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Child custody in Colorado

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When dealing with child custody issues, there are usually three big things to decide: decision-making authority, parenting time and child support. Where parents cannot come to an agreement, the courts will make the final decision.

Colorado no longer uses the term "custody." Instead, Colorado courts allocate "parental responsibility." There are two aspects to parental responsibility: decision-making authority and parenting time. The two should not be confused and do not automatically go together. For example, parents who have joint decision-making may not have a 50-50 split on parenting time. Both decision-making authority and parenting time are determined based on the best interests of the child.

Decision-making authority can be joint (where both parents decide all issues together), sole (where one parent has the final say on all decisions), or divided between the parents by category. The parent who receives decision-making authority will make decisions on the big issues in the child's life, such as health, education and religion.

Parenting time (formerly called visitation) establishes who will have the children and when. The number of overnights a parent has with the children is very important when calculating child support and having the child for 93 nights per year or more will lower child support payments. The parenting time plan will also determine which holidays the child will spend with which parent.

Child support is determined based on a formula that estimates the monthly financial needs of the child. The biggest factors in determining child support are: the gross income of both parents, maintenance paid or received, the number of children, the number of overnights in each parent's house, day care costs for work or education, medical insurance premiums for children, and any other extraordinary expenses for children. It is highly unlikely that a judge would approve a child support amount that is significantly different than the amount calculated by the formula. Unless an exception applies, child support terminates when the child turns 19, finishes high school, is married, joins the military, or moves out and becomes self-sufficient.

When seeking a court order regarding any of these issues, there are a few clauses that military members should have in their final order, called a Parenting Plan, from the court. First, military members should have a clause that the order is modifiable upon a substantial or material change in circumstances. This allows military members to modify parenting plans when they PCS without requiring them to anticipate every possible future situation -- for example, what if the member has a PCS to another state or country? Additionally, military members should have a clause in their final order that deals with deployment. One common arrangement is for the other parent to have temporary custody during a deployment with automatic reversal upon return. Remember, a state court order is always going to trump your family care plan.

If you have questions about child custody, contact the legal office to make an appointment. We also have a handout available in our office that provides information on other local resources, such as Ask a Lawyer, Call a Lawyer, and pro se clinics.

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