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 in the parental responsibilities. In split parenting, one parent has primary parental responsibility and physical custody of the child(ren) residing with them for the majority of the time; the other parent has access to the child(ren), but the child(ren) do not stay with them more than 92 overnights a year.
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; and if they would have to adjust to living in a new community or attend a new school. As well, the Court’s general approach is that parenting responsibilities should be shared rather than split whenever possible, but in cases where abuse is involved or where one parent is deemed unfit, split parenting is most likely to be granted.
Related: Shared Parenting Plan Worksheet