In Colorado custody cases, one of the first determinations the Court will make is where the children will reside most of the time. Terms used to describe the parent with primary custody include: “primary residential parent” or “primary care parent.” Because each case is unique, the definition of primary custody will vary from case to case, and when the parents share parenting time equally, one parent is designated the “primary residential parent” for purposes of calculating child support, tax exemptions, tax filing status, etc.
In situations where equal parenting time is not in the best interests of the child, the Court will designate the primary care parent, and designate the amount of parenting time for the other parent. In these cases, the decision-making responsibility is treated separately, and both parents can still share decision-making responsibility even though one of them is considered to be th e primary care parent.
The primary care parent determination is based on the Court’s evaluation of a number of factors. The most important consideration is which parent has been more involved in the child rearing process. For example, the parent who feeds the kids, gets them ready for their day, gives them dinner, bathes them, and puts them to bed will be an important factor for the Court’s decision. Parental roles regarding homework assistance, transportation, and extracurricular activities are also important and considered to be relevant by the Court.
There are other factors that are considered in the court’s determination of the primary care parent. For example, if one of the parents has a history of drug and /or alcohol abuse, or domestic violence or an anger management issue, this will also impact the Court’s decision. Additionally, the Court will consider each parent’s ability to encourage and promote a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. For example, does the parent keep reminders such as photos of the other parent around for the child when the child visits? Does the parent allow the child to contact the other parent via telephone? Also of importance is each parent’s ability to handle conflict regarding parental issues. Game playing and revenge-seeking antics will clearly factor into the Judge’s decision about the primary residential parent. The best advice for any parent seeking primary care status is to always consider what is best for the child, and do what is best for the child.