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The primary parent

The Primary Parent

By Sari M. Friedman, Legal Counsel
Fathers' Rights Association (NYS & Long Island)

So, you think you have been the primary parent.

Years ago, determining this was not a real problem. It was assumed the mother was the best nurturer, the parent who was at HOME and able to spend the most quality time with a child. But for the last quarter of a century when women entered the work force, things have changed. As mothers have taken on the role of co-bread winner, fathers have assumed new roles and both or either parent may have also assumed many other societal problems including drugs, alcohol, and even philandering.

So how does the judge now determine who is a "good " person and parent and the most suited to potentially continue to be primary parent? By checking against a list of standards that represent good parenting. Then considering the qualities of the parent in the totality of a best interest of the child analysis.


  • Personal stability
    • No drug or alcohol abuse
    • No criminal activity
    • No habitual gambling
    • No record of violent behavior
    • No psychiatric problems that are severe enough to affect judgment
  • Does the parent interfere with the child's relationship with the other parent?
  • Does the parent exhibit good judgment and set a proper example?
    • Does the parent exhibit good moral behavior?
    • Participate in the child's religious education?
    • Teach the child honesty, being charitable and kind toward others
  • Does the parent take good care of the child's needs, both physical and emotional?
    • Does the parent arrange appropriate doctor visits?
    • Oversee the child's education by helping with HOMEwork and meeting, as scheduled, with the teacher?
    • See to it that the child gets to school on time
    • Arrange for the child to be involved in stimulating and educational activities such as after-school sports, music, dance, or other activities
    • Arrange play dates for the child and provide appropriate transportation
    • Take the child shopping for clothing
    • Making sure the child practices proper hygiene and eats properly
    • Give the child good personal time, guidance and nurturing by talking or enjoying age appropriate activities that could include such things as sports, either watching the child play or participating in the play
    • Be a reliable person to the child by listening to the child and helping him/her resolve problems, reassuring the child and encouraging the child in his/her endeavors
  • Being aware of the child's parental needs and meeting these needs requires insight and good judgment. Employing reasonable punishment for bad behavior, for example, is not only a good discipline but also a sign of good parenting.

In today's society, where many children are being raised by two parents who are both in the workforce, it can be difficult sometimes to determine who has been the primary parent to the child, or the parent primarily responsible for raising the child. But this can be equally difficult when there is one non-working parent who may be distracted by other interests, or have other serious personality problems. Chances are you, as a parent, already know who is the preferred primary parent. But your spouse may sharply disagree. Then it becomes a court issue.

The standards used to determine who may be the primary parent in the future may well be established by determining who successfully has performed more of the above mentioned tasks on a consistent basis.

If you haven't given any serious thought to these things, the ideal time to do so is before the divorce or separation. But it is never too late. Check yourself against this list and try to pre-determine how the court would judge your parental performance. And whatever may be wrong, fix it. And do it now.

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