For parents going through a divorce, deciding how to split up their children’s time between two households is probably the most important and difficult decision that has to be made. It is also a big change—from both parents seeing the children every day, one might only see them on the weekends or on holidays. The emotional repercussions often prevent couples from coming to an agreement regarding child custody, leaving it up to the court’s discretion to make an award.

Colorado, as most other states, makes child custody determinations based on the child’s best interests. These decisions, known as parenting responsibilities in the state, cover who the child spends time with, who gets to make important decisions and what the visitation rights of the other parent are. The models followed are joint physical custody, joint legal custody or sole.

Courts find that joint legal custody is often in the child’s best interest. This means that parents must make important life decisions for the child together, including which school they will go to, which religion they will follow and health related decisions as well. Courts can also award joint physical custody to both the parents, which means the child would spend equal amounts of time with each parent. However, this can often be difficult to follow, as parents have different schedules or could be moving to another state. In these situations, courts come up with visitation plans based on the individual circumstances of each parent.

Courts can also award sole physical or legal custody, but that is rare and requires a demonstration of physical or sexual abuse, or a showing that the child witnessed domestic violence against a parent. Violence needs to be shown by a preponderance of evidence.

The child custody determination is an important one in a divorce and should not be taken lightly. It is essential to understand what all should be included in the agreement, both taking into account short and long term ramifications. It might be helpful to consult a knowledgeable professional for guidance.