What is a Parenting Plan?
In Colorado, parents have to submit a parenting plan when they are going through the divorce process. This plan can be filled out jointly, or if a mutual agreement can't be reached, a judge will make the decision on parental rights.
A parenting plan includes several important decisions that fall into two main categories: decision-making and actual parenting time. Both parties will need to agree on which parent should make decisions for which aspects of a child's life, such as education or health, or if those decisions should be made jointly. You also need to discuss and agree upon how often each of you will see the children and when you will spend time with them.
Finding a way to share custody of your children with their other parent after divorce can be a frustrating process. Many parents who truly have their children's best interests at heart may still struggle to get used to a much different schedule of custody, especially when one or both parents' bad behavior affects the other's parenting time.
Some parents fail to understand that their custody orders are legally binding documents, not suggestions from the family court. If one parent keeps the other parent from enjoying all the parenting time that their custody order outlines, they may face significant consequences, including loss of parenting privileges.
If you suspect that your child's other parent is not respecting your custody time, make sure to deal with these concerns directly. A strong understanding of the legal tools and guidance you have available can keep your rights and privileges protected while ensuring your child's best interests remain secure.
Lost Parenting Time
When a parent misses out on court-ordered custody time, sometimes the solution is as simple as lining up replacement custody days to make up for the loss. Few parents are able to obey a custody order all of the time because life does not always make it easy or even possible.
One parent may have an emergency or face transportation difficulties that cause complications, for instance. This is not generally the kind of obstruction that warrants legal action.
However, if one parent's behavior or negligence keeps the other parent from physically spending their parent time with their child as the custody order outlines it, this may qualify as direct parenting time interference. While accidents and unavoidable conflicts happen to everyone, patterns of ignoring your custody schedule may justify protecting your parenting time with a legal strategy.
Direct and Indirect Parenting Time Interference
There are numerous ways one parent may interfere with another's parenting time. In general, courts break this down into direct and indirect interference.
Direct interference generally includes behavior that prevents one parent from physically spending time with a child. If, for instance, one parent repeatedly conceals visitation, or repeatedly shows up late to drop off a child at the agreed up on place, these may qualify as direct interference. Direct interference may also include very extreme actions like taking a child and moving to another state without the other parent's knowledge or permission.
Indirect parenting time interference is more difficult to identify, but is still a serious violation. Indirect interference occurs when one parent undermines the relationship between their child and the other parent or manipulates the child against the other parent. It is not possible to list all the ways this may happen here, because people are creative when it comes to these issues.
Indirect interference may include:
- Preventing the other parent from speaking to their child on the phone or through mobile devices
- Withholding gifts from the other parent to the child
- Talking negatively about the other parent around the child
- Instructing the child to spy on the other parent
Some couples choose to address this issue by including specific language in the parenting agreement that restricts inference specifically and lists the remedies for certain behavior.
Often, parenting time interference is part of a larger, more complex conflict. For instance, if one parent fails to pay child support on time or in full, the receiving parent may try to use parenting time as leverage to compel the other parent to pay owed support.
However, the court does not see these issues as being related. If one parent tries to compel another to pay child support through limiting his or her parenting time, the court is likely to penalize the obstructing parent, not the one who owes support. Child support is the right of the child, not the parent, and must remain separate in parenting conflicts.
Focus on the Needs of Your Children, Not Your Own
When the courts decide how to allocate parental responsibilities in a divorce, the focus should always be on the best interests of the children. The same is true for you and your ex. You should always do your best to make decisions that reflect the social, emotional and physical needs of your children before all else. That means you need to consider if additional time with you outweighs disruption of the established routine in their lives.
The courts will generally want to protect the children's relationships with both parents, barring situations involving domestic violence or substance abuse. When you seek a modification for increased parenting time, it's often a wise choice to frame your request from the perspective of providing additional support for the children and building the relationship. Especially in cases where your ex is alienating you from the children, establishing the importance of your relationship with them is crucial.
There are Many Reasons to Seek a Modification to Parenting Time
There are countless reasons why a parent needs to ask the courts to reconsider the allocation of parental responsibilities. Perhaps you failed to adequately advocate for yourself during the initial divorce, resulting in a poor outcome with limited parenting time for you. Maybe you had issues, ranging from loss of a job to military service, that precluded you providing a home and care for a while.
Other issues that can result in uneven division of parenting time include substance abuse, a history of spousal or child abuse, and even refusing to comply with temporary support and visitation orders during divorce proceedings. People in any of these situations have the right to seek a modification of the parenting plan and increased time with their children.
Even parents who receive little parenting time or visitation due to addiction or behavioral problems can seek a modification. Evidence of rehabilitation, addiction therapy or counseling to address mental health issues can demonstrate to the courts your willingness to put the needs of your children first. Protecting your time and relationship with your children is a worthwhile endeavor.