How to Get the Parenting Plan You Want
Critical Information for Parents Facing Separation and Divorce
IMPORTANT: Your child/children’s best interests are the judge’s only concern regarding your parenting plan. Joining the court in advocating for your child/children is a winning strategy for you both.
In 1999 Colorado did away with the old custody laws and became a Parental Responsibilities state. The most recent laws eliminate the word custody from the statute. Parents are now required to create a parenting plan that incorporates:
Decision-making, determines how decisions in the major areas of your child/children’s lives will be handled between the parents. These areas may include: health, education, religion, extracurricular activities, discipline, etcetera. If the parties cannot agree on an arrangement the court will order either joint decision-making or sole decision-making in one or all of the decision-making areas. Joint decision- making means that both parties have input, while sole decision-making gives all the responsibility for decision-making to one party. Sometimes the court will award sole-decision making for a specific area, like education, to one party, but award joint decision-making in other areas.
In general the court views joint decision-making as being in the best interest of your child/children. The court will award sole decision-making when there is evidence that communication between the parties is so poor that joint decision-making is impossible. A history of domestic violence often precludes joint decision-making, as does showing that one parent is controlling and argumentative to the point that joint decision-making is fruitless.
2) Parenting Time
Parenting time defines the amount of time each parent gets to spend with the child/children. One parent’s address will be designated as the legal residence for school and other purposes; understand that the time the child/children spend with each parent is not affected by the designation of the legal residence. Parenting time can range from a 50/50 split to supervised visitation. In general the court’s view is that children benefit from spending a lot of time with each parent. Restricted parenting is ordered only if there is evidence that it is absolutely necessary to protect the child/children.
The structure of parenting time can be very strict dictating the date, time, place and duration, or very loose allowing parents a lot of flexibility. Parenting plans address dates and times that are important to the parties involved including weekdays, weeknights, weekends, summer, holidays, birthdays, etcetera.
IMPORTANT: Showing anger or bitterness damages your child/children and your chances with a judge or CFI. You put yourself at a severe disadvantage when you demonstrate an inability to manage anger, and/or a failure to prioritize the best interests of your child/children.
In a contested custody case the court will decide what is best for your child/children based on what the judge learns about you and the other parent. Your attorney’s primary service is in ensuring your presentation to the court is maximally effective.
EDUCATION: In Colorado all parents seeking a parenting plan are required to complete a court-ordered parenting course. Your attorney may advise that you complete additional classes for which you will receive certifications that can be presented in court.
PREPARATION: In court you may need to answer questions from your attorney and from the opposing council. Your attorney will practice with and coach you in an effort to improve your performance and alleviate potential anxiety.
PRESENTATION: Your attorney will work very hard to present you to the judge in the best light possible, amplifying your strengths and mitigating any weaknesses. Please be thorough in your completion of the questions included in this packet. Your answers to these questions will greatly impact the strength and effectiveness of your attorney’s presentation.
Child and Family Investigator (CFI) and Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE)
When an agreement cannot be reached, one party may motion that a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) and/or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) be appointed by the court. In 2015 the guidelines changed, capping the cost of a CFI at $2750.00. There is no limit on the amount a PRE can charge (a retainer of $5000 is common), however PRE’s are subject to more stringent requirements including the ability to perform mental health evaluations. A complete custody evaluation will be done by the CFI/PRE who will make recommendations to the court regarding what should be included in the parenting plan.
IMPORTANT: Please take the time to watch our CFI/PRE Guidance video. The password is available from your paralegal or by calling our legal helpline (303) 409-3561.
It is critical that you make an excellent impression on the CFI/PRE. Your paralegal and attorney will explain to you the behaviors and conversations that are beneficial and must take place with the CFI/PRE. Of equal importance is understanding what should never be said or done in the presence of a CFI/PRE. Heeding this advice will keep you from making harmful and costly mistakes. The rules of proper conduct that follow are a good place to start regardless of whether a CFI/PRE is involved.
Please Follow These Rules of Proper Conduct
DON’T create negativity regarding the other parent. Never put a child in a position in which they have to choose between parents. Children almost always know how parents feel about each other. Children want to help their parents feel better, and often say what they think will please the parent with whom they are speaking.
DON’T involve your child/children in your divorce. Do not discuss the dissolution details with your child/children. Do not let any of the dissolution paperwork be seen by your child/children. Judges and CFI’s look very unfavorably upon a parent that places their child/children in the middle of a separation or divorce.
DON’T allow stepparents to be involved in your divorce. A stepparent should behave in a loving and supportive way toward their stepchild/children, and should never insert themselves into the negotiations between parents. Courts detest third parties escalating conflict.
DON’T make your child/children a part of planning or communicating between parents. Never use your children as messengers between parents. Never involve children in determining parenting time. As children get older they may have more input into workable schedules, but there is never a time when a child can choose which parent they prefer to live with.
DO show and tell your child/children that they are safe and you are capable and reliable. You are a role model for your child/children. Show them that you are constructive when facing difficulties. Be supportive of the other parent. Tell your child/children that both of their parents love them, and that you (not they) will work out any disputes. Insulate your child/children from your problems.
DO be reliable and honest. Create reasonable expectations for your child/children and live up to those expectations. Be on time for all visitation. Never cancel parenting time unless it is an absolute emergency. Make sure you can deliver on any promises you make to your child/children.
DO support and encourage your child/children’s relationship with the other parent. Prepare your child/children to spend time with the other parent by creating excitement and getting them organized. Encourage your child/children to have a great time. Keep an upbeat attitude.
DO demonstrate respect and courtesy toward the other parent. When exchanging your child/children with the other parent let your child/children hear you say something kind. You want your child/children to know there is mutual cooperation. Children will feel safe if they know they can rely on you to behave with integrity and character.
Preparing for a Contested Custody Case
Spend as much time as possible with your child/children.
IMPORTANT: If possible, do not move out of the family residence until a temporary order stipulating significant parenting time with your child/children is in place.
Since the courts desire to do what is in the best interest of children, often in a temporary orders hearing the judge will opt for keeping the child/children’s living arrangements consistent with their most recent experience. Make sure your child/children’s most recent schedule includes plenty of time with you.
In highly contested cases it may take more than a year to establish a permanent parenting plan. The courts, and if necessary a CFI/PRE, tend to view maintaining the status quo as beneficial to the child/children. It is very important that you maintain consistent and significant parenting time with your child/children.
Encourage a healthy relationship between your child/children and the other parent.
IMPORTANT: Never alienate your child/children against the other parent. The courts view alienation as severely detrimental to children.
You should not attempt to restrict or impair the other parent’s parenting time without a very good reason. The court will not require supervised visitation unless they find that a child is in physical or emotional danger from the other parent.
Colorado family law stipulates that the court should look at placing the minor child/children with the parent that will do the most to ensure the child/children’s healthy relationship with the other parent. The courts, and if necessary a CFI/pre, will be looking for a parent that encourages their child/children’s positive relationship with the other parent. You will pay a huge price for trying to alienate your child/children against the other parent.
Help your attorney help you!
IMPORTANT: The judge must order what he/she believes is in the best interest of your children. Together we must show the judge that your plan is in the best interest of your child/children.
In order to build the strongest case possible, your attorney needs as much information about you, your values, and your parenting history as possible. Please take the time to prepare thoughtful answers to the questions on the following pages.
Thank you in advance for spending your time on these topics. Your effort and honesty in completing these questions will greatly impact our ability to advocate successfully for what you most value.
Preparing for a Contested Custody Case
- Outline your child/children’s physical, mental, and emotional state. Please list everything that impacts your child/children. Explain how you positively or negatively contribute to your child/children’s condition. Explain how the other parent positively or negatively affects your child/children.
- List your goals for your child/children’s future. It is important for the courts, and if necessary the CFI/PRE, to know your short and long term goals regarding your child/children’s development. List the educational, extracurricular, and recreational activities you want available to your child/children.
- Describe in detail your child/children’s extracurricular and recreational activities. Describe your participation in and encouragement of these activities.
- Explain why your child/children benefit from your being the primary decision-maker. For all relevant decision-making areas please explain what experience, education, and/or temperament you possess that will promote your child/children’s health and well-being.
- State all the positive and negative incidents impacting your child/children.
a) List in detail the positive behaviors and events you have afforded your child/children.
b) List in detail the negative behaviors and events to which you have exposed your child/children.
c) List in detail the negative behaviors and events to which the other parent has exposed your child/children.
Negative events should include all criminal accusations and convictions, all drug and alcohol issues, and all happenings for which we may need to defend or explain your conduct.
- Provide details regarding your child/children’s physical environment. Describe in detail your neighborhood, your home, and your child/children’s rooms at your house. Explain how your child/children benefit from time spent in the atmosphere you have created for them. Include a detailed account of any concerns you have regarding your child/children’s living environment at the other parent’s house.
- List your child/children’s relatives and friends and describe these relationships. Include detailed descriptions of the time and activities your child/children experience with these people. Please include both positive and negative information.
- Describe your child/children’s school dynamics. Your child/children’s grades, behavioral history, social development, sports and extracurricular involvement are all important to your case. Describe how you contribute to your child/children’s education and school environment. Include homework help and volunteer activities. Supporting and empowering your child/children can be hard to balance. How are your child/children appropriately, and inappropriately supported and empowered by you and the other parent.
- List all potential witnesses for your case. Witnesses can be anyone that can shed light on your case: doctors, teachers, therapists, family members, friends, etcetera. Be comprehensive. We do not want surprises.
a) Provide the full name, phone numbers, email addresses, and addresses for any potential positive witnesses for you and negative witnesses against you.
b) Provide the full name, phone numbers, email addresses, and addresses for any potential positive witnesses for the other parent and negative witnesses against the other parent.
c) Let all potential witnesses know that we will be contacting them to determine exactly to what they can testify, and if necessary whether their names will be given to a CFI.
- Gather all potential exhibits for your case. Exhibits may be evidence of misconduct like police records, or evidence of well-being like report cards, church attendance, or a doctor’s evaluation. All potential exhibits need to be received by our office no later than 90 days prior to the final hearing as we need to provide copies to opposing counsel no later than 60 days prior to the final hearing. Again, surprises are bad, please be thorough in providing both positive and negative documentation.
- Provide a history of all employability problems you or the other parent have experienced.
- Provide a history of all residences and employers for you and the other parent. A short list of addresses and employers shows stability which the court views very favorably.
- Provide a history of any mental illness suffered by you or the other parent. Include the diagnosis, seriousness, and treatment.
- Provide a history of any physical problem suffered by you or the other parent that could impact the ability to parent.
- Explain the dynamics within your immediate family. Describe how the child/children at issue relate to their siblings and/or stepparents.
- Provide a history of parenting time since the date of separation. If your time with your child/children has been limited, describe all your attempts to increase your parenting time and the reactions of the other parent. If the other parent denied you parenting time, include the reason and the circumstances.
- Provide a history of your education and the education of the other parent. Include all degrees, licenses, certificates, and any parenting classes either party has completed.
- Detail any potential parenting conflicts inherent in your or the other parent’s work schedule.
- Provide a history of earning potential for you and the other parent. Outline which party has demonstrated the greater financial ability to care for the child/children. Include the general work history of both parties since the birth of your child/children, and how that history impacted the stability of the marital home.
- Make a list of problems you foresee related to parenting time. For example, transportation issues like the loss of a driver’s license or living very far apart should be included.
- Describe in detail the parenting time schedule you believe is in the best interest of your child/children. Include details regarding school days, weekends, summers, holidays, birthdays, etcetera.
- Describe any discipline issues with which you are concerned. Do the methods of discipline employed by the other parent concern you? Is the other parent concerned about your discipline philosophy?
- Describe how you do, will, and could encourage a healthy strong relationship with the other parent. Also, describe how the other parent does and/or doesn’t encourage a strong relationship between you and your child/children.
- Describe the care your child/children have experienced since birth. List which parent changes diapers, gets up in the middle of the night, treats injuries and illnesses, takes the child/children to doctor’s appointments, picks up the child/children from activities, volunteers at school, organizes birthday parties, tucks the child/children into bed, etcetera. Who has been the primary caregiver at different stages of the child/children’s lives?
- List the names of all teachers, pediatricians, dentists, coaches, anyone with whom the child/children have had close contact. It is important for you to know the names of these people. If the other parent does not know the names of these people please note that here.
- Describe a typical week and weekend night before your separation. Include the division of labor between you and the other parent in regards to your child/children.
- Describe your family. Include the closeness of your relationship with your parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. Explain how the closeness of your family impacts the lives of your child/children. How do your family dynamics compare to the other parent’s family dynamics.
- Describe any behavior from your relatives, or the relatives of the other parent that gives you cause for concern.
- Do you or the other parent have problems related to substance abuse? Describe any issues related to drugs and alcohol.
- Describe anything you have witnessed the other parent do to demean or belittle you in front of the child/children.
If you have further information to add please do so.
If you are serious about having the judge approve the parenting plan you believe is in the best interest of your child/children, take the time to complete this questionnaire in great detail. The importance of this task cannot be overstated.
Your attorney will very skillfully present you to the court in the best light possible. The quality of that light depends entirely upon you being forthcoming and detailed in your responses to the preceding questions. Withholding information because you think it will hurt your case, will hurt your case. A complete and compelling presentation by your attorney is the only way to persuade the court. Building a complete and compelling case requires your very candid and thorough responses to all of these questions. Thank you again for taking the time to do your best work on this questionnaire.
How the Court Makes Decisions in a Contested Custody Case
The following information is based upon Colorado family law statutes and more than four decades of experience practicing Colorado family law. Understanding how the court views your case will reduce your level of frustration and help you provide effective information for building your case.
Some elements the court will consider:
- The physical, mental, and emotional needs of your child/children These needs vary with the age and development level of your child/children.
- Independent preferences When child/children are mature enough to express reasoned and independent preferences, those preferences will be taken into consideration by the courts.
- Interactions/relationships between your child/children and people that affect their well-being When you encourage a healthy relationship between your child/children and the other parent the court looks favorably upon you. Disruption of normal healthy relationships during or shortly after a separation can be very detrimental to your child/children.
- Your child/children’s adjustment to their current home, school, and community Stability in areas unrelated to parents is important to your child/children, though alone this is not a basis for denying or restricting parenting time.
- The proximity of your home to the other parent’s home Logistics are necessarily affected by how far parents live from each other. Parents cannot co- parent in different cities the way they can in the same neighborhood.
- A history of child abuse or neglect and/or a history of spousal abuse Please note that allegations and suspicions are not enough. In order to restrict parenting time there must be credible evidence of abuse.
- Past patterns of involvement with your child/children exhibited by you and the other parent The court will determine whether mutual decision-making will afford your child/children a positive and nurturing environment. Values, time commitment, mutual support, ability to compromise and a record of putting your child/children’s need first will influence the court’s decision. Your history of conflict resolution with the other parent will affect the court’s determination.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to provide the information upon which we will build your very strongest case. We are grateful for the opportunity to advocate for you and what is best for your child/children.