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How the primary caretaker standard affects custody rulings

When divorcing parents in Virginia cannot reach a child custody agreement privately, a family court judge will make a custody decision after looking at a number of different factors. One of the key factors that a judge considers when making a custody ruling is the 'primary caretaker" standard.

The primary caretaker is the parent who has taken care of the vast majority of a child's basic needs such as feeding and bathing. Planning a child's participation in extracurricular activities, teaching a child how to read and write and attending parent-teacher conferences may also be considered duties of the primary caretaker. Once a judge has determined which parent is the primary caretaker, the judge usually awards primary physical custody to that parent.

Family courts give preference to a child's primary caretaker in custody decisions so that the bond between the child and their primary caretaker can remain strong after a divorce. Psychological research has found that a child's emotional stability is strongly reliant on an uninterrupted relationship with their primary caretaker. A child may have more than one primary caretaker if both of their parents share caretaking responsibilities equally. If this is the case, a judge will look at other factors before making a custody decision.

Even if both parents shared primary caretaking responsibilities, one parent may fight for sole physical custody during the divorce process. A parent who is at risk of losing child custody in a divorce may want to have representation from an attorney who can help the parent to argue that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.

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