Written by attorney Monet S. Pincus

Child Custody--Does Mother Know Best?

Mother knows best. Did your Mom coin this phrase in your house? Or was it her Mom. It’s as old as motherhood and it’s generally accepted in the home as truth. When it comes to child rearing, especially with young children, mom knows best about the nurturing, breast feeding, diaper changing, napping and crying remedies. If mom doesn’t know, then her mom knows! The instinctive nurturing abilities that come naturally to moms lend credibility to the phrase “mother knows best. In healthy marriages between emotionally healthy partners, dads will defer to mom on nurturing young children and mom will defer to dad when it’s time for him to impart his natural wisdom and gifts to the children. Dads also have instinctive caretaking abilities that must be imparted to children for healthy social and character development.

When parents separate, the emotional balance of child rearing is upset. Each parent must not only continue to rear the child according to their instinctive abilities, but they have to learn child rearing techniques that might not be natural so that the child continues to feel whole regardless of which parent the child may be spending time with.

So, who knows what’s best for the children during a separation and divorce? I’ve learned through many consultations with parents that moms generally believe they know what’s best in this situation. I’ve learned that sometimes mom is right, but sometimes she’s not. When good people separate I find that both mom and dad know what’s best for their children. It seems that from an emotional perspective, a separation that involves children tends to be more debilitating to a mom than a dad. That’s not saying that dad is not emotionally impacted. It simply seems that when a separation occurs, mom’s nurturing instincts kick in because she naturally wants to protect the children and she wants to gather them under her wings. Dads are generally used to being away from the home more than moms during a marriage, so when a separation occurs, dads tend to adjust easier than moms.

I would like to encourage parents involved in a separation to remember that you each might know what’s best about the custodial and/or visitation arrangements for your children. I don’t mean that we ever put children at risk—it’s just a gentle reminder that you brought children into this world together.

This encouragement is necessary because if you cannot agree what’s best for your children, then the worst thing happens—the Judge knows best. In my years of practice, I have handled many custody disputes and I believe that the worst thing parents can do is leave the fate of the custodial and visitation arrangements up to a Judge. While I love my job, I wish I never had to present a custody case to a judge. It is usually devastating to one parent or the other, extremely emotional, difficult for children and terribly expensive.

In an effort to help you agree on what’s best for your children, I wanted to give you some questions to answer. This would be an excellent place to start a discussion on custody and visitation. Once you have answered these questions, you can choose the best custody arrangement for your children.

  1. Who is the primary caretaker of the children? This parent probably has the stronger, emotional bond with the children due to tending to the children’s daily needs. If mom has been a stay-at-home mom, she is the primary caretaker. If both parents work and spend equal time tending to the daily needs of the children, both are probably equal caretakers.
  2. Who is available to care for the children on a daily basis? This is largely determined by each parents’ job.
  3. Which parent is more responsible? This may be hard to determine objectively, but overall, you are either responsible parents or you are not.
  4. Which parent will work to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent? This question focuses on whether you want to unreasonably limit the other parent’s access to the child. This trait usually appears when a parent has very bitter feelings toward the other parent and cannot keep those feelings compartmentalized and cannot think objectively about the other person as a parent, instead of a soon to be ex-spouse.
  5. Has either parent exhibited poor judgment that could have a negative impact on the child? Use of illegal drugs, abuse of alcohol, poor money management, gambling, extra-marital affairs, violence, verbal abuse, loss of temper, putting work before family—these may be some indicators of poor judgment that may have negatively impacted the child.
  6. Do the children have a preference of where they want to live? Of course, a child’s preference should only be relevant if the child is mature enough emotionally to articulate a preference.
  7. Where will each parent live? Geographically, how far will the child have to travel between parents’ homes?

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