Mothers and fathers who are splitting up may both seek and be awarded physical custody of their child. In an ideal scenario, a mother and father would come to an agreement together, without battling the matter out in court. However, when a family court judge does have to step in and decide which parent to award primary physical custody to, preference is usually given to the one who is the child's "primary caregiver."
But what exactly does that mean? The following information provides an overview of how courts define "primary caregiver" and how that impacts child custody cases.
The "Primary Caregiver" Standard
In custody cases, most states' family courts allow a preference for the parent who can demonstrate that they were a child's primary caregiver during the course of the marriage, or assumed that role in general if the parents are unmarried. This factor became important as psychologists began to stress the importance of the bond between a child and the parent or guardian most responsible for their day-to-day care.
This emotional bond is said to be important to the child's successful passage through their developmental stages, and psychologists strongly encourage the continuation of this relationship as being vital to the child's psychological stability.
How the "Primary Caregiver" Decision is Made
When determining which parent has taken care of a child the most for purposes of a custody decision, family courts focus on how parents have divided the key responsibilities for taking care of their child, including such tasks as:
Depending on the state where the custody determination is being made, other factors may be considered just as important when determining primary caregiver status. Even such things as exposure to second-hand smoke and volunteerism in the child's school have been considered.
Making a Decision in the Best Interests of the Child
If the question "who is the primary caregiver" is not easily answered, as when both parents have equally shared parenting responsibilities, courts will generally look to the "child's best interest" standard used for determining custody. Some of the factors a court will consider when making a decision in the child's best interest include the following:
Are You the Primary Caregiver? Protect Your Child's Interests With an Attorney's Help
Even in an agreeable separation, one area where there is often a dispute is physical custody. As you can see, where courts are needed to resolve these disputes, they will look to many factors to determine how to best establish custody for the child. An experienced family law attorney understands these factors and the preference for the primary caregiver and can help you make the strongest case possible for custody of your children.