It is customary for parents to work together to create a parenting and visitation schedule as part of their divorce proceedings. Parents have to consider a number of factors when determining how custody will work, including the location of a child’s school and the parents’ living environments. However, if a shared child is under one year old, the infant’s custody plan may need to be tailored differently than plans for older children.
Custody Considerations for Infants During and After Divorce
Children under the age of one are extremely vulnerable and need stability and routine in order to thrive. Although custody of an infant may change as the child grows older, most infants are placed in the physical care of the mother for the first year of life.
Joint physical custody is often difficult when it comes to infants due to:
- Environment. Babies require a highly specialized environment and a number of baby products (cribs, bottles, baby gates, diapers, pacifiers, blankets, clothing, strollers, and car seats) that would be extremely expensive to duplicate in another home.
- Breastfeeding. Infants who are breastfeeding must be fed several times a day, requiring mothers to stay near their children. Although breast milk may be refrigerated or even frozen for overnight visits with an ex-spouse, long visits are usually not recommended until the baby is weaned.
- Attachment. Infants form an emotional attachment with their caregivers in the first year of life, and passing from one environment to another can make this process more difficult for a child. One University of Virginia study of 5,000 infants and toddlers discovered that joint custody arrangements had a negative impact on attachment with both parents, while primary custody and visitation was more likely to result in a strong parental bond.
Even if primary custody is granted to the mother of a small child initially, fathers retain their visitation rights to an infant and can seek changes to the custody arrangement once the child is older. It is in both parents’ best interests to respect visitation orders, since multiple denials of visitation in Rhode Island can result in changing placement of the minor child with the non-custodial parent.
At Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum, we understand that a fair divorce settlement includes sufficient time with your children, and our attorneys can advise you on your next steps and help you make choices during a divorce that can protect your future. Please get in touch with our legal team today via our online contact form.