Contested Parental Responsibilities Disputes (page 1)
Unlike legal advice, these articles will not help you to directly apply the law to your unique situation. Contact us if you wish to schedule a consult for legal advice.
Parental responsibilities, when highly contested, can make for a very difficult case. There are two aspects to parental responsibility: decision making and parenting time.
Joint decision-making responsibility does not necessarily mean equal parenting time with both parents. Any time-sharing arrangement that works for the children can be combined with joint decision-making responsibility, which means that the parents must jointly make major decisions for the children concerning health, education and other major matters.
If parental responsibilities are contested, or there are severe parenting time problems, we often recommend that a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) or Child's Legal Representative (CLR) be appointed by the court to report on the children or to represent the children. The CFI is an attorney or mental health professional who attends all court hearings. A CLR must always be an Attorney so they can file pleadings. The fees, which may typically range from $1,500 to $3,500 for the initial retainer, will usually be paid by the parents and allocated in some equitable manner. The Child & Family Investigator's fees are capped by CJD (Chief Justice Directive) at $2,750 although this amount can be increased by Court in some unusual cases. The fees can be paid by the State if the parents are deemed “indigent”. The CFI is appointed by the court to investigate, report to the court and to make recommendations. A CFI seeks to determine what the best interests of the children are and can also be very helpful in resolving parenting time and parenting time disputes.
In cases with more extensive issues, such as relocation out of state, and/or greater complexity such as drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence, a complete parental responsibility evaluation (PRE) of the entire family may be indicated. The PRE is a much more comprehensive evaluation, involves a psychologist, and usually costs a minimum of $7,500. This gives the court evidence from a neutral third party expert who can testify as to the best interests of the children under C.R.S. §14-10-124. This type of evidence (the PRE report) is fairly conclusive and avoids having lots of friends, neighbors, doctors, etc. testifying for one parent or the other. A PRE, however, is expensive and can range from $7,500 to $30,000 for the expert alone.
Contested parental responsibilities disputes are extremely expensive and should be avoided if at all possible. Attorney’s fees can reach $25,000 or more for each side if this type of case goes to court. Additionally, these cases take a toll on both the parents and the children. Study after study demonstrates that children of parents involved in highly contested parental responsibility disputes are more stressed, more likely to fall behind their peers in school, and less likely to develop good coping habits. You may want to consider individual or family counseling, a Level II parenting class, or a parenting coach. At the very least, remember that you should never discuss the dispute with your children or involve your children in the dispute in any way. Do not ask your children to carry messages or show any pleadings or documents related to the dispute. The needs and concerns regarding the children should remain uppermost for the parties and their attorneys. For this reason, we encourage our clients to pursue a variety of approaches that might move their matter to settlement and allow the parties to control the outcome of their own matter, while holding down costs.