During custody cases, people like to use the concept of “attachment” when discussing what type of arrangement might be in the child’s best interest. But what does that mean and is it really the most useful guide for discussing custody?
In general, people use attachment theory to label a child’s emotional bond to different people, including parents, siblings and other family members. Although such bonds can certainly be an important factor in a custody case, the term itself can seem ambiguous and difficult to apply in court cases. Developing infants can attach to multiple people at the same time. So how can attachment really tell us anything about a custody matter?
Requirements under the law
Indiana’s law regarding custody orders does not use the word attachment to discuss relevant factors for consideration. It does, however, refer to a child’s relationships and interactions with people significant in the child’s life. It also accounts for a child’s adjustment to their home, school and community, the parents’ wishes, physical and mental health concerns for any of the parties and any safety concerns.
What questions might be more useful?
Rather than focusing on a single word or phrase, parents and courts might find it more useful to ask a series of questions that help identify important bonds in a child’s life. Suggestions include:
- How does the child rely on each parent to meet his or her needs?
- How does each parent meet the child’s needs similarly and different from each other?
- How does each parent meet or not meet a child’s needs?
- Does each parent have the ability to provide sensitive parenting and a safe and warm environment for the child?
- What is the parent’s sensitivity and responsiveness to the child’s needs?
- What is the child’s responsiveness to the parent’s warmth and support?
- Is the child able to receive comfort from the parent?
- What is the parent’s ability to emotionally support a child?
- What is the parent’s sensitivity to the child’s needs?
- Does the parent have the ability to be flexible with their child?
- Does the parent have the ability to support a child’s autonomy?
- Is a parent overly dependent on the child to meet their own needs?
- What is the parent-child fit?
Using these questions to develop a parenting plan
When you can identify a child’s specific needs in relation to each parent, you may be able to create a custody and parenting plan tailored to meet that child’s needs, which can be different for each child. You can also identify ways to support and nurture a child’s relationship with both parents. Numerous studies have shown that children with a strong bond to both parents, if possible, do better overall. Focusing on the behaviors of parents and their children and how they interact with each other, provides practitioners and judges the facts they need to make decisions in the best interests of children more than just a label can provide.