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Parental responsibilities and rights, at a minimum, involve which parent has the child on different days or periods, such as during vacations or holidays, and this can be joint or primary. The parent with primary responsibility is the one who has the child most of the time, with the other parent having visitation. Generally, if one parent has fewer than 90 overnight visits with his or her child per year, he or she is not considered the primary parent. With joint parent responsibility, each parent has the child for roughly the same number of overnights.
In Colorado, residential responsibility – where the child lives most of the time – is separated from decision-making responsibilities. This means that both parents may have the right to make major decisions for the child together, even if the child lives with one parent most of the time. This authority can also be given to one parent, who then has sole decision-making responsibility and doesn’t need input from the other parent to make these choices. Major decisions include matters of education, medical issues, religion and extracurricular activities.
A parenting plan is the schedule that lays out the parental rights and responsibilities of each parent and other matters, such as child support and decision-making authority. Each area of this plan is incredibly important as it will detail many aspects of the child-parent relationship for each parent. It’s also vital that a parenting plan be as comprehensive as possible as this helps reduce confusion and conflict between the parents down the line and provides more stability for the child. If one parent isn’t following the plan, the other parent can take him or her back to court to enforce his or her rights.
In the schedule section, the dates or periods the child will be with each parent are laid out. It can be the same every week, all year or more dynamic and detailed, depending on the needs of everyone involved. Additional provisions may cover special occasions, holiday sharing, vacations and how parenting time is made up if a visit is missed.
Decision-making authority is also included in a parenting plan, and this usually covers major decisions as mentioned above. Minor daily decisions are usually made by the parent the child is with at the time without input from the other parent. Even if one parent has sole decision-making authority, he or she may still consider the views and feelings of the other parent before making a major choice for the child.
A parenting plan may include provisions for when parents with joint decision-making authority can’t come to an agreement on a major choice. These provisions are meant to help the parents come to an agreement via alternate dispute resolutions, such as mediation. They may also require the parents to get help from a person who is an expert in the subject matter of the dispute.
Child support may also be addressed in a parenting plan. Even if both parents share equal parental responsibility, one parent may still be obligated to pay child support to the other. The court uses guidelines that call for the combination of both parents’ incomes to determine the basic support obligation, and the allocation of responsibility between the parents for that amount is impacted by each parent’s parental responsibilities. Child support can be a complex matter, especially when it involves a high level of assets or when one parent isn’t working or is considered underemployed.
The allocation of parental rights and responsibilities can be handled via agreements between the parents themselves alone, with the help of attorneys, or with the help of a mediator and the attorneys. During mediation, a third party who is neutral in the case will work with the parents to help them make these decisions and create a final plan together, which then has to be approved by the court. If the parents can’t come to any agreements or become completely stuck on an issue, they may have to go to court and have the judge decide for them. The judge will weigh many factors before making these decisions, including the wishes of all involved, the relationships between the parties and other relevant factors. It’s generally preferable for parents to reach agreements on their own without having the court step in and decide for them.
Your rights and responsibilities as a parent will play a defining role in your relationship with your child going forward. Contact the trusted and dedicated team at Burnham Law to schedule a consultation about your case today.