How to Obtain Full Custody in Colorado
By Beverly Bird
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It’s usually not easy to obtain full custody in any state, but Colorado makes it particularly difficult. Section 14-10-124 of the state’s legislative code specifically states that children should have “frequent and meaningful” contact with both parents post-divorce. Your best chance to achieve full custody depends on proving that your child’s other parent is unfit, but his bad behavior must have a direct effect on your child.
File for custody. You can do this by either filing a petition for divorce that includes a request for custody, or -- if you’re not ready to begin divorce proceedings yet -- by filing a complaint for “allocation of parental responsibility” with the court. Colorado uses the phrase “parental responsibility” rather than “custody.”
Prepare a parenting plan and file it with the court. This is a mandatory document that must accompany either your petition for divorce or your complaint for allocation of parental responsibility. Your plan should include a detailed description of the parenting plan you would like the court to order, giving you full custody. Full custody means that your child will live with you, and you’ll make all important decisions on her behalf, without input from the other parent. At the end of the form, you can explain the circumstances that make you believe your child’s other parent isn’t fit to have joint or sole custody. For assistance drafting your parenting plan, hire an attorney or use an online personal legal advisor.
Attend mediation with your child’s other parent. Section 14-10-124 of Colorado’s code allows judges to order parents into mediation when they can’t agree on a parenting plan. Some exceptions exist, such as if your child’s other parent is guilty of domestic violence toward you. However, absent some compelling circumstance, the judge will probably order you to attend mediation if you ask for full custody in your parenting plan and your child’s other parent contests it.
Do everything you can to promote the best interests of your child. This doesn’t just mean being a good parent; it means being a good parent according to a list of factors included in Colorado’s statutes. Section 14-10-124 of the state’s code lists these factors, so look them up and familiarize yourself with them. They include issues such as your ability to promote a healthy relationship between your child and her other parent, so if you do anything to interfere with or obstruct visitation without a very good reason, this could work against you. According to Colorado’s statutes, your child’s best interests also include your ability and willingness to put your child’s needs before your own.
Gather evidence of whatever circumstance exists that makes you think your child’s other parent isn’t fit to have full or joint custody. It’s not enough to simply make an allegation that your child’s other parent is unfit. You have to prove it. Some issues that might affect a judge’s decision include domestic violence and drunk driving, but they must specifically endanger your child. The factors that the state of Colorado considers part of being a good parent can work in the other direction as well. For example, if your child’s other parent routinely makes poor personal choices that indicate he puts his own needs first, this is relevant information for the court to consider. You might start a journal that documents these instances. If he’s had brushes with the law, get police reports. If he was rarely at home during your marriage, so you assumed most -- if not all -- of the responsibilities of your child's care, this will work in your favor as well.
Attend your custody trial. The court will schedule one -- either as part of your divorce or as a separate parental responsibilities hearing -- if you don’t reach a parenting plan agreement in mediation. Because Colorado courts are reluctant to limit a child’s relationship with both parents, you might do best to use an attorney to present your evidence for you.
The younger your child is, the more likely you are to be successful at obtaining full custody, especially if you were always her primary caretaker. Colorado courts are less likely to approve joint physical custody -- where a child bounces between her parents’ homes -- if she’s too young to handle the upheaval in her life.
If she's mature enough, Colorado gives your child a say regarding the parent with whom she would like to live. This doesn’t mean a judge will automatically award custody to the parent she prefers, but if she does not want to live with you and if she makes her feelings known to the judge, it could work against you.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.