In Colorado, a parent may obtain court ordered parenting through a divorce case. If the parents are not married, than an “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities” case must be filed for a parent to get parenting time with his or her children.
Best Interests Standard
If parents cannot reach an agreement regarding parenting time, the Court will order one based on the “best interests standard.” To determine what is in the best interests of the children, the Court analyzes the following factors:
a) the wishes of the child’s parents;
b) the wishes of a child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting schedule;
c) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect a child’s best interests;
d) the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
e) the mental and physical health of all individuals, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
f) the ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party; except that, if the court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, the party’s protective actions shall not be considered with respect to this factor;
g) whether the past pattern of involvement with the parties with the child reflects a system of value, time commitment, and mutual support;
h) the physical proximity of the parties to each other as it relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; and
i) the ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
Reaching an Initial Parenting Time Schedule
Oftentimes, it is in the best interests of the children, and creates a more harmonious co-parenting relationship, if the parents can agree on a parenting time schedule together. The less conflict the children are exposed to throughout this process, the better off they will be. However, it is not always possible to reach an agreement regarding parenting time.
You may be in a situation where the other parent is wrongfully withholding your child from you, or maybe the other parent wants more time than you believe he or she can handle with the children due to work schedules or past behaviors. If there is a conflict in reaching an agreement as to parenting time, it may be necessary to retain a parenting expert.
A “Child and Family Investigator,” (“CFI”) or a “Parental Responsibilities Evaluator,” (“PRE”), may need to investigate the circumstances and provide recommendations to the parents, and, ultimately, the Court. If you are having a conflict with the other parent as to parenting time, it is highly recommended to meet with an attorney to discuss your case. The actions you take, including all interactions you have with your children and the other parent, will be under a microscope during this process.
Also, it is important to try and obtain the parenting schedule you think is best for your children in the beginning of the process, as it can be much harder to modify a schedule once it is in place.
Modification of Parenting Time Schedules
As children get older, there are often changes in circumstances that would justify a change in the first court ordered parenting time schedule. In order to modify a schedule, a “Motion to Modify Parenting Time,” will need to be filed with the Court. Again, the Court will analyze the best interests standard, unless a parent is attempting to substantially change the parenting time and with whom the child resides with for a majority of the time.
Under these circumstances, a parent will have to prove that the other parent is “endangering” the children, which can be a very difficult burden to overcome. A parent may also want to modify a parenting time schedule if he or she wants to or needs to relocate to a different state.
The Court will look at the best interests factors and will also look at a new set of factors:
a) why does a parent wish to relocate;
b) why does the other parent object to the relocation;
c) the history and quality of each parent’s relationship with the child since previous court orders;
d) the educational opportunities here and the place of relocation;
e) the presence of extended family here and the place of relocation; and
f) any advantage of remaining with the caregiver. If the parties are unable to agree on a modification, it may be important to obtain a parenting professional, either a CFI or a PRE.
In addition to reaching an agreement or obtaining an order regarding parenting time, there also needs to be an agreement or order regarding “decision-making” of the children. The parties can either share “joint” decision-making, or one party can have “sole” decision-making, or the parties can each have sole decision-making regarding different categories of decisions. Major decisions generally include medical, religious, educational, and extracurricular decisions.
Sample Parenting Time Plans
Because Colorado relies on the best interests’ standard, there is no “one fits all” parenting time schedule. There are a variety of schedules that parents exercise with their children to meet the children’s needs, fit work schedules, and work around the distance parents live apart from each other and the children’s school.
Here are some sample schedules
5-2-2-5 schedule: One parent has Monday and Tuesday with the children, the other parent has Wednesday and Thursday, and the parents rotate every other weekend of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
4-3-3-4 schedule: One parent has Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with the children, the other parent has Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with the children, and Sunday is rotated.
Week On/Week Off: The parents alternate weeks with the children, exchanging them on the same day each week. Every other weekend: One parent is the primary parent and the other parent has every other weekend. This can have several variations, where the non-primary parent has dinner visits during the week, an additional overnight or two each week, or the weekend can be Thursday night through Monday morning.
Additional summer parenting time: Oftentimes if one parent is the primary parent during the school year, the parties can still split parenting time equally in the summer or the non-primary parent can have the majority of the summer. This sort of schedule may be necessary if the parties live a great distance apart.
The possibilities are endless when reaching a parenting time schedule. I encourage parents to really think about what would be best for his or her children when crafting a schedule. It is also important to consider holiday and vacation parenting time. What holidays are important to you? Some parents celebrate every holiday on the calendar, and others celebrate only the bigger holidays.
Some holiday to consider include: New Year’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. It can sometimes be helpful to include holidays that are three day weekends, or school breaks, such as President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veteran’s Day. Parents can also split Fall Break, Spring Break, Winter Break, and provide a provision that permits two weeks of vacation parenting time during the summer.