Custody Early Access
Feb. 1, 2017
A recent article in the Washington Post highlights how courts are trending to awarding fathers more time with their young children, even when the child is an infant. Titled “What’s more important than breast-feeding a baby? Giving a father time with his child” https://wapo.st/2gm0Xkq?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.64728a23e3c5 the article discusses how a local court rejected a mother’s claim that the father should not have overnight visits because she could not pump enough milk for the father to feed the infant during that time. Despite the mom’s insistence that the child should only be fed breast milk, the Court ruled—by two different women judges-- that the child should also be fed formula so that the infant could spend overnights with the father. Bottom line: at least after the child was six month’s old, the child’s time with the father was more important than the mother’s desire that the child only be fed breast milk.
When I started in family law, the Montgomery County Circuit Court handed out a packet stating that the customary access schedule for fathers was every-other-weekend and maybe a mid-week dinner or overnight—after the child was at least three years old. Overnight visits for newborns to at least three years was unheard of. Even the American Bar Association published a book of access schedules, that did not recommend overnights for infants.
In a trial I had about ten years ago, the judge found that both parents were fit parents to have custody, and so he explicitly stated that he was ordering the “usual” custody schedule of every other weekend and weekday overnight to the father. Today, it is unlikely that the judge would rule that way. It is common for courts to award father’s equal custody of the children, or at least close to equal custody of the children. Why? To a large extent, judges are more accepting that fathers are equally qualified to raise children and that the children deserve to have both children equally in their lives.
Of course, and I can’t say it enough, studies show that the best predictor for how children will fare after a divorce is how well the parents co-parent. Fighting over a night here or there is not good for the children or the parents. If the children are caught in the middle for years of post-divorce strife then they are less likely to do well. Related to that is that parents who successfully resolve custody issues through mediation or collaborative law have a much greater likelihood of the agreement being followed and the strife lessened.