THE Family Court is placing infants who have not yet been weaned from the breast into shared care arrangements with their separated parents.
A study by academics at Flinders University has found that infants less than a year old are spending one week on a diet of cow's milk, and one week nursing at the breast, so that parents can share their care, as recommended by the Howard government's shared parenting law.
Others are spending up to three hours a day in a car, shuttling between homes.
The shared parenting laws, introduced in July 2006, are attracting complaints from a range of professionals at the coalface of family law.
The study on the shared care of infants after divorce was conducted by Linda Sweet, of the Flinders University School of Medicine, and Charmaine Power, an associate professor at the School of Nursing and Midwifery.
Their report said the shared parenting law placed "expectations on both parents to participate equally in care, regardless of the child's age".
The report said there was "ample evidence that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants" and the Australian government's dietary guidelines espouse breastfeeding as the optimal food for children for the first six months of life.
"It would be expected that breastfeeding infants would not be ordered into substantial shared parenting arrangements," the report said. "However, many infants regularly are."
One mother, "Georgianna", separated from her husband when their child was seven months old. The magistrate ordered week-about shared parenting, saying the boy could have his nutritional needs met by means "other than breastfeeding".
"Georgianna's milk supply became erratic as a result of these week-long absences," the report said. At the time of interview, her son was receiving breast milk while with her, and cow's milk while with his father.
"Trish" separated from her husband when their child was five months old. The court ordered shared parenting of seven days a fortnight, but no overnight stays, with dad. The distance between the homes meant the child spent three hours a day in a car seat.
The authors concluded that "national and international guidelines on optimal duration of breastfeeding" have less sway with judges than the benefits of time with fathers. "This in itself is not a bad thing, and all women in our study encouraged father contact," they said.
Breastfeeding was at issue in a Family Court matter heard in Cairns last year, involving a couple who had been married for less than a year when they separated. Their daughter was five months old. The mother was committed to "attachment parenting" and demand feeding, and would not allow the child to stay overnight with her father.
The judge said the mother had "no time set for the child to be weaned" and allowed the father to see the child only when a mothercraft nurse was present (the father had an annual income of more than $280,000, plus a $350,000 annual bonus, so hired help was no problem).
The judge said the father "wanted to take the child out and have her stay overnight but could not "because the mother insisted that the child be breastfed".
The judge said the shared parenting act made it necessary to "consider whether it would be in a child's best interests" to spend such limited time with her father, and concluded that overnight visits should begin three months from the date of the hearing.