What Are Psychological Parenting Rights?

You don’t have to give birth to a child to become their parent. Several people have adopted or become de facto parents in the event of a sudden change or disaster in a child’s life, or have raised a child from their infancy due to parents not being in the picture. 

Those parents have rights as well. Generally, these rights are awarded to those non-biological parents who are involved in the earliest years of the child’s life and become the primary caretakers for that child. So what does family law in Colorado say about psychological parenting rights

It can vary from state to state. Many non-biological parents’ rights can be limited because they aren’t blood relatives of the child, but some states have stronger laws for psychological parents than others.

It seems the presence of children living exclusively with psychological parents has declined in the last 100 years or so. According to a study by the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV from 2012, in 1940, 1 in 10 American children lived with neither of their biological parents (meaning living exclusively with non-biological parents, grandparents, etc.). 

Compare those facts to 1990, when just 1 in 25 children lived with neither of their biological parents. Let’s break down the psychological parenting rights in Colorado compared to other states, and what those rights entail for non-biological parents across the country. 

What Are Psychological Parenting Rights in Colorado?

In the state of Colorado, non-biological parents can be granted parental rights and responsibilities if they care for the child for six months or more (source). These awarded rights can be full custody or frequent visitation, but the state’s legislature recognizes how strong bonds can be between a child and their parental figure, biologically related or not, says colostate.edu

Generally, this person is involved heavily in a child’s life and would make decisions that an average biological parent would make. So, if a person lives with someone and their biological child for a long time, that non-biological partner can petition for custody, visitation, or other involvement in that child’s life as a psychological parent.

Do Psychological Parents Have To Pay Child Support?

To answer this question, let’s examine the Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division’s 2019 case, concerning the parental responsibilities of A.C.H. and A.F.

The court first noted that any third party who is awarded parental rights under C.R.S. 14-10-123 is referred to as a “psychological parent.” But since the word “parent” is not defined by the child support statute, it can include anyone who pursued and was granted court-ordered parental rights. Below is a breakdown of the case. 

  • A mother of a three-month old child began dating a man who was not the father of that child 
  • The child’s biological father was not in the picture at all 
  • The two adults later had another child and lived as a family for three years after that child was born 
  • When the two separated, the mother allowed the man equal parenting power over both children, his biological child and non-biological child 
  • The mother wanted to move to Texas, and the man sought pursued allocation of parental responsibilities over her son 
  • Since the child and man were bonded deeply, the court found him to be a psychological parent and awarded him parental rights
  • The mother was denied child support, however, as the court claimed it couldn’t impose a child support obligation absent a legal parent-child relationship
  • In The Court of Appeals, it was concluded that “When a psychological parent occupies circumstances equivalent to those of a legal parent, it is equitable to impose financial obligations to him or her, pursuant to the factors outlined in the statute,” adding “with the privileges of parenting should go the duties, including financial support” 
  • This was the first time in Colorado that a psychological parent was required to pay support to a biological parent

What’s The Difference Between a ‘Parent’ Vs. a ‘Guardian?’

Using the same outlined case above, to be established as a psychological parent or a third party seeking parental rights is to take on more responsibility and permanency in raising a child than a guardian would. 

Psychological parents are those who “sought and received an intended-to-be-permanent allocation of parental responsibilities.” Guardianship is generally a temporary arrangement and occurs when a parent is either planning care for their children due to an absence caused by a number of factors, which can include incarceration, illness, or other causations, or as a result of a total absence from parents. 

In most cases of legal guardianship, the parents’ legal rights are not terminated, and parents are still involved in their child’s lives. Legal guardians have custody of the children, as well as the authority to make important life decisions involving the child’s education, discipline, care, protection, and others. 

Generally, a court hearing is required in order to review the situation, which includes interviews with the legal parents, child or children, and potential legal guardian(s). This must be approved by the court, which will only happen if the court deems it’s in the best interest of the child. 

Grandparents’ Rights Vs. Psychological Parents’ Rights 

In most cases, the psychological parent has been around for the formative years of a child’s life, and is trusted by members of the child’s biological family. In some common and amicable situations, the psychological parent works hand-in-hand with the grandparents of the child to help raise the child in a normal setting. 

However, there are grandparents’ rights that can be utilized if the grandparents feel the need to fight for custody or visitation. Under Colorado law, for example, grandparents have the right to pursue custody or visitation rights to see their biological grandchildren if there is an open case concerning the custody of minors. This can be tough in situations where there is a rocky divorce. 

Grandparents can pursue a court order to seek visitation rights in the following circumstances: 

  • When the custody of the child is awarded to a non-parent third party 
  • When a child’s parent has died 
  • When the child has been placed outside the parent’s home, with adoption as an exception 
  • When the marriage of the child’s parents is declared invalid, entered a legal separation process, or has been dissolved


Psychological parents can achieve all the rights and responsibilities of biological parents if they are bonded with a child for an extended period of time. In most cases, this is a practical and easy process where at least one parent is on board with the child being raised by this parental figure. Peek Family Law is available to help explain these rights and the process.

In some, but not all, cases, child support can be ordered following a separation of a biological and psychological parent, in which the psychological parent is ordered to pay child support the same way a biological parent would. 

A psychological parent is not the same as a designated legal guardian.