Today we continue examining what factors Judges consider when ruling on a custody dispute.
3. Continuing Care of the Child
The idea of continuing care has taken the same legal status that the maternal preference used to have. Courts look here to the day to day activities to determine which parent provided care. The inquiry includes a question of who bathed, dressed, put to bed, prepared meals, arranged babysitters and extracurricular activities, bought clothing and other items, dealt with medical care, read to, played with and made educational arrangements for the child. While not stated in statute or in case law this is the most heavily weighted factor in Mississippi. Courts rely heavily on this factor, especially when awarding custody to the father. Courts have awarded custody based on this factor in spite of compelling moral factors that may mitigate against a custody award (we will address these later) such as bigamy or adultery. Courts have awarded custody to a mother with severe emotional problems on the policy of continuity of care for the child. Continuity of care, like any of the factors, is subordinated to strong parenting skills and a stable environment. Claiming continuity of care when a third party (here the ex-husbands parents) did a majority of the work is insufficient. Courts will look at continuity of care before the separation period and during all other periods of custody.
4. Parenting Skills
Courts also look to more physical activities and daily routines to evaluate each parent’s parenting skills and determine each parent’s ability to provide physical care, support, discipline and guidance, under the totality of the circumstances. Courts inquire as to who met personal hygiene and medical needs, whether the parent orchestrated appropriate social engagement and extracurricular activities, whether the parent spent free time with the child. Courts have also awarded custody based on improved behavior and school attendance while in the custody of one parent; and on one parent’s pursuit of adequate counseling and other educational needs. Factors indicative of poor parenting skills include failure to supervise or prevent harm, failure to make ones home safe, exposure of the child to parental disputes, harassment of the other parent, voluntary or forced relinquishment of rights concerning other children, or disobedience of any custody orders. Courts have denied custody based on a finding of inability to take personal responsibility for ones actions.