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How do the courts determine the primary caretaker?

While joint custody and generous visitation schedules are becoming the nationwide norm for divorced couples with children, there are still many instances where the courts decide that a sole custody agreement is in the best interests of the child. In these situations, one of the determining factors can be who acted as the child’s primary caretaker prior to the separation.

The primary caretaker is the term used for the parent who was most present in the child’s daily life. One of the reasons the court considers this factor is that psychologists have found that the bond between the child and the primary caretaker is very important to the child’s development, and breaking or interrupting that bond may not be in the best interests of the child.

Activities the courts may view as acting as the primary caretaker include being responsible for the bathing and grooming of young children, preparing the child’s meals, making doctor’s appointments, doing the child’s laundry, teaching or tutoring the child and helping the child get to and from or participate in extracurricular activities. In addition to these, the courts may also look at which parent has been more involved in the child’s school.

In many households where the parents try to divide the childcare duties as equally as possible, it may not be necessary to determine a primary caretaker. However, if you have done most of the daily work involved with raising your children and wish to have that considered in a bid for custody, it is important to discuss with your attorney how this does or could factor in to your case.

Source: FindLaw, “Child Custody Basics,” accessed July 16, 2015

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