As divorce attorneys, one of the most common questions we are asked is whether the court considers age when deciding child custody arrangements. In addition to multiple other factors, family court judges will consider the child’s age when making a child custody determination. Family court judges have full discretion based on the unique circumstances in each case, but generally, judges will enter child custody orders based on the child’s best interest.
A parenting plan for a baby should be customized to fit the unique needs of an infant. Some of the things you should know about babies when making your parenting more effective include the following:
- Babies need consistency, and your parenting plan should allow your baby to have a predictable routine for eating, sleeping, and waking
- Babies have a limited ability to remember, so your plan should give the baby frequent contact with both parents when possible
- Babies develop rapidly, and your plan should have a way for you to communicate about your baby’s developmental needs as they grow
- Babies can feel fear and recognize harsh words and anger, so your parenting plan should provide a way for parents to work out disagreements so that the baby is not around a conflict
When there is a situation in which one parent has not seen the baby for an extended period of time, new contact should resume gradually. This will help the child adjust well to the parent. It is also important for the custodial parent to deliver the child to the other parent during an exchange. However, if the relationship between co-parents is not healthy, a babysitter or another person with whom the baby is comfortable can perform the exchange. It is best to keep the exchange short and without necessary delay and include a security item such as a toy or stuffed animal.
If your baby is breastfeeding, you should include related information in your parenting plan. You will need to plan parenting time around your baby’s feeding schedule. You may have to wait to have overnight visits if the baby needs to be with their mother to breastfeed at night.
Since babies change so quickly and need more hands-on attention than older children, you may want to consider establishing a daily communication login to your parenting plan. You and your co-parent can log information about the baby’s sleeping, eating, typing, and new developments. They can transfer the log back and forth with the baby to establish a consistent routine.
Children between the ages of three and five start to develop deep attachments with their parents. They can also develop deep attachments with other adults who care for them such as babysitters and nannies. Children at this age can tolerate periods of separation better, but they still need consistency and structure.
It can be easier for children in the 3 to 5 age range to tolerate overnights with each parent. Some experts discourage parenting schedules that consist of one week with one parent and one week with the other parent. Even during these short time frames, a child can become detached. Alternating weeklong schedules may need to be avoided and a single week may need to be split up between the parents.
As with infants and toddlers, it is important to avoid conflict. When a child senses conflict, it can cause anxiety and push the child to regress back into their infant or toddler behavior. Children thrive in an environment that is structured with routines. Usually children in this age range will experience less anxiety when they are away from one of their parents if the day-to-day activities are followed by each.
Children in this age range can usually handle back and forth visitation between their co-parents homes relatively easily. However, some children are better suited for spending more time at one home instead of spending time in two different homes in a 50/50 custody split. Age is not the only factor when judges consider whether or not to schedule a week on, week off scenario for children aged 6 to 11. They will consider the bond the child has with each parent and the relative maturity of the child as well as their age.
Some 7-year-olds can handle a week on week off schedule better than other 11 or 12-year-old children. A blanket approach usually is not beneficial for everyone, so it is important that you work with your attorney and possibly a child therapist to advocate for a parenting plan that works best for your child. Judges will also consider parent work schedules, extracurricular activities, sports, and school schedules when making decisions for kids in this age range.
Between ages 12 and 18, children are starting to develop their own identities. Most children in this age range are immersed in their own activities and relationships outside of each parent’s household. However, even though they are more independent than toddlers, they can be more challenging than younger children when it comes to custody cases. Preteens and teenagers may have already developed their own opinions, including about their parents’ relationship with each other.
Most family court judges will encourage parents to be flexible when working with children in this age range. Flexibility can lead to good co-parenting but also help children remain emotionally healthy because they are exposed to less conflict. Children in this age range may start to develop feelings of resentment or anger because of the divorce and split-up of the family. They may act out in defiance, and parents should have ongoing contact and communication with each other to set up rules and guidance, including standards for behavior. As children get older, they should have a voice in the process of determining custody as well.
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