DECIDING CHILD CUSTODY IN MARYLAND: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
On behalf of Kari Fawcett
When deciding child custody in Maryland, the court will consider the best interests of the child. Many factors will be looked at to award legal and physical custody to one or both parents.
When a married couple is divorcing, child custody will be decided as a part of the divorce proceeding. It is important for parents to be aware that there is not a presumption that one parent is naturally better or the first choice over the other parent in Maryland. The court’s goal is to find the best situation for the child, which is in the child’s best interests. This could be either parent, both are considered equally when determining custody. In addition, the court will not automatically split custody between both parents. Custody of the child or children may be awarded to one or both parents depending on a number of factors and again, the best interests of the child will be paramount.
How the court determines custody
The court will consider many factors when deciding custody arrangements; there are no set criteria or an exhaustive list. The court will consider the “totality of the circumstances” when deciding what would be in the child’s best interests. The list may differ depending on the circumstances, but some common factors considered may include the following:
- Primary care giver – The court may consider if one parent has taken on the bulk of the day-to-day care giving activities.
- Preference – The court may consider the preferences of the parents and the child (age dependant).
- Abandonment – The court will look at whether either parent has ever abandoned or surrendered his or her child.
- Fitness, character and reputation – This includes the mental health of the parents, criminal records, domestic abuse (convictions or allegations) or a history of drug addiction.
- Gender, age and heath of the child
- Child’s relationship with each parent
The court may also consider which arrangement will minimize the disruption to the child’s life. This may include the location of each parent’s residence, his or her financial resources, each parent’s ability to help maintain relationships with other family members and each parent’s willingness to share custody with his or her ex-spouse.
As a parent entering a child custody agreement, it is important to think about the factors that the court may be considering. Discuss any positive or negative circumstances with your attorney to ensure your attorney can be your best advocate during the divorce proceeding.
Types of custody
Based on the determination of what arrangement would be in the child’s best interests, the court will grant legal and physical custody to one (sole) or both (joint/shared) parents.
Legal custody is the right to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare. This includes education, religion, discipline and medical treatment.
Physical custody refers to where the child resides and includes day-to-day care decisions. Physical custody may also have an impact on child support obligations.
Visitation rights refer to a parent’s right to spend time with a child if they were not awarded custody rights.
Child custody proceedings can be the most emotionally draining and difficult aspect of a divorce. As a parent, you love your child and want what’s best for him or her. You need an attorney to protect your rights and advocate for you and your child during this challenging time. Contact attorney Kari Holm Fawcett to answer your questions, discuss your options and help you through your divorce proceeding.