By any term, children of broken families can only live with one parent at a time, and parents must make decisions regarding their kids either on their own or in cooperation with each other. No hard and fast rules exist in Colorado as to whether they can equally share custody and decision-making rights – this is left to the discretion of the court, but it's not out of the question.
Where children live and with which parent was referred to as physical custody in Colorado until 1999. Now this issue, along with visitation, is covered by a legal concept called parental responsibility. Courts in the state are willing to consider dividing children's time relatively equally between their parents' homes if it's in the children's best interests. A 50-50 physical custody arrangement may be ordered if parents jointly request it – and sometimes even if they don't – provided that both parents are deemed by the court to be fit.
Another aspect of parental responsibility involves decision-making rights, called legal custody before 1999. Colorado courts favor joint decision-making responsibility. This means you and your ex have an equal say when important issues must be addressed, such as whether your 16-year-old daughter should be permitted to get a tattoo, as well as decisions related to education, religion and medical care. Joint decision-making rights require that your relationship remain civil, if not amicable, so you and your ex can discuss pros and cons and come to joint conclusions, and the court will want to see some evidence of this. If you say yes to the tattoo, but your ex is adamantly opposed to it so you're at an impasse, going back to court and asking a judge to break the stalemate isn't really an option. Courts can't decide these matters for parents. The most a judge can do is change your joint responsibility order to give one of you sole decision-making rights, even if it's only in regard to one issue. According to the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children, courts prefer that parents live in relatively close proximity to each other to facilitate joint decision-making.
Best Interests Factors
Colorado courts base both residence and visitation time, as well as decision-making rights, on the best interests of your children. Judges must refer to a statutory list of factors when deciding whether one parent should enjoy these rights alone or if they'll share them 50-50. The list regarding parenting time focuses on issues such as each parent's historical relationship with the children, continuity for the children – such as by not forcing them to move across town to live with their other parent – and each parent's ability to put the children's needs first. One factor for 50-50 physical custody involves how close parents live to each other. The list of factors in Colorado law regarding decision-making rights focuses heavily on the parents' ability to get along. Both lists address issues of family violence or abuse, which would strongly work against a 50-50 custody arrangement.
Colorado courts use child and family investigators, or CFIs, in contested custody matters. The investigator's role is similar to that of a custody evaluator, and the CFI's opinion tends to carry a great deal of weight with the judge. CFIs are not automatically opposed to 50-50 custody arrangements, assuming all best interests factors between parents are equal.
- Plog & Stein: Frequently Asked Custody Questions
- Denver Divorce Attorney Blog: Denver Custody – 50/50 Custody – I Want It and What Does It Mean?
- State of Colorado Judicial Branch: Connecting With Your Kids – Important Information on Parenting Time in Colorado (PDF)
- Kaplan Law: When Joint Custody Creates Part-Time Parenting
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