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Child custody: Who's the primary caretaker?

If you're in the throes of a child custody dispute, you probably know that courts give more weight to the parent considered to be the "primary caretaker." If, for example, there's a disagreement about who the children should live with, the judge will probably rule that they should live with the primary caretakers.

Sometimes, one parent is clearly the primary caretaker and other times both parents are. Here are several things that courts will look at when making this determination regarding the care of the child while the parents were together:

  • Did the parent help the children with grooming, dressing and bathing?
  • Did the parent participate in meal preparation and planning?
  • Did the parent do laundry for the child or go out to purchase clothing?
  • Did the parent take the child to the doctor and make health care decisions?
  • Was the parent involved in extracurricular activities?
  • Did the parent help teach the child math, writing and reading?

There are a lot more things that courts will look at when making a child custody determination, such as the fitness of the individual to serve as a parent. If he or she has a serious drug problem or a history of violence or sexual abuse, for example, these serious problems could trump the parent's level of participation -- whether he or she was the primary caretaker or not.

Is your status as the primary caretaker of your children being challenged? You can defend yourself during your legal proceedings by presenting evidence to show how you have participated in the lives of your children and built close parental bonds with them.

Source: Findlaw, "Child Custody Basics," accessed May 18, 2018

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