Child custody is an often-misunderstood area of family law. There are many pervasive myths and misconceptions that cause fathers to believe that the younger their child is, the less time they will likely get to spend with them after divorce. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have a newborn child together, it’s only natural to assume that the mother’s biological abilities to nurture the child would inherently predispose her to receive greater custody of the child in a divorce.
While in the past, most courts would uphold mothers as primary caregivers and men have historically received fewer custody rights than mothers, modern family courts throughout the US are adapting their perspectives on typical parenting roles and acknowledging the value of fathers and the abilities of men as primary caregivers of their children. It’s vital to keep this in mind if you are concerned about joint custody of your newborn child.
Changes in Courts’ Perceptions of Fathers
The traditional gender roles of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers have evolved tremendously over the years. While this type of marriage is still seen throughout the United States, mothers’ and fathers’ roles have become more comparable in recent years. Pediatric psychological research has concluded that children benefit most when they have consistent access to both their parents. Mothers are now breadwinners as often as fathers, and fathers generally adopt more active parenting roles than many might realize.
If you are a father of a newborn and expecting to divorce your child’s mother in the near future, it is only natural to assume that the court would favor granting custody to the mother. This is typically the way the vast majority of custody determinations involving newborns have gone over the years. However, modern technology and evolving perceptions of gender and parenting roles have made joint custody of very young children not only possible but preferable in many cases.
It is essential to challenge any notion that a father is not suited to caregiving at the same level as a mother or that a mother cannot earn a living as efficiently as a father. Your divorce attorney can help you assess your child custody issue and develop a solid case for joint custody.
Best Practices for Joint Custody of a Newborn
Infants are extremely delicate and sensitive, and medical research has concluded that newborns benefit most from frequent, short interactions with both of their parents consistently. While the logistics may be a bit more challenging than they would with an older child, it is perfectly possible to arrange a joint custody schedule for a newborn that ensures the child does not go too long without seeing either parent.
The “2-2-3” arrangement is common for joint custody involving newborns, in which the child spends two days with one parent, the next two days with the other parent, then three days with the first parent, alternating week after week until a new custody schedule is required. Depending on how close the parents live to one another and the child’s unique needs, a judge may determine that a different schedule is necessary for protecting the child’s best interests.
Coparents of a newborn living separately must be communicative and cooperative when it comes to maintaining a positive joint custody arrangement. If both parents have equal legal custody of their child, then they must make major decisions about their child together. They must keep each other fully informed of new developments and their child’s growth milestones. Ultimately, co-parents must separate their personal issues involving one another from their responsibilities as co-parents for their child to have the best possible outcome from joint custody.
Being Successful Co-parents of a Newborn
One of the most important parts of ensuring a healthy, positive experience for a newborn in a joint custody arrangement is that both parents have an active, consistent role in the baby’s life. Both parents should have equal opportunity to hold, play with, feed, change, soothe, and put the baby to sleep. It’s possible that the baby will have a primary residence with one parent, but the other still shares joint legal custody. Parents should strive to disrupt their child’s daily schedule as little as possible and to provide equal access to both parents as much as possible.
Custody schedules may also be challenging due to the baby’s feeding requirements. Breast-fed babies will obviously need constant access to their mother. It may take time before it is safe to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby. It may be in the child’s best interest to remain primarily with the mother for the first few months of the baby’s life and then gradually introduce more time with the father. Ultimately, a personalized custody schedule is the best approach. Parents should be willing to compromise and avoid extremes when it comes to their custody arrangements.
The Importance of Legal Counsel
If you are a father of a newborn and expect to divorce soon, you are in a challenging position. Though your child may need more physical access to their mother than you, it does not diminish your role or rights as a parent. It is best to hire an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible if you are concerned about your child custody rights over your infant child. An experienced attorney can help you negotiate a child custody arrangement that ensures your legal custody and provides appropriate physical custody rights over time as the child grows.
An attorney can be an invaluable lifeline if you are concerned about losing your parental rights or if you believe the court will treat you unfairly because you are a father. It’s an unfortunate reality that men typically face greater scrutiny as parents in most family courts, while women are often dismissed as breadwinners. Children benefit most from equal access to both their parents. Thankfully, child custody arrangements can be amended and revised over time. Parents must be willing to compromise for the good of their children. An experienced family law attorney can help you assert your legal rights as a father to ensure your child has the parental connection they need for the healthiest early upbringing.