Many divorcing or separating parents are parents of infants. Infants have unique needs compared to children of other ages. Whether you're creating a co-parenting plan amicably or seeking court orders, you must take these unique needs into account.
First, a quick tip: there are two types of child custody in California-- legal custody and physical custody. For the purpose of this blog post, we are only discussing parenting time and parenting plans (physical custody). For a quick primer on the types of child custody, click here.
Infants Need Consistent, Predictable Schedules and Routines
Infant parenting plans must be consistent and predictable. Infants depend on their primary caregivers to regulate their emotions and understand the world around them. Dependable routines give infants a sense of security and stability that can impact how they interact, communicate, and form relationships for the rest of their lives. Accordingly, an infant should regularly see each parent on a reliable schedule. Both parents should communicate about routines such as morning routines, eating habits, nap times, bathing, and night routines.
Infants Should Have Frequent Periods of Time With Each Parent, Usually of a Shorter Duration for the Non-Custodial Parent
While older children can thrive under a variety of schedules, including 50/50 custody and periods of time away from either parent (ie, entire weekends, weeks, and vacation time), parenting plans for infants are different. Generally, an infant lives with a primary caregiver, with the non-custodial parent having frequent (non-overnight) contact throughout the week. Sometimes, in amicable cases, parents include occasional overnights with both parents.
During this period, both parents should participate in all routines and activities. This helps meet an infant's need for consistency and bonding during this tender developmental stage. Secondarily, both parents deserve to experience the special and precious moments unique to having an infant.
If your split is not amicable, it can be difficult to have several face-to-face meetings per week. However, whenever possible, all children deserve parents who support their relationship with the other parent. And if your case goes to court, a Los Angeles family law judge will expect each parent to support the relationship with the other parent, so long as it is safe to do so.
TIP While there is no bias against fathers in California law (in fact, the California Family Code states that “the court shall not prefer a parent as custodian because of that parent’s sex"), if consistency for the infant includes a reliable breastfeeding schedule, this may impact the parenting schedule.
Consider a Step Up Plan
If you're the non-custodial parent and you're worried about your parenting rights, consider a "step up" plan, where the parties can agree (or the court can order) a parenting schedule that gradually increases or "steps up" over time in order to provide the baby with stability and a robust relationship with both parents. A step up plan will help the child ease into a new routine as he or she grows. Remember, a child's needs change over time and the infant stage is not permanent.
Communicate and Keep a Log Book
Consider keeping a joint log book or spreadsheet so each parent can record important information relating to your infant's health, sleeping, and eating patterns. This can help ensure the consistent, reliable routines that babies need during either parent's parenting time.
If you are seeking a Los Angeles child custody lawyer, call the Law Office of Emily E. Rubenstein at (310) 750-0827. We proudly serve Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Culver City, the South Bay, Glendale, Pasadena, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Encino and all of Los Angeles County.