expert online series

Matrimonial Attorney Liz Baldwin
on Visitation for the Youngest Children of Divorce


Current Time: Thu May 29 09:44:19 EDT 1997

MsgId: jcafe(1)
Date: Thu May 22 21:58:32 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Hello!
MsgId: jcafe(2)
Date: Thu May 22 21:59:31 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Hi, Liz! Welcome to Thursday Night Live.
MsgId: jcafe(3)
Date: Thu May 22 21:59:57 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Hi! Glad to be here!
MsgId: jcafe(4)
Date: Thu May 22 22:00:14 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Tonight we will be discussing visitation issues for the youngest children with attorney Elizabeth Baldwin, who has dealt extensively with this issue. I'm wondering if you can start by laying some groundwork. What are the major issues the very young child and parents face in terms of visitation? What is most important for the children, first of all? What are their needs?
MsgId: jcafe(6)
Date: Thu May 22 22:01:51 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Please feel free to call me "Liz." Parents face a difficult challenge when they separate. How can their child have a close, loving relationship with both parents? With young children, often separation needs come into play. Babies do not have the same sense of time that older children or adults have. Thus, they need very frequent contact with those important in their lives. Fashioning parenting time for young children and babies can be very difficult for parents. However, parents are best equipped to determine what is best for their child - better so than experts, or judges.
MsgId: jcafe(11)
Date: Thu May 22 22:05:15 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Can you please clarify? What IS appropriate for the very young?
MsgId: jcafe(13)
Date: Thu May 22 22:06:22 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

What visitation is appropriate depends on the parents' individual situation. Every family is different. Every baby is different.
MsgId: jcafe(14)
Date: Thu May 22 22:07:23 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

The difficult challenge for parents is how to promote and protect the bond with both of them, respecting their individual child's developmental needs.
MsgId: jcafe(15)
Date: Thu May 22 22:07:56 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Yet, don't the very young have specific needs with respect to the primary caregiver? Does too much separation at too young an age do harm?
MsgId: jcafe(16)
Date: Thu May 22 22:09:16 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Yes. Babies form very strong bonds with their attachment figure. Often this is the mother, and most especially if she is breastfeeding. That is not to say that the father's bond is not just as important, but you want to help the baby to have both bonds without disrupting one...
MsgId: jcafe(18)
Date: Thu May 22 22:09:54 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

What are the guidelines in this situation?
MsgId: jcafe(19)
Date: Thu May 22 22:10:20 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Because babies do not have the same sense of time, and cannot understand that someone not there still exists, lengthy separations from their attachment figure can be very damaging. There are no set guidelines that apply in all cases. One would want to look at the individual situation. For instance, if the baby had never been separated from the mother, visitations should start very gradually in length. If the mother is apart from her baby for a day at a time, then visits could begin with what the child is accustomed to. One would want to try to have some consistency. What did the parents do before they separated? There are many factors to look at. What style of parenting are the parents engaging in? How far apart do they live? What contact did they have before? These are a few examples
MsgId: jcafe(24)
Date: Thu May 22 22:13:37 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Well, perhaps we should consider some scenarios. Specifically, in instances of divorce, one parent, in an effort to gain valuable time with a child, may try to take that child away from the primary caregiver for a longer period than the child can adjust to. This may cause conflict --especially legal conflict. How can we work with the courts to resolve these conflicts in the best interests of the child?
MsgId: jcafe(27)
Date: Thu May 22 22:15:30 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If one must go to court, having expert witnesses (psychologists, etc.) to educate the court about separation needs is usually needed. However, the best way to protect young children is to stay out of court - work it out together - to settle one's case.
MsgId: jcafe(26)
Date: Thu May 22 22:15:23 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

I take it you feel that the child should not be forced to make drastic changes at a very young age. There should be a consistency for the child, even in the face of the divorce.
MsgId: jcafe(29)
Date: Thu May 22 22:16:44 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Consistency can be very important for a child. If the parents can do it, yes, trying to keep things as they were as much as possible can help the children cope.
MsgId: jcafe(30)
Date: Thu May 22 22:17:36 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

How can parents find the guidelines and resources they need to work this out themselves? What sort of professional help should they seek in setting the guidelines?
MsgId: jcafe(31)
Date: Thu May 22 22:18:16 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Well, as they say, there are 60 ways to leave your lover, I feel there are 60 ways to settle your case. If parents cannot do it themselves, mediation is an excellent resource to use. Counseling can help parents to work together, and is recommended for any parent going through this - even individual counseling. If the lawyers are already involved, talking to them about ways to settle can help. Realizing that you are 'stuck' with this other person for the rest of your life, and a desire to not spend $5000 to $50,000 litigating, is often good motivation.
MsgId: jcafe(36)
Date: Thu May 22 22:20:38 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Many times, parents do not want to share a child. Other times, the child is really removed from the primary caregiver for too long a time. How can we determine which is the case in a given instant? Often, divorced parents have opposing views on this issue.
MsgId: jcafe(37)
Date: Thu May 22 22:21:32 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

In fashioning parenting time for young children, there are not many resources out there to help. This is primarly what I do for parents. I have found few others that are experienced in this. One way to solve the problem is to reshape the time rather than restrict it. For instance, if the mother feels that the baby is going off for longer visits than she feels is best for the baby, why not instead fashion the tine where the father has just as much time, but in shorter periods?
MsgId: jcafe(40)
Date: Thu May 22 22:25:11 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Here's a question from the peanut gallery: A woman is breastfeeding her child until age 1.5, and says the child should, therefore, not stay away from her overnight. The father insists this is way too old an age for breastfeeding, and insists he wants the child for longer periods. How would you help these parents resolve their differences?
MsgId: jcafe(42)
Date: Thu May 22 22:26:12 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Breastfeeding is a health choice, and not a lifestyle choice. The current recommendations are that all children be breastfed till age 2 or beyond. However, breastfeeding probably isn't even the issue at that age. If the child weaned, that would not mean that overnights would be easily accomplished. If the child is not accustomed to being separated from the mother for that period of time, then I'd like to see it worked up to. For instance, if the child is accustomed to two full days with the father, then one might try a short overnight. You want the child to be comfortable with the father, and for the father to be able to get the child to sleep at his place.
MsgId: jcafe(46)
Date: Thu May 22 22:28:21 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Yet many children at that age do have overnights. What happens when the father wants this situation and the mother does not, but the courts order that the overnights take place?
MsgId: jcafe(47)
Date: Thu May 22 22:29:19 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

To help such parents, I'd try to maximize the time he spends with the child, working up to the longer separations. There is no reason why Dad can't see his child every day, or even more than one time in a day. If it gets to the point that overnights are ordered there is not much that can be done if the parents cannot work it out themselves.--except to help the child deal emotionally with the overnight.
MsgId: jcafe(49)
Date: Thu May 22 22:33:11 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Yet many Dads work during the day and do not have this flexibility in their schedule. The only option they have, if they want more time with a child, is to have the overnights punctuated by long gaps. Which is more important --the consistency of the primary parent, or the relationship with the non-custodial parent. It seems that where there is no option of flexibility, something is lost.
MsgId: jcafe(50)
Date: Thu May 22 22:34:41 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If a court is going to decide it, clearly they will pick the father's bond over consistency. They want to maximize the bond the child has with both parents. However, most parents can work this out. Look at their individual schedules. When is there time? How can they avoid the lengthy separations? Parents need to remember that if the child is grieving one parent, the child is not going to bond to the other parent. They need to respect the child's feelings.
MsgId: jcafe(53)
Date: Thu May 22 22:36:20 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

One alternative to overnights, by the way, is giving Dad time every weekend. Offer the maximum time the child can be apart, rather than the minimum. Really help the other parent be involved.
MsgId: jcafe(55)
Date: Thu May 22 22:36:54 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

When courts emphasize the father's bond over consistency, the child will face psychological hurdles. How can parents help a child in this situation cope?
MsgId: jcafe(57)
Date: Thu May 22 22:37:57 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If the courts order overnights with no buildup, why not offer additional time to work up to it over and above what is ordered?
MsgId: jcafe(58)
Date: Thu May 22 22:38:07 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Like what?
MsgId: jcafe(59)
Date: Thu May 22 22:38:28 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Helping the child to get ready for overnights can help. Read "Grover Sleep over at Betty Lou's" or a Mr. Roger's book on overnights before the overnight. Many toddlers would be excited to pick out sheets for their bed, or a special snuggly to take with them. It seems obvious to me that it is best to help the child want to go on overnights, and to do it then. But not all parents are willing to wait.
MsgId: jcafe(62)
Date: Thu May 22 22:39:59 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

What about when children are slightly older --age three or four? What are the general guidelines for overnights and away time, then?
MsgId: jcafe(63)
Date: Thu May 22 22:41:27 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

I am not aware of any courts putting overnights off past age 2, except for compelling reasons. Or weekends at age 3. Or week long visits at age 5. Many kids this age are fine with the visitation, as long as it doesn't get too lengthy. The real problem and challenge at this age is summer visitation, which can be many weeks long.
MsgId: jcafe(66)
Date: Thu May 22 22:42:41 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Again, it should be worked up to. A child accustomed to one overnight is not going to fare well with a week suddenly.
MsgId: jcafe(65)
Date: Thu May 22 22:42:12 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Do you believe that the guidlines you've suggested above work well for most children, from a developmental perspective?
MsgId: jcafe(67)
Date: Thu May 22 22:44:06 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

I am not happy with set guidelines anywhere. It doesn't look at the individual situation. If the child is accustomed to staying with relatives for a week, then a week is fine for Dad. But if the child is not accustomed to more than a day, guidelines that say 4 weeks can be a disaster to a young child.
MsgId: jcafe(68)
Date: Thu May 22 22:44:36 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

I know of many children who have never adjusted to their away time, or to visitation, even at ages eight and nine. What can be done for these older children?
MsgId: jcafe(70)
Date: Thu May 22 22:46:43 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If the parents cannot work together, then making the best of it is about all you can do. Getting psychological help for the kids would be my recommendation. However, I rarely believe parents can't work together, if motivated enough.
MsgId: jcafe(71)
Date: Thu May 22 22:47:37 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Even with the older child, why not refashion the time in a way where the child can handle it?
MsgId: jcafe(72)
Date: Thu May 22 22:48:28 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Some parents may be able to work it out by giving the other parent MORE time, but in shorter segments.
MsgId: jcafe(74)
Date: Thu May 22 22:49:09 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If the parents go to mediation, the mediator will try to help them identify not just their positions, but their underlying interests. Help them to find a middle ground. Courts just can't do this.
MsgId: jcafe(73)
Date: Thu May 22 22:48:30 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

This works only when both parents are clear in their understanding of what's best for the child. This is often not the case, and the child will be asked to take on more than he or she can handle. In these instances, can professional help --counseling-- be useful for the child?
MsgId: jcafe(75)
Date: Thu May 22 22:50:21 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

If the child is distressed, counseling is a must in my mind. Getting professional help should always be considered when the kids are not doing well, or adjusting. But just because the parents disagree on what is or isn't too long, that doesn't mean a good mediator can't help them find a happy medium.
MsgId: jcafe(77)
Date: Thu May 22 22:51:38 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

You know, I am a certified mediator, as well as an attorney. The cases that are worked out in mediation are not only those where the parents agree on parenting issues. Many times they are miles apart on these issues.
MsgId: jcafe(78)
Date: Thu May 22 22:52:14 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Some parents try to get more visitation so they will have to pay less support. It can become a very political issue for self-centered parents. What strain will the child absorb when this is the case? As a mediator, how can you help parents take a less self-centered view?
MsgId: jcafe(80)
Date: Thu May 22 22:53:40 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Unfortunately, some parents may be looking at other factors rather than what is best for the child. And I know of two states that link child support to the amount of time spent with the child. Obviously when decisions are made for financial reasons, or because of unresolved anger, the children suffer.
MsgId: jcafe(81)
Date: Thu May 22 22:54:20 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

As a mediator, how do you help a child who is suffering in this way?
MsgId: jcafe(82)
Date: Thu May 22 22:54:45 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

As a mediator, I try to help parents focus on their children. Helping them to look at their situation realistically. Helping them to identify their underlying interests and needs. Helping them find a middle ground.
MsgId: jcafe(84)
Date: Thu May 22 22:56:57 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58


As a parent, how can you help a child who is suffering in this way?
MsgId: jcafe(85)
Date: Thu May 22 22:57:15 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

As a parent, try your best to END THE WAR. Get into counseling. Seek help to deal with the inevitable anger that goes with divorce.
MsgId: jcafe(87)
Date: Thu May 22 22:57:49 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

It is not divorce that destroys kids, but the anger between the parents. Get help for yourself first. Get help for the kids if they need it.
MsgId: jcafe(89)
Date: Thu May 22 22:59:11 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

When I consult with parents, I try to help them end the war. And to work it out. That can't happen unless they know what they want, and they look realistically at how to win the other parent over.
MsgId: jcafe(88)
Date: Thu May 22 22:58:42 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Elizabeth Baldwin, thank you so much for joining us tonight at Divorce Central to address this crucial subject. For those who missed the chat, you will find the full archives linked from both our parenting section AND our experts online section.

Goodnight!!
MsgId: jcafe(90)
Date: Thu May 22 23:00:02 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Thank you. If anyone wants more information, they can e-mail me or visit my websites. They can be reached at http://www.parentsplace.com/shopping/esq/index.html and http://www.lalecheleague.org/LawMain.html. My e-mail is baldwin@icanect.net
MsgId: jcafe(93)
Date: Thu May 22 23:01:39 EDT 1997
From: Liz
At: 206.142.161.179

Goodnight!
MsgId: jcafe(94)
Date: Thu May 22 23:01:53 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.204.58

Great, thanks again! We'll see you on line.



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