Creating the right visitation schedule for a newborn can be daunting for the new parents. They both want to spend as much time as possible and bond with their new baby, but figuring out what parenting plan works best for an infant may seem impossible.
Although both parents will probably want as much time as possible with their newborn or infant, the primary consideration must be how to best meet the baby’s needs.
Everything You Need to Know About Custody Schedules for Infants and Baby Parenting Plans
When it comes to designing a custody schedule for a baby, there are basically two competing needs that parents are balancing.
On one hand, a baby’s first year of life is an essential opportunity to bond with each parent, so each of them will want to do their best to make sure the baby is never away from either of them for too long. These are precious, fleeting moments that neither parent wants to miss!
On the other hand, a consistent routine is important for the healthy development and well-being of infants, so parents also want to make sure that their baby isn’t being passed around in such a way that disrupts his or her sleep and feeding routine.
Here is a complete guide for parents facing the challenging task of co-parenting an infant.
Common Misconceptions About Custody Schedules for Infants
The approach of parents and family law professionals to drafting custody schedules for infants has evolved considerably over the past few decades as a result of extensive research into early childhood development and the effect of parental separation on children. These advancements have led to the development of more complex and detailed infant visitation schedules.
Before creating a parenting plan for your baby, it is important to understand that there is an endless supply of false information about early childhood development on the internet. Some parents still approach this process with certain misconceptions about infant parenting plans firmly in mind.
To help debunk these myths, here are 3 of the most common misconceptions about custody schedules for babies:
Myth # 1 – Primary Attachment Theory
Attachment theory is essentially the idea that infants form attachments to their caregivers, and that the strength and quality of those attachments have a profound effect on their later emotional and social development.
For many years, attachment theory was used by family law professionals to emphasize the importance of a baby’s attachment to a primary caregiver (often, their mother). That often meant advocating for very few separations between mother and baby, making it difficult for developing and supporting relationships between an infant and their non-custodial parent (often, their father).
According to the 2012 article, Attachment in Child Custody: An Additive Factor, Not a Determinative One by Pamela Ludolph & Milfred Dale, the concept of attachment is often “incompletely understood” in the legal community and more recent studies have shown that infants form significant attachments to both of their parents.
We now know that babies can form attachments to multiple caregivers. They bond with parents and other caregivers who hold, feed, soothe, play with, talk to and meet the needs of the baby. A baby around 6 months old can recognize parents and caregivers and may start to have stranger anxiety. Stranger anxiety can last until the baby is a toddler.
Myth # 2 – Consistency is More Important Than Dual-Parent Involvement
California family law courts have frequently emphasized the “paramount need for continuity and stability in custody arrangements…” (Marriage of Burgess (1996) 13 Cal.4th 25, 32-33.) This need for stability and consistency is true with infants, however, many infant parenting plans prioritize this need for consistency to the exclusion of dual-parent involvement.
More and more child development professionals recommend that age-appropriate visitation for babies allows both parents to interact with their babies in a variety of contexts. Activities that both parents should experience with their infants regularly include playing, diapering, feeding, and putting them to bed.
If only one parent is able to interact with an infant in key contexts when they are younger, the relationship between the child and their other parent isn’t afforded the same strong foundation from which to grow.
Some of these interactions cannot be achieved with limited mid-day contact, but require that both parents have overnights included in their parenting time. But some parents question whether overnights can support the same level of consistency that parenting plans with only limited mid-day contact can.
Myth # 3 – Parental Conflict Doesn’t Affect Babies
Many parents incorrectly believe that their babies are less affected by conflict than older children may be. While it’s true that infants will not understand the content of arguments they may overhear, they are far from unaffected by discord between their parents.
Studies have shown that, even while they are sleeping, being exposed to arguments between parents can increase an infant’s sensitivity to conflict and raised voices.
Conflict has other far-reaching consequences. It can prevent parents from co-parenting cooperatively. Cooperation is essential if a family is prioritizing dual-parent involvement, and conflict is in direct odds with cooperation, meaning that infants can feel its effects indirectly.
Parents who are in conflict are also less likely to communicate openly, meaning that the more frequent exchanges often required by newborn parenting plans may be untenable. If exchanges are a hassle, it can lead to the decreased involvement of one parent, leaving the infant bereft of a relationship with one of their parents.
Having reviewed the common misconceptions that should not dictate infant parenting plans, what should parents think about when drafting a visitation schedule for their baby?
Things to Consider When Creating an Infant Visitation Schedule
- One size does not fit all. Parenting plans for children of all ages are going to vary from family to family, so they should be customized to the needs of each specific family. Infant parenting plans are no different, and parents should think critically about the best way forward when creating their own.
- Babies change and grow rapidly. What works for a baby during their first two years of life will likely not be suitable as they grow older. Co-parents should have a plan in place for communicating and reassessing their infant custody schedule at key milestones to adjust your plan to fit your baby’s needs. Consult a knowledgeable child custody lawyer in your area if you have questions about the best way to incorporate this into your parenting plan.
- Your baby’s stage of development. Understanding some of the development of babies from birth to 18 months can help you make a better parenting plan and custody schedule for your infant. Babies grow and develop rapidly during their first months of life, and keeping your baby’s developmental stage in mind when molding the best custody arrangement for your infant will ensure it suits their needs.
- Babies need consistency. Your plan should allow your baby to have a predictable routine for sleeping, waking, and eating.
- Babies have emotional memories. Infants have a limited capacity to remember, but they do have emotional memories. Babies feel fear and recognize anger and harsh words. Your plan needs to provide a way for parents to work out disagreements so that your baby isn’t around conflict.
- Communication is key. No matter what parenting plan you end up implementing, co-parenting a baby requires communication between parents. This is because these little ones need 24-hour supervision and are completely dependent on others to ensure their basic needs are met. In addition, plans for babies must be revised frequently as their needs evolve rapidly. Co-parents will need to have systems in place for sharing information about their baby so that they can communicate effectively.
Making a Parenting Plan for an Infant
A parenting plan for an infant follows the same format and has all of the information as a basic parenting plan, but it is customized to fit the unique needs of a baby (birth to 18 months).
The Best Custody Schedule for Babies
Any good parenting plan for an infant should provide for frequent contact with both parents, and the baby should not be away from either parent for more than a few days.
The best schedule for your baby will depend on the circumstances, but the following schedules tend to meet the needs of infants and parents alike:
- 2-2-3 Schedule. Where the baby is with Parent A for 2 days, Parent B for 2 days, and then back to Parent A for 3 days. The next week, it switches.
- 2-2-5 Schedule. The only real difference between the 2-2-3 schedule and the 2-2-5 schedule is that the parents consistently have the same 2 week days each week. (i.e. Parent A has the baby every Monday through Wednesday, Parent B has the baby every Wednesday through Friday, and the parents alternate the weekends).
- Alternating Every 2 Days Schedule. Where the baby alternates spending 2 days with each parent.
- 3-4-4-3 Schedule. Where the baby lives with Parent A for 3 days, Parent B for 4 days, then Parent A for 4 days and Parent B for 3 days.
- 4-3 Schedule. Where the baby lives with Parent A for 4 days and Parent B for 3 days.
If one parent hasn’t been involved in taking care of the baby and wants to start being involved, parents can start with a schedule that gives that parent short visits of several hours every few days (perhaps at the baby’s home).
The non-residential parent should have several visits a week with the baby, and the visits should give the parent opportunities to feed, bathe and soothe the baby, as well as play with him or her and put him or her to sleep. As the non-residential parent becomes more competent with caregiver skills or more consistent with parenting time, their parenting time should increase. Overnight visits to the nonresidential parent can start when the baby is ready. The parents can then implement one of the following custody schedules, which also offer endless possibilities for variations:
- Every 3rd Day Schedule. Where the baby spends every 3rd day with the non-residential parent.
- 5-2 Days Schedule. Where the baby spends 5 days with one parent and 2 days with the other parent. Parents commonly add a midweek visits to this schedule.
The holiday schedule for a baby typically includes just a few key holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. The baby spends a few hours with each parent on or around the holiday. You can increase the number of holidays in your schedule and the length of holiday time as your baby gets older.
Every child has different needs, and every parenting situation is unique. If possible, parents should work together to create a schedule that prioritizes their baby’s needs and works for their schedules. This can be accomplished through child custody mediation and/or with the help of a child custody attorney.
California’s family law procedures are complex and trying to navigate them without help of a California family lawyer can be frustrating. If you have questions about family law procedures, contact our accomplished and dedicated family law, divorce, and child custody lawyers by calling (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation with our experienced family law attorney, Colleen Sparks, who can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.
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