“Parenting Time” v. Custody

In Colorado, the traditional terms of “child custody” and “visitation” are not used. Instead, these issues are handled through a process known as “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities”. Colorado went to this model to discourage the once-common notion that the parent who wins full custody is the “winner” and the parent who receives visitation is the “loser” in a custody battle. Children are not property, so the idea of winning them is not something the legal system in the state wanted to encourage.


Parenting time

Parenting time is the amount of time each parent is to spend with the child. In other states, this would be described as physical custody (with the person the child lives with being the primary residential custodial parent) and visitation, which is the time the child spends with the parent who does not have primary residential custody. In Colorado, parenting time can be split evenly between parents, as occurs in joint physical custody, or one parent may have more time with the child than the other parent. The parent who the child lives with is the one who has primary residential parenting responsibility.

You can enter into a parenting time agreement with your co-parent on your own or with the help of your attorneys and/or a mediator and have a judge sign off on it, which he or she will generally do as long as it’s in the best interests of your children. If you are unable to come to an agreement with the other parent, the court will decide for you by considering factors under the best interest of the child guidelines set out in state laws. This includes what both parents and the child want (if she or he is mature enough to express independent preferences), the relationships of all parties to each other, past parenting roles, current time commitments and other areas that play into the parent’s and child’s lives. The decisions made on parenting time will become part of an order known as a parenting plan.


Ability to make decisions

In other states, the ability to make decisions for your child in major areas, such as schooling, medical treatment and religion, is known as legal custody. In Colorado, it’s also part of the APR process and referred to as decision-making ability. Decision-making authority can be shared between both parents, who will then make joint decisions, or one parent can have the sole authority to make these important choices. As with parenting time, if you’re able to decide on this and make it part of your proposed parenting plan, the court is likely to approve it. If you can’t, the judge will decide for you after considering several factors, including the ability of both you and your co-parent to make joint decisions, how you made decisions regarding your children in the past, whether granting joint decision-making authority is ultimately in the child’s best interests, and whether either parent has ever been found guilty of child abuse or neglect or spousal abuse. A parent who has a past child abuse incident never receives the authority to make decisions. A parent who abused the other parent, however, may be granted this authority if the court has reason to believe that making joint decisions won’t pose a risk to the abused parent or the child in any way.

The final part of an APR process is often child support. This is determined by a formula that uses the combined pre-tax incomes of the parents to calculate a basic support calculation and then divides it based on income, parenting time and other considerations. However, the actual child support amount can be impacted by other factors, such as the extraordinary needs of the child, the other expenses a parent may be already paying (such as child care), and whether a parent is already paying support for another child. Cases with a high level of assets can also become more complex.

All of these matters will become part of your parenting plan, which can be enforced by the court if one parent is not abiding by its terms and modified if circumstances change.

While parenting time and custody are clearly related terms, they’re not exactly represented the same way in Colorado that they are in other states. In other states, physical custody and legal custody refer to which parent the child lives with and who can make decisions, while in Colorado, parenting time is the schedule each parent has with the child and decision-making authority represents legal custody.

If you’re going to be involved or are already involved in an APR process, speak to the experienced and dedicated attorneys at The Burnham Law Firm today. This is a serious process that will have an impact on your role as a parent and the amount of time you’re spending with your child. It’s important to have legal representation at your side for such a serious matter.