When parents end their relationship, working out how to share parenting responsibilities is the most important decision they have to make. Parents are concerned about maintaining their place in their children’s lives and ensuring that the children have stability and structure.

Colorado courts require that divorcing parents devise a formal parenting plan that delineates how the parents will handle issues like which parent the child will live with, visitation, and parental decision-making. Parents who are not married also could benefit from formalizing their parenting expectations. A knowledgeable family lawyer could help a parent develop a formal plan setting forth parenting responsibilities after a couple decides to live separately. A knowledgeable Loveland child custody lawyer could explain your rights as well as the best legal options for your family.

Parental Responsibility Shared

It is usually best for all involved, especially the children, if parents can work out how they will handle living arrangements and visitation after they separate. If the couple is divorcing, a judge must review and accept a parenting plan before the divorce becomes final. If the parents are unable to agree, a judge may decide parental responsibility, assessing what is in the children’s best interest.

Typically, judges order that parents’ responsibility for making decisions regarding their children’s healthcare, education, and primary residence be shared equally. This is called joint parental responsibility. If the children are school-aged, often one parent will have primary physical custody, and children will sleep in that parent’s home on school nights. However, the circumstances of the particular parents and children will dictate the specifics of any parenting plan. Joint parental responsibility generally means that a child will spend at least 90 nights per year in the home of a parent who does not have primary physical custody.

Best Interest Determination

When parents cannot agree about where the children should live most of the time or how much parenting time each parent should have, a lawyer could help them overcome their differences and develop a parenting plan that serves all parties. If the lawyer-assisted process is unsuccessful, a court may have to decide how to divide parental responsibilities. Colorado Revised Statutes §14-10-124 directs courts to determine what arrangement serves the best interests of the children.

There are many factors for a court to weigh when deciding what is in a child’s best interest. The goal is to arrive at an arrangement that provides the child with a safe and wholesome environment, and physical and emotional stability. Absent allegations of abuse or unfitness, the arrangement also should offer opportunities for loving interactions with both parents. The questions a judge could consider might include:

  • Are the parents able to communicate well enough to co-parent?
  • Have both parents been active and engaged in the children’s upbringing and influencing their values and behavior?
  • What is the likelihood that one or both parents might try to alienate the children from the other parent?
  • If the children are mature enough to form a reasonable opinion, what is their preference?
  • Do the children attend school, and would moving in with either parent require a change in school placement?
  • Does either parent have a history of addiction, uncontrolled mental illness, or other condition that might lead to concern for the children’s safety?
  • Is there credible evidence that either parent abused the children physically, emotionally, or sexually?
  • Is there credible evidence that either parent engaged in domestic violence toward the other parent?

Contested Custody

Sometimes one parent desires to limit the contact the other parent has with the children or wants to exclude the other parent from having the legal right to make decisions regarding the children. If personal acrimony seems to be motivating these desires, courts are unlikely to accede to the requests and might look unfavorably on the parent seeking to limit the other parent’s role.

However, judges assign physical custody and parental responsibility to just one parent on occasion. This might happen if one parent has sexually or physically abused the child, engaged in domestic violence, or if there is evidence that they are not a fit parent. A parent who is making such allegations, or who is the target of such claims, should have a lawyer to assert and protect their rights.

Put Your Family First With a Skillful Loveland Child Custody Attorney

Even parents who are having trouble being civil to each other recognize that their children are innocent bystanders to their strife. A trained advocate could identify the relevant issues and help the parties move through their emotions to reach an agreement for their children’s sake. When this is not possible or desirable, they can support a party’s attempt to secure sole parental responsibility.

The best legal professionals help a family come up with solutions that benefit everyone, especially the children. Contact a Loveland child custody lawyer to get competent, compassionate legal assistance for your family.