Will the Fact that the Mother is Breastfeeding Impact a Child Custody Decision?
If you have a newborn and are divorcing the child’s father here in Bucks County, PA, chances are good that a court will not allow breastfeeding to prevent a father from spending time with his child. It is just one factor of many that a judge may consider when deciding what is in the best interests of the child and the father’s right to be involved in their child’s life. There must be an extenuating case for the court to rule otherwise.
The issue has been litigated with mixed results, which makes sense because each case should be decided on its own facts. There are also several factors a court must consider in making a decision. Too much emphasis on a mother’s breastfeeding could be grounds for an appeal.
Breastfeeding Was Not Enough to Decide A Case
In a 2013 case, the appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of the mother, which largely decided a visitation case on the fact that the child was breastfeeding. The trial court limited the father’s visitation during the child’s first eight months or until the child stopped breastfeeding.
The appellate court pointed out that before an order is decided, neither parent is presumed to be the primary caregiver, and both have the same burden of showing what they seek is in the child’s best interests. The court stated that the trial court based the decision “almost exclusively on the fact that Child is breastfeeding and the parties’ difficulty communicating with each other.” There was no discussion of the statutory factors.
A Child’s Medical Need to Breastfeed as a Reason to Rule for the Mother
In a case where a father appealed the denial of obtaining primary physical custody of his 19-month-old son, breastfeeding was an issue in the mother’s favor because of the child’s health issues. The appeals court stated:
“…the Child in this case had relatively unique needs. Child was still breastfeeding and had not taken to the bottle, despite Mother’s efforts to wean Child, and despite her efforts to introduce solid food. It appears the difficulty was due to Child’s digestive issues, including Celiac disease (i.e., the inability to consume gluten), for which Child sees a gastroenterologist.”
The court also cited other reasons justifying the lower court’s decision, including the child’s other medical needs and the fact that the father appeared to have difficulty caring for a toddler.
Breastfeeding Must Be Brought Up in Good Faith as a Reason the Court Should Rule in Your Favor
Whatever your situation, if a mother believes breastfeeding is a valid reason to limit a father’s custody or visitation, there must be strong evidence in her favor. The issues are highlighted in a recent Washington Post article about a Virginia couple. A judge ordered that the father visit the baby four days per week ahead of overnight visits, and the mother was to “make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle.” She felt this was endangering her child’s health. The father’s attorney, Tara Steinnerd, told the Post she was using breastfeeding as a weapon to try to defeat the father’s visitation claims.
“Steinnerd said she represents men and women in custody cases but has only represented men when breastfeeding time is litigated. Some mothers may have legitimate claims about breastfeeding that courts can weigh when making decisions about visitation, according to Steinnerd — but, in the cases she has worked on, mothers have been unreasonable, refusing to recognize a father’s need for visitation or refusing to pump.”
No matter which side of the issue you are on, you will have greater success if you have a solution you can both agree on. Exposure to both parents is usually the best situation for the child.
If the other parent is being difficult and unreasonable, we will come up with arguments based on the facts and applicable law that we can present to a judge. Breastfeeding may be one of many issues which, on the whole, will shift the decision to you.
Get the Help You Need From an Attorney You Can Trust
Child custody and visitation are best kept out of the courtroom and left to those who know the child best, usually the parents. The attorneys at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., will negotiate practical custody and visitation solutions with the other parent or their lawyer. If the court is convinced that the arrangement is in “the child’s best interest,” it will generally approve the agreement.
If negotiations are not successful, what you understand deep in your heart needs to be said simply and concretely to a judge because we have a short period to acquaint a judge with you and your family. Our attorneys are skilled in developing the evidence that judges need to make decisions. We will work to build a solid and persuasive case designed to achieve your goals and protect your rights.