How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody Colorado

Understand the impact of domestic violence on child custody determinations in the state of Colorado.

By , Attorney · University of Maryland School of Law
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This article explains how the occurrence of domestic violence impacts a court's determination of which parent should have custody of a child in Colorado. If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are a number of organizations that can help secure your safety and legal rights. The Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence website has a list of local providers.

How the Court Determines Custody

In Colorado, if you and your child's other parent can't agree on how much time your child should spend with each of you (called physical custody or "parenting time") and who should make decisions regarding your child's health and welfare (called legal custody or "parenting responsibilities"), then a court will do it for you. To make these decisions, the court will listen to evidence from both you and the other parent to determine what is in "the best interest of the child."

To determine what arrangements are in the best interest of the child, courts in Colorado will consider:

  • the parents' wishes
  • the child' s wishes, if the child is mature enough to express an opinion
  • the child's relationship with each parent, siblings and other significant people in the child's life
  • the child's adjustment to home, school and community,
  • the mental and physical health of each parent and the child
  • the ability of each parent to encourage the child's relationship with the other parent
  • the physical distance between the parents' homes
  • whether a parent has abused or neglected the child
  • whether a parent has abused the other parent
  • the ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs, and
  • any other facts the court considers relevant.

For more information about child custody in Colorado, read the articles Colorado Child Custody FAQs and Child Custody in Colorado: Best Interests of the Child.

The Complexities of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in a family, household or other intimate relationship used by one person to gain power and control over another person. "Intimate relationships" include people who have a child together, spouses, former spouses and people who are or were in a dating relationship. Domestic violence also includes violence between a parent and child, between siblings, and even between two unrelated people who live together, like roommates.

Domestic violence is also more complex than just hitting. Domestic violence includes behaviors such as:

  • verbal abuse (like shouting, yelling or name calling)
  • physical violence (like hitting, slapping or choking)
  • emotional abuse (including behaviors that make you feel afraid or unimportant)
  • economic abuse (like controlling all of the household finances), and
  • psychological abuse (like intimidation and threats).

In Colorado, if you are the victim of domestic violence, you can file a petition for a protective order at the district court in the county in which you live. Protective orders help keep you safe by limiting your abuser's contact with you and prohibiting your abuser from doing anything harmful to you, like harassing, stalking or assaulting you. Forms and instructions to obtain a protective order are available on the Colorado Judicial Branch website.

Domestic Violence and Custody

As explained above, in Colorado, the court must consider whether a parent committed an act of domestic violence against the child or the other parent when determining parenting time and parenting responsibilities. However, domestic violence is only one of many factors that the court considers. That means that even if a parent has abused the child or the other parent, the court can still grant the abuser parenting time and parenting responsibilities in Colorado. Essentially, the other best interest factors, when taken together, can outweigh the occurrence of domestic violence by a parent.

However, where one parent has committed domestic violence against the other parent or the child, the court usually will not order the parents to share decision-making responsibilities, at least not where the abused parent objects. Furthermore, the court will usually order special arrangements for the parents to communicate about the child and exchange the child for parenting time. For example, the court may limit telephone communication between the parents. The court may also order exchanges of the child to occur in a public place, at a supervised exchange location (if one is available in your area), or even at a police station to prevent further violence.

The courts believe that it is generally in the best interest of every child to have parenting time with both parents, so, except in extraordinarily unusual or extreme cases of abuse, the court will grant even an abusive parent some parenting time with the child.

However, if allowing parenting time with the abusive parent raises concerns about the child's physical or emotional health, the court may order that visitation between the parent and child occurs only under special circumstances. In these cases, courts can order "supervised visitation," which means visitation will only take place in a supervised setting, where a third party, like a family member, friend or trained professional can observe the parent-child interaction and ensure the child's wellbeing.


For the full text of the best interest factors, see Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.

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