The term “custody” was eliminated in Colorado many years ago but it is a term that everyone knows what you are talking about and people call me regularly asking about “custody.”
When parents are not together anymore (whether they were married or not), the Court must determine two things: what time periods the child or children will be spending with each parent (parenting time) and whether one or both parents will make the major decisions for the child or children such as medical, educational and spiritual decisions (decision-making).
The Colorado courts have been steadily changing regarding how they allocate parenting time to parents. There are many judges now that begin the hearing assuming each parent will have the children half of the time and then they must be convinced that another way of sharing parenting time would be in the best interest of the child. Some judges are still awarding more parenting time to mothers but these judges are few. Some judges are somewhere in the middle. If parents cannot decide together what the best parenting time plan would be, they can hire a person called a CFI (child family investigator) that will interview them, interview the children (if the children are old enough to do so), interview other people (like teachers, neighbors, other family members), and then they write a report to the court making the recommendations for parenting time. The judge will take their recommendations into consideration. A judge may use the recommendations exactly as written, modify them or do something entirely different. There is a general consensus that children under about age three really need a “primary” home and judges don’t order a 50/50 parenting time schedule for very young children very often. There is also a common misperception that there is some age at which the child gets to choose. This is not the case in Colorado. One factor that the court will consider is the child’s wishes, but there is no “magic” age.
My experience has shown that far more often than not, judges will order “joint decision-making” for the children. This is because most parents want to have input on major decisions for their child and should be allowed to do so. There are some instances where the judge will award “sole decision-making” to a parent. This happens most often in cases where there has been domestic violence or when one parent has committed certain crimes. A CFI can also give the judge their opinion on which parent (or both) should have decision-making for major decisions.