While a shared parenting arrangement may seem to be working for both parents, it may not necessarily be so for very young children, according to the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health. Infants, toddlers and even older children have been shown to exhibit signs of distress when subjected to inflexible shared parenting arrangements. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health’s guidelines recommend that separated couples should not share custody before their child has reached the age of two.
This information is based on a study that followed the development of 256 children and families throughout Australia.
The study was divided into three segments:
- High frequency overnight stay
- Low frequency overnight stay
- Occasional overnight stay, but with more frequent daytime visits.
Children belonging to the first group experienced the highest level of irritability, followed by the low frequency overnight group. The infants that showed the most stable development and lowest incidence of stress were those who belong to the third group where there is nearly an absence of overnight stays, although daytime contact may be frequent.
Thus, the guidelines recommend that non-custodial parents should instead opt for regular day visits so as not to disrupt the infant’s normal development. If you are a separated couple involved in a parenting dispute, the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health suggests not sharing custody until the child is at least two years of age.
These are of course only suggestions and do not have the force and effect of law. However, the guidelines are based on important studies of the Family Court reforms initiated by the Howard Government in 2006. The reforms have assigned a greater weight on shared parenting and shared care of children after the divorce or separation of the parents.
While the amendments to the Family Law Act have put great emphasis on shared parenting, measures that address family violence have since that time and more recently been passed by Parliament, highlighting the safety and best interests of children. Thus the second set of measures seeks to protect children from family violence or abuse when relationships break down.
Not everyone is happy about the guidelines.
“When parents are together, they care for the babies on a shared basis. There’s no reason why there couldn’t be reasonable overnight contacts when the parents are co-operative,” said Wayne Butler, executive secretary of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia.
Other criticisms to the guidelines point to the fact that caring for an infant can be too much of a burden for one parent, and overnight stays with the other parent offer a welcome relief for the primary custodial parent.
Besides, they added, the stress associated with caring for an infant or toddler as a single parent can negatively affect the emotional bond between mother and baby.
Rachel Stubbs and Associates is a specialised Family Law firm located in Camden, Wollongong and Bowral. Rachel Stubbs and Associates act in Family Law matters involving; property settlements, divorce applications, children’s matters, for both defacto and married couples. More information can be found on our website stubbslaw.com.au for Family Law matters or austdivorce.com.au for online divorce applications. Location directions can be found on our site rachelstubbs.net.au.
This article remains the property of Rachel Stubbs and Associates and can only provide basic information only and is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. This information can not be relied on as a substitute of legal information and it is only general by nature. This information was generally correct at the time of writing but changes in legislation or procedure may change the accuracy of this article. Should you require any specific legal advice in relation to your situation please contact Rachel Stubbs and Associates for specialist Family Law or Criminal Law advice