Dealing with child custody and visitation issues in the midst of a divorce is never easy. Emotions are rarely higher than when parents must decide how to split their child’s time and who should get key dates or experiences with the child.
In many cases, divorce happens when children are toddler age or older. Parents must work through the challenges of overnight visits, being the primary residential parent, and trade-offs for school events and weekend getaways. Sometimes, however, divorce happens when a child is still an infant or a very young toddler, which adds additional complexity to the custody dispute process.
The Best Interest of the Infant in Tacoma
When parents bring a custody dispute to the courts, the primary question to be resolved is always what is in the best interest of the child. This is the overarching principle that guides Washington law and Washington family law judges in doing their job.
Determining the best interest of the child involves considering many different factors. In extreme situations, a judge may need to take into account issues such as a history of abuse, substance problems, or extreme animosity against parents. When these kinds of issues arise, they may require treatment, counseling, or limit a parent’s time with the child. This requires judges to arrange custody in a very specific manner.
In normal cases, however, where both parents are able, willing, and interested in taking care of their child, the presumption is usually that the child’s best interest is served by having substantial time with each parent. While this may take different shapes and formats, depending on schedules, the goal is for the child to spend significant quality time with both parents.
When dealing with infants and small toddlers, the courts often emphasize having very frequent contact with the child, as opposed to longer stretches with each parent. Courts also take into account unique needs of young children, including whether the child is breastfeeding.
Arranging Custody for Young Children
Even where courts may decide that it is in the best interest of an infant or young toddler to spend equal time with both parents, custody schedules must be structured much differently for young children as opposed to older children.
While older children typically enjoy the benefit of longer stays with each parent (such as spending the week with one parent and weekends with another) the opposite is true when dealing with infants.
Because infants have such short memories, it is more important in the early stages that they have frequent visitation with each parent, even if that visitation is only for a few hours at a time. For example, a parent may be granted several short visits throughout the week as opposed to several whole days a time. This ensures that the child is very regularly seeing both parents.
Frequent shorter visitation better meets the bonding requirements necessary for infants to develop sufficient attachments with their parents. Where an infant does not see a parent as regularly, such as only seeing a parent every weekend or every other weekend, this can be an insufficient amount of time for the child to bond with that parent.
Another unique aspect of custody with small children and infants is the issue of overnight visitation. Overnight visits with each parent are typical for older children who will often spend days, if not weeks, at a parent’s home. For infants, however, overnight visits to a different home can be extremely disruptive as infants have a strong need for familiarity and routines.
Flexibility for Change
While the infant and toddler stages require a very specific approach in terms of arranging custody, many of the standards imposed change as a child ages.
For this reason, many custody plans involving infants and toddlers will be multi-stage plans. This means that, as the child transitions and ages, the parents can move from an infant-specific custody plan to a more traditional parenting plan that works for older children. For this reason, parents concerned about the amount of time they have with their infant under a temporary schedule should rest assured that their custody plan is likely not set in stone.
Washington Attorneys Helping You Understand Your Custody Rights
If you are in the midst of a divorce or considering a divorce that involves an infant or small toddler, it is important to understand the possible custody arrangements that may be put in place by your judge before getting too far into the process.
At Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., our family law attorneys can help you evaluate the needs of your child, how they are likely to be viewed by the court, and the custody arrangements that may be imposed. For more information, contact us online or at (253) 272-2997.