While many Colorado laws apply equally to unmarried parents as they do to married parents, state law does include some differences. Unwed parents who have a child together should understand Colorado's laws regarding establishment of paternity, parental rights, custody, visitation and payment of child support. The Colorado State Bar Association or Colorado Legal Services may be able to provide further guidance to interested mothers and fathers.
Right to Establish Paternity
In Colorado, both spouses have parental rights to a child born during their marriage or within 300 days after the end of their marriage. The father does not need to take legal action to establish the child's paternity. For unwed parents, however, the father does not have a right to ask the Colorado State Judicial Branch for custody or visitation unless he identifies himself as the child's legal father. If a man agrees that he is the father and wishes to have his name on the child's birth certificate, he may sign an affidavit confirming his paternity. Alternatively, both the mother and father have a right to open a court case by independently filing a petition for paternity. Colorado does not have a voluntary registry for fathers to identify themselves.
Right to Give Adoption Consent
Legal parents must consent before a Colorado court may approve their child's adoption by adoptive parents. If an unwed father has established paternity of the child, he must consent to the adoption along with the child's mother. If a Colorado court has already completed an involuntary termination of either the mother or father's parental rights, however, that parent has lost the right to prevent the child's adoption. Furthermore, either unmarried parent may lose the right to consent or object to a child's adoption if the parent has committed child abandonment or failed to support the child for a period of at least one year.
Right to Parenting Responsibilities
To share parental rights with the child's mother, an unmarried father must first establish paternity according to Colorado law. The state uses the term "parental responsibilities" to describe legal custody and physical custody. Each legal parent of the child has a right to petition the court to determine parental responsibilities if the unwed parents have never lived together or if they later choose to separate and raise their child between two households. Parenting responsibilities include the right to make decisions regarding the child's life and the right to spend time with the child.
Right to Child Support
Colorado law also protects the rights of both parents in child support matters. An unmarried parent may have a right to receive child support from the other parent. For a state judge or the Colorado Division of Child Support Enforcement to require payment of child support from an unmarried father against his wishes, the state or the child's mother must first take legal action to establish paternity in state court. Colorado uses a child-support formula based on parental income and the percentage of parenting time allocated to each parent; each parent has a right to calculation of support according to the state's formula.