5, or order a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-127.

Child custody or parental responsibility cases not only entail working towards arriving at final orders, but can also arise after those orders are entered. Family law courts in Colorado retain jurisdiction over child custody related issues until a child turns 18. As such, parenting time and decision-making orders are modifiable until then.

Child custody cases can be handled with or without a family law attorney, though having a Denver child custody lawyer’s representation is generally advisable.