Factors That Determine Primary Custody

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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

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.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Utah State Legislature. Custody of a child.

  2. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Determining the Best Interests of the Child.

  3. Virginia Legal Aid Society. How to Take a Child Custody or Visitation Case to Court.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.