Allocation of Parental Responsibilities
In Colorado, child custody is referred to as Allocation of Parental Responsibilities or APR. APR can either be decided as part of a divorce case or as a stand alone case if the parents are not married. In either type of case, the rules and process are basically the same.
APR includes parenting time, decision-making, and financial issues related to the children. An APR case is not complete until all of those issues have been agreed to by the parties and/or decided by a judge.
This page is a brief overview of the APR process and should not be treated as an authoritative guide. There is no substitute for advice from an experienced divorce lawyer.
The first step in an APR case is the filing of a petition. Both parents can file the petition together or one parent can file on their own. If only one parent files the petition, they must have the petition and summons served on the other party. It is important to file the petition in the proper county in accordance with C.R.C.P. 98.
All parties must send mandatory financial disclosures to the other party in the case pursuant to C.R.C.P. 16.2(e). This is a very important responsibility of the parties and should not be taken lightly. Read more about Mandatory Financial Disclosures.
Each party is required to attend a four-hour parenting after divorce class. These classes can usually be taken online and cost about $50.
Initial Status Conference
The first hearing in every case is an initial status conference, sometimes referred to as an initial conference appearance. These are informal hearings where nothing of substance in the case is decided. Many times the hearings are not conducted with a judge but with a judge's assistant.
The hearings usually take about 15 minutes. The purpose of the hearing is for the judge to get an idea of the issues in the case and whether or not it will be a complicated, lengthy case. If both parties are represented by counsel it is possible to avoid the initial status conference.
In the APR context, expert witnesses conduct investigations and make recommendations about the best interests of the children. An expert witness's investigation will include: 1) interviews with the parties, their children, and other relevant individuals, 2) review of relevant documents provided by the parties, and 3) visits to each parent's home.
There are two types of experts generally used in APR cases: Parental Responsibilities Evaluators (PREs) or Child and Family Investigators (CFIs). While these experts conduct similar investigations, there are many important differences between them.
Once the expert has completed their investigation, they will draft a report and transmit it to the parties and the court. The judge will thoroughly review the report prior to any hearing.
Mediation is a structured negotiation where the parties work with their attorneys and a mediator to settle issues in the case. An agreement only occurs at mediation if both parties agree. No party gets to unilaterally run the show at mediation.
The judge will require the parties to engage in mediation before permitting them to go to a hearing on APR issues. Generally, mediation will occur after receiving an expert report if an expert is retained by one or both of the parties. In the vast majority of cases, the parties will settle their APR issues without requiring a hearing with the judge. The settlement can occur at virtually any time prior to an APR order being issued by the court and it does not have to occur at mediation. The benefits of settling without going to a hearing include saving thousands on attorney fees and also removing the uncertainty of leaving the decision up to a judge.
The parenting plan is the most important part of an APR case. The parties and their lawyers will work together to draft a parenting time in the best interests of the children. The parenting plan includes all relevant agreements regarding the children such as: 1) parenting schedule, 2) holiday schedule, 3) decision-making authority, 4) exchange and transportation information, 5) health insurance information, 6) out-of-pocket medical expense reimbursement, 7) child support and many other important items.
The goal in an APR case is always to agree to a parenting plan with the other party. If the parties are unable to agree to a parenting plan the judge will have to decide the issues for them. Most judges in Colorado will advise the parties at the beginning of the case that it is in the best interest of the parties and their children to come to an agreement regarding parenting issues and that they don't want to leave the decisions regarding the children up to a judge. Judges try very hard to get things right, especially on issues related to the children, but there are limits to what they can do.
Hearing on APR
If the parties cannot agree to a complete parenting plan then some, or all, of the issues will be decided by a judge. The judge will not make any permanent decisions on APR issues until a hearing has been held. At the hearing, the parties make their case to the judge by calling lay witnesses, expert witnesses, and presenting relevant exhibits. The judge will make a decision after considering all of the evidence from the hearing.
Usually within a week or two after the hearing, the judge will issue an order regarding APR which resolves all outstanding issues. If the parties have been able to reach a partial agreement, that agreement will generally be incorporated into the judge's permanent order.
Best Interests of the Child
The judge will rely on the best interests factors contained in C.R.S. 14-10-124 in making his or her decision. The factors the court considers for parenting time are:
(I) The wishes of the child's parents as to parenting time;
(II) The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule;
(III) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;
(IV) The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
(V) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
(VI) The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party; except that, if the court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, the party's protective actions shall not be considered with respect to this factor;
(VII) Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
(VIII) The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time;
(IX) and (X) Repealed.
(XI) The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
The factors the court considers for decision-making are:
(I) Credible evidence of the ability of the parties to cooperate and to make decisions jointly;
(II) Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support that would indicate an ability as mutual decision makers to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child;
(III) Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibility on any one or a number of issues will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parties.
It is important to get APR issues right the first time around. Trying to modify orders after they've been issued is much more difficult than getting a good order or agreement in the first place. This is because there are different legal standards at play in a modification. If you have any questions about any of the information contained on this page do not hesitate to contact our office at (720) 295-4196 or [email protected].