How Does Age Play a Role in Child Custody Cases?

Parents dealing with child custody issues oftentimes wonder if the court takes age into consideration when deciding. Here is a break down of child custody rules by age.

Age 0-2

When it comes to infants and toddlers in this age group, the separation time from both parents should be very small. This will help reduce the child’s anxiety and maintain the bond between both the child and parents. The implication of extended separation time with children in this age group is related to the lack of long-term memory. An infant or toddler could lose an attachment with a parent fast if there is not a consistent and frequent level of contact. Contact days between the noncustodial parent and child needs to be consistent.

Age 3-5

Children within the three to five age range can form deep attachments with their parents. At the same time this age group could develop the same or similar attachments with other adults, especially those who care for them on a regular basis such as babysitters or nannies.

This group could spend overnights with each parent, but schedules consisting of a week on and week off are highly discouraged due to the detachment that can occur with this group in as little time as a week. The child’s best interest are kept in mind and the alternating week long schedules are avoided.

If your relationship with the other parent is not amicable, visible conflict between yourself and the child’s other parent needs to be avoided at all costs. A child’s witnessing of conflict could cause anxiety and can even push a child to regress to their past infant or toddler behavior.

Age 6-11

Age is only one factor when determining whether or not to schedule the “week on, week off” scenario for children ages six to eleven from the court’s perspective. The maturity of the child, in addition to the relationship bond between the child and each parent, is just as significant as age. Our attorneys have seen seven year olds handle a week on / week off schedule better than some eleven year old kids. With this being said, one blanket approach will not be beneficial for all.

In addition to age and maturity level, the court also looks at factors such as school sports, extracurricular activities and parent work schedules when determining the appropriate custody scheduling. Depending on the situation, guidelines and recommended care for younger children could apply to this age group as well.

Age 12-18

Children in this age range are developing their own independent identities. This group is extremely immersed in their activities and relationships outside of each parent’s household. Even though they are older and more independent than toddlers and infants, they can be more difficult than the younger ones when it comes to custody cases. The typical teenager has developed their own opinions, including their relationship with their parents and the relationship the each parent has with each other.

Most judges encourage parental flexibility while working with children in this age group. Flexibility leads to not only great co-parenting, but also the continued emotional health of the child because they are likely exposed to less conflict.

Parents should try their best to keep their own issues separate from their teens and avoid using them as messengers. It is important that children are not placed in the middle of parental communications. Doing so will likely cause confusion and potential resentment of his or her parents. We suggest that parents remain sensitive to their children’s feelings and encourage frequent ongoing contact with both parents, even in a situation where resentment toward one parent may exist.
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