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Divorce Cases Involving Custody and Parenting Time with Infants

Mar 3, 2015 | Written by: William J. Rudnik, Esq. |

Because infancy is a time when children are developing rapidly socially, emotionally and cognitively, stable caregiving during the first three (3) years of a child’s life is critical to the child’s immediate and long-term wellbeing.  As a result, custody and parenting for young children must address different concerns than schedules for older children.  There is an ongoing debate as to whether overnight parenting time is appropriate (and how much overnight parenting time is appropriate) for infants in divorce cases.  In reviewing the different opinions on this issue, it is clear this is an area that requires more in-depth research as to whether overnights are harmful or beneficial.  An analysis of these opposing opinions is detailed in my article entitled “Parenting Time Schedules and Overnights with Infants”.  

To delineate between these groups, I refer to one as the “Attachment Theory” group and the other as the “Joint Parental Involvement” group.  An oversimplification of these opposing groups is as follows:

The “Attachment Theory” group believes that studies demonstrate that overnight parenting time may be harmful for children under the age of three (3).  The “Joint Parental Involvement” group believes the studies relied upon by the “Attachment Theory Group” are flawed and there is no proof of any harm for young children to have overnight parenting time.  However, both groups are in accord on the following four (4) principles related to post-separation care of infants:

  1. Children benefit from positive and secure relationships with both parents.
  2. Each family situation is fact specific and best addressed accordingly.
  3. Recommendations of shared parenting schedules for infants rest on the assumption of existing relationships with both parents.
  4. The quality of parenting provided over time is the most significant factor in forming healthy and enduring parent child relationships.

In New Jersey, when determining custody and parenting time, the overriding principle is the child’s best interest.  The established policy of the state is to “ensure minor children a frequent and continuing contact with both parents,” and “to encourage both parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to affect this policy”.  N.J.S.A. 9:2-4.  Each case must be decided on its merits, based upon the specific facts in that case considering the children’s best interest.  There are 14 factors the court must consider in determining custody and parenting time, all of which are listed in the Statute N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c).  In New Jersey, there is no specific statutory language or case law that prevents overnights of infants or requires overnights for infants.  The analysis requires a complete review of the facts of each case, and there should not be a presumption as to a bar or a requirement for overnight parenting time for infants.

When using a custody expert regarding custody and parenting time with infants, it is important to make sure that he or she is well-versed in the research and opinions of experts in regard to both “Attachment Theory” and “Joint Parental Involvement.”  A custody expert must analyze the specific facts and the best interests of a child based on the facts of the case, rather than a presumption for or against overnight parenting time.  Different facts should provide the determination as to whether overnights are appropriate for an infant.  By way of example, a case where both parents have had equal responsibility for a child since birth, including feeding, bathing, changing diapers, taking to doctors’ appointments, etc. would not necessarily have the same parenting schedule as a case where those duties were all handled by one parent.  It is also important to note that any parenting schedule put in place when a child is young should be reviewed and potentially modified as the child gets older, especially if there are limited overnights when the child is young.  The goal is for both parents to have frequent contact and a strong relationship with their child.  A well-crafted parenting schedule can ensure and maintain that relationship.  Parents should always remember to focus on their child’s best interests rather than their own.

For additional information or counsel related to divorce cases involving custody and parenting time with infants, please contact William Rudnik at Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC.