Colorado offers a method for immediate relief when a child is at imminent risk of physical or emotional harm by a parent. The court can act immediately to suspend all unsupervised contact between the child and the parent allegedly putting the child at risk and place them under emergency child custody with a legal guardian. However, there are serious penalties when false allegations are made against a parent. If you believe your child is in imminent danger of physical or emotional abuse in Colorado, always call law enforcement first. Our Fort Collins child custody attorneys can explain emergency child custody, contact us to discuss your concerns.
What Constitutes Child Endangerment
Child endangerment takes on many different forms, but can be categorized into two categories: emotional and physical endangerment. Courts look to a number of indicators to find that a child is being endangered by the actions or behaviors of a parent or significant other involved with the child. Some indicators of endangerment can include: drug/alcohol abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; demonstrations of serious mental health concerns, psychotic breaks, and hospitalizations; and violence or domestic violence (particularly if witnessed by the child). Other indicators for emergency child custody in Fort Collins may also include: failing to pick up child at day care or school on multiple occasions; leaving small children without supervision; using the wrong car seat inappropriate for a child’s age and size; and evidence that a child is struggling emotionally.
Child endangerment actions are commenced by filing a motion to restrict the parenting time or parental contact between one parent and their child. The party bringing the motion must allege that the “child is in imminent physical or emotional danger due to the parenting time or contact by the parent” (C.R.S. 14-10-129(4)). In addition, the facts upon which this allegation is based must be alleged as well. When the motion is filed, the court orders that any contact between the child and the parent alleged to be endangering the child shall be supervised by someone deemed suitable by the court. The supervisor could be an unrelated third-party or a mental health professional.
The court must conduct a hearing on the endangerment motion within 14 days of filing, so any parenting time that takes place will be supervised at least until that hearing is completed. This hearing is the first opportunity afforded to the restricted parent to put forth their position to the court. At the hearing, both sides present their respective cases and evidence in support of their positions. If, after completion of the hearing, the judge finds that the child is in danger and continues the restriction on parenting time, the court is required to set forth specifically the factual findings in support of its decision to continue the restriction.
Colorado has a very strong and longstanding policy of maintaining contact between parent and child. Therefore, a denial of free and unfettered contact between any parent and their child prior to a hearing must only be based upon a strong allegation that a parent is putting the child at immediate risk of harm. In matters of endangerment, the court makes the decision to restrict contact upon the allegations made by the party bringing the motion without any input from the restricted parent until the hearing. In other words, a deprivation of contact with a person’s child occurs based upon the allegations of endangerment made solely by the other parent. The denial of free, unsupervised contact is one of the primary reasons why these hearings are scheduled so quickly: the court does not want to wrongly deprive a parent of their child any more than it wants to leave a child at risk. Endangerment actions try to balance the safety of the child with the interests of parents. Most courts will err on the side of caution to protect the child in the face of allegations of endangerment rather than leave the child at risk of harm. Your Fort Collins child custody lawyer will build a case based on the facts of the scenario and represent your rights.
Penalty for Wrongly Accusing of Endangerment
Allegations of endangerment are taken very seriously by the court, and the court will penalize anyone bringing such a motion that is “frivolous, substantially groundless, or substantially vexatious.” Upon a court finding such conduct by the moving party, the court will require the moving party to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of the party who has been put through this process needlessly and denied unsupervised contact with their child as a result (C.R.S. 14-10-129(5)).
Keep in mind that an endangerment action that is unsuccessful is not automatically deemed “frivolous, substantially groundless, or substantially vexatious.” However, these actions cannot and should not be motivated by one parent’s desire to harass or create problems for the other parent. Depriving a parent of free access to and contact with their child is a court’s last resort and should be motivated only by a genuine desire to prevent a child from endangerment. If a true danger to the child exists, then a motion to protect that child must be filed without concern for any penalty resulting from actions brought with ill intent.
If you feel the other parent or your significant other is endangering your child, our Fort Collins child custody lawyers will work with you during this difficult time. We will also work with you if you feel you have been wrongly accused of child endangerment. Contact us to discuss your case. We help clients in Larimer, Weld, and surrounding counties.