Divorcing when babies and young children are part of the equation comes with hardship on all sides. We tackle this emotional topic during the September 7th airing of Split Decisions, our weekly divorce radio hour. Below, the attorneys at FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC set the stage.


How are contested divorce proceedings different when very young children are involved?


matthew-purcellMATT PURCELL

The one thing that is most difficult, and yet most essential, to get my clients to understand is that the court is concerned with what is in the child’s best interests, not the parents.  If the parties can’t work together enough to come up with a reasonable plan, the court is going to do its best to focus on what will be important to the health, safety, and well-being of the child. I had one case where my client was planning to take an 18-month old child out of town for a vacation over Thanksgiving. I specifically told her to have a plan to ensure that Father could have a good amount of time to account for this week long trip. Unfortunately, Father was not happy that he would not get Thanksgiving so he called an emergency hearing to specifically allow him to have Thanksgiving. The court was not impressed. In fact, the court found that the 18-month old would not know or remember this Thanksgiving, or if Father celebrated Thanksgiving on his time rather than on the actual holiday. Thus, the court allowed my client to take her vacation and approved Father to have an equal amount of time upon her return, and to celebrate Thanksgiving then because the child wouldn’t remember or care.


MICHELLE STOWELLmichelle-stowell

With very young children – ages 2 and younger – child development experts recommend that kids see each parent every other day. This is because children this young have short memories.  For them to bond with each parent, young children need to see each parent on a frequent basis otherwise that important bond will be less secure. Such parenting plans can work a tremendous hardship on separating parents, especially those in high-conflict situations. It is important to remember these plans are only temporary until the child can go for extended periods of time without seeing the other parent. My best advice to clients in this difficult situation is to minimize the interaction during these frequent exchanges and, instead, use a journal to communicate with one another about the child.


Jenny Bain 220 x 220 Website 386JENNY BAIN

The family court mediators who make recommendations to the court about parenting plans have default, preconceived notions of visitation arrangements for children at a young age. The preference is for a child to spend more time with the mother, with frequent and consistent, yet shorter visits with the father. This is due to the assumption that the child is breast-feeding and also developmentally not yet ready to be away from their mother for long periods of time. For example, overnights typically don’t begin with fathers until closer to the one-year mark, and overnights usually don’t occur for more consecutive nights than the child is old, for the first few years at least. Fathers often-times view this as “unfair” or “inequitable” and take it as a personal attack on their parenting skills. However, this is not the case. In most cases, the courts order this parenting arrangement completely independently of their opinion of the father. Rather, it is consistent with their understanding of childhood development and scientific research. I often have to manage an angry father’s emotions when they first hear they’re not “entitled” to a 50/50 arrangement with an infant or toddler. Once they focus on instead maximizing the quality time they have with the child, the more fruitful the overall paternal relationship, and co-parenting relationship, is fostered. As the child gets older, their parenting time should increase.


Kristin-Capritto-Attorney-ThumbnailKRISTIN CAPRITTO

Divorcing with small children creates a unique set of circumstances. You are no longer a unified parental unit and must look towards the next almost eighteen years as co-parents who no longer share the marital bond — talk about scary. What is even more scary is the idea of who will care for your infant children in the event something happens to you. While things may be tense with your ex, try to set aside the frustration and anger you may be feeling as a result of the divorce and have a meaningful conversation with your ex about whom you would both like to be the guardians of your kids if both of you cannot do so. Need help facilitating this conversation? Your appointed family law mediator, or a private mediator, can help. No one likes to talk about death, or loss of capacity as a result of injury or illness, however if you and your ex are not on the same page with respect to your guardianship nominations, you run the risk of your ex choosing this person without your input once it is too late.


Based in Folsom, California, Forester Purcell Stowell PC can be reached at info@foresterpurcell.com or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.

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