The idea of “family” is rapidly changing. “Family” has been traditionally understood as the nuclear family—two heterosexual married partners with shared children. Today, families include single-parent households, blended families from subsequent marriages and same-sex partner households. (Colorado Domestic Relations laws apply to both same-sex and heterosexual parents when determining parental rights and responsibilities.) Now, we’re even seeing the trend of “family” being defined independent of marriage.
Many couples today are choosing not to get married, but they are sharing households and having children together, creating what otherwise looks like a traditional nuclear family. The problem is that without the legal bond of marriage, the rights of parents are not clearly defined.
Enforcing Parents’ Rights
For most unmarried parents whose relationship is intact, the lack of legally defined parents’ rights does not present an issue. However, in the event that the relationship dissolves and custody disputes arise, the absence of clearly defined parents’ rights can limit what law enforcement and the Colorado family court system can do to intervene.
For example, if an unmarried couple with children breaks up, and one parent decides to move out of state, there is little legal recourse for the parent who remains in Colorado. If parents have a verbal agreement that a child will spend weekends with one parent and live with the other during the week and the weekend parent does not return the child at the agreed upon time or location, the other parent may call the police. However, the police cannot do anything because there are no court orders to enforce.
In order to legally define parental rights upon the dissolution of a relationship of an unmarried couple, the parties must open an Allocation of Parents’ Rights (APR) case.
Allocation of Parents’ Rights
An Allocation of Parents’ Rights (APR) case is nearly identical to a child custody case that is part of a divorce. However, parents do not have to wait until a relationship dissolves to open an APR case. Unmarried parents may go through the process of legally defining parents’ rights at any time. (By sharing a lawyer and establishing a parenting plan on which they already agree, the process is more time-efficient and cost-effective). Regardless of when the case is opened—while the relationship is intact or upon dissolving—the case will end with orders outlining child support and how parenting time and decision making will be divided and/or shared.
Like divorce child custody cases, all APR cases require that both parties complete a Sworn Financial Affidavit. An accurate record of each party’s assets, debts and income is necessary to determine adequate child support payments (if any). It is important to note, however, that in APR cases, financial assistance is limited to child support. Spousal maintenance is not an option.
After the Sworn Financial Affidavit, how simple or complex the APR process will be depends on the level of agreement between the parties. If parents are in agreement about visitation time and how to share decision making, the Court may simply accept the parenting plan, making it into legally binding orders.
If parents do not agree on child support, visitation and/or how to share decision making, parties may attempt to reach an agreement through mediation and/or arbitration, or they may elect to go to a hearing where a judge will hear evidence and listen to testimony. Based upon the information shared at the hearing, the Court will create a parenting plan that will be legally binding. As in the case of divorce child custody cases, the Court’s determination will be based on the child’s best interest (as outlined in Colorado Revised Statute §14-10-124). In order for a parent to limit unsupervised parenting time, a court must find that a child would be endangered if left in the care, custody or supervision of a parent—e.g., in the case of drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, conviction of a felony, etc.
Experienced Counsel for Your APR Case
In order to ensure the best interests of your child(ren) are served and your parenting time is protected, parents whose relationship is not defined by marriage need to legally define their rights and responsibilities through an APR case. Whether you chose to be proactive and allocate parents’ rights while your relationship is intact or you are in the midst of a breakup, Gordon N. Shayne can help.
For over a decade, Gordon Shayne has focused his practice on Colorado family law. He understands the APR case process as well as all options for conflict resolution. He strives to help his clients develop a mutually agreeable parenting plan without a hearing to spare his clients the expense of going to court. However, if a hearing is necessary, Mr. Shayne is committed to serving the best interests of the child(ren) involved and fighting for his client’s parenting rights. For a consultation for your APR case, please contact the Law Office of Gordon N. Shayne.
Disclaimer: The blogs posted on ShayneLaw.com are offered for informational purposes only. These blogs are not a solicitation for legal business and should not be construed as providing any legal advice or legal opinions as to any specific fact or circumstance. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of an appropriate legal professional. To obtain legal advice or opinions about Colorado family law, personally consult with a licensed Colorado attorney.