When you and your spouse decide to divorce, it can put minor children in a difficult position. At Johnson Law Group, we are committed to the needs of our clients, but we are also highly sensitive to the needs of the children involved in a divorce. The child custody process is complicated and emotional, but our experienced family lawyers support our clients at every step of the way. Call us at (720) 463-4333 to set up an initial consultation.
When our clients are facing divorce, one of their most pressing questions is whether their child can decide who they want to live with. Being a good parent is almost always our clients’ top priority, but no matter how adversarial or amicable a divorce is, experiencing a divorce can be traumatic for children. Colorado law requires courts to consider the best interests of minor children in determining the parenting time arrangement following a divorce or separation. The Colorado child custody process generally follows these steps.
When a couple files for a divorce, they should try to agree on a parenting plan early on to establish a routine and minimize disruptions in their children’s lives. It is usually preferable for the parents to reach an agreement to avoid having to submit the issue to a judge.
Colorado law divides custody into two types: “decision-making” and “parenting time.” Decision-making refers to the parents’ ability to make legal decisions on behalf of the child, such as education or healthcare decisions. Parenting time refers to physical custody of the child. A parenting plan should outline which parent has which type of custody, and how they will be divided.
However, compromise is not always possible, so when a parenting plan can’t be agreed upon, then the Colorado courts have to intervene to make custody decisions.
In Colorado, when parents cannot agree to a parenting plan, the court may require them to attend mediation and/or counseling. It is important to encourage a cordial relationship between the divorcing parents that allows the child to foster a relationship with both parents. If after mediation, the parents still cannot agree on a plan, the court will develop the parenting plan.
To support the judge’s determination, the court will often need to conduct a complete evaluation of the child’s living options. One of the most important factors a judge will consider is the child’s preference. Although the child cannot decide who they want to live with, their input is critical to the judge’s decision.
Other factors a judge must consider include the parents’ relationship with the child, mental and physical health, whether the parents’ have proven that they can commit time and emotional support to the child, the proximity of each parents’ residence to each other’s, and to the child’s school and other community activities, and of course, whether there is a history of any neglect or abuse.
Your child’s age will impact their ability to make a decision on their own behalf. Although there is no set age in Colorado for when a child may decide which parent to live with, when a child is mature enough to express an independent preference, their wishes are an important factor in the court’s decision. A younger teenager, like a 13-year-old, may be able to express their wishes, but their preference may not carry as much weight as a 17-year-old, who the court may view as more mature and in a better position to make an independent judgment. No matter how strong the child’s preference is, it is not the final word on the matter. The judge has to consider other factors to ensure that the arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
After a custody order is in place, a child may express a desire not to spend time with a certain parent. Similar to the way in which a child cannot make the final decision on who gets primary parental responsibility, they also cannot demand a modification to the child custody order later on, unless certain circumstances are met. For example, under Colorado law, if a child’s physical health or emotional development is impaired by the parenting time with a specific parent, the court can restrict parenting time. Otherwise, the original parenting plan will stay in place, and the child will continue to live at their primary custodian’s residence.
However, the custody plan can also change by consent. If a child strongly wishes for the custody agreement to change, sometimes it is in the best interests of all parties involved for the parents to consent to the change. While your relationship with your children is one of the most important relationships in your life, you do not want to risk the long-term relationship with your child by refusing to respect their wishes. At Johnson Law Group, we understand that divorce and child custody is more than just what is on the paperwork. This is an emotionally difficult time for everyone involved, and we strive to make the process as amicable and efficient as possible through mediation and compromise.
At Johnson Law Group, our experienced and dedicated Colorado family lawyers work hard to represent our clients in divorce and child custody disputes. Our team understands not only the complex legal issues involved in parenting time arrangements but also the unique needs of the children. We work with our clients to support their children through the process as well. We show each of our clients the compassion they deserve as they face one of the most difficult times of their lives and fight vigorously to defend their fundamental rights as a parent. Call us today at (720) 463-4333 to set up a free case review with one of our experienced Colorado lawyers.