303.839.1770

Child Custody

In Colorado, there is no longer such a thing as “child custody.” What used to be called child custody is now called “parental responsibility.” What used to be called “visitation” is now called “parenting time.”

Parental responsibility

Parental responsibility means decision-making regarding the child. If parents have joint parental responsibility of a child, they will share decision-making responsibility for that child’s health, education, religion and general welfare. If the parents cannot agree on how to allocate parental responsibility, the court will make the decision based on the best interest of the child and taking into consideration:

  • The ability of the parents to cooperate and make decisions jointly
  • Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parents with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment and mutual support that would indicate an ability as mutual decision makers to provide a positive and nurturing relationship with the child
  • Whether an allocation of mutual decision making responsibility on any one or a number of issues will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parents
  • Whether one parent has been a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect under the law of any state
  • Whether one of the parents has been a perpetrator of spousal abuse (See also Divorce and Domestic Violence)

Parenting time

Parenting time refers to the actual time the child is in the care and control of each parent. Parents typically want to know with whom the child will live the majority of the time. The parents can equally share parenting time of the child or one parent’s home can be the primary legal residence of the child while the other parent has a certain amount of parenting time.

If parents cannot decide on parenting time, the court will make the decision based on the best interest of the child, and take into account the following factors:

  • The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time
  • The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his parents, his siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
  • The child’s adjustment to his home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • The ability of the parents to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent
  • Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parents with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support
  • The physical proximity of the parents to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time
  • Whether one of the parents has been a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect under the law of any state
  • Whether one of the parents has been a perpetrator of spousal abuse

In the past, courts typically saw the best interests of the child as living primarily with the mother. However, there is a shift taking place in the Colorado courts. More and more, the courts are realizing that, in general, it is in the child’s best interest to have both parents in his or her life as much as possible, so courts are more willing to consider fathers as the primary residential parent or at least award them liberal parenting time. Equal parenting time between parents is becoming more and more usual.

What is a Child and Family Investigator?

A Child and Family Investigator (CFI) can be a licensed mental health professional or an attorney who becomes “the eyes of the court” when a parenting time dispute needs resolution. The CFI becomes involved in a case to perform an evaluation of the situation. During the evaluation, which can last several months, the CFI can interview the parents, the child, the people in the child’s “network” and will observe the child’s interactions with each parent. The CFI will prepare a written report concerning the disputed issues and the CFI’s recommendations regarding parental responsibility and parenting time. The CFI will submit the report to the parents and the court. Often, the court will follow the CFI’s recommendations.

The CFI is limited in the amount of time he or she can spend on a case without a court order approving more time/expense.  The CFI is capped at charging $2000 for the investigation and report, and $500 for witness fees.  As a result, CFI reports are not as in-depth as some families need.  CFIs are not appropriate when certain issues are present, such as mental health disorders, special needs children, substance abuse issues, or relocation.

A Child and Family Investigator (CFI) can be a licensed mental health professional or an attorney who becomes “the eyes of the court” when a parenting time dispute needs resolution. The CFI becomes involved in a case to perform an evaluation of the situation. During the evaluation, which can last several months, the CFI can interview the parents, the child, the people in the child’s “network” and will observe the child’s interactions with each parent. The CFI will prepare a written report concerning the disputed issues and the CFI’s recommendations regarding parental responsibility and parenting time. The CFI will submit the report to the parents and the court. Often, the court will follow the CFI’s recommendations.

What is a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator?

A Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE) is similar to a CFI, but is always a licensed mental health professional. The PRE also conducts an investigation of the situation, but also typically will do psychological testing on the parents. The PRE will prepare an in-depth report of his or her findings regarding allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time and submit the report to the parents and the court. The parent requesting the PRE will often pay the initial fee, but may ask the court to apportion the cost at a later date. The cost of a PRE can range from $4,000 to $8,000 or higher.  PREs are appropriate for complex matters, high conflict cases, and situations where the expertise of a mental health professional is needed.

What is a Special Master or Statutory Judge?

Under Colorado statute, if a hearing date has not been fixed by the court within 91 days from the date the case is at issue, upon agreement of both parties, the parties may elect to have their matter heard by a Special Master or statutory judge, appointed by the court. When the hearing is held before a Special Master or statutory judge, the parties shall pay the cost of the hearing, as allocated fairly among the parties by the Special Master. The Special Master or statutory judge will have all the powers of a judge.

The reason parties may choose to pay a Special Master or statutory judge to resolve their case rather than having a judge do it for “free” is because the court system can be extremely overloaded and slow. Court dates can get continued multiple times and parties can spend a great deal of money on attorneys’ fees between the time their issues arise and their final court date. Using a Special Master or statutory judge is much quicker, and, arguably, less expensive. Some Special Masters or statutory judges work on a pro-bono basis if the parties qualify financially, but typically a Special Master or statutory judge may charge anywhere from $150 to $400 per hour.

What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A Parenting Coordinator will usually become involved after parental responsibilities and parenting time have been decided either by the parents or by the court. The Parenting Coordinator will work with parents who have trouble dealing directly with one another, or simply cannot agree on basic parenting issues. The Parenting Coordinator, who may or may not be a mental health professional, becomes a “buffer” between the parents on parenting issues. Either the parties can agree to use a Parenting Coordinator or the court can order the parents to use one. The parents will usually divide the cost proportionate to their incomes. A Parenting Coordinator may cost $90 to $200 per hour.

What is a Decision Maker?

A Decision Maker is a person, usually an attorney, who is appointed to a case upon the agreement of the parties.  This person can resolve disputes between parties by being authorized to issue awards that are filed with the court and then made orders of the court. The Decision Maker’s authority is limited to resolving disputes between parties as to implementation or clarification of existing orders in a manner that is consistent with the substantive intent of the current court orders.

Other resources for parents

Early Neutral Assessment
Family Therapy (check with your therapist about providing family therapy)
Level II Parenting Classes