If you have children, the most important question that you will have when contemplating filing for divorce is what will happen to your children while you are going through the divorcing process and after the divorce is over.
Protecting the best interests and the welfare of children is the top priority of the Colorado Courts in all family law matters. The Courts address parental responsibility issues at the beginning of each case. The Courts resolve parenting issues based on the children’s best interests.
Parental responsibilities are divided into three major categories: 1) decision-making; 2) parenting time; and 3) child support.
Decision-Making: If divorcing parents are able to reach agreements concerning their children’s medical, education, religious and extracurricular activities in the best interests of the children, then the Court will order that the parents have joint decision-making. Joint decision-making requires that the parents jointly reach agreements concerning their children’s medical treatment, what school their children will attend, their religious upbringing and their children’s extracurricular activities. If domestic violence is an issue in a divorce case, the Court has the discretion to award sole decision-making authority to the victim of the domestic violence.
If the parents are unable to reach joint agreements in their children’s best interests, the Court may, in its discretion, award sole decision-making for one or all of the major areas of decision-making listed above to one parent.
Parenting Time: Parenting time is the time that a parent spends with his or her children after a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation has been filed. Parenting time is measured by overnights. If the parents can reach an agreement on a parenting time schedule, the Court will typically adopt the parents’ proposed parenting time schedule because the Courts generally believe that parents act in the best interest of their children.
If the parents are unable to reach an agreement on parenting time, the Court will enter a Temporary Parenting Plan that will address parenting time from the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation until there is a hearing on permanent orders at which time the Court will enter a Permanent Parenting Plan.
Child Support: Child support in Colorado is controlled by the Child Support Guidelines which set forth a schedule of child support payments based on the parents’ gross monthly income and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. The Child Support Guidelines were revised effective August 8, 2018 and now govern the amount of child support for parents whose combined gross monthly incomes do not exceed $30,000 per month.
If the parents’ combined gross monthly income exceeds $30,000 a month, the Court will award child support, in the Court’s discretion, based on the reasonable needs of the children. The amount of child support awarded in cases where the parents’ combined gross monthly incomes exceed $30,000 per month cannot be less than the amount of child support that would be awarded if the parents’ combined gross monthly income equaled $30,000 a month.
The Court will allocate extraordinary expenses, such as extraordinary medical expenses, extraordinary expenses for a gifted or special needs child and extraordinary extracurricular expenses, based on a ratio of the parents’ gross monthly incomes.
Parenting Evaluations and Child and Family Investigators:
In appropriate cases, a parent can request that the Court appoint a Parenting Evaluator to conduct a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation. A Parenting Evaluator is usually a child psychologist with a Ph.D. who has been certified by the state of Colorado to serve as a Parenting Evaluator. The Parenting Evaluator will meet with the parents and the children, will review records including medical, psychiatric, psychological, employment, education and criminal records and will contact individuals with knowledge of the parties’ parenting skills. The Parenting Evaluator will issue a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation which will be submitted to the Court with recommendations about decision-making and parenting time.
An alternative to a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation is the appointment of a Child and Family Investigator. The Colorado Supreme Court limits the fees of a Child and Family Investigator to $2,750. As a result, Child and Family Investigators are usually not appropriate in high-conflict cases.
Removal from the State of Colorado:
In many cases, a parent who is going through a divorce wants to leave the state of Colorado with the parties’ children. In order for a parent to remove children from the state of Colorado, after a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation has been filed, the removing parent must file a motion with the Court and ask the Court for permission to relocate or have the consent of the other parent.
In ruling on a motion to relocate, the Court will take into consideration a number of factors including:
- The reasons why the party wishes to relocate with the children
- The reasons why the opposing party is objecting to the proposed relocation
- The history and quality of each parties’ relationship with the children since any previous parenting time order
- The educational opportunities for the children at the existing location and at the proposed new location
- The presence or absence of the extended family at the existing location and the proposed new location
- Advantages of the children remaining with the primary caregiver
- The anticipated impact of the move on the children
- Whether the Court will be able to fashion a reasonable parenting time schedule if the change requested is permitted
- Any other relevant factors bearing on the best interest of the children
- If the children’s present environment endangers the children’s physical health or significantly impairs the children’s emotional development and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the children
If a parent removes children from the state of Colorado without the consent of the other parent or a valid court order, the Court can issue an order requiring the return of the children. In addition, there are federal statutes, such as the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which can be used to compel the return of children removed from the state of Colorado without the other parent’s consent or an order of the Court.