Whether you and the other party were married and share minor children together, or were never married and share children together, legal matters regarding your children are bound to be emotionally driven and complicated. The manner in which you allocated care-giving responsibilities prior to the break-down of your relationship will now need to be addressed in the context of a post-separation dynamic. Given what is at stake during custody disputes, it is certainly in your best interest, and the best interests of your children, to discuss your options with a seasoned family law attorney.

Dealing with a custody dispute can be taxing. You will benefit from the guidance of a local family lawyer with the Colorado Divorce Law Group that understands the complexities—both legally and emotionally—of custody law. A Littleton child custody lawyer can advise you of your rights and ensure you take a grounded, reasonable approach to the entire process, while carefully balancing and understanding the emotional nature of the issues.

Circumstances Where Child Custody Could be at Issue

Ultimately, child custody disputes are a battle over the amount of time each parent spends with a child and the right to make decisions about their lives. While custody issues are frequently litigated during a divorce case, they also arise when the parties have children but were never married.

Divorce

Most child custody disputes occur during the divorce process. This is understandable, as married couples with children will need to raise those children together, but living separately as they move forward with their new lives. The court will always address custody issues during a divorce case.

Relationship Changes

Some parents never marry each other, and those relationships prior to the child being born can be short-term or long-term in duration. Sometimes you know the other parent very well, but there are circumstances where that might not be true. Child custody rights can become an issue when relationships between unmarried parents change. Some parents might get along cordially at first, but changing circumstances could require the courts to get involved and formally set custody rights.

At-Risk and Unsafe Environments for the Children

Sometimes, the courts can make changes to child custody rights when a Judge determines that a child is in an unsafe environment. These emergency custody decisions could result from allegations of physical or emotional abuse, abandonment or neglect, substance abuse and much more. In certain custody cases, this could lead to a child being placed in temporary foster care or in the custody of the other parent. In serious cases, the court could terminate child custody rights entirely.

How Courts Make Custody Determinations

When courts hear child custody cases, they consider all of the evidence based on what is best for the child. Ultimately, it is the child’s best interest that will guide these decisions no matter what other factors are in place.

The Best Interests of the Child Standard

When making a decision about “parenting responsibilities” and “parenting time,” which are known respectively in other states as custody and visitation rights, Colorado courts are required by law to prioritize the best interests of the child above all else. Even if a child’s parents or legal guardians come to a private agreement about the child’s parenting time arrangements, or how decisions concerning the child will be made, that agreement is not legally enforceable unless a court reviews and approves the agreement as an Order of the Court. This ensures that the child’s best interests are met and at the forefront of the agreement.
According to Colorado Revised Statutes §14-10-124, a family court may take a number of diverse factors into consideration when determining what kind of custody arrangement would be in a particular child’s best interests, including (but not limited to):

  • 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 or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
  • The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party; 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 shall not be considered with respect to this factor;
  • Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
  • Physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; and
  • The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.

While this statute does allow for the personal wishes of each parent to be taken into consideration by a court, any such wish that conflicts with what the court deems to be in the child’s best interests would not supersede any other factor. A knowledgeable Littleton child custody attorney could offer further clarification about how a judge might approach and rule on an individual case. Despite the common misconception that older children have the right to choose which parent they live with, the reality is that courts will make a determination on what is best for a child which rarely centers around the child’s preferences as the sole determining factor. However, a Judge may take into account the wishes of a child—particularly a child that is older and has a strong opinion on their living arrangements.

Sole Versus Joint Custody Arrangements

Unless extenuating circumstances apply, both Colorado state law and court precedent hold that it is generally in a child’s best interests for their parents to share parenting responsibilities.
Various practical and personal concerns may make an equal share of physical parenting time more difficult to manage, particularly if a child’s parents live far apart from each other geographically. Accordingly, many child custody cases end with one parent being granted primary physical residence, with the other being granted “parenting time” with their child on a regular schedule.
However, each case is unique in terms of what the best arrangement for a specific child would be. It is almost always best to talk to a skilled child custody lawyer in the area for help understanding parental responsibilities and advocating for an ideal parenting time arrangement.

Talk to a Littleton Child Custody Attorney Today

It is understandable to be worried about the outcome of your child custody case. To ensure your rights are protected, let an attorney advocate on your behalf. Custody of children following a divorce or separation is often a hotly contested issue, and even if both parents agree on a preferred custody/parenting time arrangement, only a court can ultimately issue an Order regarding parenting responsibilities that is legally enforceable. If you want to effectively pursue a positive resolution to your case, especially if there are concerning issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, or child abuse, you should think twice before going without experienced and dedicated legal representation.
A Littleton child custody lawyer could help you prepare for the custody hearing and advise you on all of your legal rights. Call now to get started.