A domestic violence conviction can change your entire life. Often, it will also end your marriage. But how does a domestic violence charge impact your divorce case? Will you be able to receive custody of your children? What happens if you take a plea deal to resolve the charges? Understanding how criminal and family laws related to domestic violence interact is essential to protecting your rights as an individual, and as a parent.
Domestic Violence and Fault in a Colorado Divorce
Colorado is a “no-fault divorce” state. That means you don’t have to allege or prove any bad acts by your spouse to get the judge to end your marriage. The Court will not consider domestic violence charges in dividing up the parties’ property or awarding spousal maintenance. But domestic violent charges or a history of domestic abuse are still relevant to your divorce.
Remember that, in Colorado, you can’t be charged with domestic violence directly. Instead domestic violence crimes result in increased penalties when any crime is committed against your spouse, co-parent, or romantic partner, as long as the act is “used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” The definition of domestic violence is broad enough to include allegations of:
Unwanted sexual activity
Threats, humiliation, coercive control, and other forms of emotional abuse
When domestic violence charges are filed in criminal court, they trigger an automatic protection order, preventing contact between spouses. If either spouse later files for divorce – even up to 2 years after the protective order expires – they must disclose that protection order as part of their initial divorce filings. The fact that a protective order exists can impact how the divorce proceeding will go forward – including whether alternative dispute resolution techniques like mediation are appropriate.
Will the Court Consider Domestic Violence in Awarding Parental Responsibility?
Colorado law says that children have the right to live in a place free from abuse and domestic violence. If you plead guilty to domestic violence charges or are convicted after a trial, it may cause you to lose custody or parental responsibility over your children. The law says that a child’s safety is “always paramount” in awarding visitation or parenting time with either parent. The court is required to consider any report of domestic violence submitted to it or a child and family investigator, professional parental responsibilities evaluator, or legal representative of the child. Even if there has been no domestic violence conviction, the Court may still consider testimony from the parties, experts, and other witnesses – including the child’s teacher or therapist – related to claims of domestic violence or abuse. The law also prevents the Court from holding protective actions against a parent trying to keep a child from witnessing or experiencing child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.
If the Court holds a hearing and determines that parenting time “would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development” the court can restrict that parent’s parenting time, require it to be supervised or held in a therapeutic environment, or even cut off parenting time altogether. When it does so, the court may set out specific steps the alleged abuser must take before modifying the parenting plan. These may be in addition to any terms of probation ordered in their criminal case This can make it challenging for someone facing domestic violence charges to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children.
Recent Legal Changes Affecting Domestic Violence Divorce Cases
In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed “Julie’s Law.” The law requires family court judges, child and family investigators, parenting responsibility evaluators, and legal representatives for children to receive domestic violence training. It requires the Colorado courts to make children’s safety a top priority in domestic violence-related divorce cases. Another law, “Ty’s Law” applied similar requirements to the child welfare system.
Now, in 2023, the Colorado legislature is considering another pair of bills that could further affect how the courts deal with domestic violence cases. The first, House Bill 23-1108 would create a task force to make recommendations for judicial training to improve outcomes in cases where domestic violence is alleged. The second, House Bill 23-1178, would make sure Colorado court procedures comply with the federal “Keeping Children Safe from Family Violence Act,” including clarifying the role of experts in domestic violence cases, and how past incidents of abuse can be considered. If passed, that law will prevent the Colorado courts from removing children from a protective parent to whom the children are bonded or ordering reunification therapy that cuts off that relationship just so they can improve a relationship with an accused abuser.
Colorado law takes domestic violence charges seriously, and tends to favor those who raise domestic violence claims over those they name as their abusers. Criminal and family courts can sometimes pile on requirements that make it hard for parents to maintain contact with their children after a domestic violence conviction. That is why, if you have been charged with domestic violence charges, you should talk to a law firm that handles both the family law and criminal consequences of domestic violence.At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce attorneys and criminal defense attorneys have experience with the Colorado domestic violence laws, and know how to work together to protect your rights in both courtrooms. We are here to serve you from the initial domestic violence charge through the final judgment of divorce. We will help you identify your options, and defend your rights both in criminal court, and as a parent. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.