04 Jul Child Custody Plans: Infant Visitation Schedules
Parents who are locked in a separation battle involving infant children often call and ask what type of custody or “time-sharing” schedules are available for infant children. This is a question that shows insight, as child visitation, in order to be in the best interest of the child, needs to be age-appropriate.
Infants and even toddlers have very different needs than that of a ten-year-old. Infants depend heavily on short yet frequent contact with their primary caregiver for comfort and safety. When that is taken away from them, the effects can be devastating. The attachments and bonds that are created in the first years of life can easily be damaged if the visitation schedule isn’t based on the welfare of the child. In fact, it can be enough to traumatize the child for many years to come.
There is no doubt about the bond a child has with a primary caregiver. Psychologists agree that infants should not be away from the caregiver for more than two hours at a time. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but the non-custodial parent should be not be allowed overnight visitations with the child. The pre-verbal child is unable to communicate his needs, wants, concerns or worries. At the same time, the primary caregiver is unable to prepare the child for an overnight visit. Overnight visits can be harmful because the primary caregiver cannot position expectations to the child—he or she is unable to verbalize what the child can expect by being away for 24 hours.
This attachment can be seen when an infant is left alone in a room by himself, and a parent closes a door. The child is unsure of where the parent is, and deep feelings of abandonment and resentment take root in the psyche of the child. As time goes on, and the child grows, the child may display abandonment issues and trouble adapting to changes in the environment.
So then what is the best visitation schedule for an infant? There’s plenty of information about what not to do, but what is there given to replace it? What is the ideal schedule for a child who is new to the world?
Five criteria have been agreed upon and set by psychologists:
1. The non-custodial parent should visit frequently and often with both parents present. This allows the bonds between both parents to grow—one relationship should not be permitted to increase at the cost of diminishing the bond with the other parent. Eventually, the child needs to make the connection that he or she will be safe with both parents ~ not one over the other.
2. The primary caregiver should not be away from the child for more than two hours at a time. It is not the length of the visit by the non-custodial parent that matters—it is the frequency. An infant who has no concept of time will not recognize the difference between one minute and one hour. The end-goal should be to instill a sense of security within the child that both parents are there to care for the child. The child needs to feel that both parents are there, not one, and certainly not one over the other.
3. As time passes, time away from the primary caregiver may be increased. The best way to judge this is when the child has the verbal skills to understand language and communicate in a way that both parents know and understand. This doesn’t usually happen until the age of two or three years of age. The parent can set the expectation that he or she will see them the very next day. Moreover, the child needs the ability to communicate verbally with the non-custodial parent needs, wants and concerns so that the parent will be better able to address those needs.
4. Continuing from the point made in number three, overnights should not be scheduled with the non-custodial parent until the language barrier can be surpassed.
5. As visitation time is increased, the child needs to be carefully monitored for signs of abandonment. If the child becomes distressed because the primary caregiver is not there when he or she needs them, then the child needs to be returned to the primary caregiver as soon as possible.
No matter how each parent might feel about each other, they both participated in the creation of the child. Once they both recognize that, it will become easier to place the needs of the child before their own. Mature parents will acknowledge that this is the unwritten contract they signed when they decided to have children.