Allocating Parenting Time With a Breastfeeding Child

More and more women are choosing to exclusively breastfeed given the reports as to the superior health benefits, not just physically but psychologically, of breast feeding.  Arranging parenting file000956778186-225x300 time between divorced or separated parents of a child who is still breastfeeding poses issues not just with overnight parenting time but daytime parenting time as well. Children who are exclusively breast-fed may reject a bottle.  Nevertheless, there is an argument that the child should be given breast milk from a bottle during parenting time. After all, not only should the child receive the best nutrition, but also facilitating a relationship with the father at the earliest age possible is in the child’s best interest.

Nicole Curtis, host of the DIY Network home remodeling television program “Rehab Addict” became an advocate for breastfeeding moms after her former boyfriend, Shane Maguire, was awarded joint custody of their infant son, Harper, while the child was still being “exclusively breast-fed”  by Ms. Curtis.  Harper was exclusively breast-fed on demand, not on a particular feeding schedule.   Mr. McGuire was awarded joint custody of Harper, who was six-months old and exclusively breastfed, when Mr. Maguire was awarded parenting time two days per week.  Ms. Curtis struggled to produce enough breast milk for Harper during Maguire’s parenting time.  Harper is now 2 1/2 years old and is still breastfeeding.  Mr. Maguire argued that Ms. Curtis breastfeeds in order to interfere with his parenting time.   Ms. Curtis is an advocate for “attachment parenting”, a parenting philosophy that promotes the bond between an infant and the primary care-giver through “extreme responsiveness and physical closeness”, and she believed that Harper should not be forced to wean because his parents were no longer together.

In Ms. Curtis’ case, a court apparently ordered that Ms. Curtis would have a short period of time during Mr. Maguire’s parenting time to breastfeed Harper.  In Pennsylvania, a court reportedly ordered a mother to cease breastfeeding her infant daughter to facilitate a father’s request for overnight parenting time.  There is no case law addressing breastfeeding and parenting time in New Jersey.  A court making a decision in that regard would probably apply a “best interest of the child” standard.  But what does that mean?   Parents often do not know what the terms mean that are often bandied about by judges, lawyers and mediators as it relates to the custody options and decisions that must be made, and this lack of understanding can frustrate attempts to resolve custody and parenting time.  In making a custody and/or parenting time determination, there are a number of mandatory factors which the Legislature has directed the Court consider pursuant to New Jersey statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c). These factors include:

•the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
•the  parents’  willingness  to  accept  custody  and  any  history  of  unwillingness  to  allow
parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
•the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
•the history of domestic violence, if any;
•the  safety  of  the  child  and  the  safety  of  either  parent  from  physical  abuse  by  the  other
•the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an
intelligent decision;
•the needs of the child;
•the stability of the home environment offered;
•the quality and continuity of the child’s education;
•the fitness of the parents;
•the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
•the  extent  and  quality  of  the  time  spent  with the  child  prior  to  or  subsequent  to  the separation;
•the parents’ employment responsibilities; and
•the age and number of the children.

The best interest of the child generally means in New Jersey that the court focuses on the “safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.”  Fantony v. Fantony, 21 N.J. 525, 536 (1956).  The case of Ms. Curtis’ and Mr. Maguire’s son illustrates the competing factors when it comes to the best interest of the child when addressing the health impact that breast feeding has on the child, in addition to the benefits to the child of bonding with the primary care giver or the primary custodial parent of the child which is significant for a child’s development – and also the need to forge bonds with the non-custodial parent.

Parents who are capable of crafting an agreement with or without the help of counsel may consider arrangements that allow for flexibility where it concerns nighttime feedings. The case of Ms. Curtis’ and Mr. Based on the standards established above and the discretion afforded to family court judges, a custody dispute is complex and must be handled with sensitivity and precise knowledge of the law and standards to be applied.  The law office of James P. Yudes, A Professional Corporation has experience in custody matters and is available to assist you in this vitally important family issue.