The Main Issue When Divorcing with Children: What Does Parental Responsibility Mean? How is it Decided?

Colorado does not use terms like “joint custody” and “sole custody.” Instead, the term is “parental responsibility,” and the Court’s default approach is that it should be equal between the two parents. However, the Court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child(ren), and decisions are made on that basis. No one parent is assumed to be better based on their income level or gender, and the decisions are made by considering a variety of factors.

When divorcing with children, two major issues are 1) the granting of parenting time and 2) decision making power. Parenting time (aka physical custody) covers things like the child’s day-to-day activities and whose house they live at. Decision making is concerned with “legal custody,” which is the power granted by the Court to make legal decisions on the child(ren)’s behalf, such as those related to healthcare and schooling. In both physical and legal custody, the Court has the discretion to grant each either solely or jointly to the parents. 

Parenting time is further split into two categories: shared parenting and split parenting. In cases of shared parenting, each parent keeps the child(ren) for more than 92 overnights per calendar year, and both parents contribute to the child(ren)’s expenses in addition to any child support payments being made. As such, the parents both share parental responsibilities. 

Related: Shared Parenting Plan Worksheet

Parenting Time: The Court (or parties) will decide how much parenting time (gauged by a number of overnights) the children have with each parent. One parent could have 0 and the other has 365, or 270/95, 183/182, etc. For purposes of parenting time, it is all shared or “joint” unless there is a reason for one parent not to have any overnights; they still might have day time visits, though. 

Split Parenting occurs when it’s in one of the children’s best interests to have a different overnight arrangement than its siblings (Ex. an infant child that is still breastfeeding would need to stay overnight with the mother while the other children can go with the father – Or, one child’s academic responsibilities require it be overnight with one parent more than the other). Split physical care does not necessarily mean that a parent has sole physical care of one child and physical care of the other child is shared. It just means that the overnight schedule is divided differently.

Decision-Making: This is either joint or sole. With a joint, the parties must make all major decisions regarding the children together. With the sole, one parent has the “authority” to make all the major decisions for the children; however, this can be broken down further by category. For instance, one parent may have sole decision-making authority for medical decisions and the other has sole educational decision power.

As mentioned earlier, the Court acts in the best interests of the child(ren). Considerations include, but are not limited to: the child(ren)’s wishes (if they are old enough to speak on it); their relationship with each parent (including if one parent has been deemed unfit or situations involving abuse); and if they would have to adjust to living in a new community or attend a new school.

Related: Shared, Split, or Sole Care for Your Child? What You Need to Know.

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