Children Under the Age of 3

Introduction

A court order for parenting time establishes the minimum amount of time your child will spend with each parent. Developing a parenting time plan that is different from the court order is okay as long as both parents agree to the plan.   In the private sector, an attorney or mediator can help parents develop a plan that suits the needs of infants. The parents or attorney can present the plan to a district court judge to review and incorporate into your order.

State law requires the courts to consider the following before finalizing a parenting plan for a child under the age of 3:

  • who previously provided care and/or the amount of contact between parents and child
  • how the child will be affected by separation from either party
  • availability and willingness of parents to personally care for the young child
  • ability of the parties to share in the responsibilities, rights, and duties of parenting
  • child’s physical, medical, behavioral, and developmental needs
  • the impact and influence of individuals, other than the parties, who will be present during periods of possession
  • siblings
  • child’s former routine
  • child’s need for healthy attachments
  • how close or far apart the parents live (the geographic distance between parents)
  • how well the parents get along
  • whether a transition schedule is needed to help the child adjust
  • any other evidence of the best interests of the child

If you go through the OAG, the ability to create a highly customized order is very unlikely. Generally, the order will be either a phased-in order or step-up orderA “step-up plan” or “graduated” is a type of possession and access schedule or parenting time schedule that requires the noncustodial parent’s time with the child to start off being more limited than it would be under a Standard Possession Order and step up to add more time. This also may be called a graduated or stair-step plan. The noncustodial parent gradually increases time with the child before moving to the SPO schedule.. Parents are encouraged to agree on a plan that works for their family. As long as you agree, you both can follow a plan that works for both of you, even if it does not look like the one from the OAG. When parents do not agree, both must follow the court order. This section goes over your options through the OAG.

Phased-in orders are used most commonly in cases where the child is under the age of 3. If there has been little or no contact between the noncustodial parent and child, most courts begin with a modified or phased-in possession order before transitioning to an SPO, especially if the child is under the age of 3. The order will list a certain number of phases, and each phase must be completed in full on the required number of scheduled periods before moving on to the next phase. Once the noncustodial parent completes the initial phases of possession, the parties shall have possession of the child in accordance with the standard possession order.

The OAG uses a modified possession or phased-in order that sets out brief periods of possession for one day on certain weekends. After completing one phase, the amount of time with the child gradually increases until parties move to the standard possession order.

There are other factors to think about when creating your possession order.

Breast-feeding

Parents who are not raising their child together must balance the baby’s need to nurse with its need to bond with the father. First-time parents both have a steep learning curve for meeting their baby’s needs. Parents should talk often and openly with each other about the baby. Breast‐feeding should not be used to stop the father from spending time with the child. Instead, mothers can offer the fathers parenting time (and practice time), and fathers can be flexible regarding the baby’s need to nurse. A father can feed an infant with the mother’s expressed (pumped) milk, particularly after nursing routines are well established. Questions about breast‐feeding should go to the baby’s pediatrician.

The first month is the most difficult for predicting a baby’s feeding schedule. Some babies will want to nurse almost continuously, and others less frequently. Every baby is different. Fathers can still be present and helpful during these first days of getting to know the baby. By the end of the second month, most babies have a routine that involves both parents meeting the baby’s feeding and changing needs.

See Office of Attorney General – Maps for New Dads for more information.

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