Practice Area: Child Welfare


Companion Animals & Domestic Violence

The maltreatment of animals, usually companion animals, may occur in homes where there is domestic violence, yet there is limited information about the prevalence of such maltreatment. Victims of domestic violence report that animal abuse incidents coincided with acts of violence against family members over 50% of the time, according to Carlisle-Frank & Flanagan, 2006. Various forms of animal abuse occur and have included punching, hitting, choking, drowning, shooting, stabbing and throwing against walls or down stairs.

An act of violence against a family pet or, even threatening an act of violence, is a form of domestic violence and is a violation of Colorado’s criminal code. While the criminal code expressly includes protection of an animal when threats of violence or violent acts toward the animal are used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge, the civil statute is a bit different. The definition of civil protection order can include any provision to protect the victim from imminent danger to life or health.

“About a hundred miles down the interstate; he opened the car door and ordered my daughter Christine to kick our dog Dusty out. When she refused, he told her he would do to Dusty what he did to Rocko, only he would do it right this time, and she could watch while he tortured and killed Dusty and dump her off the side of the road, too. Then he said he would come home and kill me and Christine would be left alone with him.” Christine, whom he later raped, was 8 years old.

- Millikin, Marsha (1999). First-person account: Life and death inside the cycles of violence. In Ascione and Arkow (Eds.), Child abuse, domestic violence and animal abuse: Linking  the circles of compassion for prevention and intervention. (pp.
177-188). West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney can be a useful tool when parents or pet caretakers need to ensure their child or animal companion will be properly taken care of during the parent or pet caretaker’s temporary unavailability. A power of attorney will work hand-in-hand with a pet trust, discussed below.

The person who is giving the power is referred to as the “principal” while the person who accepts responsibility of the power is called the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”. Among other things, powers of attorney can be revocable, irrevocable, special or general, durable or non-durable. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect upon the principal’s incapacity. A non-durable power of attorney will not be effective upon the principal’s incapacity.

There are many options with respect to powers of attorney and you should fully understand what it is you need before you sign any legal documents.


A guardian is a person that is appointed by the court, for a child, to make important decisions when the parents cannot. The guardian may make decisions related to where the child at    tends school and which doctor the child will see. A guardian will also be able to obtain important records related to the child. The court will determine the scope of the guardian’s roll and set any limitations. The responsibilities of a guardian are great, and any person wishing to serve or wishing to have a guardian appointed, should become fully aware of a guardian’s legal responsibilities and the implications of the guardianship.

If assistance is required as to managing the child’s financial affairs, the guardian may also be appointed to serve as “conservator”. However, if the guardian cannot provide that assistance, a separate conservator may be appointed by the court to look after the child’s assets.

A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests.

Dependency & Neglect

The following has been taken, in part, from the Colorado Children’s Code:

A child is neglected or dependent if: A parent or legal custodian has abandoned the child or has mistreated or abused the child or allowed the child to be mistreated or abused without taking lawful means to stop the abuse or mistreatment from happening again; The child lacks proper parental care; The child’s environment is harmful; The parent or legal custodian fails or refuses to provide necessary or proper care, education, medical care, or other necessary care; The child is homeless or without proper care; The child is a run away or otherwise beyond the control of his or her parent or legal custodian; The child tests positive at birth for certain controlled substances; The parent or legal custodian has subjected another child to habitual abuse and that parent or legal custodian has been the respondent in another proceeding where that child was found to be dependent or neglected based on allegations of sexual or physical abuse or the court determined the parent or legal custodian’s abuse or neglect caused the death of another child and the pattern and type of habitual abuse pose a current threat to the child. COLO. REV. STAT. § 19-3-102 (2007). A guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the child’s best interests in all dependency and neglect cases.

Custody Modification

If a decree allocating decision-making has been filed with the court, there is usually a two year wait period before a subsequent modification may be filed. There are certain circumstances where the wait period is not required; for instance, if the court decides continuing the order may be harmful to the child. The prior decree will not be modified unless new facts have arisen or were unknown to the court at that time or, some change in circumstances has occurred making modification is necessary to serve the child’s best interests. The court will not change the prior order unless the above requirements are met or the court finds for instance, the parties agree to the modification.

~ Taken in part from Colorado Revised Statute § 14-10-131 (2007).

Adoption (step-parent & kinship)

Many step-parents consider adopting their step-children. Some courts prefer the biological parent and the step-parent be married for at least one year before the step-parent adopts the children. A step-parent who wishes to adopt his or her step-children in Colorado must live in Colorado and be over the age of 21, unless the court approves otherwise. The parent is required to file his or her consent to the adoption with the court.

A child under 18 years old is available for adoption if a court has terminated the legal relationship of the other parent or a court has approved his or her voluntary relinquishment of the parent-child relationship. If the child is between 18 and 21, the court must approve the adoption. If the child is 13 or older, the child is required to consent to the adoption as well.

If the parent-child relationship has not been terminated or relinquished, the custodial birth parent must provide an affidavit or testimony that the other parent has abandoned the child for at least one year or, has failed without cause, to provide reasonable support. The prospective adoptive parent must complete a background check and inform the court if they have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving any of the following:

  • child abuse or neglect
  • spousal abuse
  • any crime against a child
  • any crime related to domestic violence
  • violation of a protection/restraining order
  • crime involving violence, rape, sexual assault, or homicide
  • felony involving physical assault or battery
  • felony involving drugs within the past five years

A person convicted of a felony involving child abuse, violence, or unlawful sexual behavior will not be allowed to adopt the child. If the background check reveals a felony or misdemeanor conviction, the court will review the conviction and determine if the child may be adopted. A child who is involved in a pending dependency and neglect proceeding is not available for adoption.

The adoption will dissolve the legal relationship between the other birth parent and his or her family, and the biological child. A new birth certificate will be issued and will reflect the former step-parent as the child’s birth parent.

Many of the requirements of step-parent adoption are also required in a kinship adoption. Kinship means either of the following: grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or cousin. If the parents are deceased, a court-appointed guardian must give consent to the adoption unless written and verified consent has been signed by the parents. The child must have lived with the prospective adoptive parents for at least one year.

~The information above was taken in part from

Child Welfare

Child welfare issues involve the physical, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect of children, also referred to as dependency and neglect cases in Colorado.In addition to contracting with the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative as Guardian ad litem, Gabriela is available as private counsel to assist with other legal issues that relate to children.

Smart Child Proofing for Your Home

  • Use safety latches and locks for cabinets and drawers to help prevent poisoning or injury
  • Use outlet covers to help prevent electrocution
  • Use safety gates to prevent children from falling down stairs or entering rooms with potential hazards. Ensure gates are certified by the JPMA.
  • Use door knob covers and door stops to help prevent children from entering potentially hazardous areas in or outside your home or getting little fingers caught in the door.
  • Use anti-scald devices for all sinks and showers to help prevent burns
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home and close to bedrooms.
  • Use corner and edge bumpers on furniture and ledges to guard against injury
  • Use window guards and safety nets to help prevent falls from windows or balconies.

If we are to attain real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a war against war, we will have to begin with the children. ~ Mahatma Gandhi