Making decisions together can be difficult for parents, even in intact families. Making large decisions jointly, such as whether a child should have surgery, whether therapy is necessary for the family, where a child should attend high school, or whether a child should participate in tackle football, can be extremely challenging for parents who have been through a difficult divorce or break up but are still trying to co-parent. Despite this challenge, the majority of parents are court-ordered to make major decisions involving their children jointly. So what should a family do if the parents cannot agree on one specific decision?
In Colorado, in order for a court to change the decision-making order from joint decision-making to one parent having sole decision-making, the court must find that one of the following has occurred:
• The parties agree to the modification;
• The child has been integrated into the family of the petitioner with the consent of the other party and such situation warrants a modification of the allocation of decision-making responsibilities;
• There has been a modification in the parenting time order pursuant to section 14-10-129, that warrants a modification of the allocation of decision-making responsibilities;
• A party has consistently consented to the other party making individual decisions for the child which decisions the party was to make individually or the parties were to make mutually; or
• The retention of the allocation of decision-making responsibility would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impairs the child’s emotional development and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child.
In practice, this is often a difficult standard to meet and joint decision-makers often come to an impasse on major decisions, even when there is no endangerment to the children. So what should a parent do if the parties do not agree on a major decision but none of the above has occurred to warrant a change from joint decision-making to sole decision-making?
In 2006, the Colorado Court of Appeals addressed this specific issue holding that the court can retain the joint decision-making authority of the parents, but “because the joint decision makers could not resolve the issue, the court did so.” In re Marriage. Of Dauwe, 148 P.3d 282 (Colo.2006). The Court of Appeals affirmed that the court may properly resolve such a dispute in the best interests of the child(ren) without finding that the decision-making authority endangered or impaired the children.
If you have a dispute that you cannot resolve with your co-parent, a motion under Dauwe may be appropriate. One of our seasoned lawyers at GEM Family Law can assist you with making the determination as to whether a change in decision-making is appropriate or whether a Dauwe Motion may be the more appropriate legal channel to resolve the parenting issue.
Authored by: Erika A. Gebhardt, Partner