Maryland custody law draws from a variety of sources – case law and statutory law – that must be read together in order to appreciate the complexities of the law and to best achieve each client’s objectives.
Child custody has two components – legal custody and physical custody. Your parental right and obligation to make broad, long-term decisions involving education, religious training, discipline, medical care and other matters of major significance concerning your child’s life and welfare depends on legal custody. Joint legal custody means both parents have an equal voice in such decisions and neither parent’s rights supersede the other parent’s rights. By contrast, sole legal custody vests one parent with the authority to make these decisions for the child. Maryland also recognizes the ability to order that parents have joint legal custody, but that one parent be granted “tie-breaker” authority as to some or all legal custody issues. This is a hybrid approach that requires parents to communicate regarding the legal custody issues pertaining to their child, but in the event of an impasse, it allows one parent to ultimately make the decision.
Physical custody involves the right and obligation to provide where the child lives, and the day-to-day decision making that occurs while the child is in the parent’s physical custody. Multiple variations of physical custody arrangements exist.
Maryland employs the “best interest of the child” standard for determining the appropriate legal and physical custody arrangement for each child. Parents can, and regularly do, reach agreement as to the custody arrangement that is best for their children. But when parents cannot reach agreement, Maryland trial courts are called upon to determine the appropriate custody arrangements for the children. In Maryland, all family law related matters are tried before a judge, not a jury. Although the facts and circumstances of each case remain determinative, the Maryland courts note that no two cases are the same and no custody case is easily determined. Rather, Maryland courts place weight on the following factors in their analysis:
- Parents’ fitness;
- Parents’ character and reputation;
- Each natural parent’s desires and any agreements between them;
- Potential for maintaining natural family relationships;
- Preference of child, if of a sufficient age and capacity to make a rational decision;
- Material opportunities affecting child’s future life;
- Age, sex, health and number of children;
- Each parent’s residence and opportunity for visitation;
- Length of separation from natural parents;
- Willingness of each parent to share custody;
- Sincerity of each parent’s request;
- Capacity and wiling of parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions that affect the child’s welfare;
- Prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody of the child;
- Relationship between the child and each parent;
- Potential disruption of child’s social and school life;
- Geographic proximity of parental homes;
- Demands of parental employment;
- Parents’ financial status;
- Effect on State or Federal Assistance;
- Other factors that reasonably relate to the issue of joint custody;
- Extended family;
- Parents’ religion and child’s religious upbringing to the extent it impacts the child’s physical and/or emotional welfare; and
- Evidence of abuse by a party against the other parent of a party’s child, the party’s spouse or any child residing within the parent’s household (including a child other than the child that is the subject of the custody or visitation inquiry).
Our lawyers can help guide you through the application of these factors to your family, and help you to advocate for the custody arrangement that is right for your child.