Like all states, Colorado courts use several criteria to determine who gets custody of a child. They fall under the umbrella of what's called the "best interests of the child" doctrine, a list of factors a judge must consider when awarding custody. All states have their own lists of factors, many of which are similar.
Those in Colorado do not discriminate against parents based on gender. This factor appears nowhere in the state's best interests guidelines, nor does any wrongdoing by either parent that might have caused their breakup, provided that the misconduct does not affect her relationship with the child.
Technically, Colorado law no longer uses the term "custody." It's referred to as "allocation of parental responsibilities" and the allocation is broken down into two categories: parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. Here's what Colorado looks at when determining these rights.
Parenting Time Determinations
The best interests of the child are defined by the following factors in Colorado:
- The child's wishes, provided he's old enough to form a reasonable opinion. This is usually considered to be around the age of at least 12, but it's not to say that a judge will automatically rule in the way the child wants. This factor is not controlling, but is merely taken into consideration.
- Each parent's wishes
- The child's relationship with his parents and other influential persons, including extended family members
- The child's adjustment to his school, home and community. Courts are typically reluctant to uproot a child who is comfortable and well-adjusted to relocate him elsewhere simply because his parents are breaking up.
- The mental and physical health of all parties involved
- Each parent's willingness to foster a healthy relationship between the child and his other parent
- The level of day-to-day involvement between each parent and the child, such as taking him to doctor's appointments, helping him with homework and attending extracurricular activities with him
- How close the parents live to each other
- Past instances of child abuse or neglect. A Colorado court will not grant custody to a parent who presents a physical or emotional danger to the child.
- Past instances of spousal abuse or domestic violence between parents. Nor will a court hold it against a parent if she vacates the family home and temporarily leaves the child in an effort to protect herself against abuse.
- Each parent's willingness to put the child's needs first
These factors relate predominantly to physical custody or what Colorado calls parenting time – they help the judge to determine which parent the child will live with the majority of the time.
Joint physical custody or parenting time can be difficult on a child when parents live far apart from each other or even just in different school districts. But Colorado courts are increasingly leaning toward having children spend as much physical parenting time with each parent as logistics and proximity allow.
Colorado courts favor granting joint decision-making responsibilities to separating parents whenever possible. Each parent has a voice in major decisions regarding his child's upbringing and welfare.
But this, too, depends on several factors.
- Whether the parents have the ability to cooperate and make important decisions together in the best interests of their child
- Whether each parent's relationship with the child is encouraging and loving
- How the custody split will affect the encouragement of frequent and constant contact with each parent
The court generally will not award joint decision-making responsibility in cases where there's a history of spousal or partner abuse unless it can be arranged in such a way that neither the parent nor the child are in danger.