Child Custody Case Study: The Facts - Marrison Family Law

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Child Custody Case Study: The Facts

Monday, 17 November 2014

child-custody-case-studyEvery day, hard-working mothers and fathers with good intentions go into family court hoping that they will be heard. And every day, many of those same people walk out of court, shaking their heads, trying to figure out why they lost custody, or why their visitation rights were dramatically reduced. 

The case of Bright v. Smith is just such an example where a loving mother was left trembling and in tears after a Colorado trial court allowed her child to be taken 1000 miles away and only permitted her to see her son under close supervision. 


This is a real case that occurred, but the names and dates have been changed to protect the identities of the parties and their child. However, the underlying purpose of this case is to spotlight how heart-wrenching matters of parental rights in Colorado, parental abuse and protection of a child can spiral out of control. Yet with the proper legal representation, such as the people at Marrison Family Law in Colorado Springs, it is possible to again feel like your story will be heard, and your interests will be protected.


The Beginning

Several years ago, Maggie Bright came to our offices desperate and near the end of her rope.  She sat down with a partner and poured out her story – how she and Steven Smith had a child, but had never been married, and how Mr. Smith had asked the court to allocate parental responsibility.

The court had looked at both Maggie and Steven’s parenting credentials with a fine-toothed comb. Who would have more time to spend with the child? Which parent had spent the most time taking care of the child as an infant?  Which parent had extensive family and friend support to help out in an emergency?   Maggie gladly provided her employment information, names of friends and family and other information that gave the court some clue as to what the best parenting plan might be.

Sweet Success?

Maggie was jubilant when the trial court entered an order allowing her to keep young Ethan most of the time.  She and Steven also agreed they would jointly make important decisions about Ethan’s schooling, religion, and other key matters. She looked forward to a life of spending long days and weekends with Ethan, the little light of her life. 

However, Maggie was bewildered when the court only set out scheduled parenting times for Steven lasting just several months after the hearing, delegating to a parenting coordinator the final task of coming up with a final parenting agreement for the long haul. 

A very determined Maggie Bright approached the appellate court herself on this limited post-decree issue, demanding that the trial court issue its own final parenting order so that she and the father could get finality in their case.

The Appellate Court First Speaks Up – It Seems Like Good News!

Maggie had asked the appellate court to look at the parenting time question because she could not understand why such an important issue would be left to a parenting coordinator. How could she and Steven Smith really move forward if no clear-cut times and frequencies were set for Steven to see their child, or if the decisions were made by a court functionary?

The appellate court told Judge Bristol that the court alone must order the parenting time of Mr. Smith, and remanded the case with instructions that Steven’s parenting schedule be determined by the court, not a court-appointed expert. 

Maggie marched back over to the trial court in Colorado and Judge Bristol, hoping that her long journey would soon be over, and she could start the rest of her life.

The Nightmare Begins

That was when Maggie’s nightmare began. It all started when the case got back to Judge Bristol, he appointed a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE) to look more closely at the matter and make parenting time recommendations.  It is important to note that the appellate court said that Judge Bristol only needed to enter final decisions about how much parenting time Steven would get.

But suddenly, it seemed like everything that had already been decided by the court such as primary residential custody and decision-making, family stability and safety were suddenly back in play. A legal can of worms had exploded open, leaving in its wake an investigator who seemed determined to reach a different decision that would not be favorable to Maggie. 

The agreement with Steven to share decision-making was gone. The court’s earlier approval that Maggie would be the primary custodial caregiver had evaporated.  

The Awful News 

After completing its investigation, The PRE recommended to the court that the minor child Ethan be allowed to live with his father in Iowa, and he alone would make decisions for the child.  The second wound was equally as brutal – Maggie could only see her lovely Ethan during supervised visits once a month, and her access to him by phone and email would be limited. The court adopted the PRE’s recommendations and Maggie nearly collapsed.

The Challenge

Was it possible for the Colorado Springs child custody lawyers at Marrison Family Law to get the appellate court to take another look at the case, and find some basis for Maggie to get her foot back in the door again?  Appellate courts in many states don’t easily agree to hear family court cases. The volume of family court cases in any state is staggering, and would overrun the appellate court if every unhappy parent were able to get the hard-working appeals court justices to look at the case. Read the more of this story in our next blog. See how the story unfolds for Maggie, Steven, Ethan and the Colorado court.



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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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