Colorado is one of the more progressive states when it comes to time with your children – at least with regard to the terminology included in its legislation. If you're divorcing in this state, you can't ask the court for "custody." That word was eliminated from the family code in 1998. Instead you must prepare a parenting plan and submit it to the court as part of your divorce, delineating who you think should make decisions regarding your children's upbringing. This is called decision-making ability. Your plan must also detail which parent your child will live with on what days, an arrangement called "parenting time." Added together, these are "parental responsibilities."
Your children can live an equal amount of time with each of you, or they can spend more time with one parent. Either way, the judge will sign off on your schedule if he feels it's in the best interests of your children. If a judge has to make a parenting time decision because you and your spouse can't agree on a jointly submitted plan, he will consider several things. In addition to Colorado's best interests factors, a judge will weigh the time commitments of your other responsibilities, such as work, and your child's activities. He will consider how far apart you and your spouse plan to live from each other. Colorado is a big state, and if your children can't easily move back and forth between your homes, the parent who relocates might have limited parenting time because of the distance. Absent issues of abuse or criminal history, it's almost unheard of for a parent to be denied any parenting time at all. Even if these issues do exist, the court will probably still order parenting time but require that a third party supervise the contact.
Decision-making ability – called legal custody in other states – establishes a prescribed routine for how you and your spouse will deal with major issues on behalf of your children. If you and your spouse can agree to joint decision-making in a mutual parenting plan, the court will probably sign off on it when you submit the plan as part of your divorce proceedings. Otherwise, a judge must decide this issue at your divorce trial. He'll want to know if your relationship with your children's other parent is such that you'll be able to work with and communicate with each other after your divorce. He'll want to know how you made important decisions while you were still married.
Best Interests Factors
Colorado's best interests factors are in tune with those of other states. They're issues a judge must consider when allocating both parenting time and decision-making ability. Your wishes and your children's wishes count, but the court also looks at which parent is most likely to facilitate contact between the children and the other parent after your divorce is granted. Continuity is important; the court doesn't like to uproot children from their friends, schools and communities, forcing them to move in order to accommodate their parents' divorce. If you can't agree to a parenting plan and your children's best interests aren't clear-cut, a Colorado judge can order a custody evaluation or mediation. Mediation involves meeting with an impartial third party who can help you get past your differences and negotiate a parenting plan that's good for the whole family.
Under Colorado law, you have certain rights as a parent regardless of the terms of your parenting plan, whether you agree to one or the court orders it. You have the right to request and receive any information about your child's health and school records directly from his school or physician even if you don't share joint decision-making ability. You can also request a custody evaluation on your own as part of your divorce proceedings if the judge doesn't appear likely to order one on behalf of the court.