Under Maryland divorce law, the court and the divorcing couple must determine how to divide “custody” of the children between the parents. There are two types of custody in Maryland divorce cases “legal custody” and “physical custody.” Legal custody refers to the responsibility for making decisions about the child’s medical treatment, schooling, religion and other major decisions about the child’s life and welfare. Physical custody refers to where the child actually resides and the right to make day to day decisions about the child’s care and activities when the child is with the parent.
In most cases, both parents share legal custody. With joint legal custody, both parents have the right to be involved in decisions and receive information about the child’s school, medical treatment, etc. Courts also often award “joint physical custody” or “shared physical custody.” Joint physical custody means that the child spends significant time with both parents. Joint physical custody can have many formulations including a 50-50 time split or having the child spend frequent weekends, some holidays and much of the child’s summer vacation with one parent and the rest of the time with the other parent
When a court considers how to award child custody under Maryland divorce law, the court uses the “best interest of the child standard.” The best interest of the child standard, which guides Maryland child custody cases, is based on the unique character of each Maryland divorce case. However, courts have considered the following factors:
· Fitness of the parents
· Character and reputation of the parties
· Desire of parents and agreement between the parties
· Potential of maintaining natural family relations
· Preferences of the child
· Material opportunities affecting the future opportunities of the child
· Age, health and sex of the child
· Residence of the parents, and opportunities for visitation; or geographic proximity of parental homes
· Length of child’s separation from parent
· Prior voluntary abandonment or surrender
Maryland divorce courts want to see the child maintain positive relationships with both parents. Courts look closely at a parent’s willingness to promote a positive relationship between a child and the other parent. The work schedule of the parents is also a major factor in determining how the court should divide physical custody. If one parent works long hours and the other parent does not work, the court will often consider it in the best interest of the child to be with the stay at home parent. Maryland divorce courts would rather see the child with a parent then with a non-parent care provider.
If the child is moved from the family home, this can also be a significant factor that courts consider. In Maryland divorce cases, courts do not like to see the child unilaterally moved from the family home by one of the parents particularly if it disrupts the child’s school schedule.
By contrast, a parent that moves out of the family home without the child or does not take action when the other parent moves the child out of the family home may be at a distinct disadvantage. The divorce court may consider that this shows the parent who is not residing with the child has expressly or implicitly consented to allowing the other parent to have primary physical custody. The divorce court may also be hesitant about making the child adjust to a 50-50 custody arrangement if the child has spent the majority of his time with the one parent without significant objection from the other parent.
Other considerations that may have a major impact on a Maryland child custody case may include a parent’s drug/alcohol abuse, criminal history, domestic violence or child abuse or neglect.
When facing Maryland divorce and child custody proceedings, you need a divorce lawyer who will help you through this difficult time while making sure you and your children are protected. A Maryland family law attorney can help advise and represent you in your child custody case. If you need a Maryland family law attorney, click here.