Information & Articles

How young is too young – Overnight Time for Children

Parental relationships are largely forged while children are young, but when families break up, the young age of a child is often the reason why limited time is proposed to be spent between the child and the parent they do not live with.

The experts, researchers, social scientists and academics are divided in their opinions about risks and benefits of overnight time for young children of separated parents, including when it should be introduced and the frequency.

Every child will differ as to when they can cope with overnight time away from their primary caregiver, with some children it may be at the younger age of two or three and with others it may extend out to five years old or even later.

Jennifer McIntosh, who is a child psychologist, family therapist and one of the leading researchers in attachment theory, summarises the position perfectly:

Controversies abound in the family law filed regarding recommendations about overnight care of infants, with advocacy and empiricism sorely muddled, fuelled by conflicting and polarising interpretations of attachment theory”.

The paramount consideration in all parenting cases as set out in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) is the child’s best interests. It becomes important in these matters to consider the age of the child, their personality traits, their capacity for reflective functioning and the child’s relationship with their parents as well as any risk issues, amongst other considerations.

The bottom line is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and that each case will be determined on its individual merits. Blanchfield Nicholls’ Director, Tijana Petkovic explored a series of cases and research papers in her paper titled ‘How Young is Too Young? Overnight time for Young Children’. Tijana presented this paper at the Television Education Network 64th Annual Armidale CLE Weekend in February of 2023.