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How to Get Custody of a Child in Maryland?

patrickcrawford | November 17, 2022

If your goal is to obtain primary or sole physical custody of a child in Annapolis, the most important first step you can take is reaching out to an experienced Annapolis child custody attorney as early in the process as possible. Whether you are facing a divorce, are seeking a post-divorce modification, or are addressing child custody outside of marriage and divorce, child custody cases are challenging, but a better understanding of the process can help you make well-informed decisions as you move forward. 

Physical Custody and Legal Custody

Child custody in Maryland is grouped into both physical custody and legal custody. If you and your children’s other parents are able to negotiate mutually acceptable custody terms, the court is very likely to accept them. If not, however, you will need the court to make your child custody determinations for you. The general belief is that – barring a reason for ruling otherwise – children’s best interests are best served when they are able to spend a considerable amount of time with both parents, and this belief will also guide the court’s decision-making process in your case.   

Physical Custody

Physical custody relates to parenting time, which sets the schedule whereby you and your children’s other parents divide your time with your shared children. The primary custodial parent has the children the majority of the time, which means that the children spend more than half their overnights with this parent. When it comes to physical custody, there are an infinite number of scheduling variations, but they can all be grouped into one of the following categories:

  • One parent becomes the primary custodial parent, and the other has a parenting time schedule.
  • One parent has sole physical custody, while the other has a visitation schedule. 
  • Both parents divide their parenting time evenly – or close to evenly. 

Legal Custody

Legal custody relates to who will be making important decisions that guide your children’s lives moving forward. The kind of decisions involved include:

  • Children’s schooling
  • Healthcare your children receive
  • Children’s religious education
  • Children’s extracurriculars and travel
  • Where your children live

One of you can be awarded sole legal custody, or you and your ex share joint legal custody in which you make these primary parenting decisions together. When joint legal custody is awarded, one parent may receive the tie-breaking authority necessary to make a final decision in the event that you are not able to reach a consensus – after endeavoring in good faith to do so. It is important to note that one parent can have sole physical custody while sharing joint legal custody – and vice versa.  

Shared Physical Custody

In order for child custody to be considered shared, the following must apply:

  • Each of you must have a minimum of 128 overnights with your shared children, which translates to being responsible for them about 35 percent of the time. 
  • Both must contribute to the cost of raising your children (outside of other financial awards and of the child support payments ordered).

If, for example, your children’s other parent doesn’t meet these standards, you will have sole physical custody while your ex has a visitation schedule. If, on the other hand, you have your children more than half the time, you will be considered the primary custodial parent. Understanding your options can help you bring your strongest child custody case in the State of Maryland. 

Best Interest Factors

When the court makes decisions that directly affect the welfare of children, it is always guided by the best interests of those children. As such, it takes all the following best interest factors into consideration:

  • Number of kids involved and their overall health and ages
  • Level of fitness as a parent, as well as your ex’s 
  • Your ability to maintain a stable, healthy home for your children and your ex’s ability to do so
  • Character and reputation, as well as your ex’s  
  • The sincerity of your preference to be the primary custodial parent, as well as the sincerity of your ex’s preference 
  • Each of your abilities to communicate with one another and reach a consensus on critical matters
  • Each child’s preference (if he or she is considered mature enough to reasonably weigh in on the matter) 
  • The degree to which each of you is willing to accommodate shared custody with the other
  • Skills of each of you is capable of maintaining healthy family relations
  • Distance between your homes and how it affects the ability of either of you to spend time with your shared children
  • Financial stability and that of your ex’s
  • Job demands on each parent, and how this affects the ability of either of you to spend time with your shared children

Other Interest Factors:

  • The relationship each of you has established with each of your shared children
  • Amount of time you and your ex have been separated 
  • Your ability to meet each child’s unique needs, including any special needs, and your ex’s ability to do so
  • How well your children have acclimated to the home, community, and school where they currently live
  • Actions which each of you has participated in parenting your shared children to date
  • Any efforts by either of you to alienate the affections of any of your shared children
  • Another factor the court deems relevant 

In other words, child custody cases are challenging, and working closely with a seasoned attorney is always in your best interest. 

Custody of a Child in Annapolis-FAQs

The answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to child custody may answer some of your own questions.  

If my ex fails to pay court-ordered child support, can I withhold visitation?

No, court-ordered child support and court-ordered visitation are two distinct matters. If your ex is not paying child support, you will need to address the matter with the court. 

Are my children old enough to voice their preferences regarding child custody?

There is no set age at which children are considered old enough to voice their preferences in relation to child custody. The matter is always considered on a case-by-case basis, but if a child is deemed mature enough to weigh in meaningfully, the court may be interested in hearing his or her preference in the matter. 

Does Maryland recognize grandparents’ rights?

In the state of Maryland, grandparents have no inherent legal rights to visitation. In order to gain visitation rights, grandparents must bring independent legal actions as third-party petitioners.    

Factors in a Child Custody Case

Child custody is one of the most emotional issues in family law, as most parents want the right to spend time with their child and be involved in their child’s life. Often, parents can agree on a child custody arrangement that works for everyone involved. When this happens, the court can review the child custody proposal and approve it if it meets the proper standards. 

If parents cannot agree, however, they must put the decision in the hands of the family court. Each parent makes their arguments (through their attorneys), and the judge decides what the child custody arrangement should be. 

So, what factors does a court consider to decide on child custody? What standards do parents have to meet? The law is strict when it comes to the care of children, so if you have a custody case, you should discuss the relevant factors and your options with a child custody lawyer as soon as possible. 

The Best Interests of the Child

The standard for every custody case in Maryland is what is in the best interests of the child. Whether a family court is reviewing a proposed custody agreement from parents or deciding custody in a contentious case, the judge will need to base the decision on the best interests of the child’s standard. 

Many factors should be considered when deciding what is in the best interests of the child, and the following are only some of the factors courts should take into account.

No one factor is automatically more important than others, as the judge will need to weigh all factors given your specific situation. This can be a complex decision, especially if you have complicated circumstances regarding one or both parents or your child. 

Custody of a Child in Annapolis with a family law attorney

Relationships with both parents

First, Maryland law considers both parents to be a child’s custodian, and there is no presumption in favor of either the mother or father in custody cases. Gone are the days when courts assumed that a mother should provide most of the care for a child, as the parental rights of a father should also be considered and upheld. 

Of course, joint custody is not always possible, but the courts and the law favor shared custody between both parents when it is in the best interest of the child.

Is there a primary caregiver?

Is there one parent who provides most of the child’s care while the parents live together? Who gets them up in the morning, helps them dress, makes their meals, and buys their clothes? Who arranges childcare and communicates with teachers? Does the child cry for one parent if they get hurt? Both parents might share this caregiving responsibility, but in some cases, one parent might be considered the primary caregiver. 

Parental fitness

The court will examine the physical and mental capabilities of each parent who is seeking custody to ensure they are fit to serve as a parent.

Note that a disability will only weigh against a parent if the nature of their impairments affects the best interest of the child. Disabilities that do not impact the child’s well-being should not play a role in the decision. 

The court can also look at any possible abuse by a parent against the child or anyone in the household. An abusive parent may be found unfit to be with the child alone.

Character and reputation

Is one parent known for drinking, using drugs, and having various sexual partners in and out of their house? A parent’s choices play a role if the court believes the child will be exposed regularly to bad behavior and stressful situations.

Further, habitual substance abuse can render a parent unable to properly care for the child. 

Material resources

Does one parent have significantly more resources than the other to contribute to the child’s well-being? Child support can help to even out financial discrepancies between parents, though a judge might assess each parent’s financial opportunities for the child. 

Child’s needs

What are the child’s current needs based on their age, gender, and health? Is one parent more or less equipped to handle these needs, including any special needs the child might have?

Where they live

Do the parents live close enough to one another that shared custody or visitation is easy to accomplish? Which parent lives closer to the child’s school, other close relatives, and the child’s friends and activities? Does the child have close ties with one community?

Religious views

A parent’s religious views should only be considered if the views might affect the best interests of the child. 

Separation or abandonment

Has one parent already separated themselves from the child for a period of time? Has one person not made an effort to see the child or be involved in their life? Did one parent abandon the child and leave the other parent to solely care for the child? Did one parent give up their parental rights in the past? 

Maintaining family relationships

Which parent is most willing and able to maintain the child’s family relationships? Are both parents willing to allow the child to see their ex-in-laws, for instance? Is one parent insisting on isolating the child from extended family on the other parent’s side?

Parental disparagement or alienation

Is one parent tearing down the other in front of the child? Does one parent tell the child the divorce is the other parent’s fault and that the other parent no longer loves the child? Such conduct can rise to the level of parental alienation, which can be very damaging to the child’s psychological health.

The court wants parents to work together and encourage healthy relationships with the other parent, which is seen as being in a child’s best interest. 

What does the child want?

Courts do not always listen to a child’s wishes, especially if the child is too young or does not have the maturity to make a reasoned decision. The judge can listen to the child and weigh their preference based on the child’s age, maturity, and reasoning.

For example, one eight-year-old might be mature enough to express why they want to live with one parent and visit the other.

On the other hand, a 10-year-old might tell the judge they want to live with one parent because that parent lets the child eat candy for breakfast and never makes them clean their room.

This is not a reasonable basis for having a preference, so the court might not weigh it heavily. 

In some cases, the judge might appoint an attorney for the child who can investigate the situation and present the child’s preferences (when appropriate) to the court. 

Do the parents have an agreement?

If two parents agree on a certain custody arrangement, the court would give this arrangement weight, as long as it is in the best interests of the child. Coming up with an out-of-court custody agreement is often the best course of action for parents, and an attorney can help with this process. 

It’s Time to Consult with an Experienced Attorney on Custody of a Child in Annapolis

Child custody is a complex matter, and seeking sole custody can be an uphill battle outside of extreme circumstances. A family law attorney can evaluate your options for obtaining sole or shared custody of your children before your case begins. Patrick Crawford at the Law Office of Patrick Crawford in Annapolis is a trusted child custody attorney whose focus is on zealously protecting the parental rights of clients like you. Your case is important, and we are here to help – so please don’t wait to contact us for more information today.

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