Breastfeeding is a surprisingly common bone of contention between parents trying to determine custody of infants. Breastfeeding mothers often resist the idea of weaning early in order to more easily share custody, arguing that the health benefits of nursing outweigh other factors. Fathers of breastfed infants may fear that breastfeeding is being used as a tool to deny them access to their children. If you're facing a custody battle and breastfeeding is an issue for you, taking a look at a few custody cases involving breastfeeding in Canada may help you understand how the courts view this problem.
The custody case of Jennifer Johne and Carl Cavannah highlights the importance of a father's rights to a relationship with his child. Ms. Johne and Mr. Cavannah were never married to each other, but their relationship led to the birth of a baby in 2006. Mr. Cavannah changed jobs and moved in order to be closer to his daughter, and made efforts to be an involved parent. In court documents, Mr. Cavannah claimed that Ms. Johne used the baby's breastfeeding schedule as an excuse to keep him from bonding with his child.
Things came to a head when the child was over two years old and still being breastfed. The judge in the custody case remarked that Ms. Johne was unable to give a time frame as to when the child might be weaned. Because of that, and because of the child's age, the judge ruled that the breastfeeding schedule was having a negative impact on Mr. Cavannah and his ability to bond with his daughter. The couple was ordered to enter into a 50/50 custody arrangement, and Ms. Johne was ordered to provide pumped breastmilk for the child during the child's visitation with Mr. Cavannah, if she wished to continue breastfeeding.
This case's outcome was a victory for fathers who worry that their children are being kept from them for no good reason. According to legal experts, the outcome of Cavannah versus Johne case was based on the court's belief that Ms. Johne was intentionally restricting Mr. Cavannah's access to the child. A breastfeeding mother acting in good faith might see a different outcome.
Tamara Bolan's custody case involving breastfeeding had a different resolution. At the time of her custody dispute, her infant was only four months old. Initially, the breastfeeding mother was ordered to hand the baby, as well as the couple's two year old daughter, over to their father for weekend visitation. Ms. Bolan refused to comply with the court order.
Ms. Bolan argued that her four month old son's health was in danger if he was forced to wean. She explained that previous attempts to get the child to take a bottle had failed, and she was concerned that the baby would not get the nutrition that he needed if she was forced to allow extended visitation with the baby's father at that time. Furthermore, she explained that she was unable to pump enough breastmilk with a machine to feed the baby for the whole weekend. The family's doctor agreed with Ms. Bolan's argument, and recommended that the baby continued to be breastfed until at least six months of age.
Eventually, the courts sided with Ms. Bolan. The judge ruled that the father was to have access to the baby, but for no longer than three hours at a time. This schedule allows Bolan to continue breastfeeding while still granting the father time to bond with the baby.
Each custody case is different, and these two cases demonstrate how the courts in Canada take steps to address the different needs of each family. It is possible for parents of infants and small children to share custody, and to also allow the baby to reap the health benefits of breastfeeding. If you're unable to come to a mutually agreeable solution with your former partner regarding custody and breastfeeding, a family law lawyer can help guide you through the court system so that an appropriate arrangement can be worked out.