Colorado Child Support and Custody Laws - Primary Care Parent
PRIMARY CARE PARENT
Many states award “custody” of children to parents. Sometimes the court will label a parent the “primary parent” as an indication of which parent spends the most time with the child. In 1998, Colorado took the radical step of ending the practice of giving parents “custody” of their children. Custody implies that parents “own” the children. The term “custodial parent” or “primary parent” indicated that one parent had a greater interest in the children than the other. Custodial parents were given the responsibility of making all decisions, often leaving the non-custodial parent feeling like a visitor in the children’s lives.
In contrast, since 1998, the courts in Colorado have allocated parenting time and decision making between the parents. This approach recognizes that children need both parents and both parents have value in their child’s life. The fact that a marriage ends does not change the fact that a child has two parents who are important to the child. The process that the court uses to determine the amount of time that the child spends with each parent or which parent makes decisions is based on the best interest of the child. Parents will spend time with their children unless the court finds that parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. In determining amount of parenting time for each parent, the court looks at the wishes of the parents and children. Children’s wishes are considered if they are old enough to make reasonable decisions. The courts will consider why the child’s wants to live with one parent or the other. There is no age at which the child has the power to choose where he or she wants to live.
The court also considers the child’s ties to the home, school and community. The physical and mental health of all the individuals involved is another issue that the court must consider. The disability of a parent can’t be the only reason to restrict or deny time with the child. The court must consider the parent’s ability to encourage the child to develop a good relationship with the other parent as well as the history of the relationship between the parent and the child.
If there has been a history of domestic abuse, child abuse or neglect, the court must also take that into account. The court will also consider whether a parent has a history of placing the needs of the child ahead of his or her own.
After the court considers these factors, the court will allocate the child’s time between the parents. More and more, both parents spend some time each week with the child. This may mean daytime visits if the child is young. It could also mean that one parent has the child during the week and the other parent has the child on the weekends. Sometimes the child spends one week in one house hold and then switches for the next week. If the parents live far away from each other, one parent may have the child during the school year and the other have the child for the school breaks. Parenting time schedules are often creative and are always geared to the needs of the children.
The court allocates decision making for the child as well. The court considers the same sorts of facts in dividing the decision making as it uses to determine parenting time. It also considers how parents made decisions during the marriage and whether there has been a history of violence between the parents. Sometimes one parent makes all the decisions but keeps the other parent informed of the decisions. Other times, one parent will make all of the decisions about medical issues and while the other parent makes decisions about education and religion. The parents may share the decision making about extra curricular activities.
In years past, if a parent had custody of a child, they had a predictable package of rights and responsibilities. Under the new statute, courts and parents are forced to consider the needs of the children before making orders concerning the future of the child and family. This way, the court’s orders are tailored to each child and each family’s situation. In considering what is best for the child, the whole family will benefit.
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