Know the Laws: Colorado
UPDATED July 29, 2016
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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 (mutual) or to one parent individually (sole) or can order split decision-making.* A judge will make this decision based on what is in the “best interests of the child,” while placing highest consideration on the child's safety and 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)
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):
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
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)
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)
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)
Possibly. When a claim of child abuse/neglect, domestic violence or sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child has been made to the court, or if the judge has reason to believe that one of these acts has occurred, before the judge can decide whether or not to give the offender parental responsibilities and before the judge can evaluate the "best interest factors" (explained in How will a judge make a decision about allocation of parental responsibilities?), the judge must consider the following:*
Possibly, yes, if the offender was convicted of the sexual assault in criminal court. You can file a petition in the juvenile court to prevent future contact with the person who committed the sexual assault and to terminate the parent-child legal relationship* if all the following requirements are met:
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)
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:
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)
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:
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)
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)
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:
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)
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)
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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)
WomensLaw.org would like to thank the Colorado Legal Services for their help in reviewing a prior version of this material.