How Attachment Impacts Parenting Plans: Infants and Overnights

Photo of Jeffrey A. Soilson

I recently attended the 49th Annual Conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in Chicago. The conference was entitled Attachment, Brain Science and Children of Divorce: The ABCDs of Child Development for Family Law. In addition to seminars focused on the role of Parenting Coordinators in resolving disputes between parents in high-conflict custody cases, there were presentations on attachment theory, and how developments in social science help us formulate appropriate parenting plans, especially in cases involving infants and toddlers.

For example, many child psychologists and other mental health professionals used to believe that infants formed a singular and exclusive attachment to one primary caregiver during the first year of his or her life. The specialists warned parents against disrupting this exclusive caregiver-child bond. They believed it could cause lifelong adjustment problems for the children. With such warnings in mind, family law practitioners and the courts often rejected the notion of infant overnights away from the primary caregiver, without considering case-specific facts, on a case-by-case basis.

But in recent years, as a result of studies conducted by mental health specialists around the world, some of whom spoke at the Chicago conference, we now know that children form multiple and simultaneous attachments between six and nine months of age. In situations where both parents have been consistently involved in all aspects of parenting, and, as a result, the child has formed an attachment to both parents, the previous warnings against infant overnights with a non-custodial parent should not be given as much weight in formulating appropriate parenting plans.

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