Sweeping changes in Colorado child custody laws took effect February 1, 1999. Custody battles will become a thing of the past, when a new law deleting “custody” from the family law arena is replaced with the concept of “parental” responsibilities.
The changes in the law are in response to studies which show that parents sometimes do not play an active role in their children’s lives or pay child support because the parent believes he or she cannot make an impact on the children’s lives. The Colorado legislature noted that in most cases, it is in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with both parents and that in most cases, it is the parent’s right to have a relationship with the children.
Under the new law, the courts will be able to allocate the decision making responsibility for each issue affecting the child mutually between both parties; or individually to one or the other party; or in any combination. The decision making plan can be formulated by the parties or by the Court, if the parties are unable to agree. Allocation of parental decision making responsibility will be determined based on a number of factors, including: (a) credible evidence of the parties’ ability to cooperate and make decisions jointly; (b) the past pattern of the parties’ involvement with the child; (c) whether allocation of mutual decision making would promote more frequent contact between the child and each of the parties; and (d) whether there has been spousal abuse.
The new laws will apply in child custody cases, divorce cases and grandparent visitation cases filed on or after February 1, 1999. The law will also apply to modification requests in those kinds of cases, if the request is filed on or after February 1, 1999. Consequently, if a parent already has sole or joint legal custody, that arrangement will not be altered unless a motion to modify is filed on or after the effective date of the new law.