Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Many people in Colorado think of “custody” as having physical control of something. However,
custody also involves other types of control and authority.

When it comes to custody of a child, the law divides custody into two types: physical custody
and legal custody. Courts generally allocate these forms of custody separately, so it is
important for parents to understand the difference.

What is Legal Custody in Colorado?

When a parent has legal custody, they have the authority to make important decisions
regarding a child’s upbringing. Colorado statutes refer to legal custody as “decision-making

The types of decisions covered under this legal authority involve issues such as:

Where the child attends school

The type of medical care received

Religious practices

The ability to travel

Courts may allocate decision-making authority to both parents jointly or grant all the authority
to one parent. The grant of legal custody/decision-making authority is supposed to be based
on the best interests of the child.

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Physical Custody Involves Parenting Time

Parenting time refers to the time a child lives with a particular parent. In Colorado, parenting
time may be split equally between both parents, or one parent may have more parenting time
than the other.

When a parent has substantially more parenting time, that parent is often referred to as
having primary residential parental responsibility. In other jurisdictions, that parent—the one
spending the majority of the time physically caring for a child—is said to have physical custody,
while the other parent has “visitation rights” with the child. Colorado uses the term parenting
time to describe both physical custody and visitation.

As with legal custody, the amount of physical custody or parenting time allocated to each
parent is determined based on what the court finds to be in the child’s best interests.

Establishing and Modifying Orders Regarding Legal and Physical Custody

Parents are often encouraged to develop their own agreement regarding allocation of
decision-making authority and parenting time. However, if a judge feels the arrangement is
not appropriate or the parents are unable to reach an accord, the court will allocate legal and
physical custody based on a number of factors.

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From the outset, parents should be prepared to present solid evidence showing why their
requested allocation of custody is in the child’s best interests. It is possible to have legal and
physical custody orders amended, but the court may not be willing to consider a modification
unless a parent can demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances warrants the

A Denver Family Attorney Could Help Secure Your Goals for Physical and Legal Custody

Both parents have rights when it comes to obtaining legal and physical custody of their
children. However, if the court receives evidence showing only one parent’s side of the story,
the other parent could lose out.

When you work with a dedicated Denver family attorney at Jones Law Firm, PC, we fight to
protect your rights and your interests to secure the best arrangement for your family. Contact
us today to learn how we could help

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