When parents go through the divorce process, issues that involve their offspring can be contentious, emotional, and the most difficult to deal with. If the parents can come to a meeting of the minds about custody and visitation matters, it avoids forcing the family court judge to make those important and personal decisions. Unfortunately, parents often disagree on the parenting plan and they are never able to resolve their differences through negotiations or mediation. When that happens, the judge must take into account several factors, and one of those is the question of who has been the child's primary caretaker. To learn what this term means, read on.
Who is the Primary Caregiver?
In many families, the parents share caregiving activities between themselves. While time spent caring for a child is ideally more or less equally divided, often one parent ends up doing a greater proportion of the work. Whether this is due to work constraints, health issues, personality differences, or other issues, when one parent performs a greater share of the below childcare tasks, they may be seen as the primary caregiver by the judge for custody purposes.
- Meal preparation – including shopping, meal planning, cooking and serving, and clean up.
- Grooming – including bathing, dressing, attending to haircuts and other grooming needs, and doing laundry.
- Healthcare needs – taking the child to the doctor for check-ups, vaccinations, and as needed for illness.
- Attending to the child's educational needs – such as teaching the child, helping with homework, dealing with teacher conferences, taking the child to school, and promoting enrichment activities like visiting museums.
- Providing leisure and entertainment for the child – recreational activities, sports, lessons, vacations, parties, and other fun activities.
Why are the Above So Important?
It can seem like a contest between the parents when you consider the above childcare activities and tasks. It's not so much about the time spent doing the above but the bond that naturally occurs between a parent and child when they are involved with them in an extensive manner. Of course, some parents take parenting so seriously that nothing keeps either of them from spending time with the child. When the judge cannot determine that one parent only is the primary caregiver, they consider the following factors:
- The age of the child.
- The sex of the child.
- Depending on the age of the child, the child's wishes are considered.
- The mental and physical health of each parent.
- The parent who is awarded the family home.
- The relationship of the child to the parent's other family members — grandparents and cousins, for example.
In some instances, a child study and parenting evaluation are ordered by the judge to assist in the custody decision. Speak to your divorce lawyer to find out more about contested custody problems.