The difference between Child Custody and Child Visitation versus Parental Responsibility is largely one of word choice. In Colorado the terms child custody and child visitation have been replaced by the term “parental responsibility”. The legal term “parental responsibility” includes deciding a child’s primary residence (previously child custody), splitting of parenting time (visitation), and decision-making authority (an offshoot of child custody).
Legally, biological parents are deemed to have a fundamental liberty interest in the care and custody of their own children. Meaning that you have a right to parent your child. This does not mean that the courts cannot make orders and restrict your ability to parent your child. Generally, in a Colorado divorce or separation proceeding, the court must determine how to separate the care and custody of children between two parents.
Decision Making Authority (Custody)
Decision making authority is the ability to make decisions for the child or children. This includes decisions regarding religious affiliations, educational decisions, extra-curricular activities, and medical and dental decision-making.
Sole v. Joint Decision Making
A parent may be awarded sole decision making authority, meaning that one parent has the ability to decided the issues for the child without the other parents agreement or input.
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 religious issue and the other parent is the only decision maker for extra-curricular activities.
Joint decision-making means that both parents are legally able to make decisions on behalf of the children. The difference between sole and joint decision-making is important to understand.
The right to decide legal issues for your children can either be made by the court or agreed upon by you and the other parent. 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 that you would have or would 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), the court should consider the following factors when allocating decision-making authority:
- Credible evidence of the ability 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 that 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 may award one parent more visitation time or less visitation time then the other parent.
In Colorado Revised Statute §14-10-124(1.5)(a), the court should consider the following factors when awarding visitation time with a parent:
- 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 a court 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 domestic relations lawyer if you feel that this would be in the best interest of the child.
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 father or mother are now splitting parenting responsibilities. When you are entering into a co-parent relationship there are many issues that may come up a long the way. 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.
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 family law 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.