In your opinion, how young is too young for week-about access?
Question posted by Gary Direnfeld, Social Worker, Guest Expert – Radio/TV (family life, marriage, divorce), Media Personality, Writer/Author, Columnist
Not sure what you mean by week-about access, but in my humble opinion, unless contra-indicated, children are NEVER too young! Why? Because intact couples take their newborns out, in numerous cases, the day after the birth—visiting family and sundry. If it is OK then it’s OK anytime for either parent to take THEIR child out and about. The child belongs to NEITHER one of them exclusively.
The answer, of course, is: It depends.
The starting point is the concept of Parental Responsibilities – see my article: Parental Responsibilities: Formulating the New Paradigm for Parent-Child Relationships
There has to be an assessment of the needs of the individual child, and also of the ability and availability of each parent to supply each of those needs. I agree with Linda, that neither parent has exclusivity, and a few years ago there were some articles in Family Court Review, including one by Richard Warshak, about Blanket Restrictions.
As a mediator and family lawyer, my understanding of an infant is that the infant has no understanding of time. Therefore, the infant should spend the majority of the time with the primary carer and have lots of quality time (4-5 visits/week for 1-3 hours). The reason is that there will be a loss of contact with the primary care-taking parent as well as a loss of a familiar and comfortable environment. Overnights are not recommended with the non-primary carer. After that or around 2-2-1/2, you can start introducing overnights and build to shared care around 4-5 years old. That is the way the Australian law is generally applied with a presumption of shared care with certain requirements. I do not believe shared care works or should be applied for infants and studies at least in Australia shows negative results if tried
So here’s the question I’m left with, what do we do about all of the parents who are living together intact and trading nights of work to save on daycare costs. If parents can share custody and get along and be appropriate, what is the difference, or are we telling parents who shuffled their time that they are damaging their children? do we ban intact parents from shuffling their work hours to accommodate the financial savings?
The Norgrove Final Report (at para. 4.40) was very clear that: “Government should find means of strengthening the importance of a good understanding of parental responsibility in information it gives to parents. No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents”. So I am worried that if the provision in the recommendation is left out of the legislation, Judges will have a hard time fending off claims for equal time.
As I point out in my paper Parental Responsibilities: Formulating the New Paradigm for Parent-Child Relationships there is no room for formulae which appear to release the parents and the court from a full investigation of the needs of the individual child and the abilities and availability of each parent. Shortcuts, including the assumption that shared parenting means equal time regardless of quality, and the approximation rule, which tries to copy the pre-parental split time divisions, may be attractive to lawyers and busy judges. But they subvert the duty to decide, on the basis of the facts of the individual case, including, as I have pointed out, the personality and sensitivities of the individual child, in the best interests of the child.
So legislation and court judgments must be drafted with great care.