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Legal Information: Colorado

Colorado Custody

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Laws current as of October 13, 2023

What 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.1

The parent who has responsibility for decision-making can decide the child’s upbringing, including his or her education, health care, and religious training.2 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.1 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.3 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?

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

When does someone usually file for allocation of parental responsibilities?

A person can file for allocation of parental responsibilities under the following circumstances:

  • as part of a petition for divorce or legal separation;
  • by filing a petition in the district court in the county in where the child lives; or
  • by filing a motion in an existing juvenile court case.1

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.

1 C.R.S. § 14-10-123(1)(a)

What 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, including 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.1 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?

1 C.R.S. § 14-10-124(7)

What 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.1 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 five days of the judge’s mediation order.2

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

What 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 children if they were married or if paternity has been established.1 For parents who were not married when the child was born, paternity or parentage can be established in court or when the non-birthing parent signs an acknowledgment of parentage or paternity.2 To read additional ways that paternity can be established, go to our Selected Colorado 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
  • the right to call the police or go back to court to enforce the order and hold the other parent in contempt if the other parent does not follow the court order.

1 C.R.S. § 19-4-103
2 C.R.S. § 19-4-105

Should 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.1 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.2

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.3

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.

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

In 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 Colorado is considered your child’s “home state”.1 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 six consecutive months. In the case of a child less than six 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 Montana for one year and then one parent moved to Colorado with the children and filed in Colorado after living there for only four months, Montana is still the home state. Colorado 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?

1 C.R.S. § 14-13-102(7)(a)

What 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.1 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 in which a parent and child have recently arrived.2 See Can I get temporary allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado? for more information.

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