Child Custody | Family
How Does Child Custody Work for Newborns?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
Each child custody case has many possibilities, but nothing quite compares to situations involving newborn babies. Moms have a special need to be near newborns for the health of their infant, while dads will need the chance to form their first parental bonds during this critical time.
A newborn’s schedule, personality, and medical needs will not be truly known by the parents, much less their lawyers or a judge. In most cases, it is best if parents draft their parenting plan together instead of relying on a judge to create a plan for them. Special arrangements and visitation schedules must be made to accommodate the needs of your newborn and each parent’s schedule.
When Can I File for Custody After Birth?
If you are in the midst of a divorce, then child custody is usually determined during the proceedings. However, if you are unmarried, custody cannot be determined until after the child is born.
Married parents typically have shared custody until the divorce is final or a temporary custody order has been granted. In the case of unmarried parents, paternity must be established or agreed upon before the father has custodial rights recognized.
How Does Shared Custody Work for Newborns?
Shared custody for newborns can be complex, but it is possible to achieve. An agreement can be negotiated before finalized by a court, or it can be decided by a judge. In general, shared custody for newborns involves dividing up the baby’s time between each parent in a manner that is appropriate for the infant’s development.
When creating a shared custody plan, focus on the best interest of your child. Parenting plans sent to a judge to approve should not be more focused on the parents than the child. Judges are not as likely to approve such plans. Before creating a shared custody plan, parents should consider the following:
- Infants benefit from spending time with both parents. Time spent holding, feeding, playing, bathing, etc. are all moments of bonding
- Most babies do not have a normal sleep schedule or a predictable eating pattern
- Lack of consistency and disruptions can be stressful and unhealthy for newborns
- Newborn babies benefit from shorter, more frequent visits instead of prolonged visits with longer periods of absence
Making a Shared Custody Plan for Newborns
Parents must consider many factors when creating a shared custody plan for a newborn. A newborn’s developmental needs must be taken into account at every phase of the plan. Judges are more likely to approve a shared custody plan for a newborn that addresses:
- A primary residence for the newborn (no overnight visits)
- Visitation schedules that include short but frequent visits from the non-custodial parent
- Schedules that allow both parents to share caretaking tasks (e.g. bathing, feeding, soothing, putting to sleep, etc)
- Plan and resolution to slowly implement changes in the plan as the child ages
Will Shared Custody Affect My Newborn Negatively?
Shared custody plans can be good for all parties (when the situation permits it). The overwhelming evidence suggests that shared custody plans focused on the child’s best interest are ideal for a newborn’s development. Time spent with each parent enables bonding.
In addition to shared custody being good for a child, it is also beneficial for the parents, who can share the burdens (and joys) of raising their children.
Still, it can be difficult to create a parenting plan that serves a newborn and is at least satisfactory for both parents. You should always at least run questions by a child custody lawyer, even if not letting them handle the full scope of creating a plan.
How Does Breastfeeding Impact Custodial Agreements?
Creating a parenting plan that accommodates breastfeeding can be difficult but important when the mother desires to breastfeed. Millions of parents have successfully achieved an optimal schedule for themselves and their newborns. It just takes patience and a willingness to focus on the needs of your newborn.
Newborns typically need feeding every few hours. So it is important to create a custody plan that doesn’t separate the child from its mother for too long. Some parents find it necessary to stipulate in the parenting plan if and when a child can use a bottle.
In many cases, provisions for breastfeeding include the parents spending time together during some visitations or at least being near each other. If this cannot be accomplished (due to a bad relationship), it can hinder the child’s benefits from spending quality time with both parents.
Newborns and a Father’s Rights
In the past, mothers were often granted full custody of newborns. In more recent years, family courts have leaned towards giving both parents a fair shot at custody. However, due to obvious genetic differences and the specific needs of a newborn, fathers can be at a disadvantage if they are filing for sole custody. Learn more about the custodial rights of a married and unmarried father below.
Married fathers have the same right to custody as mothers. Divorcing parents typically share custody until the court makes a final ruling on child custody. However, it is important to note that judges remain unlikely to grant sole custody of a newborn to a father unless it can be proven that it’s in the best interest of the child to live with its father.
Unmarried fathers who have not yet proven paternity have no custodial rights. The process of proving paternity slightly differs from state to state, but there are many commonalities. In some cases, a father’s name on the birth certificate is all the court needs to prove paternity.
If paternity is disputed, then a DNA test can be ordered or completed voluntarily. Once the relationship between the father and child has been determined, that father has the right to seek custody.
Can Custody Orders Change as a Child Ages?
There’s no perfect way to determine how your custody agreement and parenting plan will change years in advance. One approach is to start with gradual time-based changes in your original newborn custody plan. You can also request a modification of your original child custody plan as the need arises.
If you and your co-parent can negotiate and strategize, then it is possible to draft a parenting plan that takes into account your child’s developmental needs and how they change in the years that follow.
Options if a Newborn’s Parents Can’t Come to an Agreement
In an ideal world, all parents could easily agree on the parameters of a child custody plan for their newborns. However, in many instances, this is not the case. If you cannot agree with your co-parent on custody and visitation, then your custodial rights will be decided by a judge.
Custody battles can take months to conclude. It is in your best interest to be prepared, and to start as far in advance as you can. Whether it’s just a temporary order of child custody or the final order, parents must present a compelling argument to gain custody.
This is especially true when they are seeking sole custody. Your odds of your preferred outcome will greatly increase if a seasoned family lawyer represents you during contentious child custody proceedings.
Do I Need to Go to Court for Custody of My Newborn?
It depends. If you are satisfied with the custodial rights that you currently have, then no, you do not need to go to court for custody of your newborn. However, if you are dissatisfied with your current custodial rights (or the rights of the other parent) then you will likely need to go to court.
Parents who can negotiate and draft a parenting plan before going to court may only need a judge’s approval, instead of a full-blown hearing.
If you are currently seeking custody of your newborn, totally foregoing the court process is not in you or your child’s best interest. Custodial agreements not approved by a judge are not legally enforceable. When there are disagreements or the other parent doesn’t live up to their side of the deal, courts will not have the legal authority to settle the matter.
When to Hire a Child Custody Lawyer
Once you know that child custody will become an issue, you should start looking for a family lawyer who has experience with child custody arrangements. You may not need their full range of services, but you’ll want advice at key moments. Your child’s future, and your own, depend on being careful in this situation.
Parties have the right to represent themselves without the help of a child custody lawyer. However, that will likely put you at a great disadvantage, especially if the other party is assisted by a lawyer. Child custody lawyers can assist you with filing the correct forms, understanding the child custody laws in your state, negotiating with your ex, drafting parental agreements, representing you in court, and positioning you and your lifestyle to match a judge’s expectations.
Tips to Save Money on Legal Fees
With custody attorney costs coming in over $3,000, it makes sense to search for ways to save money on legal fees. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on legal fees while still hiring a proven child custody lawyer. Some of the most effective ways to save money on fees include:
- Develop a Good Relationship: Couples who can set aside their differences and focus on the child’s needs can create a parental plan on their own (or in mediation) and be able to bypass the sometimes drawn-out child custody hearing process – with each party saving money for the care of the newborn.
- Research: Gain an understanding of the child custody laws in your state before beginning the process. Your expectations and are likely different than the actual law.
- Take Care of Some Things on Your Own: You can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees by hiring an unbundled attorney to handle parts of your case.
With Unbundled Legal Help, you can hire an attorney to help you with the more complex aspects of your case, while you take care of the rest on your own. This can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees, with fees for unbundled legal services starting as low as $500 – $1500. Our network of unbundled attorneys also offer a variety of affordable rates for full representation.
We’ll connect you for a free consultation with an unbundled lawyer who can assist you with determining custody of your newborn child.