Child Custody in Maryland

Physical custody (or residential custody) determines the time sharing arrangements of the child with each parent. Physical custody is either sole or shared (shared does not necessarily mean 50/50, but it could). It is ideal if the parents (rather than the courts) are able to work out an arrangement for physical custody between themselves that works best for the children. If so, the parties can document that plan and submit their custody agreement to the court for review and approval. However, if parents are unable to work out a custody arrangement on their own, the court will get involved to determine and impose the best timesharing schedule for the children.

Child custody is one of the most important aspects of divorce for a parent. There are many factors that need to be considered when determining child custody and there will likely be a separate trial for the custody issues alone if the parties cannot work out a custody arrangement.  One helpful tip to consider when approaching custody matters, is to keep in mind the standard that the court must apply when determining custody—it is called the best interests of the child standard.

There are two types of child custody in Maryland: Legal Custody and Physical Custody.

Legal custody determines which parent can make important decisions concerning the child’s health, safety, education and welfare. Sole legal custody means that one parent has the right and responsibility to unilaterally make decisions for the child. Joint legal custody means that both parents must share the decision-making and agree on what is in the best interest of the child. Most commonly, the courts prefer to award joint legal custody of the child unless there is a compelling reason not to order joint legal custody.

Physical custody (or residential custody) determines the time sharing arrangements of the child with each parent. Physical custody is either sole or shared (shared does not necessarily mean 50/50, but it could). It is ideal if the parents (rather than the courts) are able to work out an arrangement for physical custody between themselves that works best for the children. If so, the parties can document that plan and submit their custody agreement to the court for review and approval. However, if parents are unable to work out a custody arrangement on their own, the court will get involved to determine and impose the best timesharing schedule for the children.

As a parent, you know better than anyone what is best for your children. I recognize this and I encourage parents to work out custody agreements without resorting to a court ordered arrangement whenever possible. Working together to develop a custody plan increases the likelihood of both parents following through with the custody terms, and sets the tone for cooperative future modifications as the needs of the children change. However, and unfortunately, parents cannot always agree on what is in the best interests of their children. This is where an experienced family lawyer can help.  If you or the other parent can not agree upon a custody plan, then it is essential to have an experienced attorney representing you during complex custody litigation.

However, even if parents are working together to develop a plan, it does not mean that parents should do this alone. A parent should always consult with an experienced family law attorney so that they are able to fully understand their rights and duties to be able to make informed decisions when negotiating or strategizing a custody matter. When parents are unable to work out an agreement themselves, they are asking a stranger, the judge, to make a decision based on what he or she thinks is in the best interest of their children. As said before, to navigate custody litigation, you will be well served in having representation that knows how to maneuver through the process and assist you in making some of the most tactical decisions in your life.

To determine custody in a courtroom, the court uses the “best interests of the child standard” to determine an appropriate custody arrangement. Under Maryland law the court considers a number of specifically enumerated factors.  Generally, these factors consider things like the health, safety and welfare of the child while with each parent, any history of abuse of either parent, the amount and nature of contact the child has had with each parent, the use of illegal substances or abuse of alcohol of each parent and any other factors that are relevant to the determination of what is in the best interests of the child.  Among the consideration by the court, the court will consider whether there is a history of domestic violence by either of the parents.  A showing of prior domestic violence may be viewed very negatively by the court against the alleged abuser; however, the court views a false abuse allegation very strongly and may apply the standard of an “abusive” parent to the false accuser.

An award of sole physical custody is generally granted if a judge has a reason to believe that the child’s well-being is in danger due to past abuse or neglect by a parent. However, the court will also consider each parent’s work and personal schedules n determining a parent’s availability to provide care to a child.  Moreover, if the parents live in different states, it will likely be determined to be in the child’s best interest to stay primarily with one parent during the school year to allow for stability.

When determining custody, the court does not consider the gender of the parents. Gone are the days when mothers were favored for custody simply under the belief that the children should be with the mother. Today, the law does not favor one parent or the other on the basis of sex alone. Custody is appropriate with either parent.

Finally, when a court is deciding custody arrangements for children, the issue often takes time to be resolved. If in litigation, a court may maintain the status quo, or request a forensic custody evaluator be appointed to recommend what is in the best interests of the children to the court. Forensic custody evaluations generally cost tens of thousands of dollars and are usually conducted by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another trained specialist.

Where the parties are not able to agree to a custody arrangement for their children, custody can be a drawn-out and complex process. When the future of your child is at stake, you need to have an attorney with the knowledge and experience to direct the process and assist in finding the best result for you and your children.

If you have any questions, or would like to speak with an experienced attorney to advise you on any concerns you have about child custody, please do not hesitate to call me at (301) 231-0927 to set up a consultation. If you would like more information on how to resolve child custody matters without resorting to litigation by utilizing the tools mediation has to offer.

Geoffrey S. Platnick
Shareholder – Family Law Attorney

Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A.
12505 Park Potomac Avenue, 6th Floor
Potomac, Maryland 20854

gplatnick@shulmanrogers.com
T 301.231.0927 | F 301.230.2891

www.shulmanrogers.com

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