Child custody is a special area of focus at Shulman Law Firm, and we always strive to resolve child custody issues quickly and strategically to minimize the negative effects that the divorce process can have on a child. Even in “best case scenarios,” kids will usually have a tough time adjusting after their parents separate, and that is why it is so important to create a parenting plan that is focused on preserving the child’s best interests. But special consideration must be taken into account when dealing with children under the age of one.
To learn more about what separated parents with a baby should do to establish and maintain a good parenting plan, we asked Tracy Griffiths, a Registered Social Worker, what she would tell clients in this position.
The biggest issue that Griffiths encounters when working with new parents who are also separated or divorced is that they may be thinking about their wants and needs as opposed to the child’s. For example, a mother may argue that the baby must stay with her because he or she needs to be breastfed every couple of hours. The father would argue that the mother could fill bottles with breast milk ahead of time using a breast pump. But have they really thought about what’s best for the baby?
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“Every child has a unique temperament,” says Griffiths, “and that transfers to sleep and feeding schedules.” She understands that both parents want to bond with their newborn, but parents in this positon should be prepared to work with a flexible plan that changes as the baby grows. That could mean adjusting the plan every three months or so.
From zero to three months, the baby just needs to be cared for, and at this stage it is recommended that the child stay in one home. That being said, the custodial parent should be prepared to allow the non-custodial parent to make shorter visits on a more frequent basis, and the non-custodial parent should be prepared to make those visits, says Griffiths.
When the baby is at least three months old and is more interactive with people and with the world, parents can try changing the schedule and let the baby spend time at both homes – but again it really depends on the child’s temperament, stresses Griffiths. If a breast pump is needed, both parents could pay for it. If the child won’t feed from a bottle, or refuses to sleep at the non-custodial parent’s home, then he or she may have to remain at the custodial parent’s home for a few additional months.
While the baby’s needs should always come first, she also notes that it is important that parents try to be considerate of each other, too. “Your child needs the other parent, and [he or she] has the right to have as healthy a relationship as possible with both of you,” says Griffiths.
Communication between parents is always recommended. When possible, they should help keep the other parent informed about important events or issues pertaining to the baby to set them up for success. So, if the baby wasn’t eating well, or didn’t sleep, the let other parent know so they can be properly prepared.
There definitely is a benefit to having a successful parenting plan in place when the child is so young, adds Griffiths. It becomes normal for them to spend their time in two different homes, and they know that both parents love them. When they’re older, kids tend to internalize the divorce and blame themselves for their parents’ separation.
Important points to remember when making a parenting plan for a young child
*If working with a professional, let them know who is making the decisions (young parents may be getting direction from their parents or other relatives)
*Never do anything to intentionally harm your child
*Remember that the other parent loves the child just as much as you do
Tracy Griffiths is a MSW and RSW. She has been practicing since 2003, primarily doing work for The Office of the Children’s Lawyer, parenting coordinating, and mediation.
She can be reach at 416-818-7691, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.