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Out-of-State Custody Agreement

As you might imagine, when one parent relocates out of Colorado with a child, the impact on the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent can be profound. No longer can that parent participate in the same way in the child’s daily life. For that parent, watching soccer practice or ballet lessons, meeting the child’s friends, having them over for dinner, and participating in medical appointments or conferences with teachers all comes to an end with the child’s relocation. For the other parent, however, a brand new chapter in life begins with the child in a new city outside of Colorado.

Such a big change often strains whatever positive co-parenting agreements the parents followed, forever changing all of the relationships. While the impact of relocation on both parents and children is significant, there are steps you can take to make the child custody relocation process more stable and amicable for everyone.

Work with The Cossitt Law Firm for help with formulating your out-of-state custody agreement. Call us today at 970-488-1887 for a consultation.

Initial Decree Relocation Versus Post-Decree Relocation Standards

A “decree” in a family law case is an order issued by a judge. Colorado divides child custody laws regarding moving out of state and relocation into two categories. The courts apply one standard for relocation at the time of the initial decree. For relocation actions brought after the initial decree goes into effect, the standard is called post-decree. It is important to note that in all matters concerning parental responsibilities and parenting time, the best interests of the child are the primary consideration of the court, whether pre- or post-decree. Colorado statute § 14-10-124 explains how the best interests of the child are central in the development of a Colorado divorce out-of-state parenting plan.

The initial decree relocation standards apply when the court makes its first determination about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. This can be part of a divorce action or a separation. It also can be its own case. The court assesses these cases as if the relocating parent already lives in the new location. The parent’s reasons for relocation form no part of the assessment.

Modifying Orders for Child Custody When Relocating Out of State

Post-decree relocation standards apply after the initial decree goes into effect and include an additional set of standards the court may apply. In large measure, the additional standards applied in post-decree actions result from the fact that the child and each parent have a pattern or routine in place. Expectations exist for everyone about continuing contact and participation in the life of the child. It is here where a parent’s reasons for relocating become relevant and why they form a part of the court’s assessment.

The process required for a majority-time parent seeking post-decree relocation starts here. The court already has orders in place for parenting time, parental responsibility, and decision-making. It is likely that all three will need modification.

Prior to bringing any action, the parent seeking relocation must give the other parent written notice of 1) the intent to relocate, 2) the reason for relocation, and 3) the proposed location of the move. The parent who will move out of state also must provide a proposed parenting plan to the other parent.

Standards the Court Applies in Initial Decree Relocations

When using the initial decree process in the relocation, the court begins by viewing the relocation as if it has already taken place. The court then applies the best interests standards, aiming to determine what is in the child’s best interests. To this end, the court considers the following factors:

  • The wishes of each parent
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is mature enough to express a preference
  • The interaction and interrelationship between the child and each parent, siblings, and other people who have an impact on the child’s life
  • The adjustment of the child to home, community, and school
  • The health of everyone involved, both mental and physical, although a party’s disability cannot alone justify any restriction on parenting time
  • Whether a past pattern of involvement with the child by either parent reflects mutual support, a commitment of time, and a system of values
  • How the physical proximity of the parties relates to parenting time arrangements, a factor considered differently in relocation cases where one parent is leaving Colorado versus when the parties will continue to live relatively close to each other
  • Whether, by credible evidence, one of the parties has been the perpetrator of child abuse or neglect.

Collecting the Facts from Third Parties Regarding Out-of-State Parenting Rights in Colorado

How much weight a particular court will assign to any individual factor in determining the best interests of the child is unknown. As a result, it’s our attorney’s job as your representative to have the factual information that supports (or opposes) each and every one of the factors set forth. Regardless of whether you are the parent planning to move out of Colorado or you will be staying in-state, these factors provide the court with the foundation of what to consider for its final determination.

Helping You Develop Supporting Evidence for Your Out-of-State Custody Agreement

The legal representative for each parent presenting the facts in support of, or against, these factors is as important as the facts themselves. For example, the parties’ testifying that they have a close relationship with their child will not have the same impact as testimony from another person seen as a neutral third party. This neutral party may include teachers, daycare providers, medical professionals, or others who can testify about the relationship they witness between the parent and child on a daily basis.

Likewise, a parent’s saying that he or she will work to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent has less impact than testimony from a third party who has no personal stake in the outcome of the litigation. When another person tells a judge about regularly witnessing these positive actions, it has plenty of weight in the eyes of the court. For the parent who is not moving out of state, a very different description by a third party would work in their favor. A third party may testify about one parent’s actions which could damage, rather than foster, the relationship between the child and the other parent. That information can impact a judge’s decision in a way that favors the parent who stays in Colorado.

While the testimony of each parent is important, it will not make or break these cases. Rather, the testimony of third-party witnesses about facts that support or oppose each of these factors will receive most of the attention from the court.

Relationship Between Parents in Colorado Out-of-State Relocation Cases

Certain factors that require more than the parties’ testimony are critical to these cases. As mentioned above, whether one parent can foster a cordial relationship with the other parent is crucial. The court is under an obligation, by statute, to encourage frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the child (C.R.S. §14-10-124(1)). Thus, if one parent is likely to emotionally or psychologically distance the child from the other parent through harsh words or actions, a court will not be comfortable making that parent the primary caregiver. The court further emphasizes the importance of this factor when one parent wants to take the child out of Colorado.

The lesson here is that fostering your child’s relationship with the other parent will never come back to harm you. However, actions to damage the other parent’s relationship with your child can negatively influence a court. Because a failure to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent could certainly harm the child, a court will never support this type of action from one parent. The court will take actions to avoid adding to any harm the child is already experiencing from the divorce.

Relationship Between Child and Other Parent in Out-of-State Child Custody Case in Colorado

Another critical factor is the nature of the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent. Considerations here include who acted as a primary parent from the child’s birth until the case began. Again, the court focuses on not causing additional distress for the child. If child custody relocation by one parent tears the child away from the only parent the child has known on a daily basis, a court will be unlikely to allow it.

If, on the other hand, the non-relocating parent has no regular contact with the child, the impact of relocation on the child’s relationship with that parent will be minimal by comparison. On these matters, the court will want and expect third-party testimony, because the parents’ testimony likely will be insufficient and self-serving.

Standards Applied by the Court in Post-Decree Relocations

By statute, specific standards apply when the majority-time parent or equal-time parent seeks relocation with the child. In post-decree cases, the reasons for the relocation – and the reasons for opposing the relocation – become major parts of the factors in these decisions. Yet, these factors are not part of the consideration in initial-decree relocation cases.

How Colorado Courts Decide an Out-of-State Parenting Plan

The court follows standards set out in Colorado statutes in this type of case. However, it has no requirement to set forth specifically how much weight it is applying to any particular factor. Simply put, the court has the power to make any decision it wants, weighing each factor in whatever way it deems appropriate. It has no duty to reveal precisely how it reached the decision. Keeping this in mind, the factors the court could consider in a post-decree action for relocation with a child by a majority-time parent include:

  • The best-interest factors listed above for initial-decree relocation
  • An assessment of whether either party has been the perpetrator of domestic violence
  • The reasons for the relocation
  • The reasons for objecting to the relocation
  • The relationship between each parent and child from a historical perspective
  • Educational opportunities for the child in each location (the child’s preference may have some weight here)
  • Access the child will have to extended family in each location, including such considerations as the disruption of existing strongly bonded relationships versus the possibility of forming new ones at the new location
  • Any advantage to the child in residing with the primary caregiver, the importance of which may rely on the age of the child
  • The overall effect of the move on the child
  • The possibility of establishing a reasonable parenting time schedule, should relocation outside of the state of Colorado occur
  • Any other relevant factors, which would include anything else the court deems appropriate.

Determining Burden of Proof in Colorado Out-of-State Custody Agreement Cases

In the majority of legal matters, one party has the burden of proof, meaning that this party must prove its case adequately to support what it is seeking. It must achieve this standard before the other side has to prove anything. In relocation cases, though, Colorado has an uncommon situation. This came into being through case law interpreting the statutes, where both parties have an equal burden of proof. Assuming both parties are successful in meeting their burden, the court then takes all the evidence presented into consideration and determines what is in the child’s best interest.

The court has the further burden of forming a parenting schedule in all possible scenarios:

  • If the relocation with the child occurs
  • If the relocation of the child does not occur, and the parent then chooses not to move
  • If the relocation of the child does not occur, and the parent still chooses to relocate without the child.

Developing a Parenting Plan When Moving Out of Colorado

The Changes that Accompany a Move Out of State Means that Parenting Plans Need Modification

It is essential that the relocating parent must develop a parenting plan when moving out of Colorado, so the court will have a starting point for a modified parenting plan should the relocation occur. The other parent may submit a parenting plan as well, but this is not a requirement. The court will likely consider any plans brought to it. However, it has no requirement to use such plans. The court will also consider testimony of third parties. The most important factor in a judge’s decision, as always, is the best interest of the child.

Understanding Colorado Custody Laws When Moving Out of State

In determining the allocation of decision making between the parents, the court again employs the best-interest factors set forth earlier, as well as the following:

  • Credible evidence of the parents’ ability to cooperate and to make decisions jointly
  • Whether the parties’ history of involvement with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support, indicating an ability to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child as mutual decision makers
  • Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibilities will promote continuing or more frequent contact between the child and each of the parties.

Standards for Determining Best Interest of the Child in Relocation

Noteworthy in this out-of-state custody agreement situation is the expansion of the best-interest factors. These apply to decision-making purposes.

It is crucial to foster the relationship between parent and child and promote contact between parent and child, even when they are in different states.

The relationship between the parents often reflects their ability to foster a healthy relationship with the other parent. Ultimately, if one parent lacks either the ability or the inclination to cooperate in the goal of mutually making decisions for the benefit of the child, this court often will remove decision-making authority from that parent.

That’s where our team can attempt to help you by showing your willingness to work toward a cordial relationship. At The Cossitt Law Firm, our team will be ready to begin working for you as soon as you hire us.

Contact us as soon as possible at 970-488-1887 for a consultation.

Common Questions About Out-of-State Custody Agreement Judgments

When our out-of-state child custody lawyer meets with clients in an initial consultation, quite a few questions come up with regularity. Here are some FAQs regarding out-of-state relocation for Colorado to help you better understand this process.

Courts cannot tell parents whether they can move. Instead, the courts will review the planned move, evaluate the current custody agreement, and determine whether updating the custody agreement is necessary. Some of the factors the courts consider when making these decisions include the current locations of the children’s schools, extracurricular activities, friends, and other loved ones. Courts will also evaluate the opportunities, schools, and family support available in the new location.

The court will typically consider adjusting joint custody agreements if one parent is planning to move out of state and away from where a child has established healthy relationships and routines. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that changing joint custody agreements to accommodate parental relocations doesn’t mean that the courts will take away parenting time. It may simply mean the court rearranges parenting time within a joint custody. For example, the court may redistribute parenting time by changing every-other-day arrangements to every-other-week to limit the back and forth over longer distances out of state.

Only a majority-parent or a parent who shares an equal parenting time schedule can bring a relocation action as part of Colorado custody laws when moving out of state. The minority-parent may not bring a relocation action, but, instead, would bring a modification action, which involves very different standards from a relocation case.

When you move out of Colorado and then decide you want to fight for custody from another state, you will need to have reasons for making this request. In some cases, you may have to wait up to six months after the move to make this filing. You also may need to prove that the child is in danger or needs emergency protection. It is far better to come to an out-of-state custody agreement before you move. This gives you a better chance to maintain the relationship you want with the child.

If you want to know which state has jurisdiction over child custody, the answer is the same in the majority of states: it resides with the home state of the child. The child’s home state is the state in which the child lived with a parent for at least six months. When children don’t have a permanent home, the state where the child has the most significant connections with people and relatives can take control of the case.

When you wonder how custody works when parents live in different states, such as Colorado and Nebraska, having a relocation agreement in place before one parent moves out of state is the best option. If no agreement exists, jurisdiction over the case will fall to the state where the child lived for the last six months or more. If this is unclear, our family law team will work on your behalf to argue that your current state of residence should have jurisdiction. We will work to protect your out-of-state parenting rights.

Moving Out of State with No Custody Agreement

It’s best to put a custody agreement in place when either parent is planning to move out of state. Moving out of state without a custody agreement can cause significant problems down the road. Parents can develop informal or formal custody arrangements and parenting time agreements whenever either parent is planning to move out of Colorado (or to Colorado from another state). Specifically, parents have the following options:

Create Their Own Parenting Plans

When they agree about how to divide parenting time with no points of dispute, parents can devise their own parenting plans and file them with the courts. Without a formal custody arrangement brought to the court and put into place, neither parent will have legal recourse if the other fails to honor the parenting plan.

Pursue Mediation

When disputes arise over out-of-state moves and when parents don’t have custody agreements in place, mediation can be an option for resolving the disputes outside of court. Mediation for custody certainly can lead to faster and, often, more favorable resolutions. However, it’s best suited for parents who can (or are willing to) talk about the issues, compromise, and work together to find a mutually beneficial resolution.

File a Custody Case

If achieving resolution over parenting time and/or legal custody doesn’t work outside of court, parents will need to bring the dispute before a family law judge. At this time, the judge will hear the arguments from both sides, making a final decision based on the child’s best interests.

The Cossitt Law Firm Is Ready to Help with Your Relocation Case

The court does not have the power to prevent one parent from relocating. However, the court’s power can prevent the child from relocating away from the other parent. This is one of the most confusing aspects of trying to understand the rules regarding child custody when relocating out of state. The parent who is moving cannot just take the child out of state without permission. But the parent who is staying in Colorado cannot just expect to block the other parent’s move.

Many reasons motivate a parent’s choice to relocate. Although the court may not consider the reasons in certain situations, it knows those reasons have an effect on the relationship between the parents and the child. A parent may choose to relocate for a job transfer, when a new significant other lives elsewhere, or perhaps when an educational program of benefit to the child is only available elsewhere. Sometimes a person just wants a new location to be in a warmer climate or to look for a different job, and this just seems like the right time to move. In other words, these matters run the spectrum from the need for better employment to supporting the family to self-serving desires.

Our Out-of-State Child Custody Lawyer Can Help with Any Kind of Relocation Case

In the end, relocating with a child will never be a simple matter. It involves emotional, logistical, and legal challenges to maintain the parents’ involvement in the child’s life. The move affects every party in the relocation action -- above all, the children. How parents handle this process and how they make a concerted effort to minimize the negative impact on their child can make all the difference.

When you need to understand out-of-state custody agreement laws for moving out of Colorado, our team can help. We will fight for you while keeping your child’s best interests in mind.

To discuss your relocation and parenting time case with one of our experienced child custody lawyers, contact us for a consultation. Call The Cossitt Law Firm today at 970-488-1887.

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