Reaching an agreement on living arrangements for young children often becomes a significant issue between separated parents. While it may be natural for many parents to form the view that their young children should be living with each parent in an equal care arrangement, where the child will spend the same amount of time with each parent, family law judges are unlikely to agree.

Social science experts tell us that the developmental needs of young children are very different to school age children and teenagers. Young children have an attachment to their primary carer, and separation from this parent, particularly on an overnight basis, has the potential to cause harm during this period of rapid development.

It is important to be very cautious when introducing a young child to overnight time away from their primary carer, with research telling us that overnight time for children under three years of age has the potential to cause significant harm to the child’s development.

While it is essential that young children have an opportunity to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, for children under three years of age social science experts recommend that time with the non-primary carer occur during the day, and on a frequent basis. Once the child has turned three years of age, any time apart from their primary carer should be progressed on a gradual basis, taking into consideration how the individual child is coping.

It is essential that separated parents take a step back from their own preference when discussing parenting arrangements for their children, by remaining child-focused to limit the potential for harm as their children continue to develop and come to terms with the changes that a separation brings. Seeking advice from an experienced family lawyer will assist separated parents to implement a parenting arrangement that is in their children’s best interest.