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“Parenting Time” vs. Custody


One thing you may have noticed from the news and the media in general is the tendency for mothers to always receive primary custody of the child in a family court case. This is an outdated notion based on gender stereotypes that identify women as competent caregivers and men as less than stellar in this area, and better research and cultural shifts over the last three decades have proven these stereotypes to be a myth and allowed the courts to shift to more gender-neutral conclusions. Nevertheless, this false idea does still prevail in some cases.

The Best Interests of the Child Standard

In any Colorado paternity, annulment, legal separation or custody case, the courts are directed to consider what is in the “best interests of the child” when it comes to visitation and custody matters, which are referred to as “parental rights and responsibilities.” This means that on paper, the family law is neutral and does not express a preference for the mother or the father. In theory, this should mean that each parent has the same opportunity to obtain primary residential responsibility, which is the parent with whom the child lives.

Mothers do still tend to win more custody disputes than fathers, but the playing field is certainly more level now than it was in the past. The advantage a mother still might have in court is that she stayed at home with the children entirely or worked less than the father and therefore spent more time with the kids as a result, but even that is less common than it was before as two-parent households with both mothers and fathers working full-time are becoming more typical.

When the court weighs what it considers to be in the best interests of the child, it will consider the following factors:

  • The views of everyone involved, including the child if he or she is considered mature enough to express an independent preference.
  • The relationships between the child and each parent and other people who may play a part, such as siblings.
  • The level of the child’s adjustment to the community, home and school at the time of the decision.
  • Everyone’s physical and mental health, except that a disability on its own can’t be used a basis to restrict or deny custody or parenting time.
  • How well each parent is able to encourage the child to engage in a positive relationship with the other parent.
  • The past behavior of each parent with the child.
  • Whether either parent has had an incident of child neglect, child abuse or spousal abuse.
  • How close each parent lives to one another, for travel time considerations for the child.
  • How well each parent is able to put the child’s needs in front of his or her own.

Keep in mind that as a child ages, he or she will have more input into custody decisions. However, there is no “magic age” after which a child receives an absolute say in custody.

In the past, many experts believed that it was best for children to have stability in the form of living with one parent most of the time, usually the mother. However, it’s now held that children do best when they have as much time as possible with both parents, so the courts are increasingly moving toward giving parents equal time with their children, especially when those children are of school age.

The decisions on visitation and custody in Colorado are made and put down on paper during an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR) process. In theory, both the mother and the father enter into this process with equal chances of receiving full primary custody, as the court is supposed to weigh the best interest of the child factors above on a gender-neutral basis. Once these decisions have been made, the parenting plan is created, and this plan outlines all the issues addressed in the APR process.

Parenting Time Schedules

Parenting time is the amount of time each parent has with the child, and it’s an important part of the APR process. For parents who live close together, the parenting time may be split roughly equally week by week, or one parent may have the child every other weekend and some days during the week. When parents live further apart (usually an hour or more), dividing the parenting time equally is more difficult because it would create a long commute for the child. In these types of situations, the non-primary parent may receive parenting time every other weekend, a longer block of time in the summer and then half of the other vacations and major holidays.

Whether you’re a father or a mother, you should be awarded the same chance to have primary custody of your child as the other parent. If you need help with your child custody case, contact the trusted and experienced family law attorneys at The Burnham Law Firm today.