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When adjusting to post-separation life, one of the very first pieces of the puzzle for parents of minor children is to figure out custody. Colorado’s simplified mandate reads: "The court shall determine custody of any minor children in accordance with the best interest of the children” (C.R.S § 14-10-124). Colorado offers two classifications of custody—Legal custody and Physical custody—and parents may share either type of custody, or a parent can have sole responsibility for either one.
Legal Custody is defined as the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the health and welfare of one’s minor children, including medical treatment and decisions, education, religious practices and extracurricular activities. In Colorado, Legal Custody is often shared, with each parent holding an equal say in decisions that affect their children. In instances where the parties cannot agree, the matter is resolved by either a court decision or via a parenting plan and/or mediator.
Physical Custody, on the other hand, pertains to the physical location where the minor child will live at a given point in time. Physical custody may be awarded to one parent or completely shared, alternating between parents. As with Legal Custody, Colorado provides various methods for allocating Physical Custody and again, this is typically outlined in a parenting plan.
Colorado’s divorce court system views separation plans and parenting agreements as life-altering decisions that must be crafted around the interests and the best interests of the child. Colorado defines a parenting plan as: “A plan which is designed to provide for the care of minor children when the parents are divorced or otherwise separated” (C.R.S § 14-10-124). The framework of the parenting plan must reflect both parents wishes and include specific details pertaining to the child's physical custody and placement schedule, parental decision making authority, methods of communication, vacation, holiday and special occasion policies, shared activities and responsibilities. Most importantly, the document should reflect the core principles of co-parenting, including: -Provide a healthy atmosphere for the children; -Respect the existing bond between each parent and the children; -Provide for continuation of some sort of physical contact for children with each parent; -Accommodate both parents work and/or school schedules
Colorado visitation statutes strive to further maintain the relationship between children and both of their legally recognized parents. These guidelines provide a framework for ensuring ample visitation rights while continuing to place the best interests of the children first. Section 14-10-129 of the Colorado Revised Statutes states that: “the court shall enter an order granting a parent reasonable rights of parenting time with the child, unless the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair his emotional development.” If both parents are in general agreement over visitation rights, the court will review the plan and approve it so that it’s legally recognized. In other cases, the court will determine what it considers reasonable parenting time for both parents. Visitation rights may be in the form of weekend visits, vacations visits, regular visits, or other forms of visitation that are determined to be in the best interest of the children.
Colorado’s Child Support Guidelines provides a helpful starting point for parents to begin establishing a fair and legal Child Support payment plan. The state-wide mandates emphasize the parent’s legal obligation to “provide for the maintenance and support of the minor child or children either of them may have” (C.R.S. §14-10-115). The guidelines provide an equation that’s designed to calculate the presumed correct amount of child support payments. In the equation, both parents’ incomes are accounted for, along with each parent’s other forms of financial contributions, such as Social Security or Worker's Compensation benefits, alimony payments, and other approved deductions. The equation also considers childcare and expenses for healthcare, and the formula is adjusted for the amount of time each parent spends with the children. In some cases, additional payments beyond the presumptive amount may be required based on the individual needs of the children, such as medical costs, special educational needs, or extracurricular expenses.
The costs of raising children can be taxing, even in two-parent households, so it’s essential to understand and map out the types of expenses that may be shared between both parents in a co-parenting situation. In Colorado, expenses are typically calculated by taking the incomes of both parents and expressing the amount as a percent of each parent’s obligation to the costs. These calculations are referred to as “in kind contributions” and are typically documented in the parenting plan. Expenses in Colorado are typically classified into three main categories:
When it comes to making decisions as co-parents, Colorado highly recommends mediation and/or a parenting plan. The Revised Statutes of Colorado states that: “The court may order parents to attend parenting classes and/or to participate in a parenting plan developed by a court-approved family mediator to aid in the resolution of the dispute” (C.R.S. §14-10-116). If one or both of the parents fail to comply with a parenting plan, the court will consider this a Class 3 misdemeanor (C.R.S. § 14-10-116) and this is grounds for a contempt action. For this reason, it is encouraged that parents maintain a civil and respectful working relationship as co-parents so that disagreements can be settled with relative ease, and the best interests of the children remain of the utmost importance.
Co-parenting can be a tricky balancing act, but working together out of respect for one another is the best way to ensure the well-being of each party and the children involved. Understanding Colorado’s law regarding custody and parenting plans, visitation rights, and child support can help both parents make well-thought out decisions and create an arrangement that will be beneficial for all involved.
|Co-parenting in USA|
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|Co-parenting in Canada|
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Warning: This post is neither financial, health, legal, or personal advice nor a substitute for the advice offered by a professional. These are serious matters, and the help of a professional is recommended as it can impact your future.