Grandparents' Rights in Colorado

Parents Have an Advantage in Court, But It Can Be Overcome

Colorado grandparents want to be able to share the wonders of their state with grandchildren. Photo © Matt Inden | Colorado Dept. of Tourism

Colorado is one of the states in which grandparents cannot sue for visitation of children living in an intact family. Grandparents can file for visitation rights only under these three circumstances: if the grandchild's parents are divorced or legally separated; if the child is in the custody of someone other than a parent; or if the grandparent's child, who is the parent of the child, has died. If a parent loses his or her parental rights, the rights of his or her parents, the child's grandparents, are lost also. Adoption terminates the visitation rights of grandparents unless the adopting party is a stepparent.

Court Procedures

Colorado law spells out in detail how visitation suits should proceed and how any disputes about visitation should be resolved. See 19-1-117 of the Children’s Code in Colorado Revised Statutes for information about grandparent visitation and 19-1-117.5 for information about grandparent visitation disputes.

A plain-language explanation of court procedures is available on the Colorado Legal Services website.

Relevant Court Cases

Laypersons sometimes fail to realize that law is established by statute and also by legal precedent. Legal precedent, also known as case law, is often important in grandparent visitation litigation. This is certainly true in the case of Colorado, which has been impacted by rulings at both the federal and state level.

In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to grandparents' right with their decision in the case of Troxel v. Granville. The court ruled that parents who cut off contact with grandparents are presumed to have acted in the child's best interest. This is, however, a "rebuttable presumption," meaning that grandparents can present evidence to the contrary.

Colorado law only mentions the "best interest" standard. It was up to case law, therefore, to determine how best interest can be proven. For a number of years after Troxel, this standard changed each time an appeals court or the Colorado Supreme Court made a ruling. Finally, in 2006 the Supreme Court set a standard that has remained intact.

The decision in the case In Re Adoption of C.A. stated that grandparents must present "clear and convincing evidence" that the decision barring visitation is not in the best interests of the child. The court added what it called the "ultimate burden," requiring grandparents to "establish by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation schedule they seek is in the best interests of the child." In addition, if the court orders visitation, it must cite the "special factors" on which it relied for its decision.

A standard of "clear and convincing evidence" is a high standard for a civil case and is generally agree to make visitation in Colorado very difficult for grandparents to win. 

In Re Adoption of C.A. contains another important passage in which the court warns that "a dispute between parents and grandparents regarding grandparent visitation is not a contest between equals." In other words, parents have an advantage in court which the grandparents must overcome.

Another case offers insight about the exemption of intact families from visitation suits. In the 2005 case In the Matter of D.C. and D.C. the grandchildren in question lived with their mother but not with their father. The court, however, declined to award visitation because there had been no judicial intervention in the couple's marriage.