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Know the Laws: Colorado

UPDATED October 18, 2013

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Please consider getting help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action. To find an organization, please go to the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

Basic information and definitions

back to topWhat are "parental responsibilities" and how is it different from custody?

In Colorado, the term “parental responsibilities” is used instead of “custody.”  It refers to the rights and responsibilities of a parent to care for his/her child.  When a judge makes a decision about parental responsibilities (called “allocation of parental responsibilities”), this includes decisions about how much parenting time each parent will have with the child and which parent will get decision-making responsibilities for the child.*  The parent who has responsibility for decision-making can decide the child's upbringing, including his or her education, health care, and religious training.**  With respect to each issue affecting the child, the judge can allocate the decision-making responsibility to both parents (jointly) or to one parent (individually).*  A judge will make this decision based on what is in the “best interests of the child,” taking into consideration the physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs of the child.***  To read all of the factors that a judge will consider when allocating parental responsibilities and parenting time, go to How will a judge make a decision about allocation of parental responsibilities?

* See generally C.R.S. § 14-10-124
** See C.R.S. § 14-10-130(1)
*** C.R.S. § 14-10-124(1.5)

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back to topWhat are some advantages and disadvantages of getting an allocation of parental responsibilities order?

According to Colorado law, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities towards their child(ren) if they were married or if paternity has been established.*   For parents who were not married when the child was born, paternity can be established in multiple ways, such as when the father signs an acknowledgment of paternity or it can be established in court.**  To read the rest of the ways that paternity can be established, go to our CO Statutes page.  The only way to legally change the equal right to make decisions about your child held by both parents is through a court order – usually after one or both parents file for allocation of parental responsibilities.

There are many reasons you might choose not to get an allocation of parental responsibilities order from a judge.  You may decide not to get an order because you don't want to get the courts involved or you may already have an informal agreement with the other parent that works well for you.  You may think that going to court will provoke the other parent to seek more time with your child and more legal rights, which you do not want him/her to have.

However, in some cases, it is a good idea to get an allocation of parental responsibilities order from a judge.  For example, it might make it easier to deal with the other parent because the rights and responsibilities for each parent would be stated clearly in the order.  You will have to make this choice based on your particular situation.  A lawyer might be able to offer you advice about which choice is right for you.  To find a lawyer in your area, please see our CO Finding a Lawyer page.

If you go to court, a judge can give you (or the other parent):

  • The responsibility to make decisions about education, healthcare, religion and other things for your child;
  • A clear schedule listing where the child will live and when the child will have time with the other parent;
  • Clear instructions for how and when the child will be transferred to the other parent and returned to you;
  • An order preventing either parent from moving out of state with the child;
  • The responsibility to make or receive child support payments; and/or
  • The right to call the police or go back to court to enforce the order and hold the other parent in contempt (ask the court to punish the parent) if the other parent does not follow the court order.
* C.R.S. § 19-4-103
** C.R.S. § 19-4-105

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised parenting time?

If you are not comfortable with the other parent being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that parenting time with your child be supervised.  Supervised parenting time may be ordered by a judge to require that a parent’s time with his/her children be supervised by a neutral third party (for example, a professional supervisor or another family member).*  In some instances, such as where there has been domestic abuse between you and the other parent, allegations of drug or alcohol abuse, parental alienation, or to protect your child from immediate danger or abuse, starting a court case to ask for parental responsibility and supervised parenting time is appropriate.**

If you are already in court because the abuser filed for parental responsibilities or parenting time, you might not have much to lose by asking that the parenting time be supervised, provided that you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised parenting time.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in parental responsibilities matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the parenting time supervised and how long the supervision would last, based on the facts of your case.  Sometimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more parenting time than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of parental responsibility.  To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to our CO Finding a Lawyer page to find a lawyer in your area and get legal advice.

Visits can be unsupervised or supervised, and may involve a neutral place of exchange and/or monitored exchange.  You and the other parents may agree to exchange your child at school or another safe place, use a supportive relative or family friend to help with the exchange, or have a professional oversee your transitions.  This decision can be written into your parenting plan.  If parents cannot agree about when and where to exchange the child, the judge may order one or more of these methods.  The reason for this is to make sure of the child's safety and a calm situation for the child.***

The type of supervised parenting time that is ordered depends greatly on the resources available in your county and the circumstances of the case.  Even when supervised visits are ordered, the supervised visitation may be ordered for a short period of time and then changed to unsupervised visits if the supervised visits go well.  In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.

For more information about parenting time in CO, you can read Connecting With Your Kids: Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado, a lengthy but very informative booklet published by The Colorado Foundation for Families and Children.

* C.R.S. § 14-10.5-104
** See Connecting With Your Kids: Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado, p. 83
*** See Connecting With York Kids: Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado, p. 30

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back to topWhat is a parenting plan? Do I have to submit one in court?

A parenting plan sets out how much time each parent has with the child and how decisions about major issues affecting the child will be made (for example, educational, medical, and religious decisions).

Each party in a custody case can submit a parenting plan for the court's approval that addresses the allocation of parental responsibilities in a way that s/he would like it to be.  If no parenting plan is submitted by either parent, or if the judge does not approve the submitted parenting plan(s), the judge will make his/her own parenting plan that will address parenting time and the allocation of parental responsibilities based on what is in the best interests of the child.*  For more information on how a judge will determine what is in the child's best interests, see How will a judge make a decision about allocation of parental responsibilities?

For more information about parenting plans in CO, you may want to read Connecting With Your Kids: Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado, a lengthy but informative booklet published by The Colorado Foundation for Families and Children.

* C.R.S. § 14-10-124(7)

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back to topWhat is mediation? When will it be ordered?

Mediation is a process that uses a neutral third-party, called a mediator, to help parents agree on matters relating to parental responsibilities without a trial.  Sometimes a judge may refer parties to mediation, and sometimes the parties may go to mediation voluntarily to avoid going to court.

The judge can order mediation to help the parties create or modify a parenting plan and can order the parties to pay the mediation costs.*  However, the judge cannot refer you to mediation if you have been the victim of physical or psychological abuse by the other party.  If this applies to you, make sure to tell the judge this and that you do not want to go to mediation.  Even if you are not a victim of abuse, but you object to mediation for another reason, you can file a motion (legal papers) objecting to mediation that includes convincing reasons why mediation should not be ordered (for example, if prior attempts to resolve the issues were not successful).  You must file this motion within 5 days of the judge’s mediation order.**

* C.R.S. § 14-10-124(8)
** C.R.S. § 13-22-311(1)

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Who can get allocation of parental responsibilities

back to topWho is entitled to allocation of parental responsibilities?

At least one of the child's parents is entitled to be allocated (given) parental responsibilities, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that both parents are unfit.  A non-parent may petition for allocation of parental responsibilities if s/he has physical care of the child for a period of six months or more and an action is commenced within six months of the termination of such physical care.*  The judge will allocate parental responsibilities according to what s/he believes is in the best interest of the child.

If only one parent is granted allocation of decision-making responsibilities by the judge, the other parent may still be granted parenting time.  For more information, you may want to read the CO Department of Human Services’ booklet, A Parent’s Guide to Visitation: How to Establish and Enforce Parenting Time.

C.R.S. § 14-10-123(1)(b),(c)

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get parenting time?

Possibly.  If you feel there is a risk of violence, you must convince the judge that you and your child need protection.  A judge may give parenting time to the parent who committed domestic violence or child abuse/neglect if s/he believes that proper measures can be taken to insure the safety of both the child and the parent.  This may include:

  • ordering supervised visits and/or neutral exchange or exchange in a protected setting;
  • an order limiting contact between the parties;
  • an order restricting overnight parenting time;
  • an order that the abuser cannot possess or drink alcohol or take controlled substances (drugs) during parenting time or for twenty-four hours prior to the beginning of his/her parenting time;
  • an order directing that the address of the child or of the victim remain confidential; and
  • any other condition that the judge believes is necessary to protect the child, the abused parent, or any other family or household member.*
The judge can also order an evaluation to determine if the abuser should participate in a domestic violence treatment program and can require a report from the treatment provider regarding his/her progress. At any time, the judge can then order a new evaluation to determine whether additional treatment is necessary.**

Note: Even if the parent is no longer abusing you but you believe there is domestic violence occurring in that parent's home with his/her new intimate partner, this can be something that you may want to raise in court.  In July 2013, the Colorado Legislature declared that a child has the right to be emotionally, mentally, and physically safe when in the care of either parent and has the right to live in and visit homes that are free of domestic violence and child abuse or neglect.***

* C.R.S. § 14-10-124(4)(e)
** C.R.S. § 14-10-124(4)(f)
*** C.R.S. § 14-10-123.4(1)(b),(c)

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back to topCan I get temporary allocation of parental responsibilities if I have a protection order against the other parent?

If a protection order is granted due to domestic violence, the order may include temporary allocation of parental responsibilities of minor children and temporary visitation.  Be sure to tell the judge that you want temporary allocation of parental responsibilities during your protective order hearing so that the judge can take your request into consideration.  It is important to note that allocation of parental responsibilities granted with a protection order expires with that order.  The judge may also extend temporary orders as s/he feels is necessary.*  For more information, see How can a domestic violence protection order help me?

* C.R.S. § 13-14-104.5(10)

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back to topI am not the child's parent. Can I get parental responsibilities of the child?

A person other than a child's parent can file a petition seeking parental responsibilities of a child in the county where the child permanently resides or in the county where the child is located if:

  • The child is not in the physical care of one of the child's parents; or
  • If the petitioner has had physical care of the child for a period of 182 days or more (and, if applicable, the petition must be filed within 182 days of the termination of that physical care); or
  • If the petitioner has been granted custody of a child or has been allocated parental responsibilities through a juvenile court order.*
* C.R.S. § 14-10-123(1)(b)-(d)



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How the allocation of parental responsibilities process works

back to topWill my child get a lawyer appointed to represent his/her interests?

Possibly.  When awarding allocation of parental responsibilities, the judge can appoint a lawyer to serve as the legal representative of the child.  It is the legal representative's responsibility to represent the best interests of the child with respect to custody, allocation of parental responsibilities, child support, the child's property, parenting time or any other issue related to the child that is identified by the legal representative of the child or the court.*

Either or both parents may have to pay the fees of the child’s legal representative unless the parent(s) are determined to be indigent (poor), in which case the state will pay the fees.**

* C.R.S. 14-10-116(1),(2)
** C.R.S. 14-10-116(3)(a)

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back to topHow will a judge make a decision about allocation of parental responsibilities?

When awarding allocation of parental responsibilities, the judge will consider what is in the best interests of the child, giving the highest consideration to the child's safety and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs of the child.*  In general, s/he will assume that frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the child is in that child's "best interest" in most cases but the court recognizes that this is not always appropriate.*1 

When making a decision about parenting time the judge will consider all relevant factors, including:

  • The wishes of the child's parents as to parenting time;
  • The wishes of the child if s/he is mature enough to state his/her preference as to the parenting time schedule;
  • The interaction and relationship of the child with his/her parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;
  • The child's adjustment to his/her home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all people involved (Note: A disability alone cannot be a reason to deny or restrict parenting time);
  • The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party (except that, if the court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, the party's protective actions will not be considered with respect to this factor);
  • The past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child (considering the values shown, the time commitment made, etc.);
  • How close the parties live to each other as this relates to a practical schedule of parenting time;
  • Whether one of the parties has committed domestic violence or child abuse or neglect (see Can a parent who committed violence get parenting time? for more information); and
  • The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.*2
When making a decision about parental decision-making responsibilities, the judge will consider all relevant factors, including those listed above and the following:
  • Whether the parties can cooperate and make decisions jointly; (Note: The judge will look at the past pattern of involvement of the parties as one way to decide this);
  • Whether an allocation of mutual (joint) decision-making responsibility on one or more issues would cause more frequent contact between the child and each of the parties;
  • Whether either parent has committed child abuse or neglect -- if so, then that parent will not get mutual decision-making powers;
  • Whether either parent has committed domestic violence -- if so, then that parent will not get mutual decision-making powers unless the judge believes that the parties are able to make shared decisions about the child without physical abuse or endangering the abused parent or child.*3
Note: The judge will not consider conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent's relationship to the child*4 and the judge will not presume that one parent is better able to serve the best interests of the child because of that person's sex.*5

In general, a parent will be given parenting time unless, after a hearing, the judge finds that parenting time would endanger the child's physical health or significantly harm the child's emotional development.*2

* C.R.S. §§ 14-10-124; 14-10-123.4
*1 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(1)
*2 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(1.5)(a), (4)(a)
*3 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(1.5)(b)
*4 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(2)
*5 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(3)

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back to topWhen does someone usually file for allocation of parental responsibilities?

Generally if you and the other parent are married and seeking a divorce, one or both of you may file for allocation of parental responsibilities as part of the divorce (dissolution) action or legal separation.*

If you and the other parent are already divorced, and one of you wants to modify (change) the allocation of parental responsibilities order, s/he can file a petition for a change in allocation of parental responsibilities in the county where the divorce was issued.

If you and the other parent were never married, either of you may file for allocation of parental responsibilities in the county in which the child has been permanently residing or in the county where the child can be found.**  For more information about whether or not to file, see What are some advantages and disadvantages for getting an allocation of parental responsibilities order?  To find out what the process will be like for you based on your particular situation, please consult a lawyer in your area.

* C.R.S. § 14-10-123(1)(a)(I)
** C.R.S. § 14-10-123(1)(a)(II)

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back to topIf I leave the home because of domestic violence and leave my children there with the abuser, can this affect my chances of getting allocation of parental responsibilities?

According to the law, if you are absent or leave the home because of an act or threatened act of domestic violence by the other parent, your absence is not supposed to be a factor used by the judge in determining the best interests of the child.*

If you have not yet left the home, you may want to get help to make a plan that will allow you to safely and legally take the children with you when you leave.  If you want help doing this, you can talk to a lawyer who has experience with domestic violence and custody issues and/or a domestic violence advocate in your area.  See our CO Where to Find Help page.

* C.R.S. § 14-10-124(4)(c)

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back to topAfter I file for allocation of parental responsibilities, can I take my child out of state? Are there any other restrictions?

Once either parent files a petition concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities, there is an automatic temporary injunction (order) against both parties stating that both parties cannot:

  • bother or disturb the peace of the other party (which can be enforced by the police);
  • remove the child from the state without the consent of all other parties OR an order of the court; and/or
  • cancel, modify, or stop paying premiums on a health insurance policy that provides coverage to the child or a life insurance policy that names the child as a beneficiary unless:
    • the parent gives all parties at least fourteen days' notice; and either
      • all parties consent to the cancellation or change in writing; or
      • the judge allows the change or cancellation in a court order.*
These restrictions becomes effective on the party who files the petition immediately upon filing; they become effective on the other party when s/he is served.*  They stay in effect until the judge enters the final custody order, dismisses the petition, or enters an order modifying the injunction's restrictions.**

Note: If either party files for divorce, the same restrictions apply (as well as an additional restriction against transferring, concealing, or getting rid of marital property).***

* C.R.S. § 14-10-123(3)(a),(d)
** C.R.S. § 14-10-123(3)(b)
*** See C.R.S. § 14-10-107(4)(b)

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back to topIn which state do I file for allocation of parental responsibilities?

The general rule is that Colorado state courts have authority to hear a custody case if CO is considered your child's “home state”.*  A child's “home state” is generally the state where the child has most recently lived with a parent (or a person acting as a parent) for at least 6 consecutive months.  In the case of a child less than 6 months old, the “home state” is the state where the child has lived from birth. A short, temporary absence from the state does not change anything.

If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months.  Until then, either you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state in which your child most recently lived for at least six months.

Example: If a family has lived in MT for one year and then one parent moved to CO with the children and filed in CO after living there for only four months, CO is still the home state.  CO would likely not have jurisdiction (power) over the custody of the children.

There are exceptions to the “home state rule.”  For more information, please see the following section, What are the exceptions to the "home state” rule?

* C.R.S. § 14-13-102(7)(a)

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back to topWhat are the exceptions to the "home state" rule?

There are exceptions to the home state rule.  In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have significant connections.  Usually, however, you can only do this if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state have jurisdiction.*  This can be complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this.  For a list of legal resources, please see our CO Finding a Lawyer page.

Another exception to the home state rule exists in the case of filing for temporary emergency custody in a state that a parent and child have recently arrived in.**  See Can I get temporary allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado? for more information.

* C.R.S. § 14-13-201(b)
** C.R.S. § 14-13-204(1)

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back to topCan I get temporary allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado?

If you have recently arrived in CO state, and CO is not the home state of the child, a federal law called the UCCJEA allows for a person to file for temporary emergency custody in a state other than the home state if:

  • the child is present in the state; and
  • the child has been abandoned OR it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, a sibling or a parent of the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.*
If the child’s home state is CO, and you are currently in the middle of a custody proceeding, it may be the case that temporary parental rights and responsibilities orders may issued while the case waits to be resolved through trial or a settlement where a final order will be issued.  Please speak to a lawyer who is familiar with CO custody laws to find out for sure whether or not this may be available in your county and in your situation.   For lawyers, go to our CO Finding a Lawyer page.

For more information, please see Can I get temporary emergency custody? in our general parental kidnapping section.

* C.R.S. § 14-13-204(1)

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back to topCan I change the state where the case is being heard?

Maybe.  If you move to another state, you may be able to change the state where the custody (PR &R) case is being heard.  You may have to ask the judge that is hearing the case to change the jurisdiction of your case to the new state.

For information on trying to modify a final CO custody order in another state, or an out-of-state custody order in CO, please see our Changing a final custody order page in the general custody information section.  This will tell you what factors a judge should consider when deciding whether or not to transfer your case to a new state.

The custody process is often complicated, especially when trying to figure out if you can move your case to a new state.  Therefore, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about any custody questions you have.  To find legal services in CO, go to our CO Finding a Lawyer page.  To find legal services in a state other than CO, select that state from the Where to Find Help tab on the top of this page and then click Finding a Lawyer.

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back to topDo I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to file for allocation of parental responsibilities. However, it is highly recommended that you get a lawyer to make sure that your rights are protected. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to find sources of free or low-cost legal help on our CO Finding a Lawyer page.

If you are unable to get a lawyer to help you and you plan to file for custody on your own, you may want to visit the CO Courts website, which provides links to paperwork you need to fill out and file with the court.  Even if you plan on representing yourself, you should try to have a lawyer review your papers before you file them.

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After a parental responsibilities order is in place

back to topIf an allocation of parental responsibilities order is already in place, how can I get it changed?

Because allocation of parental responsibilities is decided based on what is in the best interest of the child, an order can generally be changed.  If you have an allocation of parental responsibilities order already in place, you can petition the court to modify (change) it and a judge may do so if the modification would serve the best interests of the child.*

Generally, the judge will not change an order concerning parenting time that substantially changes the parenting time as well as changes the party with whom the child lives a majority of the time unless:

  • there are new facts that have come up since the prior order that the judge did not know about;
  • a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or the party with whom the child lives the majority of the time; and
  • the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.*1
Evidence of abuse, a criminal conviction for certain crimes (even if committed in another state or jurisdiction), or domestic violence will most likely be considered a new fact or change in circumstance.*2  To read more about CO’s modification law, including information about filing to relocate to another state with your child, go to our CO Statutes page.

If you believe that your child is in immediate physical or emotional danger because of the other parent’s contact or parenting time with the child, you may file a motion to restrict his/her parenting time or contact with the child.  The judge will hold a hearing to decide your motion within 7 days.  During those 7 days, any parenting time that the other parent has with your child must be supervised by an unrelated third party who has been approved by the judge.*3  Note: If the judge finds that your motion to restrict parenting time was frivolous, groundless or intended only to annoy the other parent harm, the judge will order you to pay the other parent’s attorney fees and costs.*4

To modify an allocation of parental responsibilities order, you will generally need to go to the court that issued the order, even if you have moved.  Generally, once a court has jurisdiction, that court will keep jurisdiction, even if you move to another state.  If you have moved, you can ask the court to change the jurisdiction to the new state that you are in.  This is often complicated, and as with all allocation of parental responsibilities issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  Go to the CO Finding a Lawyer page to find someone who can help you.

* C.R.S. § 14-10-129(1)(a)(I); see generally, C.R.S. § 14-10-129
*1 C.R.S. § 14-10-129(2)
*2 C.R.S. § 14-10-129(3)
*3 C.R.S. § 14-10-129(4)
*4 C.R.S. § 14-10-129(5)

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back to topWhat can I do if the other parent violates the order?

If the other parent violates the order, you can file a motion for contempt.  The judge can set the matter down for a hearing or order the parents to go to mediation and report back to the court.  The judge can then approve an agreement reached by the parents or set the matter for hearing.*

Upon completing the hearing, if the judge finds that a parent has violated the court order, the judge should issue one or more of the following orders:

  • An order making additional terms and conditions that are consistent with the prior order;
  • An order modifying the previous order to meet the best interests of the child;
  • An order requiring either or both parent(s) to attend a parental education program to be paid for by the parent who violated the order;
  • An order requiring the parties to participate in family counseling to be paid for by the parent who violated the order;
  • An order requiring the parent who violated the order to post bond (place money with the court) to ensure that s/he will follow the order in the future;
  • An order requiring that makeup parenting time be provided to the parent who was denied time at a time that works for him/her;
  • An order finding the parent who did not comply with the parenting time schedule in contempt of court and imposing a fine or jail sentence and/or a civil fine of up to $100 per incident of denied parenting time;
  • An order scheduling a hearing for modification of the existing order concerning custody or the allocation of parental responsibilities; or
  • Any other order that may promote the best interests of the child or children involved.**

Also, if the judge determines that a parent did violate the order, s/he will have to pay the other party’s attorney's fees, court costs, and expenses that are associated with bringing the contempt motion.  If the parent accused of violating the order is found by the judge to have not violated the other, the parent who filed may have to pay the accused parent’s legal fees.***

* C.R.S. § 14-10-129.5(1)
** C.R.S. § 14-10-129.5(2)
*** C.R.S. § 14-10-129.5(4)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank the Colorado Legal Services for their help in reviewing a prior version of this material.

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