infant and fatherArizona State University has weighed in on a controversial subject – the quantity and quality of access of a noncustodial father to an infant child. “New research from Arizona State University shows that children, no matter what their age, benefit from having time with each parent that includes sleepovers at each home,” the article says. (See Overnights with dad benefits kids of divorce – no matter their age)

The study entitled “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time with Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data” was published February 2, 2017 in the American Psychological Association Journal of Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

ASU Associate Professor of Psychology William Fabricius, and lead author of the study, says that overnight parenting time with fathers during infancy and toddlerhood “causes no harm to the mother-child relationship” and actually it appears to benefit the children’s relationships with both mother and father. “Children who had overnights with their fathers when they were infants or toddlers had higher-quality relationships with their fathers as well as with their mothers when they were 18 to 20 years old than children who had no overnights,” Fabricius said.

The study was co-authored with ASU graduate student Go Woon Suh. The study revealed that the amount of parenting time small children had with their fathers when they were older did not makeup for the overnights they missed during their first few years. The increase in overnights during infancy and toddlerhood matched an increase in the strength of the bond between the father and their grown children. The findings were not changed depending on the level of conflict between the parents or whether the overnight parenting with the father was by agreement or over the objection of the mother.

“Having to care for their infants and toddlers for the whole cycle of evening, bedtime, nighttime and morning helps dads learn how to parent their children from the beginning,” said Fabricius, who studies father-child relationships and the impact they have on the child’s health and well-being. “It helps dads and babies learn about each other, and provides a foundation for their future relationship. Other studies have shown that programs that encourage married dads to take more responsibility for infant care help those dads learn better parenting skills, and we think that the same kind of thing happens when divorced dads have overnight parenting time.”

The mother-child relationships were improved when father’s had overnights, presumable because of the decrease in stress associated with sharing the responsibilities.

These findings differ from the position of many family court judges. In Texas, there is no presumption as to what the parenting time schedule should look like for infants and toddlers. Some judges have a restrictive view that a father’s parenting time should be frequent and limited with an infant based on research studies about memory development of infants. A common possession schedule under this view might look like this:

Children Under Six Months of Age:

  • Weekdays: On Wednesdays and Fridays of each week from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Sundays: On Sundays of each week from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Alternative Times: For three periods of two hours each during any seven-day period, with no more than two days between periods of possession whenever possible.

Children Between Six Months & Eighteen Months of Age:

  • Weekdays: On Wednesdays and Fridays of each week from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Sundays: On Sundays of each week from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Christmas: From Noon until 4:00 p.m. on Christmas Day each year.
  • Thanksgiving: From Noon until 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day each year.
  • Birthday: From 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on the child’s birthday each year.
  • Alternative Times: For two periods of two hours each and one four hour period during any seven-day period, with no more than two days between periods of possession whenever possible.

Children Between Eighteen Months and Three Years of Age:

  • Weekdays On Wednesdays and Fridays of each week from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Sundays: On Sundays of each week from Noon until 6:00 p.m. that same day.
  • Christmas: In odd-numbered years from Noon until 6:00 p.m. on December 26th of each year. In even-numbered years from Noon until 6:00 p.m. on December 25th of each year.
  • Thanksgiving: In odd numbered years from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day each year.
  • Birthday: From 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on the child’s birthday of each year.
  • Alternative Times: For two periods of two hours each and one six hour period during any seven-day period, with no more than two days between periods of possession whenever possible.

Children Three Years of Age and Older:

  • Standard Possession Order.

Other Texas judges believe the standard possession schedule should apply to infants and toddlers. Even other judges have been known the order equal parenting time for both parents no matter the age of the child. This issue is very controversial and emotional for mothers and fathers.

Texas Family Code sec. 153254 provides the factors for a court to consider when determining an access schedule for a young child:

A) The court shall render an order appropriate under the circumstances for possession of a child less than three years of age. In rendering the order, the court shall consider evidence of all relevant factors, including:

  1. the caregiving provided to the child before and during the current suit;
  2. the effect on the child that may result from separation from either party;
  3. the availability of the parties as caregivers and the willingness of the parties to personally care for the child;
  4. the physical, medical, behavioral, and developmental needs of the child;
  5. the physical, medical, emotional, economic, and social conditions of the parties;
  6. the impact and influence of individuals, other than the parties who will be present uring periods of possession;
  7. the presence of siblings during periods of possession;
  8. the child’s need to develop healthy attachments to both parents;
  9. the need for continuity of routine;
  10. the location and proximity of the residences of the parties;
  11. the need for temporary possession schedule that incrementally shifts to the schedule provided in the prospective order under Subsection (d)[The Standard Possession Order] based on: a) the age of the child; or b) minimal or inconsistent contact with the child by a party;
  12. the ability of the parties to share in the responsibilities, rights, and duties of parenting; and
  13. any other evidence of the best interest of the child.

See my prior blog posts:

One Size Does Not Fit All: Possession for Children Under Three

One Size Does Not Fit All: Possession for Children Under Three Part 2