Oftentimes, courts start with the unspoken presumption that shared parenting time is in the best interests of the children. If both parents are able to exercise 3-4 days per week, want to spend that much time with their kids, and have an established relationship with them, then we often find that the burden for obtaining any other schedule shifts to the party seeking more time. While there is no statute that requires a shared – or “50/50″ – a starting point, we find most courts start with this assumption.
This assumption doesn’t really exist when it comes to infants and toddlers for many courts. Contrary to our observations in most other cases when the case involves infants and toddlers, many professionals involved in family law believe the designation of one primary caregiver is in the best interest of the child. The argument is that the identification of one primary caregiver meets the developmental needs of kids at this early stage and that trying to split the child’s time between two parents may create significant negative issues for these kids later in life.
There is some scientific evidence which supports this theory. The evidence is not taken from actual children raised in one-caregiver versus two-caregiver situations but is instead based on the developmental stages of children, their emotional attachments during these stages, and studies demonstrating how the brain develops in young children.
If we believe these studies – and many who practice in family law in Colorado do – then one parent should be designated as the primary caregiver and awarded almost all the parenting time for these young kids. These same alleged experts do concede, however, that if both parents are able to work together for the benefit of their children, a two-caregiver arrangement may “not be harmful.”
Unfortunately, this may be a case where valid science is being misapplied with devastating consequences. If lawyers believe a judge is likely to follow this philosophy and award just one party all the parenting time, a situation where the parents are relatively civil and able to work together most of the time has just turned into an “all-or-nothing” nuclear war for designation of primary caregiver.
Further, at what point does the parent who lost get reintroduced to his or her child? Haven’t they now just lost any hope of truly being an equal parent? Won’t they now always be the “guest” parent?
Finally, what happens when the infant or toddler has an older sibling, who is at a different developmental stage? We all recognize that we should keep the children together whenever possible. Does this mean the developmental needs of the older sibling to have a relationship with the “guest” parent must be sacrificed?
There is no easy answer to these complicated cases involving infants and toddlers. And because family law professionals vary in their beliefs on this issue, it becomes very difficult to settle these cases.
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