Child custody is one of the foremost concerns for all divorcing parents. Will your child live with you? How much time will you have? How much authority will you have to make the important decisions regarding your child’s religion, education, health care and upbringing?
In Maryland, the court makes those decisions based on the best interests of your child. However, it’s important to understand that you and the court may have different opinions about your child’s best interests. Yours are based on your love and affection for your child. The court arrives at its decision after reviewing a list of different factors.
The court reviews more than a dozen factors
The court weighs more than a dozen factors during any custody dispute. These prioritize your child’s safety, and concerns about child abuse or dangerous criminal activity quickly rise to the top. When those problems aren’t part of your case, the court may consider awarding either sole custody or joint custody. It’s important to understand that an award of joint custody places a greater emphasis on some factors than others.
Ten of the most important factors the court reviews include:
- The parents’ willingness to work together and share custody
- Each parent’s physical and psychological fitness
- Each parent’s existing relationship with the child
- Your child’s preferences, depending upon his or her age and maturity
- The stability or disruption of your child’s education and social life
- How closely the parents live to each other
- How much your work demands of your time
- Each parent’s finances and material resources
- Any impact the decision may have on state or federal assistance
- The sincerity of each parent’s request
It’s worth pointing out that the court evaluates each of these factors according to the evidence it receives. That means you want to understand which evidence best supports your argument.
What if you understand your child’s best interests better than the court does?
In many cases, it’s possible for parents to work together and create their own parenting plan. You and your soon-to-be ex can decide for yourselves how you’ll work together to make important decisions and how you’ll share your time with your child. Your plan can cover the basics of how much time the child will spend with you or include more specific details e.g. how holidays will be divided including summer vacations.
If you don’t create your own parenting plan, the court will create one. In that case, the judge or magistrate decides how you and your ex will divide your parenting time and responsibilities. If you are going to court, your job is then to supply the court with the evidence that will help it better understand what is in your child’s best interests.