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Reasons to Modify Your Child Custody Agreement

patrickcrawford | March 6, 2023

Your child custody agreement spells out both physical custody, which determines parents’ child access and visitation and legal custody, which determines parents’ decision-making authority. Both are naturally important components of your rights and responsibilities as a parent. Your current child custody orders may have worked well when you were first divorced – or when the terms were handed down by the court – but this can change over time. 

Maryland courts recognize that child custody modifications are sometimes necessary and, in response, award them when warranted, which translates to when a material change has occurred. If you have questions or concerns regarding a child custody modification, turn to the professional legal guidance of an experienced Maryland child custody attorney for the help you need today. 

 

Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody

Physical custody sets the schedule by which you and your ex share your time with your children, and just like legal custody, it is determined in accordance with the children’s best interests. Basic options when it comes to the terms of physical custody generally include the following:

  • One parent takes on the primary custodial role, and the children spend the majority of their overnights with this parent.
  • Both parents divide the number of overnights they have with the kids between them either evenly or nearly evenly.

Legal custody, on the other hand, determines who will be making primary parenting decisions regarding the children’s upbringing, including those related to the following:

  • The children’s education
  • The children’s healthcare need
  • The children’s religious affiliation and education
  • The children’s participation in extracurriculars and travel 

Parents sometimes continue making these decisions together, but one parent may be awarded sole legal custody. Other options include each parent taking on specific categories of decision-making authority or one parent being awarded tie-breaking authority – when legal custody is shared. 

 

The Modification Process

In the State of Maryland, the court assumes that the current child custody orders support the best interests of the involved children – because this is what guides every child custody determination in the state. In order to modify said orders, parents need to demonstrate that relevant circumstances have changed to such a degree that the current orders no longer support the children’s best interests. The standard here is what the courts call a material change in circumstances. A material change refers to a significant change in circumstances that affects your family’s child custody needs. 

 

Examples of Material Changes

There are certain changes that tend to qualify as material changes that support child custody modifications, including:

  • One parent moves out of state for a compelling reason. A prime example is a promotion that comes with a raise and, as a result, is to the children’s advantage.
  • One parent is unable to comply with the previous child custody orders – if, for example, one parent’s work schedule changes to the degree that the current orders are no longer manageable. 
  • A change in the health of either one of the parents or in the health of one of the children can necessitate a modification. 
  • Negative circumstances can initiate a child custody modification, such as if abuse, negligence, or another kind of danger is determined to be present in one parent’s home. 

 

Child Custody Orders are Separate from Child Support Orders

It’s important to note that child custody and child support are distinct and separate legal matters. This means that child visitation with the kids cannot be withheld in response to unpaid child support and that child support cannot go unpaid in response to withheld visitation. Failure to comply with either child support or child custody orders can, however, lead to serious legal consequences that could ultimately lead to a modification of either. 

 

The Best Interests of the Children

When Maryland courts are called upon to hand down child custody orders or child custody modifications, their decisions are always guided by the best interests of the children, including factors like the following:

  • Each parent’s ability to parent effectively and provide for the children’s needs
  • The children’s needs, including any special needs any of them have
  • The preference of each parent and of each child – if the child is considered mature enough to voice an authentic preference
  • Each parent’s commitment to supporting the other’s ongoing relationship with the children
  • Each parent’s commitment to maintaining open communication with the other
  • Each parent and each child’s overall physical and mental health
  • The relationship between each parent and each child
  • The role that the demands of either parent’s job plays in their ability to be there for the children
  • How far the parents’ homes are from one another, and the role this plays in visitation
  • The opportunities each parent is able to offer the children 
  • Any additional factors that the court considers relevant in the case at hand

Father playing with son

 

Negotiating a Child Custody Modification between Yourselves

If you and your ex come to the mutual decision that you need a child custody modification and you are able to negotiate the terms between yourselves, the court is very likely to implement your modification. Simply agreeing between yourselves, however, has no legal bearing, and your original child custody orders will remain in effect, which can have serious legal implications. If, for example, your children’s other parent changes their mind and chooses to enforce the original child custody terms, the law will be on their side, and you could be found in contempt of court.

 

An Experienced Maryland Child Custody Attorney Can Help

Your child custody rights are an important part of your parental rights, which makes them critical. Patrick Crawford at the Law Office of Patrick Crawford in Annapolis is a focused child custody attorney who recognizes how important your child custody orders are to you and your children and has the legal experience and insight to help. Learn more by reaching out and  contacting or calling us at (410) 216-7905 today.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.