Colorado Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Laura E. Shapiro -

If you and your partner have children together and are ending your relationship, you might wonder how Colorado handles child custody when you’re not married. If so, you aren’t alone. Many unwed Colorado couples share children, so your situation is common.

Below, learn about Colorado custody laws for unmarried parents and what they mean for you.

Rights of Unmarried Parents in Custody Cases

Unmarried parents have the same rights as married spouses when it comes to child custody in Colorado. Your parental rights include:

  • Custody: Colorado often awards mothers’ primary custody (also called parental responsibility), but this isn’t always the case.
  • Child support: If the court gives you custody, you have the right to collect child support from the other parent. Raising a child is expensive, so your child support can help pay for bills and other things the child will need.
  • Visitation: The parent who doesn’t have custody still has a right to see their child and remain involved in their life.

Why You Must Establish Paternity for Your Colorado Custody Case

When you’re married, the court usually assumes that the husband fathered the child. Without marriage or proof of paternity, the court won’t recognize the male partner as the father unless both parties agree he is the father.

This is why it’s critical to establish paternity as early as possible. If the father doesn’t establish paternity, he will have no way to request custody rights or visitation. If the mother refuses to allow the father to see the child, there’s nothing the father can do about it without establishing paternity.

Establishing paternity doesn’t only benefit fathers. If you’re the mother, you can’t request child support from your former partner unless you prove that he fathered your child. The father may agree to pay you something, but he has no obligation to do so under the law. Under the juvenile code, there is a right to request child support back to the birth of the child.

To establish paternity, both partners can sign a Voluntary Agreement of Paternity and add the father’s name to the birth certificate. If either party doesn’t agree on paternity, the court can order a paternity test.

Parenting Time and Decision-Making Ability

Colorado custody laws for unmarried parents include two factors: parenting time and decision-making ability.

Parenting time includes how many overnights the child will spend with each parent per year. The court typically awards joint custody rather than sole custody, but ultimately allocates parenting time based on the child’s interests.

Factors that influence parenting time include:

  • The parents’ wishes
  • The child’s wishes if they’re old enough to make mature decisions
  • Caretaking history
  • The physical and emotional health of the parents and their child
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and any siblings

The court also considers who should make decisions for your child. You and the other parent might agree to make decisions together, or you can divide decision-making responsibility.

The parent who has decision-making responsibility can decide on:

  • Medical care
  • Religion
  • Which school the child attends
  • Diet
  • General welfare

Keep in mind that the child’s other parent has a say in those decisions unless the court grants sole decision-making responsibility. When allocating decision-making ability, a judge considers:

  • The parent’s ability to cooperate and make joint choices with the other parent
  • How decision-making ability would impact the amount of contact the child has with each parent
  • Each parent’s personal values, level of mutual support, time commitments, and past behavior

Appointment of a Parenting Coordinator

parenting coordinator is a neutral third party who steps in when the parents can’t agree on custody issues. Either party can request a parenting coordinator, or the court might appoint one for you. A PC can only assist in implementing the parenting time schedule which has been ordered by the court.

We’re Here to Answer Questions About Your Child Custody Case

If you need help understanding Colorado custody laws for unmarried parents, Shapiro Law Firm is here for you. Call (303) 695-0200 to schedule a consultation with a child custody attorney today.

Laura E. Shapiro

Laura Shapiro is an award-winning Family Law Attorney with 40+ years of experience. Laura practices Family Law exclusively with her primary focus being divorce and child custody matters.

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