As Denver family law attorneys, the lawyers at Plog & Stein understand that life events happen after a court order is in place for child custody and visitation (referred to as parenting time). A parent’s or parents’ circumstances may have improved with a new or better-paying job, stable housing, or simply a good mental state. An improved status for the parent seems to equate better parenting for the child or children, but it is not always as simple as that for the Colorado court system – especially when the parties discussing custody include people who are not the child’s or children’s biological parents.
In the last year, an appellate decision, In re the Parental Responsibilities Concerning B.R.D., A Child, 2012 COA 63, No. 10CA2386, examined what factors needed to be present for a modification of a prior court order regarding decision-making and parenting time. In this case, the child had been placed for adoption by the mother shortly after his birth. She formally asked the court to place him for adoption and give up her parenting rights, and the couple proceeded with the adoption process. The biological father learned that he had a son several months later and opposed the adoption. The biological mother then decided to withdraw her request, causing the adopting couple to request the court that the biological parents’ rights be terminated.
Subsequently the couple and the parents figured out an arrangement that gave the couple sole parental and decision-making responsibilities and parenting time to the biological parents throughout the week and weekends. The biological parents asked that they be allowed to seek modification in the future, and were ordered to pay child support to the couple. As more time passed, the biological parents grew closer to the boy and sought to have more time with him. Specifically, the father sought to have more time and greater say in the decision-making process regarding the son’s life.
The lower court looked at the standard set in a case, In re Parental Responsibilities of M.J.K., 200 P.3d 1106 (Colo. App. 2008), to see whether continuing the original order that gave the couple the main care of the child and decision-making should continue. The Court found that it would not endanger the child and that it would be in the boy’s best interests to keep the status quo because the change would potentially cause greater harm than benefit.
The father appealed and said that the Court looked at the wrong legal standard in its decision. The appellate body agreed and said that Colorado follows a presumption that the biological parent is a fit parent who will act in the boy’s best interests. It would then be up to the couple to challenge the presumption and show that it wouldn’t be in the boy’s best interests for the father to have more time and decision making in put, and that it is in his interests for the order to remain in place as is.
The Colorado Court of Appeals held to the constitutionally provided presumption that a fit parent has more rights than a non-parent. Any changes to a child’s environment, whether between two parents or a parent and a non-parent, are weighed with heavy consideration of what would actually work in his or her best interests. The attorneys at Plog & Stein have assisted seemingly countless parents and custodial parties who need to know how a modification should be sought or opposed. If you have a complex family issue that needs a Court-ordered resolution, contact us.