There is currently pending before the Colorado State Senate a bill that purports to “preserve the parent-child relationship in domestic actions.” As is often the case in politics, the title of the bill is incredibly misleading. It would, in fact, have entirely the opposite effect of what it claims.
The bill claims to “protect” the parent-child relationship by forcing all judges to impose a 50/50 parenting plan on all families, regardless of the circumstances, unless doing so would “endanger” children. On its face, this may sound well and good. However, a closer look reveals the damage to children that this bill, if enacted, would cause.
Parents have a constitutionally protected right to raise their children as they see fit. This right is enforced by the State of Colorado. The state cannot take your children away except in extreme circumstances such as abuse, neglect or abandonment. In all other circumstances, judges must make orders that promote meaningful relationships with both parents.
Currently, judges must craft parenting plans that are in the child’s “best interest.” “Best interest” is a legal term that is specifically defined in the Colorado Revised Statutes. The court is required to take into consideration not less than 12 specific factors in making a determination as to what parenting plan is in a child’s “best interest.”
This bill would force a 50/50 arrangement on all children, in all circumstances. Unless one parent could prove that the child would be “endangered,” that child is stuck with a 50/50 arrangement. “Endangerment” is another term with specific legal meaning. It means that the parenting plan would “endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.” It is very difficult to prove.
Domestic violence: Current research indicates that in cases of domestic violence, it is in the children’s best interest to have less contact with the perpetrator, not more. Children experience trauma when they are a part of family systems characterized by domestic violence and should have limited contact with the perpetrator, not 50/50. The perpetrator should be the one who has to prove that the children would not be endangered by additional parenting time
Newborns and Infants: A breastfeeding newborn may well do better living primarily with the mother and having frequent contact with the father. This contact can (and oftentimes should) be daily. But a 50/50 overnight parenting plan is generally not appropriate for newborns. An infant has different needs than a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old or a 15-year-old. Substantially equal parenting time is often time not in a child’s best interest at different stages of development.
Absent Parents: Tellingly, this bill specifically eliminates one of the current best interests standards which is the “past pattern of involvement with the child.” Parents can be absent for a variety of reasons (good or bad). But whatever the reason, the child is settled into his or her life and routine and doesn’t know the absent parent well, if at all. Under this bill, the child’s life could be interrupted at anytime the absent parent decided to show up. The child would be forced to suddenly spend 50% of their time with someone they barely know, who hasn’t been involved, or with whom they have a toxic relationship. This is an obvious example of a situation where less parenting time would be better, at least to start. This bill would curtail the court’s ability to order a plan where a parent gradually has more time with the child.
Under a “best interests” standard a parent must be child-centered if they want equal parenting time. They are motivated to build strong, healthy and loving bonds with their child, get involved with homework and other activities, move closer to the school if they can, and generally work towards their child’s best interests.
Under the “endangerment” standard proposed under this bill, the parent only has to parent to a level where their child is not “endangered.” They can otherwise rest on their laurels, assured that their so-called rights to one-half of their children’s time will be preserved.
How is that good for kids? It’s not. Read more on Colorado Family Law.
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