I originally was going to title this blog, “Dads Matter,” but I changed it to the present title because both parents matter in the lives of their children. The impact of a parent will be for either good or bad depending upon the choices each parent makes, but there will be an impact one way or another. In my own life I cannot overstate the influence of my parents in my life. My father told me he loved me for the first time the night before I married. I was 20 years old, but I remember him sitting on my bed and telling me. It was great to hear it, but he had told me in so many ways while I was growing up it was almost unnecessary for him to say the words. My dad is 88, and I speak to him weekly as do my siblings. We honor him for his influence in our lives. Too often in domestic cases involving children, parenting time and child support I see one parent or the other using the children as a weapon and treating the children as a possession. Never think your children will not see through this behavior; they will. It may take a while but ultimately kids see things as they are. My counsel to parents going through a divorce is to be the best parent you can be without disparaging the other. As I said, one way or another your influence will be felt.
Moreover judges see through bad behavior as well. I will be candid, most judges do not give nearly the attention to dividing property in a divorce as they do figuring out what to do with children and how to formulate a parenting plan. Do not be the parent who tells the kids to call their mother by her first name; do not be the parent who tells the kids what a bad person their father is. If you engage in these behaviors you will likely see your own parenting time reduced.
Colorado does not recognize a “tender years” doctrine, meaning that it does not presume mothers are best suited to raise a child before a certain age. In fact, the Colorado legislature has specifically stated that fathers have a right to co-parent their children. What this means is that absent bad behavior by one parent both parents will have a right to be involved in the lives of their children.
Of course, if a parent is involved in drugs or has an alcohol problem or another serious issue their parenting time can be restricted. Even in these circumstances the court will insist on a plan in which that parent can re-enter their children’s lives.
It is important to note that child support and parenting time are separate concepts. Failure to pay child support does not preclude that party from having parenting time. Child support itself is based upon the gross incomes of both parents, the number of children of the relationship and the number of overnights with the children each parent has. The parent paying for additional costs for the children of a marriage or relationship will get a credit for a portion of these expenses. It is possible for a court to impute income to a person if they are under-employed or not working. This will be done at the rate the court believes they can reasonably expect to earn.
Tax exemptions for the kids, absent an agreement between the parents, will be assigned in proportion to income. For example, if one parent is contributing 75% of the overall support for the kids that parent will claim the dependency exemptions for them 3 of every 4 years.
My counsel, if you are in a custody dispute, is to take the long view. There will very likely be a relationship with the other parent until the kids are age 19 and have graduated from high school. Remember what I began with: each parent will have an impact on their children one way or another, so man or woman up!
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