Why “Parenting Time” and not “Custody”

Family law in Colorado is different than almost anywhere else in the country.  We are blessed with an active and progressive bar association and bench (lawyers and judges) that takes an active role in making the law as good as possible.  Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly not perfect.  But it is much better than many other states out there.  One of the big differences in Colorado is that we don’t have “custody“, we have “parenting time” and “decision making.”

When I first heard this in law school I thought it was silly.  What does the name matter?  What we’re talking about is who has the kids, isn’t it the same either way?  Turns out that it is much more than a name.   When a parent has custody in the traditional sense it is an all or nothing matter.  The parent who is awarded custody has most of the time with the child and has the right to make all of the decisions without having to consult with the other parent.  That means that a parent who looses custody really is cut out of a lot of the child’s life.  So it makes sense that the parents would fight tooth and nail to get to have custody of the kids.  Who wants to be cut out of their child’s life?

Allowing a judge to decide parenting time and decision making separately means that it is not an all or nothing battle.  Even if one parent only gets every other weekend, he or she can still be involved in making decisions for the child like where they go to school or what medical procedures to approve with the doctor.  That way even if the parent doesn’t get to see the child much they still get to be an active part of their lives.

Language also makes a huge difference.  My professor (the excellent Prof. Clarie Huntington who sadly left CU for greener pastures) said that Colorado attorneys who were around when the terminology changed reported that just changing the words had a huge effect on the parents and the courts.  They realized that the point of caring for children is sharing the responsibility between the parents.  Just using a different term made all the difference in the world.  And it’s true when you think of it.  Colorado lawyers, courts and CFIs all now refer to it as a parent enjoying parenting time, or exercising parenting time, not a parent having custody.  Having custody is a possessive word, it seems like noone else can have it if you have it.  However, if you are exercising or enjoying your parenting time, you are sharing the time with the child with the other parent.  And in most situations that is as it should be.

Remember that while you are ending your relationship with your significant other your child still sees that other person as their father or mother.  It is important that you as the parent as us as lawyers foster a good relationship with both parents.  Only then will the child grow up to be a healthy, whole person.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this page is intended as legal advice, and should not be taken as legal advice.  If you have a question you should consult with a lawyer.  Meggin is certified to practice law only in the state of Colorado.  Because of Colorado’s specific and often progressive laws this information will probably not apply to any other state.  If you live in another state you should consult with a lawyer near you.  This post does not confer any attorney client relationship, and no such relationship is formed until you and I have entered into an express contract.  If you have any questions about any information on my blog please contact me at Meggin at MRutherfordLaw.com .

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