When there is a dispute over child custody, the courts must determine whether to make one parent the primary custodian, or whether the parents will share their duties equally, as in the case of joint physical or joint legal custody; this is true for divorcing couples, as well as unmarried parents, when there is a dispute over child custody.
Factors Used To Determine the Primary Custodian
Although courts in different states handle the determination of primary custodian differently, the following factors are generally considered:
- Who takes the child to school daily?
- Who dresses the child?
- Who fixes all of the meals?
- Who helps the child with his/her homework?
- Who potty trains the child?
- Who disciplines the child?
- Who takes the child to religious activities, such as church, mosque, synagogue, or vacation bible school?
- Who transports the child to and from daycare, school, and extracurricular activities?
- Who arranges daycare or babysitters?
- Who supervises all household chores and responsibilities?
- Who monitors the child's television watching?
- Who stays at home when the child is sick or has a vacation day?
- Who takes the child to doctor visits?
- Who participates in extracurricular activities, such as coaching sporting activities or serving as a girl scout or boy scout troop leader?
How These Factors Are Weighed
None of these factors carry more weight than others. The court will weigh all of the factors together and consider which parent is responsible for meeting the majority of the child's daily needs.
The court's rationale for awarding custody to the parent who handles the majority of the child's day-to-day activities is that the balance of a child's life might be upset if they were to be removed from the parent who is most frequently responsible for their day-to-day activities. In addition, the other parent may be granted regular visitation.
How to Prepare for Court
Parents who are facing a custody battle should consider each of the factors mentioned above prior to appearing in court. In addition, courts may consider others factors which could prevent a parent from serving as a primary custodian, such as a busy work schedule or a disability. In preparation for court, it is recommended that parents focus on presenting their own day-to-day child-rearing contributions to the court.