Do you want to be an involved parent, or a visiting parent?

Although Colorado changed the laws to remove the term “Visitation” and replace it with “Parenting Time”, it is still fairly common for attorneys, courts and mental health professionals to think along the lines of the traditional stereotypical gender roles for mother and father in child raising (mother’s take care of the children and father’s work to support the family) when formulating parenting plans.

Parenting plans determine when the children are in mother’s care and when they are in father’s care.  They usually track the school year and take into account holidays and school breaks.

A traditional non-custodial (usually fathers) plan is every other weekend and a mid-week “dinner” visit — this can be described as more like “visitation” and is sometimes negatively referred to as the “Disneyland Dad” arrangement:  mother takes care of the children, father pays child support and spends time with the kids a couple of weekends a month and entertains them.  The plan deprives the children of a significant and meaningful relationship with dad and burdens mother with most of the child-rearing duties.  It is not a shared parenting time plan.

Equally shared parenting plans are where both parents provide care for the children on a 50/50 time basis.  The children have significant and ongoing relationships with both mom and dad.  They work best when the parents live near each other and close to the children’s school.

When the children are younger, the shared parenting schedule may be a “5-2-2-5” plan or a similar variation.  The “5-2-2-5” plan provides that the parents alternate weekends from Friday though Sunday, and one parent always has Monday and Tuesday and the other parent always has Wednesday and Thursday.  The days counted under the shared parenting plans are always overnights.  The “5” refers to when the weekend is counted with the weekdays (Friday – Tuesday overnight or Wednesday – Sunday overnight); the “2” refers to the weekdays without a weekend being attached.  For example: if dad has every Wednesday and Thursday, then it would look like Wed, Thur, Fri, Sat & Sun (5 overnights) with dad; then Mon & Tues (2 overnights) with mom; then Wed & Thurs (2 overnights) with dad; then Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon & Tues (5 overnights) with mom.  The schedule repeats every week with the weekends alternating between the parents.

When the children are older, the parenting plan may be a week on, week off schedule where each parent provides care for seven days and then the other parent provides care for seven days.  The exchange day between the parents is usually on the weekend, but may be any day of the week that works for both parties,  Typically the exchange time is in the late afternoon or evening.

An advantage of both the 5-2-2-5 and the week on/off schedules is that exchanges can take place using the school or daycare as the transfer location where one parent drops off and the other parent picks up.  If there is no school or daycare, then exchanges can take place at the residence (curbside) of each parent or other neutral venue.

Child support is affected by the parenting plan.  Colorado uses two different support worksheets:  Worksheet A is used when there are less than 93 overnights per year; Worksheet B is used when each parent has at least 93 overnights with the children each year.  With an equally shared parenting plan, the overnights are usually calculated as 182 and 183 with the 183 overnights going to the parent who pays the childcare costs directly to the provider and takes the income tax credit (on the worksheet, the after-tax credit amount is used).  Worksheet B child support is usually lower than the Worksheet A amount as it is presumed that both parents contribute to the children’s expenses in addition to the amount of support paid.

Post-decree modification of parenting plan schedules is also affected by whether the parenting time is equally shared or not.  If the parenting time is equally shared, then changes or modifications in parenting time is determined on a “best-interests” standard.  If the time is not equally shared, and the minority time parent seeks to have more parenting time and become the majority time parent over the objection of the other parent, then the minor parent must prove that the children are endangered unless the parenting time schedule is changed.

Parenting Plans also specify how major decisions are made for the children.  Major decisions include choice of school, medical providers, religious training, extracurricular activities and other significant events.  Major decisions are not the routine day-to-day decisions — these types of decisions are typically made by the parent having the physical care of the child at the time.  Major decision-making authority may be allocated to either one or both parents.  When both parents share decision-making authority, neither parent may act unilaterally and a joint decision is required.

Between parenting time and decision-making, parenting time is probably the most important because the parent will have the ability to influence their children on a daily basis whereas the need to make a major decision usually occurs only once in a while.

For a parent wanting to share the benefits and burdens of raising their children with the other parent, equally sharing the responsibilities (50/50) is very important from the start.  Less than equal, means that the other parent may always have the “upper hand” in both raising and making decisions for the children.  The children need both parents in their lives.

The information provided above is general in nature, is not intended as legal advice for your particular situation and should not be relied upon without first consulting with legal counsel.  Martin Law Firm provides legal representation in custody and parenting time matters in the Denver Colorado metro area and will tailor its services to your particular needs and unique circumstances.