In Colorado, “parental responsibilities” generally refers to the allocation of parenting time with children and decision making for children of a marriage or other union.
While, technically, child support is separately considered from issues pertaining to parental responsibilities, in initial determinations, child support is generally considered simultaneously with parental responsibilities because of the parenting time element within the statutory child support guidelines and calculation. Modifications of child support may be different.
When parental responsibilities are in dispute, and even when the parties otherwise agree on parental responsibility issues, the Court 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, based on findings of the Colorado General Assembly, the Court will assume that frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the child(ren) is in the "best interest" of the child(ren) in most cases, but the Court recognizes that this is not always appropriate.
While not comprehensive, parenting time generally includes allocations of normal parenting time, holiday parenting time, vacation parenting time, and Orders pertaining to issues such as exchange time(s), location(s), transportation, insurances, whether parenting time should be supervised or granted on an incremental or step-up basis, etc. When making decisions about parenting time the Court will consider (AND EACH PARTY SHOULD CONSIDER) all relevant factors, which may include, among other things:
- The wishes of the child's parents as to parenting time.
- The wishes of the child if s/he is mature enough to state her/his preference as to the parenting time schedule. Note: generally, the child will not testify in Court proceedings, but will have his / her interests voiced through a professional, not necessarily through a parent or other related person.
- The interaction and relationship of the child with his/her parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests.
- The child's adjustment to his/her home, school, and community.
- The mental and physical health of all people involved. Note: A disability alone cannot be a reason to deny or restrict parenting time.
- The ability of each parent to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent (except that, if the Court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, the party's protective actions will not be considered with respect to this factor).
- The past pattern of involvement of each party with the child (considering the values shown, the time commitment made, etc.).
- How close the parties live to each other as this relates to a practical schedule of parenting time.
- The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
- 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 Court has reason to believe that one of these acts has occurred, before the Court can decide whether or not to grant parenting time, the Court must consider additional factors.
A key finding by the Court will be the number of “overnights” which the child(ren) spends with each parent. Not only is such a finding important in considering the parent/child relationship, the development of the child, etc., it is also a factor for the Court to consider under the child support guidelines.
While not comprehensive, decision making generally includes allocations of decision making regarding education, medical / dental / mental health, religion, extracurricular and recreational activities, communication (between the parent not exercising parenting time and the child, and between the parents), holding of important documents like birth certificates, passports, social security cards, etc., tax allocations, etc. When making a decision about parental decision-making responsibilities, the Court will consider (AND EACH PARTY SHOULD CONSIDER) all relevant factors, including, without limitation:
- All of the factors listed above.
- If the parties can cooperate and make decisions jointly. (Note: The Court may look at the past pattern of involvement of the parties as one way to decide this.)
- If an allocation of mutual (joint) decision-making responsibility on one or more issues would cause more frequent contact between the child and each of the parties.
- Note: As with its parenting time determination, 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, before the Court can decide whether or not to grant decision-making responsibilities, the Court must consider additional factors.
In making its determination, the Court will not consider conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent's relationship with the child and will not presume that one parent is better able to serve the best interests of the child because of that person's sex.
In general, a parent will be given parenting time unless, after a hearing, the judge finds that parenting time would endanger the child's physical health or significantly harm the child's emotional development.
In highly contested cases, or when the input of the child is desired and there is no other professional involved with the child(ren), it is fairly common for one party request or the Court, sua sponte, to Order the appointment of a Child and Family Investigator or Professional Responsibilities Evaluator to investigate specified issues and report his/her findings and recommendations back to the Court.
With the foregoing being said, attorneys within the LAW OFFICES OF PAUL M. GAIDE understand and appreciate that the obligation of a parent to child is one of the most sacred obligations a person has been granted by God, under the United States Constitution, and the common law flowing therefrom. Accordingly, the LAW OFFICES OF PAUL M. GAIDE employs a great amount of time, analysis and effort in assisting clients to make as many joint decisions regarding their child(ren) as possible, rather than leaving the same in the hands of a CFI (who may spend an hour or two with you and the child), with a PRE (who may spend four to six hours with you and the child), or the Court, who may have information imparted to him/her over three to six hours of time. Absent issues pertaining to domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse, substance abuse, or emotional / mental limitations suffered by one or both parents (whether diagnosed or not), parents are generally in better positions to determine the “best interests” of their child(ren), as opposed to a CFI, a PRE, or the Court. Your child(ren) deserve that each parent take their obligations seriously.