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How to File for Child Custody

How to File for Child Custody

Filing for child custody means that you petition the Court for specific orders determining parenting time, decision-making and child support, giving you legal and practical rights and responsibilities for the upbringing of the child.

Quickstart Guide:

Many people wonder if they can file for child custody with getting court involved, however, to file the forms, you will need to visit the district court in the county where your child currently lives.

Don’t Get Caught Up When Filing

When you file for child custody that means that you petition the Court for specific orders determining parenting time, decision-making and child support, giving you legal and practical rights and responsibilities for the upbringing of the child.

Emotions and tensions tend to run deep when making decisions about the children during a relationship breakup. This often complicates the process of reaching an agreement with the other parent.

As such, it’s vital to understand the process if you want to file for child custody in Colorado so that you can prepare properly.  People often refer to “sole custody” but Colorado does not use that terminology.   Parenting time is where the child is physically (e.g. regular parenting time, summers, holidays) and decision-making is how major medical, educational, and religious decisions are made for the child (i.e. together or one party acting on his/her own).

Here we take you through a five-step process.

5 Steps to File for Child Custody in Colorado

The precise steps you take to file for child custody in Colorado may vary depending on your individual circumstances (whether you are married and filing for divorce, unmarried with children, or seeking a change to existing custody arrangements, for instance).

However, the following five basic steps cover most custody situations:

1. Determine what Parenting Time and Decision-making Provisions are in your child(ren)’s best interests.

If your relationship is ending, try (if possible) to discuss child custody with the other parent and try to come to an agreement about it. You can petition the court for custody together or separately.  Filing the petition is the first step in determining child custody.

In most cases, the Colorado court prefers joint decision-making, where both parents have equal responsibility in making major decisions for the benefit of the child even if the child spends more time with one parent than the other.

However, in some cases, this will not be possible or desirable. Sole custody is where only one parent has decision-making authority, regarding major education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities.  Often in the Petition you will need to set forth what you believe is in the child(red)’s best interests and why.

2. File a Petition

You will need to complete each of the following forms to file for custody in Colorado:

  • Case Information Sheet (JDF 1000)
  • Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (JDF 1413)
  • Summons to Respond to Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (JDF 1414)
  • Order for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (JDF 1422)

Download these forms here.

To file the forms, you will need to visit the district court in the county where your child currently lives. 

The clerk will provide you with a “Case Management Order”, detailing the upcoming court dates and any other forms that you will need.

3. Serve the other parent

If you are filing alone, the other parent must be notified or “served”. 

To do this, a process server or sheriff must deliver forms JDF 1413 and JDF 1414 to them and follow the “personal service” process. The court then requires proof that the notice has been served.

4. Attend the Initial Status Conference (ISC)

Upon filing for child custody, the date for your Initial Status Conference (ISC) should be contained within your Case Management Order.

You must attend this hearing with the other parent and proceedings will be outlined to you from there by the judge, magistrate, or family court facilitator.

5. Prepare and notarize a parenting plan OR attend a hearing

If you reach agreements, the parenting plan is the key document that will assist the court in ordering the custody arrangements for your child(ren).  This can occur when parties reach agreements on their own or through mediation.  If parties cannot reach agreements, the Court will make the decisions for you and your family at a hearing.

Read Helpful Tips: The Ultimate Guide to Child Custody in Colorado

Should you hire legal assistance to file for child custody?

Bear in mind that in child custody cases, the judge always has one overriding concern: the best interests of the child(ren). 

As such, any petition for custody must be comprehensive and provide strong evidence that the proposed child custody arrangement meets those best interests.

Often, this requires the guidance of an experienced child custody lawyer who is familiar with the family law court system in Colorado. That will provide you with the best chance of a positive outcome in your child custody request.

It is possible to file for custody without a lawyer (this is called “pro se” litigation) and this is most common where both parents file together and are in agreement.

However, generally speaking, if you are applying for sole custody or seeking a modification of an existing court order so that you have shared parental responsibilities, this is extremely difficult without legal assistance. 

You may need to provide strong evidence of responsibility in past parenting activities or reasons why the other parent should not have equal responsibility. 

It can be especially tough to deal with an ex-partner who challenges your petition without the support of an experienced lawyer.

If you’re concerned about your rights to child custody, submit a free case evaluation or give us a call at 720.594.7360.

Get in Touch With Our Child Custody Attorneys Across Colorado

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