Custody disputes are difficult for everyone no matter what the age of the child in question. But in cases where the child involved is still young enough to breastfeed, it can be particularly difficult to come up with a custody and visitation arrangement that makes everyone happy. How can you share custody of a child that only you can feed? Are there any legal protections for nursing mothers in custody law? Take a look at some of the things that you should know about seeking custody when you're a nursing mother.
Don't Count on State Breastfeeding Laws
You may be hoping that your state has a law that will ensure that a judge will side with you when it comes to prioritizing breastfeeding while establishing custody and visitation. However, you probably shouldn't count on that. While a few states do have laws that take breastfeeding into consideration in family court, most do not – and even those that do are generally not that specific.
For example, in Michigan, the law says that a judge must consider whether a child is breastfeeding when making a determination about parenting time. However, that's as far as it goes – there's nothing to stop the judge from considering your child's breastfeeding routine and deciding that it's not as important as some other factor.
In states without such a law, judges can still consider breastfeeding in custody cases; they just aren't required to. Family judges have a lot of discretion to do what is in the best interest of the child, so your best bet is to be able to show why the custody arrangement you want is in your child's best interest.
Try to Work Out a Schedule With Your Ex First
If at all possible, it's worth trying to sit down with your child's other parent and both of your attorneys and try to work out a parenting plan that both parties can agree to. Even a temporary plan that will be in effect until the child is weaned, with a promise to revisit the arrangement at that time, can be useful.
In general, most family court judges will accept a plan that both parents have agreed to as long as it's good for the child. You and your child's other parent will both have a lot more leeway to come up with the terms of the arrangement if you do it yourselves rather than if the judge does it for you. It's worth at least attempting to come to an agreement before you leave the matter in the hands of a judge.
Bring In Good Evidence
The benefits of breastfeeding may be obvious to you, but they aren't going to necessarily be obvious to the judge or to your child's other parent. So it's important to be ready to show the court why you're advocating for a custody arrangement that accommodates your child's need to breastfeed. You need to make it clear that you're not just trying to limit your child's time with their other parent.
Consider asking your child's pediatrician or another medical care provider to testify. You may get further with an expert who knows and has examined your individual child than with general facts and figures about breastfeeding.
Get Ready to Compromise
Even if the court acknowledges the importance of breastfeeding for your child, they aren't going to give that more importance than your child's relationship with their other parent. The court is going to want to know that you understand that your child needs to have a relationship with their other parent, and they're going to want to see how you're going to help make that happen.
For example, if you're arguing that your child's other parent can't have overnight visits until your child is weaned, then it can help if you're willing to facilitate extra daytime visits during the week until that time. This shows the judge that you're making an effort and making your child's relationship with their other parent a priority, not just being difficult.
There are no one-size-fits-all answers to custody disputes, so it's hard to predict how an individual case will turn out. However, with good evidence, a willingness to compromise, and a good family law attorney, there's a good chance you can help a judge see your side of the case. Get in touch with a law firm such as New Direction Family Law to learn more.