Primary Caretaker Doctrine Custody Statue

In M.J.M v M.L.G., 63 A.2d 331 (2013), our Superior Court examined the doctrine of primary caretaker in light of the 2011 revision of custody statute.

After the lower court awarded Father primary custody of the parties’ minor child, Mother appealed to the Superior Court, claiming that the trial court should have given additional weight to the fact that she had been primary caretaker of the child prior to the litigation and, therefore, should have been awarded custody.

The Court ruled that the new custody statute abolished the primary caretaker doctrine and, instead, made it one of sixteen factors to be taken into consideration in determining custody. The new statute lists which factors are now to be given greater weight and being primary caretaker was not one of them.

There is no doubt that the Court will continue to refine its interpretation of the Statute over the next few years. It is unclear what, if any, effect this opinion will have. Since the Court made no finding in its opinion that the parents were equally fit, which is the prerequisite for the caretaker doctrine to apply, its discussion of the doctrine may be merely that – discussion, without establishing any legal precedent. Just as easily, however, the Court may be tipping its hand as to how it will rule when a more appropriate case comes before it concerning the issue.

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