Family Law

Colorado bill limits 'reunification treatment' in child custody cases, requires training and expertise

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Family courts in Colorado custody cases can’t cut off a child’s contact with a protective parent to whom they are bonded just to improve a relationship with a rejected parent accused of abuse or domestic violence, according to a bill signed into law last week.

Nor can Colorado courts order “reunification treatment” for children that is based on cutting off contact with the protective parent, according to the law. And reunification treatment can’t be ordered at all, unless there is generally accepted and scientifically valid proof of the therapeutic value and safety of such treatment, according to the bill summary of House Bill 23-1178.

Other provisions in the law require family investigators and custody evaluators to undergo annual training with a focus on domestic violence and child abuse. The law also says Colorado courts should consider expert testimony in such cases when the expert has expertise and experience working with victims of domestic violence or child abuse. And courts making custody determinations must consider evidence of past sexual or physical abuse by the accused parent.

ProPublica and the Denver Gazette have coverage of the bill’s provisions.

The new law makes Colorado the first state to pass a law that complies with the federal Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act, which is also known as Kayden’s Law, according to ProPublica. The federal law provides funds to states that improve their child custody laws.

The bill was passed following a ProPublica investigation on court-ordered reunification camps, which found that some programs try to force children to comply with treatment by “physical restraint, threats and the removal of personal items—including food, clothing and shower supplies.”

Many reunification programs are based on the idea that the children are suffering from parental alienation that is caused by the influence of a protective parent seeking to undermine the other parent. According to ProPublica, parental alienation “has been rejected by mainstream scientific circles but continues to influence custody decisions.”

Another ProPublica story reported that some custody evaluators in Colorado had been accused of domestic violence.

The Colorado law takes effect immediately, but it won’t overturn current court orders on reunification programs. The protective parents can cite the law, however, when appealing orders removing children from their custody.

Kayden’s Law is named after 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who was killed by her father during court-ordered custody time. Kayden’s mother had presented evidence to the court regarding the father’s criminal record and an order of protection against him. The father was nonetheless given unsupervised contact with Kayden.

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