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.
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.