Misconceptions About Custody Schedules for Infants

A father plays with his infant child on the side of the crib.

The approach of parents and family law professionals to creating custody schedules for infants has evolved considerably over the past few decades. As research into early childhood development and the effect of divorce on children has advanced, the complexity and detail put into developing infant visitation schedules have also bloomed.

Yet some parents still approach this process with certain misconceptions about infant parenting plans firmly in mind.

To combat those false impressions, here are 3 of the most common misconceptions about custody schedules for infants explained.

Myth 1: Primary attachment is the most important factor when creating an infant parenting plan

Described generally, attachment theory is the idea that young children can form attachments to their caregivers, and that the strength and quality of those attachments can have a profound effect on their later emotional and social adjustment.

For many years, attachment theory was used by family law professionals to reinforce the importance of a child's attachment to a primary caregiver. That often meant advocating for very few separations between them, making it difficult for developing and supporting relationships between an infant and their non-custodial parent.

However, recent studies have shown that infants form significant attachments to both of their parents, and the relationship between a secure primary attachment and later functioning has also been reevaluated.

The adjustment of children after a huge change like divorce, even with infants and very young children, is affected by a huge range of factors. A child's secure attachment to their caregivers can certainly be one of them, but its effect can be mitigated or multiplied by a number of other elements.

Myth 2: The need for consistency is at odds with dual-parent involvement

All children need consistency, and this has been seen as particularly true with infants. However, some plans prioritize this need for consistency to the exclusion of dual-parent involvement. Infant parenting plans that fall into this category may only allow for brief, mid-day contact between non-custodial parents and their infant children, limiting the contexts in which they can interact.

Yet some child development professionals recommend that age-appropriate visitation for infants allows both parents to interact with their young children in a variety of contexts. Activities that both parents should experience with their children on a regular basis include playing, diapering, feeding, and putting them to bed.

There are myriad benefits to both parents interacting with their children in a variety of contexts. Parents who grow accustomed to feeding, diapering, and putting their children to bed are better able to learn their children's habits, anticipate their needs, and form strong bonds with them. This strong and warm relationship developed during the child's infancy can support a loving and healthy relationship throughout the child's life. If only one parent is able to interact with the child in key contexts when they are younger, the relationship between the child and their other parent isn't allowed 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.

To create an infant parenting plan that marries consistency with dual-parent involvement, co-parents need to be heavily committed to cooperation.

In order to keep interactions and schedules consistent, co-parents should communicate openly about what they feed their children and when, their bedtime routine, nap schedules, and other facets of their day-to-day care. A shared journal can help parents document this information promptly and in an organized fashion.

Myth 3: Infants aren't affected by co-parenting conflict

Conflict between co-parents is never good, but parents may incorrectly believe that their infant children 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 working cooperatively, damage communication, and make parents tense and unhappy.

Cooperation is essential if a family is prioritizing dual-parent involvement. Yet 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 infant parenting plans may be untenable. If exchanges are a hassle, that can lead to the decreased involvement of one parent, leaving the infant bereft of a relationship with one of their parents.

Finally, when parents are stressed and unhappy due to the conflict in their lives, those emotions do not stay sealed off from their other relationships. Those emotions bleed out into other interactions, including those with their children.

Creating your infant custody schedule

Parenting plans for children of all ages are going to vary from family to family, as 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.

Whenever possible, work together to maintain the child’s relationships with both of their parents. If parents live relatively close to one another, that may mean including overnights in the parenting time for both parents.

Parents should also keep communication about the child open and honest. To keep the child’s daily routine consistent, co-parents will need to have systems in place for sharing bedtimes details, eating schedules and other important facets of a child’s schedule.

Finally, custody schedules for infants should include room for growth. What works for a child during their first two years will likely not be suitable as they grow older. Co-parents should have a plan in place for reassessing their infant custody schedule at key milestones. Consult a family law professional in your area if you have questions about the best way to incorporate this into your parenting plan.