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Best Interests Standards
Colorado law provides that each parent is entitled to reasonable and liberal parenting time unless the child’s physical health would be endangered or the emotional development of the child would be significantly impaired. Even when a parent is deemed “unfit” to be the custodial parent or to share decision-making responsibilities, s/he is entitled to reasonable parenting time absent a showing of endangerment.
Factors in Determining a Parenting Time Schedule
Colorado domestic relations courts have broad discretion when entering orders as to parenting time. They are required to consider the following factors:
The Wishes of the Child’s Parents
The court will consider what the parents want but also why they want it. The wishes of the parents will carry less weight if they do not appear to be in the best interests of the child. For example, the court will look dimly on a parent seeks to expand his or her parenting time schedule in order to manipulate child support or to punish the other parent.
The court will look at several key factors including:
- The past actions of a parent that shows a desire to have parenting involvement;
- Statements made by the parents about their parenting intentions or wishes;
- Testimony of the parties.
The Wishes of the Child
The wishes of the child will be considered by the court in determining parenting time. However, the child’s age and maturity are relevant factors in how much weight is given to their wishes. Technically, a child’s statements are hearsay and children are almost never allowed to testify, even privately, in divorce and child custody cases. Nevertheless, the court often learns about the wishes of a child indirectly through a written report prepared by a child and family investigator (CFI) or a parental responsibilities evaluator (PRE), if one is hired in the case.
The Relationship Between the Child, Parent, Siblings and Others
The relationship between the child and family members and others is also an important consideration in determining parenting time in Colorado.
The court may consider evidence of the following:
- Who the child spends time with;
- What activities are shared by the child and the parent, siblings and others;
- Who the child turns to when ill or afraid;
- Whether the child fights or argues with anyone;
- The involvement of extended family with the child;
- Who the child shares information with.
The Child’s Adjustment to Home School and Community
The court will look at a number of factors as evidence of the child’s adjustment in determining parenting time, including:
- The age of the child and length of time spent in the current home;
- The number of times the child has moved and the frequency of moves;
- Whether one parent will remain in the marital home;
- The physical layout and condition of the residence;
- Whether two homes have been established during the separation and, if so, how well the child has adjusted to each one;
- Whether daycare or schooling arrangements will need to change if more parenting time is granted to one parent or another;
- Any special needs of the child that may require specialized daycare or schooling
- Whether the child will have to change churches;
- The child’s involvement in extracurricular activities that are unavailable elsewhere.
The consideration of the child’s involvement in home, school and community becomes increasingly important as the child gets older when his or her relationship with peers may become as important as the parental relationship.
The Physical and Mental Health of Parties
Mental health issues are often raised in determining parenting time in contested divorce and child custody cases in Colorado. Physical and mental health considerations vary in importance, given the age of a child. A parent with a physical health condition that makes caring for a baby difficult, may experience fewer problems with a teenager. However, a parent may have a mental health issue that makes it easier to deal with a pre-school aged child than a teenager.
If a parental responsibilities evaluation is ordered, the evaluation will usually assess the mental and physical health of all parties involved. A child family investigator has no authority to perform a mental health evaluation but may recommend such an evaluation to the court.
Ability to Encourage the Sharing of Love, Affection and Contact
The court will look for evidence the either or both parties support each other’s parenting, for example, by encouraging the child to call the other parent and to buy Christmas and birthday presents. A party who doesn’t encourage the other parent’s parenting without valid cause may be penalized when parenting time is allocated.
The Past Pattern of Involvement with the Child
The court try to determine which party has been the primary caretaker, responsible for the majority of child care and child rearing. It will consider a number of factors including:
- Who has obtained healthcare for the child;
- Who has chosen health providers;
- Who cared for the child when ill;
- Who attended school conferences;
- Who bought and washed the child’s clothes;
- Who obtained daycare;
- Who put the child to bed;
- Who provided discipline and established behavioral limits.
The Existence of Child Abuse, Neglect or Domestic Violence
Child abuse or neglect is defined under Colo. Rev. Stat. §18-6-401 (1) as causing an injury to the child’s health or life, or allowing the child to be put in a situation with the threat of injury or a pattern of conduct that leads to malnourishment, lack of medical care, cruel punishment, mistreatment or serious injury or death.
Domestic violence is violence perpetrated on a person the perpetrator has had an intimate relationship with. It may be a threatened act or an act of coercion or intimidation, control, punishment or revenge.
Ability to Place the Needs of the Child First
The court will look for evidence of parents putting the considerations of their child before their own, such as flexibility on their own parenting time if it will make the child happy.
Hire an Experienced Denver Parenting Time Attorney
The Rocky Mountain Family Lawyers are Colorado PARENTING TIME experts. Call us now to discuss your legal options and rights concerning PARENTING TIME in Denver, Colorado and surrounding cities (303) 502-9600.