Important Facts About Maryland Child Custody Laws

If you are in a divorce and child custody dispute, it is essential to understand the laws that apply to your case. Learn about Maryland child custody laws in this article, and contact our Maryland child custody attorneys at Shah & Kishore if you have questions. Our attorneys can offer many child custody and visitation solutions that are in the best interests of your children.

Maryland Child Custody Laws Overview

The laws of Maryland presume that the natural parents are custodians of their children, and the law does not favor the father or mother. Either party can file a petition in Maryland circuit court for child custody, and if the parties cannot agree on the matter, the court can grant sole custody or joint custody, depending on the child’s best interests.

Types Of Child Custody In Maryland

There are two types of child custody in Maryland. They are:

Physical Custody

Physical custody means the parent’s caretaking responsibilities and rights for the child, such as giving food, shelter, and clothing. If the child spends the majority of their time with one parent, that person has primary physical custody. Maryland law states that ‘majority’ means 2/3 of the overnights in one calendar year. If the child spends less than 2/3 of overnights at either parent’s home, then the arrangement is joint physical custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody means the parent’s ability to make major decisions for the child, including:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Medical care
  • Overall well-being (not minor day-to-day decisions)

If decision-making authority is provided to one parent, that individual has sole legal custody. If the right to make decisions is shared, the parents have shared or joint legal custody. All legal and physical custody decisions are made in the best interests of the child.

Also, legal custody with tie-breaking authority can be given to one parent. This means if the parents work together to make a major decision but cannot agree, the parent with tie-breaking authority makes the ultimate decision. It is possible for one parent to have tie-breaking authority in one area, such as medical, with tie-breaking authority in another area, such as education, given to the other parent.

Maryland Parenting Plan Tool

The Maryland Parenting Plan Tool is used to create a parenting plan with the other parent. A parenting plan is a written document that details how the parents will raise their children. The plan covers how they will make major decisions for the child and where the child will spend their time with each parent.

What Factors Does The Court Consider In The Best Interests Of The Child?

When deciding child custody and visitation, the court shall think of the child’s best interests above other concerns, and they will review many factors. No one factor listed below is more important than the others, and this is not an all-exclusive list:

  • Who is the child’s primary caregiver is: Who is the parent who spends most of the time with the child? Who buys groceries, takes them to school, and deals with daycare? Who takes care of the child’s medical and dental needs?
  • Mental and physical fitness of the parent: The psychological and physical abilities of each party seeking custody. The judge also can consider any evidence of neglect or abuse against the child or other parent.
  • Any child custody agreement that already exists between the parties.
  • The preference of the child: The court may hear a child as young as five or six, but how much their preference is considered depends on their maturity and other factors. Children at least 10-12 may have their opinions considered more than younger children.
  • Amount of time the child was separated from the natural parent wanting custody
  • The impact of an earlier voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody
  • Where each parent lives: How close each parent lives to other family, the child’s school, and social structure.

When the parents want joint physical and/or legal custody, the court will consider these and other additional factors:

  • How willing each parent is to share custody and whether they can communicate effectively.
  • The physical and psychological health of each parent.
  • The bond between each parent and the child.
  • The effect that shared physical custody will have on the child.
  • How close the parents live to each other.
  • The financial status of each parent.
  • The motive behind the request for joint custody.

If The Parents Are Unmarried

In Maryland, if the parents are unmarried, the father must prove paternity to claim his custody or visitation rights. You can prove your paternity with a court order to determine paternity, acknowledging you are the father in writing, among other methods. After you establish paternity, neither party is treated preferentially based on gender.

If The Parents Disagree About Child Custody

If the parties cannot agree about child custody, it is recommended to consider mediation. A mediator is an objective third party who can help Maryland parents agree on a custody decision. However, mediation is inappropriate if the child has been physically or sexually abused.

A Maryland Child Custody Agreement Can Be Changed

If one parent wants to modify the child custody order, they must prove there was a material change of circumstances. The court typically assumes that stability is in the child’s best interests, unless one of the parents shows something in the child’s home environment that risks the child’s wellbeing. There are many reasons to ask for custody modification, such as health and nutrition concerns, or the child is being subjected to a dangerous home environment.

Overall, the child custody order will not be modified if the parents’ homes are considered to be equal regarding the child’s safety, needs, and health. Modifying a child custody order in Maryland is not easy, and parents who want to do so should be advised by an experienced child custody attorney in Maryland.

Contact Our Maryland Child Custody Attorneys

If you are in a child custody dispute, it can be stressful because you do not know how much time you will get with your children. But legal help is available. Please call our child custody attorneys in Maryland at Shah & Kishore today for a consultation at (301) 315-0001.

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