As I wrote back in Part 4 of this series, a best interests analysis generally involves the examination of several factors. These include the relative fitness, stability, past performance, and home environment of the parents, as well as their ability to guide and nurture the child and foster a relationship with the other parent. After reviewing these factors, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances and place appropriate weight on each factor that it has considered.
The totality of the circumstances analysis is a broad one. As I discussed in the last part of this series, the parties’ respective work schedules must be considered. Closely related to the parties’ respective work schedules is the issue of childcare.
A custody arrangement that allows for the direct care and guidance of a child by a parent rather than by third parties is preferred. This because the ability to provide for the emotional and intellectual growth of one’s children cannot be measured solely on a qualitative basis. Consideration must be given to the availability of a parent to tend to a child’s needs and to participate in their development.
Courts will tend to favor a parent with a more child-friendly schedule if that parent is available to assume responsibility for the daily care of the child. In cases where both parents work, the court will look for which parent is able to devote more time during the week to the care and upbringing of the child and therefore rely less on childcare.
In setting a schedule or determining a custodial arrangement, a court should consider the amount of time the child will spend in daycare or childcare. Childcare provided by a spouse or grandparent is not necessarily a negative, but the court must evaluate the quality of the home environment as a major factor in the totality of circumstances considered in a best interests analysis. Generally, there is no problem with children spending time with their stepparent or grandparent if it is within a stable home environment.
In the next part of this series, I will continue discussing a child’s home environment and examine the presence of siblings.