This article assumes the expectant mother is not in a committed relationship with the father and that she is concerned about when unsupervised, overnight visits for infants will begin.
Most professionals agree that both mom and dad are important to children’s development, even infants. However, oftentimes, single parents are stressed about when dad should start sharing the parenting time.
This concern is one of the primary reasons that unmarried parents fall into the abyss of dysfunctional co-parenting, so getting overnight visitations for infants addressed is crucial.
Some mothers welcome dad’s involvement; the sooner, the better. They need the parenting help and want the father-child bond to start forming early.
But more often, it’s the opposite situation. Jim’s daughter’s mother was utterly terrified to let their infant out of her sight, even for short periods.
Immediately after the birth, she let Jim visit his daughter anytime he wanted, but only under her supervision. She made it clear that she would not allow unsupervised overnight visits outside of her home until the child was three, four, or even five years old. “When I think she’s ready,” she would say.
Queue the custody battle.
Accurate expectations are everything in any negotiation. In our book, Baby Out of Wedlock: Co-Parenting Basics From Pregnancy to Custody, we discuss expectations on various co-parenting topics at length. Learning the likely outcome of a custody battle is how parents can avoid one in the first place.
Jim’s daughter’s mother did not have very accurate expectations on the issues. If she had known that a court would likely grant him overnight visits around age one year old, she probably would not have dug her heels in and insisted that he wait “years” for an unsupervised overnight visit.
They could have avoided tens of thousands in legal fees and countless amounts of stress if they had understood these issues and how to coparent with a newborn better.
What about nursing? Mom was into attachment parenting and felt it was important to breastfeed around the clock, well past one year old. Wouldn’t the court understand that a nursing infant cannot be separated from her mother?
Well, maybe. But the lawyers we know say that after about six months old, the breastfeeding argument does not hold much water with most family judges. In the end, she nursed their daughter until her FOURTH birthday, but the court never saw it as a reason to withhold Jim’s parenting time past the age of six months nor solid reasons to deny overnight visitation.
What about stranger anxiety? Jim’s daughter’s mother also argued that their child would have stranger anxiety if separated from mom for any length of time. “Traumatized” is the word she liked to use.
Again, after a few months, most courts will not consider stranger anxiety to be a reason to withhold parenting time. Professionals realize that that antidote for stranger anxiety in a child custody infant is MORE time with Dad, not less.
In Jim’s case, he did a supervised visit every weekend while he waited for his trial date, scheduled for about the same time as his daughter’s first birthday. At a preliminary hearing about six months in, the court told mom that she must start allowing him to hold unsupervised afternoon visits regularly.
As the trial approached, and even though Jim had spent time with his daughter every week since birth, mom still insisted that they wait years for a regular, overnight infant visitation schedule to begin.
On the day of their trial (literally on the courthouse steps), they were able to compromise on an additional twelve-month “phase-in.” This phase-in calmed some of mom’s fears while stepping up Jim’s unsupervised time month after month, ending with a regular overnight parenting schedule.
Too bad they didn’t come to this conclusion months earlier, before spending so much heartache and money on litigation for a trial that never happened.
Wait, what if there is a history of drug abuse or criminal behavior?
These are more legitimate concerns than nursing or stranger anxiety, and the courts will take them seriously. Usually, if the abusive parent can show they are taking steps to rehabilitate and are not putting the child in immediate danger, the courts are likely to grant them at least some parenting time. Phase-ins are common in these situations.
Moral of the story: don’t wait till the day before the trial to learn the basics. Parents who get their parenting expectations aligned with reality will find there is no need to spend thousands on lawyers.
However, expectations cut both ways. Fathers who are “pounding the table,” insisting on unsupervised or overnight visits in the first few months of life are also making a mistake.
There is almost no chance a father will have unsupervised time with a newborn infant if the mother doesn’t want it to happen, whether her concerns are legitimate or not, because it takes about a year to get in front of a judge. Rather than kick and scream about it, Fathers should propose a compromise grounded in realistic expectations. Perhaps a phase-in ending with overnight visits at age six to twelve months?
We recommend parents kick off the legal process soon after the birth and then work hard to compromise on the issues quickly so that they don’t go through the horrific and wasteful experience of a yearlong custody battle.
Why insist on something (like overnight visits for infants) that won’t happen before a trial, usually a year away? These demands tend to be non-starters and are a sure-fire way to end up in a courtroom where nobody wins.
There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved to avoid a child custody battle, and some are complex, but all have relatively simple answers. There are professionals that can guide parents through this process without breaking the bank, and we offer free coaching to anyone who contacts us on our website.
Disclaimer: Jim & Jessica Braz are not attorneys, and this is not legal advice. Readers should always consult a family law attorney in the state and county where the mother and child reside.
Last update on 2022-04-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API