Do changing circumstances dictate that you modify a parenting plan in Colorado? Learn when you do, and do not, need the court’s involvement.
Even The Best Laid Plans Don’t Always Stand The Test of Time
Because, as the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change,” many divorced parents in Colorado may need to modify a parenting plan that was previously acceptable. Even the most thoughtful and thorough parenting plans don’t always fit with the circumstances and needs of parents and their children as years go by. When that happens, and one or both parents want to adjust the schedules or parenting time contained in a plan, can they do so on their own, or must they get a judge’s approval?
Minor, Isolated Modifications By Agreement
Whether you can modify a parenting plan without going to court largely depends on the nature of the desired modification. For minor scheduling adjustments, such as which parent will pick up a child from school on a specific day or a one-time switch of parenting time on a holiday, there is usually no need to go to court – so long as both parties agree to such a modification.
However, since these adjustments are verbal only and not part of the court-approved parenting plan, a judge likely would not enforce any agreed-upon adjustments if one parent sought to do so.
Parenting Time Modifications and Restrictions Require Court Approval
On the other hand, if the desired adjustment changes parenting time, living arrangements, decision-making, and other significant matters, parents must go to court and get a judge’s approval – even if they both agree to the proposed modification. Just as a Colorado judge must sign off on an agreed-upon initial parenting plan during divorce proceedings, they will need to approve any modifications to the plan to ensure they are in the child’s best interest.
Colorado law (CRS 14-10-129) establishes a process for modifying a parenting plan and sets forth the factors the judge must consider when approving or denying a requested change. Those factors all relate to the child’s best interests but vary depending on the nature of the requested change.
Often, one parent wants to modify a parenting plan because the parent with whom the child resides most of the time wants to relocate due to employment or other reasons. If that desired relocation makes a significant difference in the geographical ties between the other parent and the child, and the other parent objects to the move, a judge will consider several factors when evaluating a relocation request, including:
- Requesting parent’s reasons for seeking to relocate with the child;
- Reasons why the opposing parent objects to the proposed relocation;
- History and quality of the child’s relationship with each parent since any previous parenting time order;
- Child’s educational opportunities at the existing location and the proposed new location;
- Whether there is the presence or absence of extended family at the existing location and the new location;
- The potential benefits of the child staying with their primary guardian;
- The expected consequences to the child of the relocation;
- Whether the court can create a suitable plan for parenting time if the relocation is authorized;
- And any other applicable considerations related to the best interest of the child.
Restricting Parenting Time
Sometimes, a parent seeks to modify a parenting plan because of genuine concerns about their child’s safety and well-being when spending time with the other parent. In such cases, they may seek to restrict or place other limitations on that parent’s parenting time.
According to Colorado regulations, a court cannot restrict a parent’s parenting time rights without evidence that the parenting time is hazardous to the child’s physical health or have a negative effect on their emotional growth. Along with this, the court is obligated to present concrete findings to affirm the restriction when it is included in any parenting time directive.
Substantial Modification of Parenting Time: Two-Year Wait To Modify a Parenting Plan Again
Colorado law recognizes that while circumstances may justify modifications to a parenting plan, repeated changes and disruptions to a child’s schedule and living arrangements are usually undesirable. That is why the law limits how often a parent can file a motion to modify a parenting plan substantially – such as changing with whom the child primarily resides. Whether such a request was previously granted or denied, a court will not consider any subsequent motion filed within two years after the decision on the prior motion unless:
- the child’s current environment may endanger their physical health or significantly impair their emotional development; or
- he parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time intends to move to a place that significantly alters the child’s geographic connection to the other parent.
Need to Modify a Parenting Plan?
If you or your former spouse want or need to modify your existing parenting plan, consult an experienced Colorado Springs child custody lawyer who can assist you with the process and protect your interests and your child’s well-being.