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Colorado Family Law Landmark Case Series

In Re Hatton (family legal issue = parenting time (AKA visitation))
Court of Appeals of Colorado

Subject Areas:

  • Limitations on courts in restricting parental visitation
  • Limitations on courts in subjecting one parent’s access to the children to the complete control of the other parent

In In Re Hatton, the mother appealed from an order awarding all parenting time and decision-making responsibility to the father and giving her no contact with her children except with the father’s written permission. The parenting time decision was based in part on input from Parental Responsibilities Evaluations indicating her involvement in parental alienation.

The mother objected to the order contending that the trial court erred by denying her any contact with her children. The appellate court agreed that her assertion merited consideration determining that courts “shall not restrict a parent’s parenting time rights unless it finds that the parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.” The appellate court determined that a trial court must also consider a second factor - the best interests of the child, including the least detrimental parental restriction alternative to the children.” The appellate court found it necessary to consider both factors - endangerment and the best interests - before making a decision to restrict parenting time given the far-reaching consequences to both parents and children of restriction. The trial court had considered endangerment, but not the best interests of the children.

The appellate court recognized the public policy interest in encouraging frequent contact between parents and their children. The court also acknowledged that in most cases it is in the best interests of the children to have relationships with both parents, and that parents have a right to have a relationship with their children despite certain parental misconduct. Additionally, the Court recognized that even in extreme cases such as those involving parental alienation, it is usually not in a child’s best interests to completely cut off contact with the offending parent.

As a second issue, the Court also determined that it was improper to subject the mother’s visitation time to the complete control of the father, particularly given the level of contentiousness of the case.

Why is the Case Important?

The case reinforces the importance of a parental right to contact with children despite certain parental misconduct. In most cases, it is important for both parents and children to have frequent contact with each other. This may be especially true after divorce or separation when children may be experiencing some level of emotional trauma and need the support of both parents.

Additionally, it establishes the impropriety of subjecting one parent’s ability to have contact with his or her children to the control of the other. This is particularly the case when there is substantial contention between parties as the potential to restrict access to children as a coercive tool not related to the best interests of the children is present.

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