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Teenagers and Parenting Time: the 900 lb gorilla

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2021 | Child Custody

It is a common misconception that, once your child reaches a certain age, they can automatically decide who they want to live with. In Colorado, before a child reaches the age of 18, there is not a “magic” age that gives an adolescent or teenager the autonomy to make a decision with regard to which parent they would rather live with. The Court must, however, take into consideration the wishes of your child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences about the parenting time schedule. This is just one of the “best interest of the child” factors that the Court is required to take into consideration when determining what parenting plan is in the best interest of your child(ren) pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-124.

What if your child refuses to cooperate with the parenting time schedule?  It may feel (or actually be) impossible for you to find a way to convince, persuade, or force your child to do so, especially as they get older.  With older children, it is not as simple as picking up your child and putting them in their car seat. Courts often refer to teenagers as “900 lb gorillas,” because the truth is, they sleep wherever they please. The court does, however, expect you to try appropriate methods to facilitate parenting time.

Colorado case law sets forth that a parent must take reasonable, good faith efforts to facilitate and encourage children to go to parenting time.  In re Marriage of Dean and Cook, 413 P.3d 246 (Colo. App. 2017). As stated in Dean, a parent is expected to do more than refrain from discouraging visitation; a parent is expected to take affirmative action to encourage visitation. Id. The Court has not defined or outlined specifically what “good faith efforts” are required, however, a parent cannot be a powerless bystander in the decisions and actions of a child and has an obligation to attempt to overcome the child’s resistance to visitation. Id. What this looks like varies from family to family, however, many parents resort to taking away children’s electronic devices, threatening “grounding” or other age appropriate disciplinary measures. Alternatively, making an occasion of the parenting time exchange by including a treat (like stopping by a favorite ice cream spot on the way).  The court does not expect or want you to take measures that could be construed as child abuse (such as using physical force, withholding food, etc.).

If, despite your best efforts, your child still refuses to cooperate, you should consult an experienced family law attorney about whether it makes sense for you to engage a professional, such as a family therapist, to address the situation, to determine if there are any more effective methods of encouraging cooperation that you may have overlooked, or whether you should pursue a modification of the parenting plan.

Because courts generally do not want to speak directly with children, your family law attorney may suggest seeking the appointment of a 3rd party neutral, such as a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator or a Child and Family Investigator to make recommendations about parenting time to the Court.  This is often the best opportunity to have an expert speak directly to your child and for the Court to be able to consider reliable evidence about your child’s wishes regarding parenting time into consideration.

It is important to address this issue proactively, otherwise, you may find yourself on the defensive side of a Motion Concerning Parenting Time Disputes (commonly referenced as a Motion to Enforce) pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-129.5.  These motions are heard by courts on an expedited basis, which gives you limited time to gather evidence or to have a neutral third party, like a CFI or PRE, make neutral recommendations.  You may then become subject to sanctions or be required to provide makeup parenting time.

The family law attorneys at GEM Family Law have worked with parents throughout all phases of their child’s lives, including the difficult teenage years.   If you find yourself having difficulty facilitating parenting time with your child, let us help you find creative avenues to resolve this issue, before you find yourself on the defensive side of costly litigation.

Authored by: Chelsea Augelli, Esq. Attorney