Fall 2019 Family Law Update: 10 Things You Need to Know

Beth Andersen and contract attorney Julie Nichols attended the Colorado Bar Association Fall Update on Oct. 25. Beth also attended the Child Out of Court Statements presentation on Oct. 18.

Here are the top 10 takeaways you need to know regarding family law in Colorado:

  1. Judges are Tired of the Spouse Bashing

Every judicial officer spoke out (repeatedly) about their frustration with litigants who take the stand only to whine on and on about how bad the other parent is. In fairness to all people going through divorce, it is a difficult process and you have so little time to point out your concerns — especially where children are involved. But our best advice is to let the evidence and experts present the legitimate concerns. Use your precious testimony time to get the critical evidence on the table without undue whining and complaints. It is hard to do, but it is more effective. Judges want to know you are reasonable.

  1. Do NOT Destroy Evidence Like Facebook Accounts

The word “spoliation” means what it sounds like — spoiling or destroying evidence. Do not “spoil” evidence that another party may be able to use in court. For example, you cannot delete your Facebook account that was full of mean posts about your ex. You CAN (and should!) take measures such as limiting your social media posts and limiting access to your social media, but do NOT delete the evidence. Ask us for a free consult and we can give you the details about spoliation and what is allowed.

  1. Do NOT Snoop in Password-Protected Accounts

Generally courts will not consider evidence found by hacking into a computer or even snooping in a computer because you happen to know the password. This is not a great way to get evidence and usually means the evidence is inadmissible.

Anyone with an expectation of privacy is allowed to write documents and communicate with their attorney without the information being examined. Do NOT print such information even if you see it by accident. Walk away and disregard it.

Definitely do NOT install spyware on your ex’s computer and read it surreptitiously. This is a breach of the expectation of privacy and will do more harm than good.

  1. Precision in a Parenting Plan is Great

The parenting plan avoids disputes down the road. You do not have to foresee EVERY dispute but better to reach a compromise now than to end up fighting in court later. Good things to include are start and stop dates, exchange times, boundaries on things like phone calls and vacation priorities.

Get it done now and avoid heartache and attorney fees down the road. And you can refer back to the plan when you are in a new relationship and your significant other wants things changed. It is a court order and the choice has already been made in the best interest of your children.

  1. Grandparents Have Limited Rights

Grandparents sometimes have standing to go to court and enforce their right to raise their grandchildren. They may be able to get grandparenting time and decision-making powers if certain conditions are met. One condition is the requirement that the grandparent gave care for 180 days or more. Another is that the care occurred within the last 182 days.

“Giving care” usually means the grandparent stepped into the shoes of the parent because the parent was NOT parenting. We are talking about situations where the parent was unable, unwilling or unavailable to parent and the grandparent became a primary caretaker. For example, when a parent is imprisoned, in addiction or even deceased. Giving care does NOT include those times when the parent asked a grandparent to help out babysitting or driving or taking a fun trip with that parent’s consent.

Grandparent visitation (as opposed to caretaker status) can be achieved by intervening in a pending case. For example, when a parent files a proceeding for an allocation of parental responsibilities, a grandparent may be able to intervene to get grandparent visitation time. Quite frankly, this is hard to do. If you are a grandparent who wants grandparenting rights, call us for a free consult to find out what strategies may work for you.

And great grandparents have rights too. In 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals determined that great grandparents do not have enforceable grandparenting rights under the statute. Our legislature subsequently amended the statute to give great grandparents the rights of grandparents.

  1. Know What you Want from your CFI (Child Family Investigator)

Parents often use a CFI to get information, including children’s statements, into court. But the CFIs want us to know that they need boundaries including knowing when the report is due, what questions you want them to answer and how they will be paid. A CFI is essentially deciding who raises your children. You definitely want to listen to them and what they want you to do!

  1. The Judge Probably Does NOT Want to Talk to Your Kid

Judges prefer to get information about your child’s point of view from the CFI and not from talking to the child. Most judges in Colorado do not prefer to interview children and do it rarely. Even then, it is a limited conversation on camera behind closed doors; certainly not testimony in an open court. Judges know that putting children in the middle is damaging.

Also, children are not in charge of this adult decision and should not be made to think they are. If needed, a limited appointment of a CFI can get the information from the child to the judge without child testimony, a child interview or the hearsay difficulties attorneys otherwise face when they try to get child statements into court.

  1. Child Support Law Changed When it Comes to Not Working

In the past, a parent could stay home as caretaker with no obligation to earn income until a child was 30 months old. Now it is 24 months thanks to an amendment in the child support statute.

There are also new factors to consider regarding whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Call for a free consult on how these changes may affect your case, including how much child support you pay or receive.

  1. Psychological Parents Must Pay Child Support Too

In March 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals made clear that if you are considered a psychological parent, then you can also be expected to pay child support provided certain factors are met. A psychological parent might be a step-parent, boyfriend or girlfriend, friend or relative who stepped into the parent role. Again, ask an attorney or call me for a free consult on the details as they apply in your case.

  1. Restricting a Parent’s Parenting Time is Hard to Do

Parents often want to cut the other parent out of parenting due to concerns about the child’s safety. Courts are loathe to do this without evidence of endangerment or significant emotional impairment. Even then, the restriction is temporary.

Make sure you have evidence before rushing to court for this relief. As usually is the case in family law, it’s best to reach a compromise if you can and go to court as the last resort. Our firm will ask if there is child protective services involvement or a legal case, because this may be the evidence a judge needs. We also defend parties who are cut out of a child’s life. Our prime directive is to never hurt a child, and that brings us on both sides of these cases — always endeavoring to do what is safe AND best for the child in the long run. It is almost NEVER best to sever the tie forever. Courts know this, and that is why the burden of proof is high, the standard is high and the relief is limited in scope and duration.

If you need help navigating family law issues in Colorado, contact Andersen Law PC at 720-922-3880 or beth@andersenlawpc.com for your free consultation.