Colorado no longer uses the terms child custody and visitation. In Colorado, parenting plans spell out the terms for what other states refer to as visitation as well as decision making responsibility and other details.
Ideally, parenting plans are developed through mutual agreement on the part of both parents and then approved by the court. This may be accomplished via negotiation or mediation. When the parents are not able to reach an agreement, the child custody and visitation case may need to go to court, where a judge will decide on a parenting plan based on what they believe to be in the best interest of the child.
Parents tend to have a more complete picture of their child’s lives than what a judge will be able to see. For this reason, they are often better positioned to create a successful parenting plan without a judge’s intervention, if at all possible.
The Best Interest Of The Child
Understanding the concept of the best interest of the child can be valuable when attempting to determine a parenting plan. In most cases, maintaining continued relationships with each parent is considered to be in the child’s best interest. In fact, most child custody and visitation arrangements will allow both parents to play a role in the child’s life moving forward, though the roles of each parent may not be equal. Very rarely are child custody arrangements allowed that cut one parent off from being part of a child’s life.
That being said, there is often conflict about what is in the child’s best interest. Looking at some of the factors that courts consider in these matters can prove helpful when attempting to negotiate a parenting plan. Factors that will play a role include each parent’s current relationship with the child, the child’s age, the child’s educational needs, each parent’s living situation and each parent’s ability to care for the child.
One common myth about parenting time is that the child gets a say in the decision. While the child’s best interest is certainly the driving force, the child’s preferences do not control and may or may not be taken into consideration.
Parenting Plans Are Not Carved In Stone
Parenting plans are often the subject of major disputes, whether in the context of a divorce or between unwed parents. Knowing that parenting plans are not set in stone can help reduce some of the conflict in these cases. Parents should know that they will be able to request changes to the parenting plan in the future, should changes in circumstances require it. The needs of children change over time. What is right for a two-year old is not necessarily going to be right for a 14-year old. Not surprisingly then, modifications to parenting plans are quite common along the way. Just as in the initial process, changes to parenting plans may be reached by an agreement or potentially going to trial to have a judge decide.
While parenting plans can be changed, parents should have a goal in mind to create effective, somewhat lasting parenting plans that are in the child’s best interest. Parents may want to work with an attorney experienced in these matters, as well as child psychology experts or other experts as appropriate. With care, each parent can protect and maintain their relationship with the child.