4 Steps in Parenting Cases: Colorado's Court Process
Because your child is unique — and your co-parenting approach will be too — the process of your parental responsibilities case or divorce case can vary. But you can anticipate the main steps.
Here's a breakdown of what to expect.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
Before you open a parenting case in Colorado
First, your child must meet the residency requirement. They must have lived in Colorado for the past six months (or since birth, if they're an infant under six months) when you file.
If you're divorcing, either you or your spouse must have lived in Colorado for the last 91 days as well. The divorce will address spousal maintenance and property as well as parental responsibilities and child support.
If you're not married to the other parent, you'll open a case specifically to decide parental responsibilities, including child support.
Talking to the other parent
Most cases resolve without trial. Talk to the other parent to see if you can settle. If it's hard to do on your own, try mediation. Even before you have a court case, you can hire a mediator who works in private practice.
Keep your child's well-being at the center of your discussions.
Finding legal representation
It's common for parents to represent themselves in court, especially when they've already reached agreement. Opening a case without a lawyer is called filing pro se.
But the legal process can have twists and turns. Especially if you're filing separately, applying for sole decision-making or modifying a court order, consider legal help.
Step 1: Opening a case
Fill out the forms to open your case.
If you file together, you're co-petitioners. You can do this whether or not you have a settlement agreement.
If you aren't filing together, one parent (the petitioner) opens the case and serves documents to the other parent. The parent who receives the documents (the respondent) must respond promptly.
In either situation, if you're ready, submit a parenting plan. If you agree what you'd like it to say, submit it together. (The judge will approve it if it's in the child's best interests.) Otherwise, submit one proposal each. You can also submit a plan later if you're not ready now.
This is a good moment to let the court know about needs you have. For example:
- A hearing for temporary orders, which manage parenting issues during your case
- Free language interpretation during court hearings
- Accommodation due to a disability
- An exemption from mediation due to domestic abuse
If the child is endangered
If one parent alleges that the other is an imminent danger to the child, they can file an Emergency Motion to Restrict Parenting Time. (Be aware: A parent who makes baseless allegations to annoy the other parent may be ordered to pay the other's legal fees.)
This emergency motion is usually granted or denied within a day or two. If the court grants your motion, they'll issue a temporary protection order (TPO) that limits the accused parent to supervised contact with the child.
Within 14 days, there's a hearing. The TPO expires at this point, and the court decides whether to issue a permanent protection order (PPO) or other orders. Both parents should attend this hearing.
Step 2: Initial status conference (ISC)
Preparing for the ISC
The ISC is a meeting where you learn how to proceed, including when you must submit paperwork. You'll have an ISC within 42 days of the day you file (if you file together) or of the day papers are served (if only one parent files). The court may schedule the ISC or ask you to schedule it.
Before your ISC, fill out the Sworn Financial Statement, as well as a Certificate of Compliance that shows you gave supporting evidence to the other parent. If you have investments or property, fill out the Supporting Schedules for Assets too.
Read your Case Management Order to see what else you need to do before the meeting. Often, you'll have to prove you attended a parenting class.
Going to the ISC
The ISC will likely be your first time in court for this divorce or custody case. It could be a brief phone or video call, or you might go to the courthouse in person.
If neither of you has a lawyer, a judge's assistant called a family court facilitator will lead the meeting. Otherwise, it's more likely that a judge or magistrate will lead.
At the ISC, you'll exchange your financial disclosures (and anything else specified in your Case Management Order) and let the court know if you expect to need a parenting expert (explained below). What else happens varies by county. Arapahoe and Douglas counties, for example, assign a deadline for mediation. Other counties set a date for a hearing for a temporary or permanent order.
Moving forward after the ISC
After the ISC but before trial, if at any point you agree on all issues, ask for a final hearing to receive the judge's approval. A divorce can't be finalized until the case has been open at least 92 days.
Step 3: Preparing for trial
When you need an outside opinion, you or your lawyer may ask the court to bring in a parenting expert.
Because an evaluator may take several months to produce a report, they're sometimes brought into the process early — even before you've gone to mediation.
If someone has specific concerns about the child's well-being, a child's legal representative may be brought in. Other types of experts include a child and family investigator and a parental responsibilities evaluator.
In most counties, mediation is required, unless your case involves abuse or you provide another good reason why it's not appropriate. You can hire a mediator through Colorado's Office of Dispute Resolution or find one on your own. Complete a mediation compliance form to prove to the court that you went.
The mediator may be a lawyer or a former judge, but in their role as mediator, they can't give you legal advice or take sides. It's also possible that a mediator has no legal training.
Mediation is confidential. No one can tell the judge what happens there unless both parents allow it. (A criminal threat, however, can always be reported.). You won't have to worry that your offers or statements will be used against you in court.
Either parent can file motions, or you can file stipulations together, e.g., to extend a deadline.
You may have another status conference if the judge wants to discuss your case's progress.
Especially if you request a temporary order, your lawyer may recommend a settlement conference to try to reach agreement. It's like mediation, but it's led by a lawyer or judge.
Step 4: Trial
If you still have disagreements, your trial will usually take place six months to a year after you open your case. You may be scheduled for a pretrial hearing, and the trial will come about a month later.
The pretrial hearing may last only a few minutes. The judge will confirm you've done everything they asked, such as exchange evidence lists, and will discuss anything else important to preparing for your trial.
The trial may begin with a brief preliminary hearing for any last-minute questions, followed by the contested hearing (aka final hearing). It may last as little as three hours if your case is simple, or it may continue into a second day if your case is complex.
After the trial, the judge's order will include the final parenting plan and set a child support amount. A divorce decree will also address spousal maintenance and the division of property.
After you have a court order
Enforcing an order
You and the other parent must comply with the court-ordered parenting plan.
If the other parent won't comply, you might try to agree on a revised parenting plan that works better. Or you can file a Motion Concerning Parenting Time Disputes, to which the judge can respond by ordering mediation or a hearing. For serious violations, you can show your current court order to the police.
Filing to hold the other parent in contempt of court is recommended as a last resort as this can be legally complex. You may have to wait six months for a hearing, and it may not have the outcome you want.
Changing an order
If you want to change your court-ordered parenting responsibilities, the easiest way is to reach agreement with the other parent, write a stipulation (ideally with a lawyer's help) and file it with the court. If you can't write a stipulation together, file a court motion to ask for a modification.
The court usually approves modifications that are in the child's best interest and that help parents avoid misunderstandings.
If one parent wants to move a substantial distance with the child, they must notify the other parent in writing as soon as possible and propose a new parenting time schedule. They must also notify the court about the move. If the other parent objects, the court holds a relocation hearing to consider how the move would affect the child and decide what to do.
If the change is substantial
Major changes, like switching the parent with whom the child spends a majority of the time, can be difficult. To order this against one parent's wishes, the judge needs proof of a new circumstance or newly surfaced information.
After you make this type of request, whatever the outcome, both of you must wait two years to file for another modification. The exceptions are when you agree to the new modification, when the child is endangered or when one parent is moving far enough to affect your parenting plan.
Throughout the court process
The Custody X Change online app enables you to do all of this in one place.
Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.