Children & Custody

 

Jurisdiction

Colorado has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), codified at C.R.S. 14-13-101, et seq. The statute provides that Colorado has jurisdiction to enter or modify parenting orders if one of the following conditions is met:

1. Colorado is the child's home state, which means the child has lived here with a parent or acting parent for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of a Colorado child custody action (or for the child's life, if the child is less than six months old),

2. Colorado was the child's home state within six months prior to the filing of a custody action, and a parent/acting parent still lives in Colorado,

3. No other state has jurisdiction, or the child's home state has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the grounds that Colorado is a more convenient forum, and the child has a significant connection to Colorado,

4. Colorado initially entered parenting orders (e.g. a Colorado divorce or paternity action), and either the child or one of the parents has lived in Colorado continuously since then, or

5. Temporary emergency jurisdiction exists because the child is physically present in Colorado and has been abandoned or some other emergency, such as abuse, threatens the child.

 

Parental Decision-Making

 

Joint Parental Decision-Making in Colorado

Though one parent may have more parenting time than the other, generally under Colorado family law the parents share decision-making responsibilities over the children (sometimes referred to as "joint legal custody"). What that means is that neither parent can unilaterally make major decisions for the children - instead, the other parent must be consulted. Joint decision-making obviously works best when the parents share similar child-rearing values, and it helps if they get along.

Colorado child custody law defines major decisions as those affecting health, education, spiritual upbringing, and general welfare. So don't plan on home-schooling children, changing their religion, putting them in therapy, or having a child undergo elective surgery without the consent of the other parent. In an emergency, either parent can consent to necessary surgery or medical treatment, however.

The parent who the children are staying with at the time typically makes the day-to-day decisions regarding them, such as household hygiene & discipline, bedtimes, studying vs. television, etc.

 

Access to Children's Information

It is difficult to share in major decision-making without information pertaining to the children. Colorado family law already guarantees the rights of parents to obtain medical, school, and other records. But without knowing who is providing services to the children, this right can be difficult to enforce. A well-written parenting plan should require the parents to provide each other with the contact information for any third party providing education, medical, therapeutic, or other services to the children, and execute any forms necessary so the other parent can independently obtain information.

 

Avoiding Disputes

The best time to address decision-making issues is when the parents are obtaining a divorce in Colorado. As an example, the parents may anticipate some of the issues which will arise, and set up rules in advance, such as what religion the children will be, whether they'll be educated in public or private schools, etc. The parents can also define any issue as a "major" issue requiring joint decision-making, such as exposure to firearms, the age to start driving or dating, body art & piercing, etc.

Finally, if the parents ultimately disagree, a Colorado parenting plan should contain a dispute resolution process to avoid the parents having to run to their divorce lawyers and the Colorado family law court every time a dispute arises. The dispute resolution may require consultation, but give one parent the ultimate decision in case of disagreement. Or it may solicit the assistance of a third party to act as a parenting coordinator, mediator, or even an arbitrator (akin to a private judge).

 

Decision-Making Modification

Under C.R.S. 14-10-131, a Colorado domestic relations court shall not modify decision-making responsibility absent a change in circumstances making the modification necessary to serve the best interests of the child. The standard for modifying decision-making responsibility is similar to modifying the majority parent - the established allocation of decision-making responsibility should be retained unless:

  1. The parties agree to the modification,
  2. The child has been integrated into the requesting party's family with the consent of the other party, and the integration warrants the change,
  3. There was a modification of parenting time which justifies the change,
  4. One party has consistently allowed the other to make unilateral decisions for the child, or
  5. The child is endangered by the current allocation of decision-making responsibility, and the advantage of changing residence outweighs any harm such a change would cause.

 

Child Custody / Parenting Time

In every Colorado divorce, legal separation, annulment, or paternity case involving children, Colorado courts will consider the "best interests of the child" to determine Colorado child custody and visitation (the legal term in Colorado is "parenting rights and responsibilities"). On paper, Colorado family law is gender-neutral between the mother and father. That means that. under Colorado child custody laws, each parent theoretically has an equal opportunity of obtaining primary residential responsibility.

The reality of parenting time in Colorado is that mothers still tend to win more "custody battles" than fathers, but the playing field is more equal now than ever before. And the advantages mothers still have are really more a factor that they are more likely to have stayed at home or worked fewer hours than fathers.  Black & Graham has obtained primary parental responsibility for fathers - generally in cases where the father fulfilled that role instead of the mother.  The younger the children are, the more likely it is that the children will spend a majority of the time with one parent, rather than equally.

 

Best Interests of the Child

As a child gets older, he/she has more input into which parent exercises child custody in Colorado. However, the myth that a child over 12 decides which parent has custody in Colorado is just that - a myth. No child has an absolute say, though any parent with teenagers knows that they can be unmanageable if they do not live with the parent they choose.

Children are not property, and the standard is the best interests of the children, not the parents. Previously, most experts believed that it was in the best interests of children to have the stability of residing with one parent most of the time, and seeing the other parent less frequently. However, Colorado divorce courts are increasingly moving towards equal parenting time for each parent, particularly when children are of school age.

 

"Typical" Parenting Schedules

If parents live further apart, such as 1-4 hours away from each other, it would not be in the children's best interests to divide parenting equally (as an example, imagine the commute the child would have from a parent who lives in Denver going to a school in Colorado Springs). In this situation, the absent parent typically would have parenting every other weekend, a 2-4 week block of time in the summer, then divide the other vacations and major holidays equally. Typically, the parents divide the physical burden of driving the children between their residences equally.

When parents live in different states or countries, routine weekend parenting is generally not practicable, so the absent parent necessarily sees the child much less. Typically, that parent would have a larger block of the summer (most commonly half to two-thirds), then alternate spring, Thanksgiving, and winter/Christmas breaks. The parents would divide the costs of flying the children proportional to their incomes.

Bear in mind that the duration of the breaks may further be limited by the age of the children - since younger may develop more attachment to one parent, the parenting time may be shorter with preschool children.

 

More Information

Denver, Colorado Mediation Resources: Child Custody, Parenting Plans and Family Information. Consider mediation as an alternative to litigation, and the site has excellent information on parenting arrangements, including suggested parenting time schedules.

Connecting With Your Kids. An extremely detailed (243 pages, including forms) booklet highlighting the various laws and factors which affect parenting time, including sample plans, etc.

Custodysource.com. National child custody resource, with a very eclectic organization.

 

Parenting Time Modification

Standard for Modification in Colorado

Under C.R.S. 14-10-129, the standard to modify child custody/visitation ("parenting time") in Colorado is generally whether the change is in the best interests of the children. However, if the requested modification would also change the majority residential parent, a Colorado court can only change it if new facts have arisen since the original decree, and:

  1. The parties agree to the modification,
  2. The child has been integrated into the moving party's family with the consent of the other party,
  3. The majority residential parent is seeking to relocate with the children, or
  4. The present environment endangers the child's physical health or significantly impairs the child's emotional development, and the advantage of changing residence outweighs any harm such a change would cause.

 

Limitation on Modification

A parent cannot file a motion to modify parenting time which also seeks to change the majority residential parent within two years after a prior motion to modify the majority parent has been ruled on, absent endangerment.  C.R.S. 14-10-129(1.5).

 

Restriction of Parenting Time

A parent can seek, under C.R.S. 14-10-129(4), to restrict the other's parenting time by filing a motion alleging a child would be in imminent physical or emotional danger due to the parenting time.  By filing the motion, the other's parenting time is automatically required to be supervised for a seven-day period, during which the court must hold a "forthwith" hearing and rule on the motion to restrict parenting.

If the court fails to conduct a hearing within seven days, the requirement that the other's parenting is restricted is automatically terminated.  In re: Marriage of Slowinski & Pagnozzi, 05CA 2523 (Colo. App. 2008).  If, at the hearing, the court concludes that the motion was substantially frivolous or vexatious, the court is require to impose attorney's fees on the person who filed it.

 

Relocation of Children

With today's increasingly mobile society, one of the most hotly-contested areas of post-divorce litigation in Colorado has become the issue of whether a parent can relocate out of Colorado with the children (also known as "removal from Colorado"). This is especially true in El Paso County, with its numerous military installations and tens of thousands of military personnel.

While a Colorado divorce or legal separation is pending, Colorado law prevents one party from removing the children from Colorado, even temporarily, without either permission from the other party or from the Colorado family law judge. Once a Colorado divorce has been granted, parties can take the children out-of-state for visits (unless prohibited by the decree), but permanent removal still takes permission - and that permission is increasingly hard to obtain.

In Colorado divorce, legal separation, annulment, and paternity cases involving children, the law concerning child custody & visitation has long recognized that the parents should not be geographically tied to one-another. Just as the parent without custody ("primary residential responsibility") is free to move at will, the parent with the children has traditionally been able to move as well. However, in those cases Colorado courts balance the right to move with the inevitable decrease in parenting time for the parent who remains in Colorado.

 

Colorado Requirements for Relocation

When the majority residential parent, or a co-equal parent with 50/50 parenting time seeks to relocate with the children to a location which substantially changes the geographical ties between the children and the other parent, under C.R.S. 14-10-129(1)(a)(II) the parent seeking relocation must, as soon as practicable, provide the other with:

  1. Written notice of the intent to relocate,
  2. The location where the party intends to reside,
  3. The reason for the relocation, and
  4. A proposed revised parenting plan.

 

Removal Hearings

Hearings on child relocation are given priority on the Colorado family law court's docket. At that hearing, the judge must decide whether the proposed relocation is in the children's best interests.

A recent Colorado Supreme Court decision, In re: the Marriage of Ciesluk, 113 P.3d 135 (Colo. 2005), held that no presumptions in favor of either parent apply in a removal case. This means that there is no presumption that the child remains with the primary caregiver, which would place the burden on the other parent to try to stop the removal, and similarly, there is no presumption in favor of the parents remaining in close proximity, which would place the burden on the parent wishing to relocate.

 

Criteria for Relocation

There is a long list of factors in C.R.S. 14-10-129(2)(c) the court is required to consider at a removal hearing, including:

  1. The reasons why the party wishes to relocate with the child;
  2. The reasons why the opposing party is objecting to the proposed relocation;
  3. The history and quality of each party's relationship with the child since any previous parenting time order;
  4. The educational opportunities for the child at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
  5. The presence or absence of extended family at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
  6. Any advantages of the child remaining with the primary caregiver;
  7. The anticipated impact of the move on the child;
  8. Whether the court will be able to fashion a reasonable parenting time schedule if the change requested is permitted; and
  9. Any other relevant factors bearing on the best interests of the child.

 

Relocation within Colorado

A relocation does not just mean moving out of state - any move which substantially changes the geographical ties between the child and the other party requires consent from the other party or permission from the court.

As an example, even a move from one suburb to another within the same metropolitan area could separate the parents by as much as 45 minutes or more.  If both parents have overnights on school nights, it would result in either (1) the children having a lengthy commute twice per day when with one parent, or (2) one parent loses school-night overnights.  Thus, this relocation would trigger the permission requirements of C.R.S. 14-10-129.

However, if the other parent only has weekend parenting, Colorado divorce courts are usually more lenient with requests to relocate within the state.

 

Removal As Part of Initial Custody Determination

If a parent wishes to move the children to a new location as part of the initial custody determination, the Colorado family law court is required to accept where each party wants to live, then make appropriate parenting time decisions which are in the best interests of the children.  Spahmer v. Gullette, 113 P.3d 158 (Colo. App. 2005).

What this means in plain English is that the Court cannot require a parent to live in a specific location, but must, in essence, pretend that the parent has already relocated to his/her desired location, then make an appropriate custody determination.  So if, immediately upon a divorce or legal separation being completed, a parent wants to leave, it's not a relocation case, but simply part of the initial custody determination, and the only standard is best interests of the children.  So the procedure and criteria outlined by C.R.S. 14-10-129 do not apply, and instead, the Court only considers the "best interests of the children" under C.R.S. 14-10-124.

 

More Information

ColoradoDivorceMediation.com has an excellent article on relocation.

 

Children Passports

To help prevent international parental kidnapping, since July 2001 federal law has required the consent of both parents for a child under 14 to obtain a passport. There are exceptions, such as proof of the other parent's death, a divorce or family law court order granting the applying parent sole custody, or a court order specifically permitting the applying parent to travel overseas with the child.

Note that this applies to all foreign travel, including visits, not just permanent relocations. How well enforced it is at our borders with Canada and Mexico, however, will likely vary.

 

Avoiding Problems

A well-written parenting plan will address the issue of international travel and passports. Typically, a Colorado parenting plan grants to each parent the right to visit abroad with the children during that parent's parenting time, as long as they provide the other parent with an itinerary, and plenty of notice (at least a month, so that parent has the opportunity to challenge in court the wisdom of a spring break jaunt to the latest war zone as unsafe).

If the parenting plan does not address foreign travel, a parent who wants to visit overseas must act well in advance, contacting the other parent for consent. If that parent refuses, then the remedy is to request permission to travel overseas from the Colorado divorce or family law court which has jurisdiction over your case.

This is especially important to military personnel who have primary residential responsibility over their children. Unless the original decree of dissolution allows that parent to travel overseas with the children, upon notification of an overseas PCS he/she should contact the other parent as soon as possible for permission. If that parent refuses, the custodial parent must request an order from the Colorado divorce or family law court to apply for passports and move overseas with the children.

 

More Information

U.S. Department of State. Web site with information on bringing children abroad, and the forms to obtain passports for children.

 

Best Interests of the Children

The Colorado legislature has determined that children have the right to have determinations involving them be based upon the "best interests of the children".  C.R.S. 14-10-123.4.

The problem is obvious - when the two parents who know the children best disagree, how is a stranger in a black robe supposed to know what is in the children's best interests?  Simple - pass another law.

 

Parenting Time

C.R.S. 14-10-124(1.5)(a) outlines the criteria to determine whether a parenting schedule is in a child's best interests:

  1. The wishes of the child's parents;
  2. The wishes of the child, if sufficiently mature (typically starts about 12 or so),
  3. The relationship between the child, the parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;
  4. The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  5. 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;
  6. The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party;
  7. Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
  8. The physical proximity of the parties to each other;
  9. Whether a party has been a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect;
  10. Whether a party has been a perpetrator of spouse abuse;
  11. The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.

 

Decision-Making

C.R.S. 14-10-124(1.5)(b) outlines additional criteria, in addition to the criteria outlined above, for a court to consider when determining parental decision-making responsibility:

  1. Credible evidence of the ability of the parties to cooperate and to make decisions jointly;
  2. 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;
  3. Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibility will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parties;
  4. A perpetrator of child abuse or neglect may not have decision-making over the other's objection;
  5. A perpetrator of spousal abuse may not have decision-making over the other's objection, unless the court finds that the parties are able to make shared decisions about their children without physical confrontation and in a place and manner that is not a danger to the abused party or the child.

 

Irrelevant Considerations

C.R.S. 14-10-124 prohibits courts from considering the following in determining the best interests of a child:

  1. Conduct which does not affect a party's relationship with the child (since Colorado has no-fault divorce, courts don't want custody fights to be an excuse to bring in irrelevant allegations, such as adultery).
  2. Gender of the parties.
  3. A request for genetic testing.
  4. A parent leaving the home due to the other's spousal abuse.

 

Parenting Experts / Professionals

In contested parenting cases which are either higher-conflict, or involve deeper issues (an unfit parent, relocation, parental alienation, domestic violence, etc), the Colorado domestic relations court may appoint an expert to assist.

The expert may be intended to assist the parties - such as a parenting coordinator to help resolve disputes, or a decision-maker to actually decide contested issues.  Or the experts could be intended to assist the Court in reaching a decision by investigating issues and making recommendations - such as a child & family investigator or a parental responsibilities evaluator.

In most cases, one of the lawyers will request the appointment of an expert, or the parties will agree to have one appointed.  Less commonly, the Court will decide on its own to appoint an expert without being asked.

Typically, when the parents agree on a professional, the fees are divided proportional to incomes.  When one party files a motion seeking the appointment of one, the Court may allocate the fees to that party initially (subject to reallocation at the actual hearing), or divide the fees between the parties.

PAGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION - MORE ARTICLES ON THE WAY SOON.

 

Child & Family Investigator / CFI

C.R.S. 14-10-116.5 authorizes the Colorado family law court to appoint a Child & Family Investigator (CFI), either upon request of one (or both) of the parties, or on its own.

Legal Guidelines for CFIs.

In addition to the C.R.S. 14-10-116.5 referenced above, there are additional sources of guidelines applicable to CFIs:

 

CFI Fees

Regardless of who requests the CFI appointment, the Court may apportion the CFI's fees and costs to both of the parties, or to one of them.  If either of the parties is indigent, the state of Colorado may pay that party's fees under the state rate.

Section III of CJD 04-08 caps the CFI fees at $2000. If the fees are going to be higher than that, the CFI needs to go back to Court to justify what extraordinary circumstances exist, and the Court must enter a detailed order showing the specific special circumstances which justify the higher amount.

Who Can Be Appointed as CFI

A CFI may be an attorney or a mental health professional, or anyone else with appropriate training acceptable to the Court.  Mental health professionals are most common.

The 4th Judicial District has a set of minimum qualifications and standards which are even more specific, as well as a list of approved CFIs.  (Note that in view of CJD 04-08 now capping fees at $2000, not only are the fees referenced out of date, but some of the providers may no longer provide CFI services).

Role of the CFI

The CFI is tasked with investigating, reporting, and making recommendations in the children's best interests on issues as specifically directed by the Court. As such, even if paid by one party, the CFI is effectively the neutral investigative arm of the Court, responsible to the Court, not to either parent.  After issuing a report, the CFI may be called as a witness to testify.

Whereas a parental responsibilities evaluator can look into everything, the scope of the CFI investigation is limited to the specific issues in the appointment order).  

As an "investigative arm of the Court", the CFI may not simultaneously serve in any role which could compromise that neutrality, such as a mediator, therapist, arbitrator, or later serve as a Child's Legal Representative (if the CFI is an attorney).  Standard 4, CJD 04-08.  However, the CFI may transition into a parent coordinator, decision-maker or arbitrator after conclusion of his/her role as CFI.  Standard 5, CJD 04-08.

The CFI may not conduct psychological or drug/alcohol testing, but must instead report back to the Court and recommend such testing.  Standard 13, CJD 04-08.  Note that this is a new rule as of 2011 - prior to that it was typical for CFIs to perform such testing when deemed appropriate.

Use of Parental Responsibilities Evaluator

Should the parties or Court desire a more in-depth evaluation of the parenting issues, an expert must be appointed to conduct a parental responsibilities evaluation.

Conflict of Interest

In 2012, the Colorado Assembly enacted S.B. 12-56, which amended C.R.S. 14-10-116.5 to require that a Child & Family Investigators (as well as other parenting professionals) must be a "neutral third person", and within 7 days of appointment, provide the parties, counsel and court with a disclosure of the nature of any familial, social, or financial relationship with a party, counsel, or judge.

The court may then, on its own, terminate the appointment, or either party may file an objection to the appointment within 7 days (or the objection is waived), and the court then has 7 additional days to confirm or terminate the appointment.

It is unclear what resulted in this legislation.  In El Paso County, counsel and parenting professionals generally know each other fairly well, work together on a number of cases, attend similar conferences, etc. But those are normal professional relationships that would likely not trigger the disclosure requirement.

Finally, note that this obligation only applies to appointments after July 1, 2012.

 

Child's Legal Representative / CLR

Often, children are old enough to express their own views (typically, the opinion of teenagers matters more than younger children), and there are no psychological issues which need investigating.  In such cases, having a lawyer appointed for the children may make more sense than having a psychologist appointed as a CFI or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator.

Appointment of Child's Legal Representative

In cases with disputed parenting issues, either party may request, or the Court may, on its own, appoint a lawyer to serve as Child's Legal Representative, or CLR.  The same person cannot serve both as CLR and as a CFI.

CLR Costs

The Court may allocate the CLR costs to either party, or both of them.

Role of Child's Legal Representative

A Child's Legal Representative is an attorney appointed pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-116 to represent the best interests of the child.  Note that the lawyer does not represent the child, but the child's "best interests".

Previously, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) was appointed to represent the children. But the CLR's client is the more nebulous concept of "best interests".  While the distinction may seem subtle, imagine a 14 year-old who wants to live with his father, because his father has no curfew, lets him drink and smoke, and does not make him do his homework. While the child may want to live in that environment, it's hard to argue that it's actually in his best interests.  The CLR may consider the child's wishes, but is not bound by them.

It's unusual to have such stark facts at the hypothetical just presented.  More commonly, CLRs are appointed to speak for the children when the parents disagree about what the child wants.

The CLR actively participates in all aspects of the case, but unlike a CFI or a PRE, is not a neutral expert who can testify.  Instead, as with any other attorney, at a hearing the CLR examines witnesses, and argues for a certain outcome.

However, once a CLR is appointed, he/she is "first among equals", and has a greater say on parenting time than one of the attorneys representing the parents.  So a CLR can often work with all counsel to facilitate settlement, since the CLR's views are given greater weight.

 

Conflict of Interest

In 2012, the Colorado Assembly enacted S.B. 12-56, which amended C.R.S. 14-10-116 to require that a Child's Legal Representative (as well as other parenting professionals) to provide, within 7 days of appointment, the parties, counsel and court with a disclosure of the nature of any familial, social, or financial relationship with a party, counsel, or judge.

The court may then, on its own, terminate the appointment, or either party may file an objection to the appointment within 7 days (or the objection is waived), and the court then has 7 additional days to confirm or terminate the appointment.

It is unclear what resulted in this legislation.  In El Paso County, counsel and parenting professionals generally know each other fairly well, work together on a number of cases, attend similar conferences, etc. But those are normal professional relationships that would likely not trigger the disclosure requirement.

Finally, note that this obligation only applies to appointments after July 1, 2012.

 

Parental Responsibilities Evaluator / PRE

Pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-127, the Court may appoint an expert to conduct a parental responsibilities evaluation (PRE) which, as the name suggests, is a comprehensive parenting/custody evaluation.  (This contrasts to a Child & Family Investigator (CFI), which is intended for a quick and inexpensive investigation of specific issues).

A PRE is typically used in higher-conflict custody cases, or where there are multiple issues which need investigating.  Either party can request that one be appointed, or, less commonly, the Court may, on its own, direct that one be appointed.

Legal Standard to Appoint PRE

C.R.S. 14-10-127 states that a Court "shall, upon motion of either party or upon its own motion, order the court probation department, any county or district social services department, or a licensed mental health professional qualified pursuant to subsection (4) of this section to perform an evaluation and file a written report concerning the disputed issues relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities for the child, unless such motion by either party is made for the purposes of delaying the proceedings."

While it appears from this language that Courts have very little discretion to reject the appointment of a PRE, the motion seeking the appointment must comply with the Court's case management order.  So if a case has been pending for months, but a parent waits until the week, or even the month, before a hearing to request that a parental responsibilities evaluator be appointed, that request may well be denied.

Payment of PRE

C.R.S. 14-10-127(1) provides that the Court may order the reasonable charge for the evaluation to be assessed between the parties, although many judges will require the party requesting the appointment to pay initially, subject to allocation at a later hearing.

Costs depend upon the complexity of the case, who conducts the evaluation, and whether psychological evaluations are conducted.  In El Paso County, one would typically pay about $3500 to $5500 for a parenting responsibilities evaluation.

Who Can Serve as a PRE

The PRE must be a licensed mental health professional - this is a more restrictive requirement than that required to serve as a CFI, so not all CFIs would be qualified to serve as a PRE.

Furthermore, pursuant to C.R.S 14-10-127(4), the PRE must be qualified as competent by training an experience in such areas as the effects of divorce & remarriage on children, appropriate parenting techniques, child development, psychology, etc.

The PRE Process

A typical PRE takes about 90 days to complete, and the actual process depends upon the policies of the specific PRE.  By law, the PRE may consult anyone with information about the child, and refer the child to other professionals for diagnosis.

A PRE will typically meet with both parties individually at the outset, talk about the case, and give them questionnaires for the party and his/her collateral contacts (family members, teachers, day care providers, etc) to complete.  The PRE will also meet with each party together with the child to observe parent-child interaction, and except with real young children, meet with the child individually.

Some PREs may do home visits, others may not unless there are concerns about a parent's home.  Some PREs will talk to collateral contacts personally, whereas others will simply review the questionnaires. The PRE may review academic, medical, or therapy records, should they be relevant to the case, or recommend professional intervention, such as therapy.

A written report of the evaluation is due to the Court and parties at least 20 days before the hearing, and should include a description of the procedure, the data collected, a conclusion explaining how the recommendations were reached, and the actual recommendations.

The PRE may be called as a witness to testify at a hearing as to the evaluation.

Supplemental Parental Responsibilities Evaluation

A party who is dissatisfied with the initial evaluation may request that the Court appoint someone with the requisite qualifications to perform a supplemental evaluation, at that party's expense.  The Court shall not order a supplemental evaluation, however, if any of the following applies:

  • The motion is for the purpose of delay.
  • A party objects, and that party or the child has a physical or mental condition which would make the supplemental evaluation harmful to that person.
  • The purpose of the motion is to harass the other party.
  • The moving party did not cooperate with the first investigation.
  • The weight of the evidence other than the evaluation demonstrates that a second evaluation would not benefit the Court in determining the issues, or
  • There has already been both a CFI investigation and a parental responsibilities evaluation conducted.

 

Conflict of Interest

In 2012, the Colorado Assembly enacted S.B. 12-56, which amended C.R.S. 14-10-127 to require that a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (as well as other parenting professionals), within 7 days of appointment, provide the parties, counsel and court with a disclosure of the nature of any familial, social, or financial relationship with a party, counsel, or judge.

The court may then, on its own, terminate the appointment, or either party may file an objection to the appointment within 7 days (or the objection is waived), and the court then has 7 additional days to confirm or terminate the appointment.

It is unclear what resulted in this legislation.  In El Paso County, counsel and parenting professionals generally know each other fairly well, work together on a number of cases, attend similar conferences, etc. But those are normal professional relationships that would likely not trigger the disclosure requirement.

Finally, note that this obligation only applies to appointments after July 1, 2012.