In Colorado, every divorce, annulment, legal separation, or paternity case that involves children considers the “best interests of the child” when determining child custody and “parental responsibilities.” Parental Responsibilities has two components—1) parenting time (sometimes called visitation) and 2) decision-making. This article focuses on the parenting time component.
Family law in Colorado is gender-neutral, meaning that each parent is given an equal opportunity to be considered for primary residential care and responsibility of minor children. However, it is important to note that the age of the children is important. The younger the children are, the more likely it is that it will be in the children’s best interests to have primary custody center on one parent with the other parent having regular parenting time with the children.
Determining the “Best Interests Of The Child”
In the Colorado court system, children do not have an absolute say in which parent they will reside with after a divorce. Older children are allowed more input into how child custody will be determined, but ultimately it is up to the Court to carefully consider and decide what is in a child’s best interests. Often, for children that are of school age, this best interest may involve equal parenting time, or ensuring that throughout the course of the year, children spend similar amounts of time with each of their parents.
The judge will consider all relevant factors when determining what parenting time schedule is in the best interests of the child, including:
- The abilities and wishes of the child’s parents;
- What the child would prefer if they are old enough to make a mature choice;
- The relationships and prior patterns of involvement between the child, parents, and any siblings;
- How well the child is adjusted in their home, school, and community;
- The physical and mental health of all individuals. However, a disability cannot be a reason to restrict or deny parental responsibility;
- The physical proximity of each parent as it relates to determining the schedule of parenting time; and
- The ability of each parent to put the child’s needs above their own.
What are Some Typical Parenting Schedules?
If the divorced parents do not live in the same immediate area, and are at a distance a few hours apart from one another, it will not be feasible for them to split parenting time evenly throughout the week. In this situation, one parent will likely be designated as the primary parent where the child will reside to attend school. The other parent will likely be awarded parenting time on weekends holidays, and over summer break. In some cases, the parties will split the cost or burden of transporting the child from one household to the other.
When divorced parents live within a reasonable distance from one-another, the possibilities for parenting time schedules expand. Depending on your specific facts and circumstances, it may still be in the best interests of the child to have one primary parent for parenting time purposes, with the child having scheduled parenting time with the other parent on weekends, for example.
Alternatively, it may be in your child’s best interests to have a 50/50 or equal parenting time schedule with each parent. There are several different kinds of 50/50 parenting time plans. Depending on the child custody arrangement, the child may spend one week with mom and the next week with dad. However, for some children, especially younger children, a week away from either parent may be stressful and not in their best interests. One alternative (although there are others) is a 5-2-2-5 schedule, where the child spends every Monday and Tuesday with parent 1, every Wednesday and Thursday with parent 2, and alternates between parents every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Child Custody is Complex – Consult with an Attorney
The most important thing to remember when thinking about child custody is that the focus should be on what is best for your child, not what is best for you. Every case is different and depends on the facts and circumstances of your situation. To better understand the possible outcome with regard to parenting time for your children, it is wise to consult with a skilled family law attorney.
If you or your spouse will be filing for divorce in Northern Colorado or reside in the Larimer County or Fort Collins region, and want to explore divorce options that protect your children as much as possible, do not hesitate to contact Laura Monty Law. We provide collaborative divorce representation, divorce mediation services, legal advising for uncontested divorces, and a full array of traditional, court-based divorce and family law services in Northern Colorado. We strongly believe in taking a compassionate approach to family law, and recognize that every situation is unique.