Overnight Parenting Time with Infants and Toddlers

Posted by & filed under Parenting Time.

When parents have disputes about parenting time in cases involving infants or toddlers, the issue of overnights often arises.  In 1999, the Minnesota Conference of Chief Judges approved a “Parental Guide for Making Child-Focused Parenting Time Decisions,” prepared by the Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Task Force on Visitation and Child Support Enforcement.

Regarding infants and toddlers, the Guide states (as follows in italics):


Parents of infants should establish a parenting time schedule that is consistent, predictable,and routine in nature.  Depending upon the noncustodial parent’s availability and caregiving history, the noncustodial parent of an infant should have short (one to three hour) but frequent (two to three times per week) parenting time during the day or early evening.  As the child grows from infant to toddler and becomes more comfortable with separation from the custodial parent, the duration of parenting time should increase.  For parents who live far apart, the noncustodial parent of an infant or toddler should travel to the residential area of the custodial parent.  This may mean that parenting time takes place in the home of the custodial parent or in a nearby location where the child feels comfortable.  It is important for parents of infants and toddlers to establish one nighttime caregiver.  Overnight and extended parenting time may not be appropriate for infants and toddlers.  However, children who are able to make smooth transitions between homes, or who have older sisters or brothers to accompany them on parenting time, may be comfortable with overnight and extended parenting time. 


In practice, one key fact regarding this issue is whether the young child has or has not already experienced overnight parenting time.  If the child has not yet transitioned to overnights, then the above recommendations are more applicable than cases in which a child has already experienced overnights at the non-custodial home.  In other words, the above recommendations cannot be readily invoked to halt overnight parenting time that has already been instituted, particularly if the child is showing no signs of maladjustment to the overnight parenting time.  


Another key fact in the practice of implementing parenting time with very young children is the level of cooperation that it requires between the parents to implement frequent and consistent contact between the child and the non-custodial parent.  In many cases, the parents are dealing with the parenting time arrangements of an infant or toddler shortly after their breakup.  While the angst and bitterness of the parents’ separation may diminish with time, in the interim, it is necessary for the parents to coordinate the parenting time arrangements in the best interests of a child whose age and developmental stage makes that particularly difficult to do. 



8 Responses to “Overnight Parenting Time with Infants and Toddlers”

  1. Kathleen

    How does a parent deal with a child that after staying with said parent, the child refuses, to the point where there is significant seperation anxiety, go back to the other parent. Significant anxiety includes screaming, hitting, and punching the other parent upon return. The parent that the child doesn’t want to see, has been diagnosed with BPD.

  2. Gerald Williams

    The anxiety demonstrated by screaming, hitting and punching may be a basis for modifying the schedule to provide for less parenting time. However, some child development professionals might recommend other remedies to deal with the anxiety, that would help the child adjust better to the time away from the primary parent.

  3. Alison Ziskind

    It seems that one crucial point not addressed by the court or the article is whether or not the mother is breastfeeding the child. Given the unique bond shared by nursing, and the critical risks of formula feeding, overnight stays might have to be delayed until the child weans.
    Early or abrupt weaning is neither desirable nor justifiable in order to facilitate visitation, particularly if there is a family history of allergies. Regardless of health history, the babies’ right to be nurtured at the breast, and derive all the appropriate biological benefits from said, deserves very serious consideration from the court.

  4. Yuri Joakimidis

    A number of well-respected researchers who contributed to the issue made a point of commenting on the overnight question. And all of them said about the same thing: overnights are fine for infants and toddlers (Warshak 2000; Kelly & Lamb 2000; Lamb and Kelly 2001)
    “…There is absolutely no evidence that children’s psychological adjustment or the relationships between children and their parents are harmed when children spend overnight periods with their other parents. An often mis-cited study by Solomon (1997) reported high levels of insecure infant-mother and infant-father attachment when parents lived apart, although toddlers who spent overnights with both their fathers and mothers were not significantly more likely to have insecure relationships than those children who did not have overnight visits with both parents….
    When mothers are breast-feeding, there is considerable hesitation, indecision, and perhaps strong maternal resistance regarding extended overnight or full-day separations. Breast-feeding is obviously one of the important contexts in which attachments are promoted, although it is by no means an essential context. Indeed, there is no evidence that breast-fed babies form closer or more secure relationships to their parents than do bottle-fed babies. A father can feed an infant with the mother’s expressed milk, particularly after nursing routines are well established. Kelly & Lamb 2000)
    “When mental health professionals offer opinions that obviously violate logic, common experience, and common sense, we cannot rule out the possibility of intellectual dishonesty….
    ..Infants and toddlers often sleep away from their mothers and away from their cribs. They sleep in strollers, car seats, bassinets, and parents’ arms. They sleep in day care, in church, and in grandparents’ homes. Any married couple who takes a vacation in the first few years of their child’s life leaves the child in someone else’s care. Clinicians do not routinely advise parents against taking such vacations. If infants can tolerate sleeping away from both parents during nap time at day care centers, on what basis can we argue that sleeping away from one parent, in the familiar home of the other parent, would harm children?…
    ….The opinion that children can tolerate sleeping during the day in their fathers’ presence, and in the presence of hired attendants in day care centers, but not at night with their fathers, cannot be said to express a scientific judgment. It reveals a bias often rooted in inaccurate assumptions about early child development. Experts who endorse blanket restrictions cannot provide adequate scientific justification for their opinions. Courts, attorneys, and parents should be aware of such limitations. (Warshak 2000)

  5. Yuri

    Commentators opposed to overnights for infants and toddlers have been relying on misleading interpretations of very flawed research to argue that young children need to spend most of their time, and every night, in the care of one parent.

    In order to clarify where social science stands on these issues, a February 2014 study published in the highly ranked American Psychological Association peer-review journal, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law with the endorsement of 110 of the world’s top authorities (from 15 countries) in attachment, early child development, and divorce concludes that overnights and shared residential parenting should be the norm for children of all ages including infants and toddlers.


    Warshak, R.A (2014) Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 46–67

  6. Nicole Simon

    My husband moved away when the baby was only 2 months old. My soon to be ex husband now lives 1200 miles away and has NEVER had the baby overnight by himself. The baby is now 15 months old and my ex is wanting full 6 weeks in the summer , spring, fall and winter break in his new state. Ex husband has a history or marijuana use, and just recently got arrested for a dui. He is suicidal and not medicated or under any treatment, yet he expects full visitation rights as well as having me pay half his travel expenses. I’ve requested hair follicle drug testing, supervised visitation in our home state and based on his results on his drug test, as well as he should pay his own costs for visitation since he moved so far away in the first place. What are my chances for getting supervised visitation in my home state with drug testing and him having to pay all his own expenses? Thank you.

  7. Brahim Elfiou

    I’m aware that the Court make decision based on the best interest of the kid. Yet, my question: Is it true that MN judges are known for granting custody to the mother when it comes to toddlers? Any stats?

    • divorcelawyer

      I don’t have any stats. But I can speak anecdotally about my experience over the last 25 years or so. Generally speaking, back in the 90’s (and 80’s, 70’s, etc.) it was probably pretty accurate to say that mom would end up with custody of a toddler unless (a) she was found to be unfit or (b) she and the other parent agreed to a different arrangement. These days, the parenting plans are more gender neutral, and a 50-50 arrangement is more likely than in the past. So the court would still rule against the mom if she were deemed unfit, but the court is more likely to grant 50-50 custody, or something other than mom being granted sole custody, even if mom doesn’t agree to it.


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