Child Custody Decisions in Maryland

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 How Does Child Custody Operate in Maryland?

According to the Maryland Courts, Maryland law presumes that both natural parents are the custodians of their children. The law does not favor either the mother or father. Either of the separated parents is permitted to petition a circuit court in Maryland for custody of a child. If the parties cannot agree about who should obtain custody, then the court will grant custody either solely to one of the parents or shared between parents.

The law considers the best interests of the child standard when deciding on child custody and visitation. The best interests of the child standard examine certain factors to determine what is suitable for the child or children.

All court-ordered custody agreements have two components, legal and physical. Furthermore, grandparents and others may seek custody, but the presumption in favor of the natural parents can make it more challenging. Keep in mind that custody and visitation arrangements are never permanent. As circumstances change, a parent can petition the court to modify a court order.

What are the Types of Court Ordered Custody Arrangements?

There are several types of court order custody arrangements, below are some examples:

  • De facto Custody: This type of custody refers to who has custody of the child before the court intervenes. “De facto” means “in fact.”
  • Emergency Custody: If you believe there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm to you or your minor child, you may wish to consider a request for emergency relief. The specific procedure to request emergency custody can differ from Circuit Court to Circuit Court;
  • Joint Custody: This is characterized by three categories: Joint Legal, Shared Physical, and Combination.
    • Joint Legal Custody is where the parents cooperate and share the care and control of the upbringing of the child, even if the child has only one primary residence.
    • Shared Physical Custody is when the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of the time with each parent.
    • Legal custody involves the right to make long-term plans and decisions for education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care, and other matters of major significance concerning the child’s welfare;
  • Physical Custody: This involves spending time with the child and making decisions about the child’s everyday needs, including where the child lives. The court may order legal and physical custody in several ways;
  • Sole Custody: A person may be awarded sole legal custody, sole physical custody, or both;
    Split Custody (of 2 or more children): Split custody means that one parent has sole custody of some of the children, and the other parent has sole custody of the remaining children and;
  • Temporary Custody: Temporary custody is also called pendente lite, meaning “pending the litigation”. To formalize custody before you start litigation, you will need to file for temporary court-ordered custody. Temporary custody will depend on the child’s best interest standard.

What are the Best Interests of the Child Standard?

Regardless of any agreement you may have reached, the courts will look to determine the “best interests” of the child. They examine several factors. Keep in mind that no single factor is most important; it is rather a compilation of all of them. Below is a list of some, but not all, of the factors that courts will consider:

  • Primary Caregiver: Who is the person who takes care of the child? Who feeds the child, shops for their clothes, gets them up for school, bathes them, and arranges daycare? The parent or caregiver is responsible for the day-to-day activities;
  • Fitness: The psychological and physical capacities of the parties seeking custody. The court may also consider evidence of abuse by a party against the other parent, the party’s spouse, or any child residing within the party’s household (including another child);
  • Character and Reputation Ability to Maintain Family Relationships: Who will be best able to help the child keep family relationships? How will the extended family relationships be maintained and what actions will be taken for them by the parties;
  • Child Preference: The decision of the court may be reversed on appeal if the judge will not hear the child’s preference. However, the judge may choose to interview the child outside the presence of the parents. Though it is rare, the court may gather information from a child under 7 years, and a child as young as 5 or 6 years of age.
    • The child’s maturity, and whether the child can speak the truth from fiction will guide the decision whether a child may be taken into account. A child of at least 10 or 12 years of age is certainly entitled to have their opinions heard and given weight in legal proceedings about custody. Additionally, the court has the power to appoint an attorney for the child in contested cases;
  • Material Opportunity: Which parent has the financial resources to provide the child with more things?;
  • Age, Health, and Gender of Child;
  • Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation: How close do the parents live to each other? How close do they live to members of the child’s extended family? Which parent lives closest to the child’s school and social circle?;
  • Length of Separation: How long has the parent been separated from the child?
  • Any Prior Abandonment or Surrender of Custody: Is there a history of one parent walking out and abandoning the other parent to cope with the child and the home? Which parent left when you last broke up?;
  • Religious Views: These will be critical in the court’s decision only if you can prove that religious views affect the physical or emotional well-being of the child and;
  • Disability: A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability impacts the best interest of the child.

Moreover, The best interests of the child standard also come up in the context of parenting plans. A parenting plan is a written agreement about how the parents will cooperate to take care of the child.

What Occurs if there is a Disagreement about Custody and Visitation?

If you and your spouse are having trouble reaching an agreement, you should consider mediation. A mediator specializes in assisting people to reach an agreement that is fair and will last. The sessions remain confidential. A mediator’s role may be limited to custody. You may also request to cover other issues such as marital property if you choose.

It is significant to highlight that mediation is not appropriate in cases where there is a genuine issue of physical or sexual abuse of the child or one of the parties. It is important to obtain a legal advisor for this process. The mediator’s role is not to take sides, but to bring the two sides together. Additionally, if the mediator is not an attorney, the mediator may be unaware of some specific legal issues.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are dealing with child custody issues and you reside in Maryland, it may be useful to seek out a Maryland child custody attorney in your area to guide you through your case.

Most times, child custody issues can get complicated therefore seeking help from a professional can provide you with meaningful insight.

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