If you are involved in a parenting time dispute and are the parent of a breastfeeding child, you may have questions about how a breastfeeding relationship may impact a custody arrangement in Illinois. Our family law attorneys in Wheaton understand that breastfeeding is both a sensitive topic and an important part of many young children's development.
The Tender Years Argument
In the past, many jurisdictions have subscribed to the view that very young children who are still in their "tender years" - generally considered to be children age three and younger - should primarily be cared for by their mother.
This view stems from the antiquated belief that mothers are always the primary caretakers of young children, and from the accurate understanding that a breastfeeding child will need more consistent access to his or her mother.
Breastfeeding and Parent-Child Bonding
While many states, including Illinois, have moved past this presumption of the mother as the more nurturing parent, it is well-established that the breastfeeding relationship promotes bonding between mother and child. However, it is also important for a father to have time to nurture a bond with his child, as long as this is in the child's best interest.
Overnight Visits for the Breastfeeding Child
Breastfeeding affects parenting time disputes most when it comes to deciding whether the child will be allowed overnight visits with his or her father, and for how long. For instance, a week-on, week-off schedule for parents who share parental responsibilities may not be feasible for a breastfeeding child, since spending so long a period away from the mother would likely impact both the mother's milk supply and the breastfeeding routine itself.
What Factors Will the Courts Consider When Deciding Parental Responsibilities for a Breastfed Child?
Courts will consider several factors when deciding parental responsibilities over a breastfeeding child. The child's age matters a great deal, since the benefits of breastfeeding diminish over time. While there is much debate over whether and to what degree breastfeeding benefits extend into the toddler years and beyond, the older a child is, the less likely the need to breastfeed consistently will outweigh the need to spend consistent time with his or her father - including overnight visits.
The court will also consider each parent's motivation in introducing the issue of breastfeeding into the parenting time case. If the court believes a mother is taking advantage of a breastfeeding relationship or prolonging breastfeeding simply to deprive the father of parenting time, the court does not look favorably on this motivation. Likewise, the court views unfavorably the father who seems to be simply seeking to disrupt the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child.
Other factors the court may consider include parenting styles, whether the mother is willing and able to pump expressed milk for the father to feed the child, whether the child's siblings were breastfed for an extended period of time, how the mother handles breastfeeding and pumping during the day, if she works outside the home, and whether overnight visits with dad are appropriate given the child's age and abilities, regardless of breastfeeding. Also relevant is the length of time the child is able to spend away from mother in other settings - daycare, grandparent visits, etc.
Consult an Experienced Family Law Attorney in Illinois
If your custody case involves the issue of breastfeeding, our skilled DuPage County family law attorneys are prepared to put forth a strong argument as to what is in your child's best interest. To do so, your family law attorney can utilize your child's medical records, scientific studies, testimony from your child's doctor, and other expert evaluations to make your case to the court.