Parties, attorneys, and judges may find the following checklist of factors helpful as a tool for assessing which parent is most likely to be the best custodian of a minor child in a contested custody dispute. The checklist may also be used to assess a change in circumstances in an ongoing custody case. The primary purpose of the checklist is to help identify, and not overlook, various factors that the courts have traditionally found important in deciding custody disputes. Some factors are more general, while others are more specific. The checklist is not intended as an exclusive list of every factor that may be considered by a court in a contested custody case. The factors are listed in no particular order of importance. The checklist suggests no particular weight that should be attributed to any factor or group of factors. The purpose of the checklist is not to conduct a test where the parent with the most positive or negative factors wins. Particular care must be taken when assessing factors that are in dispute.
Part I: Factors Related to Past Conduct
Mother Father Factors
Parent who has the best history of properly caring for a child
Parent who has shown a greater willingness to provide the best financial support for a child
Parent who has provided the most age appropriate discipline for a child
Parent who has best modeled moral values for a child
Parent who has shown a greater willingness to work for what is in the best interest of a child
Parent who has shown a greater willingness to consider a child's preference
Parent who has historically best communicated with a child’s doctors, teachers, etc.
Parent who has shown a greater willingness to make sacrifices for a child
Parent who has had legal and/or physical custody of a child
Parent who has in the past abandoned or failed to care for a child Parent who has previously sought custody to avoid a child support obligation Parent who has engaged in domestic violence toward the other parent or a child Parent who has been a sex offender or otherwise has a significant criminal record Parent who has associates who are sex offenders or are persons of bad moral character that the child is frequently exposed to Parent who has engaged in other marital misconduct in the presence of a child Parent who has engaged in alienation of the child’s affections from the other parent Parent with a history of abusive discipline toward a child Parent who has demonstrated a lack of moral values that affect a child Parent who has shown the least interest for what is in the best interest of a child Parent with a history of being vengeful toward the other parent Parent with a history of alcohol, gambling, illicit drug, or smoking habits that affect a child
II. Factors Related to Present Observable Conduct
Mother Father Factors
Parent that provides the best physical living conditions for a child Parent that provides a personal bedroom for a child Parent that provides the best overall home size for a child
Parent who does the grocery shopping for a child Parent who prepares the most nutritious meals for a child Parent who washes dishes and cleans the eating area after a child’s meals
Parent who purchases a child's clothing Parent who washes a child's clothing
D. Physical and Mental Health:
Parent who provides best quality health care for a child Parent who best deals with the physical and mental maturity of a child Parent who best deals with a child's physical or mental disability Parent who is most willing to consult with a child's psychologist Parent who is most willing to seek psychological help, if necessary
Parent who can provide the best quality school for a child Parent who lives in closest proximity to a child’s school Parent who best assists with homework with a child Parent who best participates in a child's school activities, teacher conferences, etc. Parent who transports a child to and from school
F. Moral Development:
Parent who best meets a child's needs for cleanliness and personal hygiene Parent most willing to provide religious instruction for a child Parent who takes a child to church, synagogue, etc. Parent who attends worship or other religious instruction with a child Parent involved with a child in scouting activities Parent who teaches a child age appropriate manners Parent who treats a child's friends with respect Parent who is involved in selection of appropriate friends for a child
G. Child’s Relations with Others:
Parent that best relates to a child's age Parent that best relates to a child's sex Parent who lives in the best neighborhood for a child Parent who lives in a neighborhood that has other children that may relate to a child Parent who best deals with the intelligence level of a child Parent who best displays affection for a child Parent who is a child's preference for custody Parent who a child expresses closest feeling toward Parent most willing to spend quality time with a child Parent most willing to make sacrifices for a child Parent's friends with best reputations Parent who provides best social environment for a child Parent most willing to stay home with a child Parent with least time spent away from a child Parent who can provide best alternative child care Parent who best offers encouragement to a child
H. Entertainment and Play:
Parent most willing to play with a child -- sports, dolls, toys, games, etc. Parent most willing to provide quality entertainment for a child Parent most willing to assist child with special training -- piano lessons, karate, swimming, etc.
Parent who is most willing to consider shared or joint custody arrangement Parent who shows most willingness to review a custody arrangement after period of time
III. Factors Related to Future Conduct
Mother Father Factors
Parent most likely to follow court's order Parent most likely to provide best care, wholesome environment, for a child Parent most likely will follow through on her or his plan of care for a child Parent most likely to provide the best financial support for a child Parent most likely to provide a continual relationship with a child's siblings Parent most likely to provide the child with a relationship with the other parent Parent most likely to provide a relationship with a child's grandparents Parent most likely to provide stepparent relationship that is best for a child
Parent most likely to be seeking custody to avoid a child support or to gain a benefit Parent most likely to use vulgar language in the presence of a child Parent most likely to engage in violent conduct in the presence of a child Parent most likely to engage in marital misconduct in the presence of a child Parent most likely to lose her or his temper in the presence of a child Parent most likely to abuse a child or a child’s siblings in the present of a child Parent most likely to engage in addictive conduct (i.e., alcohol, drugs, smoking, gambling) in the presence of a child Parent most likely to engage in sexual activities around a child Parent most likely to alienate the affections of a child from the other parent Parent most likely to expose a child to sexual predators or persons of bad character
Many clients ask what the court is going to consider in determining custody in a child custody case. This author has found this checklist of factors particularly helpful when working with clients in preparation of a custody case. When counseling a client it is helpful to have the client engage in an honest assessment of his or her conduct in relation to each factor. The checklist is useful for clients in keeping their conduct on track while they are caring for a child. The checklist can also be helpful in settling custody disputes. Some clients simply give up on the idea of sole custody once they see how their conduct is likely to be evaluated by the court. The better practice is to complete the checklist with the client during preparation for filing a custody or visitation case. The checklist can also be used to prepare discovery, organize trial testimony, and prepare for argument.
Child support Child custody Considerations in child custody decisions Domestic violence and child custody Custody evaluation Custody mediation Family court and child custody cases Child abandonment and custody Best interests of the child and custody Physical custody Sole custody Joint custody Domestic violence and criminal charges Criminal record Child support and custody Joint custody and child support Visitation rights in child custody agreements Father's rights in child custody Mother's rights in child custody Family law Domestic violence and family law Child abandonment
Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about child custody law.