The child custody process can be stressful for both parents and children. But knowing the basics of the process ahead of time, as well as what documents you might need to collect, can help the process run a little smoother and reduce the impact to your children.
What is the Child Custody Process?
The child custody process in Colorado is referred to as Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, or APR for short. Either parent, or even stepparents, grandparents, or guardians, can initiate the custody process, or APR action, by filing a Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities with the court. For the parent to be able to file in the state of Colorado, in most cases the child has to have lived in the state for 6 months before filing. There are some exceptions to this rule, but the 6 months requirement is what will generally be used.
During the child custody process, the court will address three main things:
- parenting time, or what is called physical custody
- decision making for the child, including decisions regarding education, medical needs, religion, and extracurricular activities
- child support
How Is Child Support Determined?
To help the judge decide on these three core areas, each parent will also need to complete a Sworn Financial Statement and mandatory Financial Disclosures. Both of these documents will help the court determine who will pay child support, if at all, and how much they will pay. That number will be based on a formula that Colorado courts use, which takes into account the parents’ incomes, the number of overnights the child or children will spend with each parent, and the payment of other expenses for the child or children, which can include childcare expenses, insurance, or education costs. You can estimate what your child support costs might be using Divorce Matters’ Child Support Calculator.
What do the Courts Look at When Determining Parenting Time and Decision Making?
As far as parenting time, or physical custody, and decision making, the court will determine the amount of parenting time and decision making based on the “best interests standard.” This standard can be subjective and is based on a variety of factors. Because of this, it is a good idea to begin to gather evidence of your involvement in your child or children’s life. This can include involvement in schooling, medical needs, and extracurricular activities, as well as the child or children’s connection to your home, their school, and community, and an ability to co-parent, encourage, and love.
Sometimes a neutral, third-party professional, known as a Child and Family Investigator (CFI), is appointed by the court to help make recommendations regarding parenting time and decision making. The Child and Family Investigator will get to speak to the children and get to understand their preferences and feelings toward the situation. This can be especially helpful because children are generally not allowed to testify before the court. With the CFI, the court and the judge will be able to hear and take the child’s opinion into account. In addition to the above, each parent should be prepared to attend a co-parenting class. Judges will often require this class, so it’s a good idea to plan to attend ahead of time.
How Long Does the Process Take?
While there’s no set timeline for how quickly these cases move, it just depends on how well the parents are able to comply with the court’s requirements and reach an agreement. If you are able to reach agreements regarding parenting time early in the process it could take as little as a couple of months to complete the process. As with most legal processes, it will be shorter and less expensive if an agreement can be reached outside of court! And as always, the process will run far smoother if you have an attorney to guide you along in the process. Divorce Matters has a variety of attorneys who are experienced in child custody matters and are able to help!