The impression across the nation is that family courts favor the mother in child custody cases. This impression also exists in our state of Colorado. The reality, however, is that there is no indication in the Colorado family law statutes to support the misnomer that one parent is favored over another. In other words, there is no such thing as “Father’s Rights” or “Mother’s Rights” in Colorado; it is the child’s best interests that the Courts consider.
Given this fact, it is up to you to retain a Colorado family attorney who can make certain that the Courts understand that your child’s best interests are to have you involved in your child’s life—to have ample parenting time, be included in the decision making processes regarding his/her health and well-being and to be a vital parent in your child’s day-to-day life.
The Law is Gender-Neutral
Despite the endless advertising by some law firms about their ability to fight for Father’s Rights or Mother’s Rights, Colorado does not favor mothers over fathers or vice versa. Colorado Statute §14-10-124 clearly states, “In determining parenting time or decision-making responsibilities, the court shall not presume that any person is better able to serve the best interests of the child because of that person’s sex.” Ideally, a child should continue to have a relationship and have his/her physical, mental and emotional needs met by both parents after a separation or divorce or allocation of parental rights; hence, the statute’s opening declaration “urges parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing and to encourage the love, affection, and contact between the children and the parents.”
Best Interest Statutes
The law clearly states a preference for shared parenting responsibility. However, with parents’ emotions running high during a divorce or custody case, parents cannot always be trusted to “encourage the love, affection and contact between children” and the “ex”. In some cases, a relationship and continued contact with one parent may actually put the child at risk. That is why, in lieu of a mutually acceptable parenting plan, the Court must make a custody determination. To do so, a number of factors are considered:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time
- The wishes of the child if he/she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his/her parents, his/her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved; a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time
- The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other party
- Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment and mutual support;
- The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time
- The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs
Contact and a continued relationship with both parents is not always deemed in the child’s best interest. Custody may be denied or restricted if evidence supports charges of child abuse (as defined by §18-6-401, C.R.S. or any other state’s law) or domestic violence.
The Human Factor
The law and the “best interest” criteria outlined in it are unbiased. The judges who make custody determinations based on the criteria stated above are not always so impartial. That is not to say that judges favor mothers over fathers or vice versa. What it means is that you need an experienced Colorado family law attorney who can present a strong and convincing case that your custody of your child is in your child’s best interests.
Every child custody situation is different. There is no cut-and-dried way to determine if a child will adjust better to life with one parent in one community or with the other parent miles away; if a parent’s past behavior is really indicative of his/her ability to encourage a loving relationship and contact with the other parent, etc. These matters are up for interpretation, and it’s up to your lawyer to present meaningful evidence in a way that demonstrates to the judge that it is in your child’s best interests to have you actively involved in his/her life.
What evidence is meaningful and how it should be presented, too, are gray areas. A seasoned attorney who knows judges’ reputations, thoroughly understands family law statutes, is a master at strategies related to domestic relations cases and recognizes other contextual factors relevant to the case can better assess what needs to be presented. A lawyer unfamiliar with Colorado family law may not know that a child can be interviewed privately in a judge’s chambers and that the child’s age is not the sole determining factor as to whether or not he/she is considered “sufficiently mature.” Likewise, an inexperienced attorney may not recognize issues relevant to custody determinations involving military parents, issues that affect many Colorado Springs families.
To make the strongest case, you also need an experienced family law attorney who focuses on what really matter’s—your child’s best interest. Colorado family law does not outline Mother’s Rights or Father’s Rights. However, Colorado family law does outline the criteria to be used to assess what is in your child’s best interest. Your lawyer should focus on presenting evidence that shows you meet those criteria, not on trying to prove your gender is a relevant factor.
To discuss your case with a dedicated Colorado family lawyer with over 34 years of legal experience, contact 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.