There are a variety of reasons you and your co-parent may want to amend your child custody agreement. Whether it’s due to a life change, a new academic routine, or simply due to your child growing up and wanting something different, the state of Colorado has a few options to help you amend your existing agreement. In this blog, we’ll look at three different modifications and how to get started.
How to Modify Shared Parenting Schedules & Colorado Child Custody Agreements
1. Change by Agreement
In the state of Colorado, you can change child custody in a few different ways and the first method is by agreement. As children grow older, a custody agreement often becomes outdated and out of sync with school activities. In these instances, parents will need to make changes that fit more with where they are in life and how much time children want and need to spend with each parent.
Many couples are able to make custody agreement changes on their own without the need for a mediator or court. This requires the couple to draw up a stipulation or agreement that would be signed by both parties, which would result in the modification of the child custody agreement and shared parenting schedule. They would then send this signed stipulation to the court where it would become an “order of the court.” This is a very inexpensive way parents can modify their agreement, if parties are able to communicate and relations between the parents can remain pleasant. An attorney’s role would simply be to make sure it was drafted correctly.
2. Motion to the Court for Modification
However, two co-parents don’t always see eye to eye on how their children would be best served by a particular shared parenting schedule. So, the second path to modifying a child custody agreement in Colorado is to file a motion with the court for modification. Once you’re legally divorced and you have your child custody orders, modifying the order after the fact is certainly an option available to you. Generally, however, parents need a point to a substantial change in their lives’ circumstances to warrant a modification of their child custody agreement.
It’s not often that you see child custody agreement modifications being warranted or granted unless an event has occurred that resulted in a substantial change to one or both co-parents’ circumstances. Typically speaking, you want to seek modification if the shared parenting time in the custody arrangement has been in place for a while and there is a good reason for modification that you can demonstrate or speak to in court–if need be.
When filing a modification, we can see that Colorado courts use the best interests standard. This means that the Court will take into account what is in the best interest of all children involved. Sometimes a child’s preference is also considered as a factor in the Court’s decision-making regarding the shared parenting schedule, especially if that child is mature and old enough to discern what is happening, in an age appropriate way.
As children get older, one parent may feel that the custody arrangement, or shared parenting time as it’s referred to in Colorado, is insufficient and that parent wants more time with the children. Luckily, one parent’s desire for more parenting time is an absolutely valid reason to file a motion with the Court. Again, the Court would look as to whether it is in the best interests of the now older child to spend more time with that particular parent. Essentially, this is where a motion to modify the shared parenting schedule can benefit both parents and their children.
However, one caveat of this is that once you request a motion to modify, there is a two-year moratorium on filing another modification. From the Court’s point of view, it doesn’t want people coming in to modify custody agreements arbitrarily or excessively, so there is a two-year period of time before you can file another motion to modify. With that being said, if there is some sort of child endangerment taking place, you can always bring a motion to modify to address and ensure the safety of the child/children.
The two-year moratorium does not apply if you have a true concern for the safety and potential endangerment of your child. A parent can always file a motion to restrict shared parenting time if their children are in risk of physical or emotional harm.
Relocation modification, or “removal,” as the Court refers to it, is the third way to modify shared parenting time and the child custody agreement. Frequently, if one parent is planning to move out-of-state, or–alternatively–move somewhere else in Colorado that’s far enough away that it would have to significantly change shared parenting schedules, a modification is an option. If the parent is seeking to move out-of-state with the child, this type of modification is a motion to relocate.
Relocations for post-decree (after divorce) parenting time modifications are governed by the Relocation Statute, C.R.S. § 14-10-129, enacted in 2001. Depending on whether the parties already have a parenting plan in place or whether the parents are unmarried and filing a motion for the first time, the Court applies the “best interests standard,” C.R.S. § 14-10-124.
In re Marriage of Ciesluk, a 2005 Colorado Supreme Court case, the Court established a standard that balances the nine factors outlined in the statute, so that neither party has a presumption that they can relocate with the child. In another case, Spahmer v. Gullette, the Court applies a slightly different standard if parents are filing a motion regarding shared parenting time for the first time (in other words, the parents were unmarried and never had a formal court order issued regarding shared parenting time).
Suffice it to say, the litigation of removal is extremely fact specific and the justification to separate a child from a parent is a high burden for both sides to wrestle with. As you can tell, if you’re planning to move out of state, you will have to address the shared parenting schedule, since it will be significantly impacted by the change in distance. For more information about modifying shared parenting time, filing for divorce, how divorce works, or any other family law matters in Colorado, contact the team at Lewis & Matthews, P.C. today.