When parents are married they are free to make decisions any way they choose as long as their children are not endangered. It is assumed family decisions will be made together and in the best interests of the children, which is also the goal once parents are divorced and the court becomes involved. Regardless of the parenting time schedule that the parents follow after divorce, whenever possible, Colorado attempts to give parents joint decision making responsibilities over a child. This is sometimes referred to as joint legal custody.
Joint decision-making ensures that neither parent is permitted to make unilateral major decisions for a child. Whenever a major decision is needed, the parents must mutually agree before moving forward. This is why it is so important for divorced parents to work on their relationship – respectful communication makes joint decision making much easier on everyone involved.
What Constitutes a Major Decision?
Under Colorado law, major decisions include issues that affect:
• Spiritual education and guidance
• General welfare
If an emergency should arise it is allowable for one parent to consent to medical treatment, as long as it appears that the decision was made in the child’s best interest and under the consultation of medical professionals. Day to day decisions regarding discipline, bedtime, hygiene, recreation, and schoolwork are typically made by whichever parent the child is staying with at the time, though it helps to have consistency with these issues.
What if there is a Disagreement?
Should parents disagree about a decision, the parenting plan approved by the court will likely contain a dispute resolution process for settling such instances. It could include the participation of a neutral third party or give the power to one parent to ultimately make the decision.
Under C.R.S. § 14-10-131, the court ordered decision-making remains active unless there is a change in circumstances and modification is in the best interest of the child. In order to make a modification, the court will consider whether:
• The parents agree to the modification
• The child is integrated into the requesting party’s family with the consent of the other parent and the integration is what warranted the change
• A change in parenting time occurred and caused a need for the modification
• One party has consistently made unilateral decisions without the other party’s objection for some time
• The child is in danger based on the current plan and a change is of greater benefit than any disadvantage
Decision-making as a parent is tough and it becomes even more difficult when you are making those decisions with a former spouse. If you have questions about parental decision-making or any other family law matter, contact Montgomery Little & Soran, PC at 303-773-8100.