What factors are child custody agreements based on? I think what we’re talking about here is two people trying to come to an agreement on custody and what factors should you look at in coming to that agreement. One of the first things I would want to know is, obviously, I’d want to know all the facts and circumstances around this custody agreement. Do the parents get along? Do the parents not get along? Is there a question of endangerment in some sense with the children or do we have two parents that are solid, good parents?
Why I ask that question is really about factor number one. Before you start a custody agreement, you really need to know what standard are we dealing with if, in fact, this ever had to go to court. Normally speaking, the standard you’d be dealing with in developing a custody agreement is what’s in the best interest of the child. That’s our lowest standard in terms of the hump one would need to get over in using evidence or proof, so best interest of the child. However, there are some circumstances where a higher standard might be necessary, and that would be an endangerment standard. That’s if the facts and circumstances show that there is a potential endangerment to the children in terms of being with one or both of the parents. First question, is there an endangerment or are we just dealing with best interest of the child standard?
The second is that you should understand public policy and how that works in Colorado. The public policy here in Colorado regarding custody arrangements is that it is in the best interest of the children to have good, solid relationships with both parents. The idea that the parents, even if they don’t get along, you’re not really looking at just how the parents deal with one another, you’re looking at what is in the best interest of the child, which is to have a good relationship with Mom and a good relationship with Dad.
If you’re looking for a custody arrangement where you want to cut out the other parent, you’d really prefer that you had full custody and the other parent didn’t have very much visitation at all, you have to understand that that public policy is in the background. If you want to have full custody and have the other parent have little or no time with the child, you really are going to have to prove there’s an endangerment to have that happen.
Another factor is what type of custody arrangement are you looking for? What do you think would be in your children’s best interest? I wanted to talk a little bit about fifty/fifty custody here in Colorado. Colorado has a pretty strong track record of allowing fifty/fifty custody or feeling like the policy, the public policy I spoke about before about a strong relationship with both parents, that that actually is forwarded by fifty/fifty custody. I have a personal opinion about that. I think that fifty/fifty custody is wonderful if the parents get along well and co-parent well.
If the parents are hostile to one another, fifty/fifty custody can be very, very difficult for the children because they’re flopping between, obviously, households. If the parents aren’t getting along and they don’t parent in the same way, it can be confusing for the children, depending on the children’s ages. I think it’s important to note when you are looking at what factors are looked at, that fifty/fifty custody is something that should be considered and maybe even looked at in terms of how can we as parents do a good job with fifty/fifty custody, if that’s the direction you’re looking at and going in.
Another factor is being age-appropriate in your custody arrangement. It’s very different if you have an infant, obviously, than if you have a twelve- or fifteen-year-old in terms of how would you design parenting time. There are experts here in Colorado that you can use, and I always recommend going to a child developmental specialist if you have questions about really what is in the best interest of my child or children, given their ages, not so much what’s fair for the parents. “I want fifty percent. I want fifty percent.” Okay, I got that. That’s the parents feeling possessive and I understand that. I’m a parent. I know how I would feel about that. The question the court’s looking at is what’s in the best interest of the child or children.
Having an expert talk about, well, if you have a five-month-old infant, what kind of parenting is appropriate if you’re not living together. I’ve heard experts speak about when a child is an infant how short , frequent visits are very important, one or two times a day, but not long periods of time away from the primary parent, the parent that is caring for the child most of the time when they’re an infant. Oftentimes, that’s the mother. The mother might be breastfeeding. There’s reasons to have a custody arrangement that just isn’t fifty/fifty when a child is that young.
Those kinds of conversations, what’s best for these children, are appropriate to have really at any age. I always recommend going to a child developmental specialist and really coming up with a plan that’s good for the parents, but in most part is really the best for the children involved. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s the ages of the children; it’s the personalities of the children; it’s the special needs of the children. All of those things should be taken into consideration. Sometimes when people are upset over a divorce situation and feel defensive, they’re not looking at the factors that really they should be looking at, so it’s very important to take a deep breath and get some expert advice and come up with a parenting plan that you and your children can live with long-term.