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Child custody decisions and the primary caretaker role

Californians who are engaged in child custody disputes may wonder how family court judges decide which parent will be given primary physical custody of the child. Generally, courts tend to prefer parents who have been the primary caregiver for the child.

Psychologists have long emphasized the importance of children having a strong relationship with their primary caretaker. Because of this, courts will try to determine which parent has filled that role for the children. Judges listen to evidence about such things as which parent has been responsible for feeding, clothing and bathing the children. Other evidence that may come into play includes attendance at school meetings and extracurricular activities, going to medical appointments, planning leisure activities and helping with homework.

If both parents have shared equally in these duties, the court will then consider a number of other factors under the best interests of the child standard. These include such things as the physical health of both parents, the mental health of both parents, whether either parent has substance abuse issues, whether there is a history of domestic abuse, and the religious preferences of the child and the parents

A parent who is embroiled in a dispute over child custody, he or she may benefit by getting the help of a family law attorney who may understand the types of evidence that might be presented to show that the client should be awarded primary residential custody. In some cases, agreeing to share custody may be the best option. If that is the case, legal counsel can assist the client in developing a parenting plan that is in the child's best interest.

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