by J. Tyler Cox
Considered by some to be the “smoking gun” in child custody cases, the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills is pivotal in a chancellor’s decision in awarding custody. Before entering our office, many clients feel anxious about the weight of this particular factor because they feel as though they may be singled out as not being able to raise and nurture their child. However, while the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills seems like the most important element in a child custody case, it is only one factor that a chancellor weighs in making their decision, and a factor that could wind up favoring both parents equally.
When weighing this factor, courts look to which parent has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care. This can include being a stay-at-home mother, being actively involved in the child’s schooling, and acting as the primary disciplinarian. Courts may also look to see which parent contributes more to the child’s social needs, such as driving them to and from sport’s practices. If one parent is unwilling or unable to provide this type of care for the child, then the court will not weigh this factor in their favor. This can obviously result from a number of aspects about a parent’s life, most notably employment demands.
One misconception that many people read into this factor is that it will always clearly favor one parent over the other. Many times, courts find that this factor favors neither parent, because both express a desire and willingness to provide for their child. In this situation, a court would turn to other factors to decide the custody of the child. Another worry that clients seem to have about this factor is the strength of the words “ability” and “willingness.” Being deemed to not have the ability or willingness to raise child will surely have a profound effect on a parent, however all is not lost when this occurs.
Many incorrectly believe that this factor is the main decision regarding a chancellor’s judgment of who the better parent is to raise the child or children involved. It is not. Although an important factor, the determination of which (if either) parent has the best parenting skills is just one of several factors that the court weighs in a custody case.
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