Rich Harris Speaks Out on Colorado Family Law

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President and Managing Partner of The Harris Law Firm, Rich Harris, speaks out about Colorado Family Law and the Non-Nuclear Family.

President and Managing Partner of The Harris Law Firm, Rich Harris, speaks out about Colorado Family Law and the Non-Nuclear Family.

As the divorce rate and the number of children being born to unmarried parents continues to rise, the face of the American family is also evolving. The traditional nuclear family, which is still the most recognized domestic model in Western society, is comprised of a mother, a father and at least one biological child under the age of 18. The most noticeable long-term trend among American families has been the decline of this conventional domestic unit. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau's fertility and family statistics branch, the percentage of married-couple households with children under 18 declined from 45 percent in 1960 to 25.6 percent in 1990. When this figure declined to 23.5 percent in the year 2000, it was the first time that the percentage of families associated with this paradigm fell below 25 percent of all households.

Today’s complex family units can comprise biological parents, single parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, and even psychological parents. These families represent a cultural shift toward multifaceted familial structures, and new terminology has been developed to describe the diverse types of families: blended, multigenerational, unmarried partners, and same-sex partners. But as our population continues to adapt to complex social trends, and nuclear families within our homes have given way to less traditional family structures, Colorado domestic law has recognized the evolution of the non-traditional family and passed legislation to address these changes.

1.    Parental Rights for Non-Parents - In creating C.R.S. §14-10-123, the Colorado Legislature recognized the rights of non-parents who have significantly participated in raising a minor child. A person other than a parent, who has had “physical care” of a child for six months or more, may petition the court for an allocation of parental responsibilities within six months of the termination of such physical care.

Subsection (1)(c) recognizes psychological parenting, as it allows courts to consider the psychological bonds non-parents develop with children who have been in their physical possession for a significant period of time when making a best interests determination.

C.R.S. §19-10-117 specifically recognizes the rights of grandparents to petition the court for visitation with a minor child anytime parental responsibilities regarding the child are at issue. Generally, there are due process presumptions that a parent has the right to determine the scope of grandparent visitation. To rebut this, clear and convincing evidence must be submitted to the court to show that a visitation schedule with the grandparent is in the child's best interest.

In 2007, the DePalma case highlighted the rights of step-parents when the Court of Appeals found that the biological parent, a Service Member with the U.S. Air Force, could assign his right to parenting time to his current spouse during his deployment to the Middle East. The Court found that the best interests of the children were best served maintaining parenting time contacts with the step-parent during the deployment.

2.    Second-Parent Adoption - In 2007, Second Parent adoption legislation made it possible for children with only one legal parent to be adopted by grandparents, siblings, extended relatives, common law spouses and other adults living with the child’s biological parent. Essentially, second parent adoptions permit the members of unmarried intimate or non-intimate couples -- including same-sex couples -- to become co-adoptive parents.

3.    Designated Beneficiaries for Unmarried and/or Same-Sex Couples - In 2009, Colorado was the first state in the Nation to pass legislation giving unmarried and/or same-sex couples the right to enter into "designated beneficiary agreements," which allow any person to designate any other person (whether or not reciprocated) as the beneficiary of certain rights, benefits, and protections automatically provided to husbands and wives.

4. Protecting Children of Married vs. Unmarried Parents - One particular protection children of married parents benefit from is an automatic injunction     preventing the removal of the minor child from the State of Colorado during the pendency of a dissolution proceeding. No such injunction was available to children of unmarried parents during the pendency of an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR) action.

In 2010, The Harris Law Firm recognized the need to close this legislative loophole, and helped to create House Bill 1097. The bill, which goes into effect on August 15th of this year, provides for an automatic temporary injunction prohibiting the removal of the children from the State of Colorado during the pendency of an APR     action.

The Evolution of Colorado Family Law
Colorado Family Law will evolve as the overall attitude toward relationships, commitment, and non-nuclear family structures become more common. Concurrently, with younger voters being the most accepting of a diverse culture and the evolution of the non-traditional American family, it is likely that this state will continue seeking the adoption of new family law legislation to address the needs of an increasing number of non-nuclear families.
1.    Eric Schmitt, "For First Time, Nuclear Families Drop Below 25% of Households",    New York Times, May 15, 2001 (

About the Harris Law Firm: Established in 1993, The Harris Law Firm is one of Colorado’s largest family law firms with offices located in Denver and Fort Collins. The firm employs a team of 17 skilled attorneys and a staff of paralegals and law clerks. In addition to divorce and child custody and support issues in Colorado, The Harris Law Firm also handles marital agreements, and issues regarding maintenance, paternity, grandparents’ rights, and step-parent adoptions.

For more information on The Harris Law Firm, including articles written by our family law attorneys, please visit our Web site:

Heidi Culbertson
Director of Business Development
The Harris Law Firm
(303) 299-9484


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