The difference between Child Custody and Child Visitation versus Parental Responsibility is largely one of word choice. In Colorado and the Denver metro area, the terms child custody and child visitation have been replaced by the terms “parental responsibility” and “parenting time.” The legal term “parental responsibility” includes deciding a child’s primary residence (previously child custody), sharing parenting time (visitation), and decision-making authority (an offshoot of child custody).
A biological parent is deemed to have a fundamental liberty interest in the care and custody of their own children. In lawyer speak this means that Colorado and Denver law acknowledges that you have a right to parent your child. This does not mean the courts cannot make orders that effect your parental rights or set restrictions your ability to parent your child. It means that if the court is going to make any restrictions, it has to consider many different factors. Please see out post regarding the “best interest of the child” for more information.
Decision Making Authority (Custody)
Decision making authority is the ability to make certain legal decisions for your children who live in Colorado or Denver. Decision making authority generally refers to the ability of one or both parents to make major life decisions for the child. This includes decisions regarding religious affiliations, educational decisions, extra-curricular activities, and medical and dental decision-making. It is recommend that you ask your divorce attorney about the ability of you and your co-parent to make decisions together because this is one of the factors that a court will consider when decisions if decision making should be joint or sole.
Sole v. Joint Decision Making
Joint decision-making means both parents must make decisions on behalf of the children together. If a decision cannot be reached, the matter may, by agreement be referred to a decision maker and/or mediation. The difference between sole and joint decision-making is important to understand if you are co-parenting in Denver or Colorado. There is a presumption in the law that both parents are fit to be decision makers for their own children. In simple terms without lawyer speak, this means that it is assumed joint decision making is best for the child.
A parent may be awarded sole decision making authority, meaning that one parent has the ability to decided issues such as where the child goes to school, lives, certain extra-cirruclar actives and medical decisions without input from the other parent. Divorce attorneys know that each parent has a right to bring their child up in whatever religion he or she chooses, regardless of decision making. The court is not able to prevent a parent from taking his/her child to religious services or activities.
Partial decision-making authority allows for a split of decision-making authority for the children based on the specific issues. For example, one parent is the only decision maker for education issue and the other parent is the only decision maker for extra-curricular activities.
The right to decide legal issues for your children can either be made by the court or agreed upon by the parties. Lawyers will recommend agreements with the other side, where possible. There is always a risk that you will not get want you want if you allow a judge to make the decision for you. As most divorce attorneys recognize going to court on decision-making authority can be costly and have unsatisfactory results.
We recommend reviewing any agreement that your spouse or the other parent presents to you with an attorney to make sure that you understand what rights you have or not have prior to signing the document. Once you make an agreement as to parental responsibly you are giving up that right unless the court changes it, which means in the process of changing the document you would not legally be allowed to make certain decisions for your children.
In Colorado Revised Statute §14-10-124(1.5)(b), this is the legal state that a judge in Colorado and Denver must following when considering an allocation of decision-making authority:
- Credible evidence of the ability (or inability) of the parties to cooperate and to make decisions jointly.
- Whether joint decision-making responsibility on any issues will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parties.
Parenting Time (Visitation)
Parenting time relates to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. The court must consider the best interest of the children and all relevant factors in deciding on an allocation of parenting time. This allocation of time by a judge in Denver or Colorado does not require an equal or even split.
In Colorado Revised Statute §14-10-124(1.5)(a) is the law that a judge should consider when determining parenting time for each parent. The time split requested of each parent is considered, as well as:
- Your wishes as the parent for parenting time
- Wishes of the child if the child is older
- Interaction and relationships of the child with his or her parents, siblings, and other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest. This is commonly a grandparent or close aunt, cousins, ect.
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of all parties involved
- The ability of the parents to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and other party
- Whether past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support
- The physical proximity of the parties to each other
- The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs
Restriction of Parenting Time
Restriction of all parenting time is a drastic step for judge to take. The court must first hold a hearing and find evidence that further parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. This is an extremely high standard and should be thoroughly discussed with your divorce attorney or family law lawyer if you feel your child is endanger when in theater parents care or an allegation is made against you.
In making the decision on both decision making authority and parenting time, the court, or any party may request the appointment of either a Child and Family Investigator or Parenting Responsibility Evaluator. The parties usually split the cost of either a CFI or PRE either evenly or in proportion to income.
Co-Parenting After Separation or Divorce
Co-parenting means that you and the other parent are working together to raise your children, although you are living spearately. When you are entering into a co-parent relationship there are many issues that may come up a long the way, some that you may be able to handle on your own and some that may require a divorce attorney. As the child grows and enters into different phases in his or her life, having a solid agreement on co-parenting can help the child adjust and gives both parents piece of mind in raising their children. However no agreement is foolproof and you may need to seek modifications of agreements and circumstances and situations change. This is where you may need to rely on the advise of a family law attorney.
We hope that the above has provided you information on child custody and child visitation issues. We invite you to ask a question of our divorce attorney or call for a consultation regarding a child custody or visitation issue. Clicking here or call (303) 747-4686 to reach us for more personalized information to your legal question.