By: Sarah T. McCain
Do parenting time schedules have to be the same for two kids? The simple answer is, “no.” In recent months, numerous articles have highlighted the divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Receiving specific attention are the allegations of altercations between Pitt and their oldest child of the six kids they share. This has seemingly (from a tabloid perspective) resulted in him seeing all of his children on a very infrequent basis, if he has seen them at all. Not much of anything has been in the news regarding his relationships with his other kids. Presuming that there is an issue between him and the eldest child, not of an abusive nature, should his relationship with the remaining five children track on the same schedule as that of the elder child with whom there are problems? No. It is possible to have the children on differing schedules dependent on their needs and the relationship. Of course Brad and Angelina are divorcing elsewhere, I believe California, not Colorado. Regardless, their case can certainly be viewed through the lens of Colorado family law.
While a custody court is tasked with putting together a parenting plan in the best interests of the children, the court does not necessarily have to treat the children as a unit for parenting time purposes. There is no one set, best parenting time schedule that is going to fit every family. In families with two or more children, particularly of different ages, there is a chance that the children may have differing schedules with each parent. This may be due to school or activities. It could be due to relationship strains, or just normal development. Perhaps the younger boy wants is ambivalent as to which parent he is with, while the 14 year old daughter feels like she needs more time with and influence from mom. In such an instance, it may be in both kids’ best interest to have differing schedules. If one of the kids in your household has different needs or a different relationship with the other parent, it is important to put that on the proverbial settlement table for discussion, or in front of the court, if need be. Judges will certainly want to assess why kids might need differing schedules and the gravitational pull of the system, from a normalcy standpoint will generally be to have kids on the same schedule. In instances in which there may be issues between one parent and a child necessitating a differing schedule from the other, it is likely a court will want any strains addressed through counseling. At the same time, the court is generally not going to place the desire for uniformity of reality and a child’s individual needs. I have litigated various cases over the years in which children might be on differing schedules.
When dealing with a situation in which differing Colorado parenting time schedules is what’s best, one must keep in mind that putting children on different parenting time schedules, or even placing them in two different households, can impact other areas of your parenting plan. It is important to assess the practical considerations of such a plan, such as ensuring exchanges are balanced and giving the siblings time together in both homes (unless there are safety concerns between the siblings). Juggling two schedules certainly requires more detail when it comes to crafting your court orders.
There are also financial considerations tied into differing visitation schedules and child support. When children are on different parenting time schedules, it is common for individuals to simply assume that multiple child support calculations are done, then offset from each other. By this I mean a separate child support worksheet for each child. However, this is not always the correct solution. Depending on the number of overnights each parent shares with each child, it may be appropriate to do one worksheet with an average of time for the “non-custodial parent.” In my next article, I will focus on how child support is dealt with when there are differing schedules, including providing a relevant case law analysis and giving some numerical examples.
Remember, each family and each child are different. If you are in a situation in which you believe having differing parenting time schedules is needed, it is advisable to contact an experienced family law attorney to help you weigh through the nuances to arrive at a workable plan that suits all of your children’s needs.