Determining Child Custody in Colorado
What’s the difference between legal and physical custody?
Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody refers to when and where parents will spend time with their children.
Can divorcing parents resolve custody issues on their own?
Yes, and it is highly encouraged. Divorcing parents may agree on custody arrangements. Often, parents will share joint legal custody (mutual decision-making authority) and work out a specific “parenting plan” (an agreed-upon schedule of time the child will spend with each parent) that best suits their child’s circumstances.
If parents can’t agree, they’ll have to go to court. Prior to a final hearing, the divorcing parents will be required to attend mediation – a meeting with a specially-trained third party called a “mediator” who tries to help parents work out their own parenting plans. If parents still can’t agree, they’ll end up in court, and a judge will decide.
How do courts make custody decisions?
A court’s primary consideration in all custody decisions is the “child’s best interests.” Custody arrangements must fall in line with what’s best for the child, giving top regard to the child’s physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs.
In determining the child’s best interests for purposes of physical custody, a judge must consider all relevant factors, including:
- the parents’ wishes as to parenting time
- the child’s wishes as to parenting time, but only if he or she is mature enough to express reasoned and independent preferences (eg., if a child wants to stay with mom full-time because she has a PlayStation video game, that won’t be given much weight)
- the child’s relationship with his or her parents and/or siblings
- the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved
- the parents’ physical distance to one another as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time (eg., how far one house is from school), and
- whether one parent has a history of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence (if so, the court may order that parent have only supervised visitation, or no visitation, with the child).
The full list of factors can be found in the Colorado statutes at, C.R.S.A. § 14-10-124