Should A Parent’s Health Affect Child Custody?

child custody

In general, custody decisions are decided by applying the “best interests of the child” standard. One such factor is physical health.

A father recently was awarded custody of his children, in part because a judge cited the children’s mother’s breast cancer as a determining factor, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The decision sparked debate on whether a parent’s disability or health should have an impact on child custody rulings. (Note: the mother’s disease was just one of the factors considered, along with her unwillingness to cooperate with her husband. Both parties were said to have anger management issues, they both spent a night in jail after a fight, and they both filed for domestic violence protective orders, according to the article.)

In general, custody decisions are decided by applying the “best interests of the child” standard. Though state statutes and case law define this standard differently, there are certain factors that appear in the majority of states.

One such factor is physical health. When an ill or handicapped parent’s health affects his or her ability to parent, then this factor may affect the final custody determination.

So while it’s not true that a handicapped parent is unable to receive custody solely based on his/her condition, it may be a factor if the disability affects the parent’s ability to raise children in a healthy, stable environment.

If a parent relies on caretakers or is wholly unable to care for himself, let alone his children, then that parent will probably not receive sole physical custody.

If the parents are equal on all other factors, this may be the dispositive one.

Health is but one of many factors. Courts must also analyze each parent’s proposed homes for the child, each parent’s willingness to foster and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent, the child’s affection with each parent, any domestic violence, any physical, mental or moral impediments to parenting, and “any other factor” relevant to the particular family.

Thus, a parent’s health may play a part in the analysis, but it is not true that the parent who can do the most push-ups will receive custody.

If you are involved in a custody battle and would the help of a family law attorney, please contact Cordell & Cordell, a nationwide domestic litigation firm focused on helping men in divorce.

Joseph E. Cordell, J.D., C.P.A., LL.M, is nationally known as the Principal Partner at Cordell & Cordell, a domestic litigation firm focusing on men throughout the divorce process.  He co-founded the firm in 1990 with his wife, Yvonne, and since that time the firm has grown to include 47 offices nationwide. He is also the founder of and He can be contacted at


  1. Nic says:

    I did not that physical health is a huge factor in custody.This is the first time that I know this.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. samantha says:

    My x husband fell I’ll after our divorce, and we had joint custody until he passed away. I did not seek to change the custody arrangements while he was I’ll, and it would be painful to have to go through that. Keep it out of court if at all possible.

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