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What I Do For You in Child Custody Cases

Decision-Making For the Child(ren)

To what extent do you want to be involved in making decisions for your children?  I can help you get there.  Courts are required to allocate decision-making responsibilities to one or both of the parents.  If you don't make your voice heard on this issue, then you may essentially lose your parental rights.  Equal decision-making may seem like a good idea - and it generally is - although sometimes it is better for one parent make certain decisions and have sole decision-making in that area.

But even with equal decision-making, what happens when a tie-break is needed?  Are you really going to run to court every time you disagree?  It takes quite awhile to get a court hearing - What happens if it's too late?  Imagine that you both can't agree to a school choice and school will be starting soon.  What if one parent is OK with a tattoo and the other parent is not?  You need to think about these questions ahead of time.  I can help you with this - We will discuss options and strategies.

The Court will allocate major decision-making to the parties.  The minor day-to-day decisions are generally left to the parent who has the child at the time the decision is made.  So the first thing I do is work with you to determine what is going to count as a major decision.  Some of these decisions seem fairly obvious such as the choice of health care provider and type of health care, school choice and religious training.

However, some are not so obvious (particularly when you are stressed out about the court proceedings).  Examples include when and/or whether to get a tattoo, psychotherapy, curfew, when dating, driving and use of makeup begins, etc.

We'll work on a list together on what is important to you when it comes to making decisions for your child.  Your child needs and deserves your input.  Let's make sure that happens.

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Parenting Time

I will help you get the parenting time with your children that you want and deserve.  You are entitled to reasonable parenting time under Colorado law but if you don't request it, the Court may think "reasonable" means very little.  But we both know that the time you have with your kids is very important.  The less time you have, the less of a bond there is.  Since day-to-day decisions are made by the parent who has the child, that parent is effectively raising and shaping the child.

The sky's the limit as far as what I can use to show that you should have parenting time with your child - it just needs to be related to what would be good for the child (the law uses a special "best interests" term of art).  So if you are trying to show that it would be good for your child to spend a certain amount of time with you, what would that look like?

The child's wishes may count if the child is mature enough.   Other factors can include how well the child gets along with each parent, how the parents have treated the child, how they have been involved with the child, where each parent is going to live, how well the parents get along with each other, everyone's physical and mental health, and the list can go on and on.  Trying to get these factors into or out of evidence is what I do - and we will discuss ways of doing this.

I will work with you to show that it is good for the child to be with you as well as the other parent if you think that is best.  If it is not good for the child to be with the other parent, then we will address how to present this to the Court.  Of course, I will also be honest with you if I think it is likely that the Court will order some parenting time arrangement that you may not like.  I have a lot of experience here with the "pulse" of the Courts on how they view parenting time issues including where the Courts tend to place more emphasis.

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Parenting Plan

A Parenting Plan is an agreement which includes detailed framework for decision-making and parenting time in your case.  It optionally can include child support as well.  Although a Court doesn't need to accept your Parenting Plan, It generally will, particularly if you have a reasonable Plan and an attorney involved.

These Plans can be drafted at any time in the case and are usually the result of a successful mediation or other settlement.  While every Plan is unique (since your family is unique) I have many Parenting Plans from my past cases that can help efficiently address many of your circumstances.

The most common parts of the Parenting Plan are the regular and special parenting times, including allocations for named holidays, birthdays, school breaks, and vacation time.  To avoid issues later, it is good to include the exact times and responsibilities for pick-up and drop-off of the children.  Of course, you can always choose to do something different by agreement later, but if there is ever a disagreement, the Plan controls.

The Plan can also address almost any other parenting issues that you wish.  It can lay out how decision-making is allocated, and list the choice of schools, religion, day care, and health providers.  It can state how the parents are to communicate with each other and with the child(ren) when with the other parent.  The legal residence of the child can be designated here along with dispute resolution if there is a future disagreement, rules for taking the child out of the state, discipline, curfew, tattoos, etc.

I take Parenting Plans very seriously because a well-drafted Parenting Plan is helpful in so many ways not the least of which is providing clear rules to be followed and helping to keep further custody issues from coming back to the Court.  You can even put in a provision to have a third party make a decision if you can't agree.

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Court-Appointed Neutrals

Although most of the time the parenting portion of your case can proceed without anyone being appointed by the Court, sometimes the appointment of someone to assist you or the Court is highly recommended.  Whether you or the other parent requests such an appointment, it is always in the Court's discretion to do it - except for the third party decision-maker which requires both of you to agree before one is appointed.

Child & Family Investigator (CFI):

The CFI is a neutral third party appointed by the Court to do a custody (parental responsibilities) evaluation and submit a written recommendation in the form of a report to the Court.  This report can include a recommendation on how both decision-making and parenting time is allocated to the parents.  The Order appointing the CFI will indicate what the CFI is supposed to make recommendations on - the scope.

The CFI is usually appointed where there are parenting concerns that the parents disagree about and rather than get into a "he said - she said - only" argument at trial, the Court finds it helpful to have a neutral party do an investigation.  The CFI will interview the parents and age-appropriate children, along with any other witnesses that the CFI may find helpful.  Examples include teachers, relatives, friends, and health care providers.  I will work with you to determine who to suggest to the CFI for this purpose.

The CFI may, but is not required to be, an attorney or mental health professional.  The Court will usually only appoint a CFI who has met a number of requirements and who is included on a Statewide and/or Judicial District Eligibility Roster.

I will assess your case carefully to determine the merits of having a CFI and if one is to be appointed, will be centrally involved in the selection process.  The CFI that is selected is VERY important as the recommendations will influence the Court.

The cost of the CFI is $2,750 at this time,  which is usually split between the parties in some fashion.  Again - I will discuss everything with you well in advance if this looks like it will be relevant in your case.  While not cheap, the cost is certainly less expensive then preparing for a trial - and the CFI report may help narrow the issues or result in an agreement.

Parental Responsiblities Evaluator (PRE):

The PRE is like a CFI on steroids.  The PRE is much more expensive (4k to over 20k) and is usually only appointed where there are very serious and substantial allegations made against a parent with respect their fitness as a parent (often there is a mental health concern).  Just like the CFI, the PRE does an investigation and submits a report with recommendations on parenting.  The report is more substantial than the CFI report and many times includes a psychological evaluation of the parents and children.  Just like with the CFI, the selection of the PRE is of utmost importance.  I am familiar with the well-known PREs in the the field.

Parenting Coordinator (PC):

A PC can be appointed by the Court to assist the parents in resolving disputes over parental responsibilities after the case ends.  If you have had difficulties with the other parent in making parental decisions, then a PC may be appropriate to get some resolution and avoid going back to Court.  When there is a parenting issue that you both cannot resolve, then a meeting with a good PC can do wonders.  I will be involved n the selection process to assist in getting a PC that is fair and competent.  And I just happen to know some...

Decision Makers (DM):

A good DM is worth their weight in gold.  In a high-conflict parenting case, the DM can step in and make the parenting decision for both of you when you can't agree.  A simple example of where a DM would be useful is if your Parenting Plan is silent on when the Christmas Break exchange time occurs - and you just can't reach an agreement.  The DM, after listening to both of your positions, would make the decision and file the decision with the Court.  There are also some other procedural formalities that don't need to be explored here.

While a DM can be a good thing, it can also be very limiting - There's just something uncomfortable about knowing someone else has the decision-making authority for awhile when you both don't agree (even though that is essentially what the judge does...).   Where appropriate, I like to combine the PC with the DM into a PCDM.  This way, the PC can try to assist you in getting an agreement and only put on the DM hat when you can't get an agreement.  The reality is that in many cases, the parents will know where the PCDM is heading and just agree to an issue without the DM decision needing to be made, filed, etc.  This is a real time and money saver...

A DM can only be appointed if both parents agree to the appointment in writing.  The appointment is for up to a 2-year term.  I will discuss the appropriateness (benefits and pitfalls) of a DM with you in detail along with some good names.

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