Child custody in Maryland

Parents dealing with child custody issues may have a stressful time ahead of them. These issues are often emotional and the laws may be confusing. Maryland laws govern child custody and have been enacted with the goal of serving the best interest of the child.

What is at stake for the child?

Maryland uses the best interests standard when making child custody determinations. The court looks at the best interest factors anytime a child custody decision is made, while also taking into consideration whether any agreements have been made and what the wishes of the parents and the child are. Other factors include:

  • Who is the child's primary caregiver?
  • What is each parents' parental fitness, character, finances and reputation?
  • Which parent will keep the child's familial relationship intact, including relationship with the other parent and the other parent's family?
  • Has the child been separated from either parent? What has been the length of that separation? Has either parent ever abandoned the child or surrendered custody?
  • What is the gender, age and health of the child?
  • Where does each parent live and what are the visitation possibilities?

The court views every family as unique. Therefore, there will be occasions when one parent has custodial wishes that will carry more weight in the court's eyes than the other parent's based on the family's unique set of circumstances.

Types of custody in Maryland

During the court proceedings, the judge must make temporary custody arrangements for the child, based on the child's best interests.

Whether deciding a temporary or permanent custody arrangement, there are two different types of custody - legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the parent's right to make decisions for the child. Physical custody refers to the child's actual living arrangements.

Parents can have sole custody, split custody or joint custody. Sole custody means that the child lives with one parent while the other parent may be entitled to visitation rights. Joint custody means that the child divides his or her time between both parents' households. Parents can also have joint legal custody - with both parents being responsible to make decisions on the child's behalf - yet one parent is awarded sole physical custody.

If parents have joint physical custody, the child will have two residences and arrangements will be made to spend at least 35 percent of his or her time with each parent. The court looks at many factors when awarding joint physical custody including whether the child will be able to maintain a steady school and social life no matter his or her physical location, as well as the parent's ability to share custody with each other.

Even when sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, the other parent usually retains visitation rights. A visitation schedule can be set up by the court, or the parents can work together to set up a reasonable visitation schedule.

Seek legal representation

If you are a parent facing divorce, an experienced family law attorney can help with divorce settlements, custody arrangements, alimony and even child support issues.