Parents today probably know the term “custody” from their childhoods or from the internet. However, that’s not the term that applies in Colorado. Since 1999, the courts have replaced “custody” with “parental responsibilities.” But what does that mean?
Parental Responsibilities can be broken down into three areas – child support, parenting time, and decision making.
If you are looking for “joint custody,” you probably want to share parenting time, so that each parent has significant time with your child. That can mean 50/50 parenting time, or any other schedule that works for your family.
You may also want “joint legal custody,” which is similar to Colorado’s decision-making responsibility. With joint decision-making, both parents must agree on major decisions involving the children, such as where a child attends school, what medical care they receive, or what extracurricular activities the child participates in. With sole decision-making responsibility, one parent may make major decisions for the child without the other parent’s agreement.
When a new client tells me to fight for “sole custody” or “full custody,” we start with a conversation about having the majority of parenting time with a child, and sole decision-making responsibility for the child. However, we also talk about how parenting time and decision making can be independent. It may be that you want to continue making the decisions for your child’s health and education, but that it’s also in his or her best interests to have equal parenting time. On the other hand, parents can make the important decisions for a child jointly, even if one parent has limited parenting time. Another issue I have to raise is that Colorado courts want to see both parents involved with their children as much as possible. You need a good reason to minimize one parent’s role in the children’s life.
By getting rid of “custody,” Colorado has developed a framework that allows parents and the courts to put together parenting plans that meet the individual needs of a family – it’s not all or nothing. Of course, that also means that deciding what is best can get complicated. If you’re stuck in the world of custody, and can’t make heads or tails of parental responsibilities, you may need a lawyer.