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Colorado Child Custody: Parenting Time and Infants

babyBy: Jessica A. Saldin

A common question for all people with children facing a divorce case or custody matter is what a typical parenting time schedule may be.  That question is all the more unique, and complex, for divorce and custody cases involving infants and very young children. Unfortunately, it is not an easy question to answer.  Just like cases involving older children, the standard when determining a parenting time schedule is the best interest of the child standard– a nine factor test set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-124.

In Colorado there is no “standard” or “typical” or “model” parenting plan, regardless of the age of the children.  However, if your case is in Adams County, they often issue a trial management order that provides references for age appropriate parenting time suggestions- notably the parenting time guidelines and suggestions from Arizona and Indiana.  Therefore, these websites provided by Adams County may provide helpful suggestions when trying to craft a parenting plan that is best for your young child- though they are no way binding, or even relied upon, in Colorado.  Even in Adams County, the county that references these suggestions, they are not automatic or even standard.  In all my years practicing family law, I have never seen a magistrate or judge even reference the parenting time suggestions from other states, let alone follow them.  However, if you have a case in Adams County and like the parenting time suggestions from either of these states, you could, as part of your hearing, reference such suggestions and note to the trial judge that they are the suggestions referenced in the court’s own trial management order.

Without a model or suggested parenting time schedule, though, it can be hard to determine what may be best for your children, especially when they are infants.  With older children, it is often thought that a fifty-fifty schedule can be best so that they have equal parenting time with each parent (though not mandated or always applied).  However, with infants, it is obviously less clear as it is important to be cognizant of the infant’s need for security and stability, while also ensuring the infant has the opportunity to develop bonds with each parent.  

It is commonly understood and accepted that, for infants and young children, frequent time and contact with both parents is important.  For parents that the child knows, and has bonded with (for example, parents that resided in the same household before the split, parents that were sharing time with the child, etc.), this can even mean sharing overnights with the minor child.  There are studies that have shown the routine of bedtime itself can provide a bonding experience for the child and the parent.  Therefore, it is not always just about the amount of time a parent can have with the child but the type of parenting time that is best for the child.

Additionally, while common concerns are raised about a child’s feeding schedule, naptime, etc., they are not determinative of parenting time.  For example, just because one parent breastfeeds, it does not prevent the other parent from having frequent, and even overnight, parenting time with the minor child.  This is not to say that breastfeeding is not important or relevant as relates to development and security and it is something to be discussed with your attorney.  That said, generally the court is very aware that there are other ways to provide sufficient nutrients to the child and, therefore, often do not find the breastfeeding argument persuasive when determining parenting time.  Similarly, a child’s naptime is not determinative of parenting time and does not form a basis to limit one parent’s time.  Unless one parent is living in a situation where there is not a safe place for the child to nap, the court is aware of the fact that the child can nap at either parent’s residence and that, often, learning to nap in both homes help the child develop a bond, and become comfortable at, both homes.  The court will often be cognizant of the child’s naptime when determining the exchange times, though, so as to not order an exchange during naptime.

If the child is not as well bonded with both parents (i.e., situations where one parent has been primary and the other parent has been less involved with the child) the court may order a slower, step-up (increasing) parenting time schedule.  Step-up parenting time schedules, regardless of the prior relationship between the parents and the child are not uncommon, but they are more common when ensuring the child has sufficient time to become familiar with, and bond with, the parent before parenting time increases.  Also, in these situations, the court may order the non-primary parent to complete additional parenting classes (in addition to the one class required by the court when any divorce or custody case is commenced).  There are some classes offered that teach parents certain skills for dealing with infants, learning how to care for their needs, etc., that can be helpful even if the court has not ordered it.  If you are facing a case regarding an infant and have not spent much one on one time with the infant, taking these types of classes can be a good way to show the court your commitment for doing what is best for your child and that you have the knowledge to properly care for them.

Ultimately, the schedule that is best for your child, of any age, is the schedule that is best for them, considering their age, development, bond with each parent, and all the other best interest factors.  If you are struggling with coming up with a parenting time schedule that best suits your child, it may be beneficial to seek the assistance of an expert, such as a child therapist or a court appointed child and family investigator that can help give insight as to what the best schedule is for your child.