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Consequences of Divorce

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In a perfect world, every baby would be welcomed with open, loving arms and cherished so completely that a happy and healthy childhood was guaranteed.  In this imperfect world, however, many babies are born into less than ideal circumstances.  As a result of divorce, babies may experience a disruption in their growth progression.  Overnight visitation became the scapegoat blamed for the development difficulties.  Although overnight visitation became the focus of the legal and parental battles, the more critical problems were the conflict, hostility, anxiety and nature of the divorce processes that became competition for their parents’ attention and the sensitive and responsive caregiving they deserved.

 

Every child and family must be considered on an individual basis when developing custody and visitation plans for infants and toddlers.  Factors to consider include not only the child’s attachments and developing relationships but also the child’s physical health, growth and development, resiliency and ability to adapt to changes, and temperament.  The quality of the relationships between family members is also critical.  How much conflict is present?  Can these parents talk to one another in a calm manner?  Can they make eye contact with one another?  Most importantly, do the adults who have been charged with nurturing, protecting, and caring for this infant have the ability to search out, identify, and honor the child’s responses and cues?  Can they respond to these cues and understand the infant’s individual needs, which are often not in synchrony with their own?

 

Layered on top of these considerations are issues related to custody and visitation.  Primary custody often goes to the mother of the infant with the father receiving some level of visitation, especially during the early years.  A great deal of controversy surrounds what type of visitation plan is appropriate and can meet the needs of the infant as well as the needs of the noncustodial parent.  Although visitation wit the father is desirable, separation from the mother is seen as undesirable.  The infant is positioned between these two concerns, and a plan must be made to reconcile them.  Further burdening this decision is the inflexibility of the legal system.  Once a plan has been established for the infant, even if problems later develop they can become difficult to prove, time consuming to bring to the table for discussion, and costly to resolve if parents cannot agree without court intervention.

 

Overnight visitation is frequently the main focus of visitation discussions and court battles.  At what age can the child begin overnights?  How often?  How many hours can it involve?  Can the child tolerate two different sleeping environments?  Can the baby be comforted with a bottle from her father when she may have awakened searching for the comfort of her mother’s breast? 

 

 

 

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