Determining “Primary Caretaker” of the Child
In addition to the above factors, some states’ family courts allow a preference for the parent who can demonstrate that he or she was a child’s primary caretaker during the course of the marriage. In custody cases, the “primary caretaker” factor became important as psychologists began to stress the importance of the bond between a child and his or her primary caretaker. This emotional bond is said to be important to the child’s successful passage through his or her developmental stages, and psychologists strongly encourage the continuation of the “primary caretaker”-child relationship after divorce, as being vital to the child’s psychological stability.
When determining which parent has been the primary caretaker, courts focus on direct care-taking responsibilities, such as:
- Bathing, grooming, and dressing;
- Meal planning and preparation;
- Purchasing clothes and laundry responsibilities;
- Health care arrangements;
- Fostering participation in extracurricular activities; and
- Teaching of reading, writing, and math skills.
Depending on the state where the custody determination is being made, other factors may be considered as important when determining primary caretaker status. Even such things as exposure to second-hand smoke and volunteerism in the child’s school have been considered in a primary caretaker analysis. While, in the past, the primary caretaker preference seemed just another way to award custody to mothers, as more and more men share parenting responsibilities, this preference does not necessarily favor mothers. When it is apparent that both parents have equally shared parenting responsibilities, courts once again will fall back on the “best interest” standard in determining custody.