The most common form of adoption Ellen Squires sees in her practice is “stepparent adoption”. Stepparent adoptions are driven by statute and involve a voluntary relinquishment by the parent whose parental rights are being terminated. If a biological parent is not willing to consent to a stepparent adoption, the other parent must show that the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interest and that the contesting parent has abandoned or failed to financially support the child for one year or more. Ellen can help you through the labyrinth of paperwork associated with these types of proceedings and zealously advocate for your child’s best interest should the matter be contested.
Divorce (also known as Dissolution of Marriage)
Whether or not you have made the decision to file a petition yourself, divorce is one of the most traumatic events a person is likely to experience. Ellen will take steps to move the process forward quickly and efficiently. If possible, Ellen will help you avoid the stress and expense of going to court – after all, why spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees when that money could be applied to your future or that of your child? Ellen fervently believes that the process should be about moving on with your life, and not about “getting even”.
The legal separation process closely mimics a dissolution of marriage proceeding. In both instances, the parties are required to exchange financial information and supporting documentation. Additionally, both proceedings require the parties to address and resolve all financial issues, including division of marital property and debt, family support, and allocation of parental responsibilities, if applicable. In the end, once the Court enters a decree of legal separation, any debt or property acquired by one party is considered separate, not subject to equitable division. Sometimes parties will opt for a legal separation rather than a divorce because they hope to reconcile after counseling or they are simply not ready to face the emotional impact of terminating their marital relationship completely. Other reasons can include a personal or religious objection to divorce, a desire to protect inheritance rights, or to maintain insurance and retirement benefits. Ellen can help you evaluate which legal proceeding is more appropriate for your needs. Ellen does not promote hasty decision-making and encourages clients to seek marital counseling and carefully consider all their options before moving forward with either proceeding.
The amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other is determined by a statutory formula based on the parents' gross monthly incomes, specific child related expenses, and the number of overnights the child has with each parent. In Colorado, both parents have an obligation to financially support their children. Ellen will help you calculate the initial child support figure and can later assess whether changed circumstances warrant a modification. Ellen will also explain the various methods by which child support can be collected. For example, a wage assignment, where child support is taken directly from an obligor’s paycheck, may make sense when you are dealing with a parent who is chronically late with his or her payment.
Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (formerly referred to as child custody and visitation)
Allocation of parental responsibilities is comprised of two components, decision making authority and parenting time. Decision-making authority concerns the major decisions affecting the children such as education, major medical decisions, and religious upbringing. Note, the minor, day-to-day decisions are usually left to the parent with whom the children are with at the time. Major decision making authority can be joint (shared between the parents) or “sole” (left to one parent only). Courts often award joint decision-making authority. However, Courts will opt for sole decision-making authority when there is high conflict between the parents or the parents have demonstrated that they are incapable of effectively communicating with one another about the needs of the children.
Regarding parenting time, one parent is usually designated or referred to as the residential custodian (or the parent with whom the children spend the most time with) and the other parent has scheduled parenting time.
Colorado utilizes a “best interest” standard when constructing a parenting time plan. In other words, the Courts try to determine what is in the children’s best interest. Some of the relevant factors a Court will consider are:
- The wishes of the parents
- The wishes of the children
- The “interaction” between the parents and the children
- The children’s adjustment to their home, school and community
- The ability of the parents to encourage a loving relationship between the children and the other parent
- How close the parties live to one another
- Whether one of the parties has ever committed child or spousal abuse or child neglect
- The ability of each parent to put the children’s needs ahead of their own
Courts prefer that parents work together and construct a parenting plan that can be submitted for the Court’s approval. Ellen recognizes that parenting plans developed by the parents are more often followed by the parties, thereby reducing the chances that the parties will need to return to Court in the future. However, children benefit the most when parents are able to settle parenting issues between themselves without engaging in expensive and contentious litigation. Ellen will help you negotiate and craft a detailed parenting plan. Ellen will also help you evaluate whether an outside, neutral third party evaluator such a “Child Family Investigator” is needed to investigate and make recommendations to the Court regarding the best interests of the children. A Child Family Investigator is often a highly trained mental health professional with vast experience in the areas of custody and parenting time.
Moving a child to another state can be traumatic for both the departing child and the parent left behind. Relocation cases are difficult to “win” for the parent desiring to relocate with the child. The Court must weigh whether the benefits of the move outweigh the negative impact the child will inevitably suffer as a result of being geographically separated from a parent. The Court will take into account all relevant factors including: why the parent wishes to move with the child; the reasons why the other parent opposes the move; the history and quality of each parent’s relationship with the child and anticipated impact the move will have on the child. A Child Family Investigator (CFI) is often appointed in relocation cases. A CFI is a neutral third party, often a psychologist with specialized training in matters relating to child custody and parenting time. The CFI will interview all the key individuals in the case (including the child) and then file a report with the Court regarding his or her findings and recommendations. Courts take CFI reports very seriously. Ellen notes that most cases settle after the CFI files his or her report. Ellen has experience representing clients on both sides of the relocation equation. She has also worked with many CFIs and can assess which specific professional is most appropriate for your case.
In Colorado, Grandparents can be awarded visitation with their grandchildren and even custody, however only in very specific circumstances. Regarding visitation rights, Grandparent’s do not have “standing” to bring an action in Court unless: the parents of the child have had their marriage annulled, or are legally separated or divorced; someone other than the parents have legal or residential custody of the child, but not if the child is being adopted; the child’s parent who is also the child of the Grandparents dies. Provided the Grandparents can meet one of the statutory thresholds described above, the Court will evaluate whether visitation between the child and his or her grandparents is in the child’s best interest. It is much more difficult for Grandparents to obtain custody of a grandchild. The Court will not even entertain a grandparent custody action (formally referred to as allocation of parental responsibilities) unless the child has been living with the Grandparents or someone other than his or her parents for at least six months prior to the filing of an action. Again, the Court will apply the best interest standard. Ellen recognizes the need for children to have meaningful relationships with their grandparents, particularly following a traumatic life transition such as their parent’s separation. Ellen can quickly assess whether your case meets the requisite standing requirements.