The second in a series on child custody.
When meeting with new or prospective clients, I often hear the following phrase: “I’m clearly the better parent, so I know the judge will give me custody of my child.”
In Mississippi, chancery court judges are directed to make custody determinations based on the best interests of the child. In many ways, determining the “better parent” overlaps with determining the best interests of the child. But “better parent” and “best interests” are often difficult to define objectively. So how does a judge decide what’s in the best interest of a child when it comes to custody decisions?
To ensure more correct and consistent custody determinations, judges in Mississippi must base their decision on certain factors. These factors, called the Albright factors or the Albright test, are intended to provide a framework for evaluating the aspects of parenting and family life most likely to impact a child. In many custody determinations, judges are required to expressly list each factor and the judge’s assessment of that factor.
For each Albright factor, a judge weighs the facts and determines whether the factor favors the mother, the father, or neither parent. It is important to note that the Albright test is not a simple score where the highest number wins. A single factor could be more important than the rest – such as in the case of child abuse.
The Albright factors are listed below, along with a brief description of each:
1. Age, Health, and Gender of the Child: Based on the child’s age, health, and gender, which parent would be the better choice to serve as primary caretaker?
2. Continuity of Care: Which parent was the primary caretaker of the child prior to the start of the divorce, custody, or modification case?
3. Best Parenting Skills: Which parent is best equipped to handle clothing, feeding, disciplining, and supervising the child?
4. Willingness and Capacity of Parent: Which parent is most willing and able to serve as the primary caretaker of the child?
5. Employment Responsibilities of Parent: Is the parent employed? How would that employment and its responsibilities impact their ability to serve as primary caretaker of the child?
6. Age, Physical Health, and Mental Health of Parent: Is the parent healthy and capable of caring for the child?
7. Emotional Ties: How close is the emotional bond between the child and the parent?
8. Moral Fitness of Parent: How effectively does the parent encourage the child’s morality, both through example and direction?
9. Home, School, and Community Record of Child: How has the child performed, whether behaviorally or otherwise, in their activities inside and outside the home?
10. Preference of Child, if Child is Twelve or Older: Which parent would the child prefer to live with?
11. Stability of Home Environment of Parent: How stable is the parent’s home life? Do the residents of the home remain consistent, or are “new” partners/relatives/friends frequently living in the home? Has the parent moved residences frequently or been evicted?
12. Other Relevant Factors: Sometimes cases have unique factors that play a role in the custody determination.
The case that set out the Albright factors was determined in 1983, and since then the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have issued many rulings expanding upon and further interpreting each of the factors.
If you are facing a divorce, a child custody action, or a custody modification proceeding, it is very important to consult with a qualified family law attorney who knows the ins and outs of the Albright factors. Properly presenting evidence of these factors could make the difference in the outcome of your custody case.