Colorado: Filing for Parental Responsibility (Child Custody)

Here's how to file in Colorado for parental responsibilities (formerly called child custody) as part of a divorce or a case about the child of unmarried parents.

The court will address an issue related to your child only if the child has lived in Colorado for at least the past six months (or since birth, if they're an infant under six months). To file for divorce in Colorado, either you or your spouse must have lived there for at least the last 91 days.

You can open a case together, or else one parent opens it and the other officially responds.

Remember: A lawyer can take care of paperwork for you, and it's a good idea to consult one, especially if these forms don't fit your case or if you want advice on completing them.

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Step 1: Opening a case

To open a case, file the relevant documents listed below. Regardless of whether you've reached an agreement with the other parent, you can open a case together to skip the remaining steps (2 through 4).

If you have a parenting plan ready, turn it in with your court forms. You can write a plan with the other parent, and the judge will accept it if it's in the child's best interests. Or you can submit a proposed plan on your own. You can also wait to submit a parenting plan later.

Some counties — including Alamosa, Clear Creek, Conejos, Costilla, Eagle, Jefferson, Lake, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Summit and Weld — use alternate forms meant to be easier to understand. If you're filing in one of these places, ask your court clerk what forms to use.

Even if a form has questions printed in Spanish, you must complete them in English.

Many counties give you the option to file electronically. If yours doesn't, file your forms at the courthouse.

You'll pay about $230 when you file a petition for divorce or parental responsibilities. If you're e-filing, you'll pay an extra $12 for each batch of documents you upload. Your case may have additional filing fees.

If you can't afford court fees, apply for a fee waiver. You won't be able to file your case electronically.

If you're divorcing the other parent

Divorce is also called dissolution of marriage. (If you're dissolving a civil union or domestic partnership, the process resembles divorce, but it requires different forms.)

File in the county where you or your spouse lives.


If you're not married to the other parent

Child custody for unmarried parents is called allocation of parental responsibilities.

File in the county where your child lives.


Step 2: Serving the other parent (for petitioners who file alone)

If you file a petition with the other parent, skip this step and the remaining steps below. You don't have to serve them with the initial case paperwork, and they don't have to respond.

If you file alone, the court signs the summons for you to serve to the other parent (aka the respondent). Serve copies of all the documents you submitted, plus anything else the court asks you to include, and provide proof of service to the court.

If you both use e-filing

In Colorado counties that offer e-filing, one or both parents can sign up for online access to the case (even if you opened the case using paper forms). If you both sign up, you can serve your documents through the platform for $12.

If at least one of you doesn't use e-filing

If you're not both e-filing, you'll have to prove that the other parent received paper copies of the documents.

Option 1: Mail everything to the other parent and ask them to fill out a Waiver and Acceptance of Service. They'll give the waiver to you, and you'll give it to the court.

Option 2: Have someone else deliver the papers in person. You'll have to do this if the other parent refuses service by mail. The delivery person, called the server, can be:

  • A private process server (Expect to pay about $50 plus mileage.)
  • The sheriff or their deputy in the county where you want the papers delivered (They'll charge a similar fee.)
  • An adult you trust (It must be someone who isn't involved in your case.)

The server must complete an Affidavit of Service. They'll give it to you (Email is OK.), and you'll give it to the court.

Option 3: If the other parent can't be located, a judge may allow you to serve by publishing a notice in a newspaper.

Step 3: Responding to service (for respondents)

A parent served with papers in Colorado must file a response within 21 days. If you're served outside Colorado, you have 35 days. Don't be late. If you miss the deadline, the judge may issue default orders without your input.

You must pay $116 to respond.

Complete the appropriate response:

Use the petition's case number and court location to complete your response.

You should not try to prove anything in the response form. Just state any disagreements you have and briefly say why.

Be sure to complete the part called "Certificate of Service" as this acknowledges that you received the information sheet, petition and summons from the other parent.

Then file your response. If you're not using the e-file system, bring your original to the court clerk and send a copy to the other parent.

Step 4: Wrapping up (for petitioners who file alone)

If the respondent responds to service and you disagree with what they say, you'll have seven days to file a reply.

Regardless of whether they respond to service, you must send the respondent a fourth and fifth document when you receive them: a Case Management Order (which gives instructions for next steps) and a Notice of Initial Status Conference (which says the location and time of the meeting).

The court may not require formal service of these documents, but you'll at least need to sign a Certificate of Mailing to let the court know you passed the documents along.

Preparing for what comes next

Within six weeks of opening your case, you'll have an initial status conference. For that, you'll prepare multiple documents, one of the most important being your parenting plan.

Many parents use Custody X Change to make a parenting plan because it suggests content while giving you the freedom to write custom provisions. This online app also helps you assess and create parenting time schedules.

Try to agree on a plan with the other parent so you can settle your case. If that's not possible, propose separate plans and ask the court to choose.

Either way, turn to Custody X Change for a court-ready parenting plan that supports your child and your request for parenting responsibilities.

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