When parents in Colorado decide to get divorced, their kids don’t get a say in whether their parents’ marriage will end, even though their lives will be upended and forever changed because of it. That doesn’t mean, however, that children don’t have feelings or opinions about the matter, especially about how the divorce will affect their day-to-day lives and how much time they will spend with one parent or the other. But does a child’s opinions and preferences matter to a Colorado judge when making child custody decisions and allocating parenting time and parental responsibilities?
Maturity and Independent Preferences in Colorado Springs Child Custody Cases
In Colorado, as in almost every other state, what is in the child’s best interests is the prism through which a judge views all custody and visitation decisions. In making those decisions, the judge may – but is not required to – take into consideration the wishes of the child as to parenting time/parental responsibilities and child custody allocation.
In determining the best interests of the child for purposes of parenting time, a judge must take into consideration all relevant factors, including the following:
The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time;
The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule;
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;
The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
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;
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;
Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time;
The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
No Set Age for When a Child’s Opinion Will Be Considered
As noted above, the court may consider the preference of the child in determining his or her best interests if the child is mature enough and can express their preferences logically and reasonably. Since every child is different, Colorado law does not set a specific age for when a judge should consider the child’s opinion, though 12 tends to be a common age for reaching the requisite level of maturity. But judges are left with a great deal of discretion in this regard, as they are with all parenting time decisions.
If the judge does want to include the child’s preferences as part of their determination, he or she must be satisfied that those preferences are truly “independent.” This means ensuring that the opinions were not the result of one or both parents attempting to influence the child’s decision by making threats, giving bribes or making the child feel guilty; or whether one parent’s hostility toward the other parent has turned the child against the other parent. Even if the child’s opinions are truly their own, the judge can completely disregard them if other factors weigh heavily against those opinions being in the child’s best interests.
The judge will want to hear from the child directly, but this does not necessarily mean that the child will have to testify in open court in front of their parents. Judges recognize how awkward or traumatic that can be for a child and will make every effort to minimize any discomfort while also making sure that they have a full understanding of the child’s wishes.
Connect with an experienced child custody attorney in Colorado Springs to discuss your case and decide how to proceed with finding the best agreement for your child.