When is a Child Ready for Overnight Parenting Time?

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In general, children should have as much contact with both parents to the extent that it is in their best interests. But the amount of time a child spends with a parent on its own is not the only consideration. 

Courts also encourage meaningful contact that will strengthen the parent-child relationship, which often requires that parents and children have contact across various activities. One issue that can arise is whether a child should spend overnight visits with a non-primary care parent. Some parents may be concerned their child is too young for overnights away or that the transitions will be disruptive. Courts will look at the individual circumstances but often encourage opportunities for bonding. 

Overnight Visits Enhance the Child-Parent Relationship 

Overnights can be significant in building the relationship between a parent and child, but the transition between homes must account for a child’s development. For example, in Burley v. Bradley, the father wished to expand his contact with his child. The judge preferred an approach promoting early contact between the child and the parent. In this view, delaying overnights would only serve to allow the child to settle into a routine that would not develop a bedtime routine at the other parent’s residence. The judge also accepted that there was a risk that delay could make it more difficult for children to feel comfortable settling into the home as they become more aware of their surroundings, which would be contrary to their best interests. 

Transitioning a child between homes and introducing overnight visits with a parent should be done in a manner that promotes stability. Still, parents may have differing views on changing parenting routines. In Di Iorio v. Tropea, the mother suggested that changes to parenting plans for children under the age of three should be incremental and only slowly increase longer periods of parenting time while monitoring the child’s adjustment at each stage. The mother pointed to a 1996 case which held that “nighttime in a strange bed and a strange place is a real vulnerability for a small child.” However, the judge rejected this presumption, reminding that the “tender years” principle no longer determined the parenting schedule for young children. Instead, the court looked to the decision in S.D.G. v. D.K.N., which accepted that it is important for parents to interact with children in various contexts, such as feeding, playing, and putting to bed, so that relationships may develop. While the mother was not in favour of immediately moving to overnights, the judge noted that, at some point, the child had to transition from day visits to overnights, which should not be problematic in this case. The mother’s proposal to limit overnights once in fourteen days was too infrequent and would not allow the child to adjust readily. Instead, the court found that starting with one overnight a week and gradually increasing parenting time was gradual enough. 

 

Overnights can be Appropriate for Young Children  

Courts generally try to maximize the contact between parents and young children to the extent that contact is in the child’s best interests. Courts have explained that such contact should be meaningful so that the relationship can develop and thrive. In Huess v. Surkos, the court explained that contact should include regular overnight visits and be of sufficient frequency unless specific circumstances suggest that the arrangement is not justified. But for very young children who transition between households, parents may be concerned about the child making regular overnight visits. 

In Lygouriatis v. Gohm, the question was whether a three-month-old child was ready to spend nights away from her primary residence. There, the court cited research published by Joan Kelly and Michael Lamb which indicated that toddlers quickly adapt to transitions and thrive if “parents are both sensitive to the child’s physical and developmental needs.” Moreover, overnights with parents are also important “opportunities for crucial social interactions and nurturing activities,” and those activities build trust and strengthen the parent-child relationship. 

Holomey v. Hillis is another case which dealt with overnights for young children. In that case, the court recognized the importance of overnight visits to develop deeper relationships, which could only happen once the child spent more high-quality time with her father. Consequently, it was in the child’s best interests that overnight visits begin even at a young age. 

Hatab v. Abuhatab also addressed whether the father’s parenting time should include overnight visits. The mother did not believe it was in the child’s best interests to have overnight time with the father, though she did not explain why she took that position. Here, the child was nearly four years old and was being cared for by the father while the mother worked full-time. Justice Kraft looked to the parenting guide produced by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts – Ontario, which outlines parenting schedules based on a child’s age and developmental stage. The guide explained that preschoolers can often tolerate longer absences from a parent and that it may be possible to gradually increase the involvement of the other parent, adding additional overnights as the child becomes more comfortable moving between homes. The mother did not raise any concerns about the father’s parenting skills, so the judge was not persuaded that the child should not have overnight time with the father. As the child was already spending 10-hour periods away from the mother and had grown accustomed to the time spent with the father, it made sense that the father’s time also included overnight visits. However, the mother needed to provide detailed information about the child’s sleeping and feeding routines so that identical routines could be maintained in both households ensuring stability for the child. 

Communication Important for Smooth Transitions 

In Veneris v. Veneris, the mother wanted to delay the start of overnight visits because she was still breastfeeding the child at night. She suggested that overnights start on the child’s second birthday. The father stated that the child adjusted well to parenting transfers and suggested there was no reason why she could not have overnight visits. Conducting a review, the judge noted that the mother had already stopped providing breast milk when the child visited the father. And though the mother suggested there were benefits to breastfeeding young children, the judge had no evidence that any benefits would be compromised by some overnight time with the father. Justice Murray also accepted that overnight stays “which entail bath, bed and story times and breakfast routines – allow a deeper, more nuanced relationship between parent and child.” However, the parties had also experienced disputes, tension, and communication difficulties, which was relevant to when overnights should begin. Particularly, tensions could be expected to increase during transitions between homes and to which the child could be exposed.  The judge determined that overnight visits should have begun, but agreed to several months delay, which gave the parents time to improve communication, defuse conflict, and discuss parenting issues before beginning overnight visits. 

Overnights can Provide Meaningful Parenting Time 

Courts have found that unless circumstances indicate otherwise, parenting should include regular overnight visits, which helps the parent-child relationship to flourish. Such visits can be encouraged even when the child is very young. However, judges have reminded parties that it is important to share information and communicate so identical routines can be followed, which eases the transition for younger children. 

Contact Windsor Divorce Lawyers For Your Questions Regarding Parenting Time Arrangements and Decision-Making Responsibilities

The lawyers at Johnson Miller Family Lawyers in Windsor focus exclusively on family law matters. We can provide you with valuable information tailored to your unique situation so that you know what to expect and can understand your rights and obligations. To discuss your matter further or arrange a meeting, please contact us online or call us at 519.973.1500 

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