Every parenting plan, whether drafted and agreed to by the parents themselves or issued by Court order after an evidentiary hearing, addresses the various aspects of what it takes for two soon-to-be-divorced parents to raise their kid(s). This is otherwise known as allocation of parental responsibilities and it generally consists of parenting time and decision-making (click here for my previous discussion on the difference).
If a court is tasked with allocating parenting time between the parents, the Court is essentially asked to make findings about what is in “the best interests of the child”, which is the legal standard that the courts use in ordering parenting time. The exact language can be found in C.R.S. 14-10-124. This statute contains a list of factors for the court to consider, including:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time;
- The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
- 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;
- Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
- The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; and
- The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
This statute also lays out factors for the courts to consider in awarding decision-making authority to the parents, including:
- Credible evidence of the ability of the parties to cooperate and to make decisions jointly;
- Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support that would indicate an ability as mutual decision makers to provide a positive and nourishing relationship with the child;
- Whether an allocation of mutual decision-making responsibility on any one or a number of issues will promote more frequent or continuing contact between the child and each of the parties.
It’s important to note that judges and magistrates are given a lot of discretion when it comes to fashioning orders about parenting time or decision making. They can give more weight to one factor over another, find that one factor may not be applicable, or consider evidence that doesn’t neatly fit within any of those factors. Often times, most of the evidence about these factors comes from the testimony of the parties themselves, so the court can also find that one parent may be more credible than the other. Because each family is so different, courts are given a lot of latitude to be able to create parenting plans that are tailored to the needs of each child and parent.
Parenting plans also include items like child support, reimbursement of children’s medical, extracurricular, and extraordinary expenses, the child tax credit, payment of post-secondary (i.e. college) expenses, and so forth.
When a court issues an order that includes parenting time, the Order will often include a detailed analysis of how each of the best interests of the child factors applies in this particular case. Knowing how to present evidence and testimony in support of your position on each factor requires skill, experience, and knowledge. If you are faced with litigating parenting time or decision making, don’t chance it or go it alone. Contact Jessica to assist with litigating your case, by phone at 970-470-2338, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.