Once your child is old enough to have their own opinions, you will probably feel confident asking for shared custody when you divorce or separate from their other parent. However, when your child is still quite young, you may mistakenly believe that only sole custody is an option.
Years ago, family courts across the United States would apply the Tender Years Doctrine in custody cases involving small children. They would prioritize keeping the children with their primary caregiver at all costs.
That approach has since fallen out of favor. Judges now have to make custody determinations on a case-by-case basis using the best interest of the children as the main standard. It is possible with proper planning for parents to share custody of infants and toddlers.
Frequent, shorter visits are best
When children are older and relatively independent, they already have a strong sense of self and attachment to both of their parents. Teenagers could easily stay with one parent for a week or even a full month in the summer without causing any damage to their bond with the other parent.
Infants don’t have a sense of object permanence yet, so lengthy separation from their caregiver could lead to distress. When children are very young, frequent, shorter visits may be the best option. Once they are old enough to start enjoying solid food, it may be easier for overnight visits to take place.
By the time a child is a toddler, even a full weekend with one parent could be possible. Parents sharing custody of infants and toddlers will have to see one another frequently for regular custody exchanges or even attend events like daycare open houses together.
Plan for future adjustments early
The terms for custody that work well when your child is six months old and then a year old won’t be ideal when they are three or five. Eventually, you will have to go back to court to modify your original custody order in most cases. However, you can delay that return to court by several years if you create a plan that considers your children’s needs now and in the immediate future.
Recognizing that you will need to cooperate with your ex and frequently see one another may help the two of you learn the skills necessary to co-parent effectively after the end of your relationship.