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How Is Child Custody Determined in Maryland?

In Maryland, issues child custody and visitation are determined by what is in “the best interest of the child”. A Maryland Judge or Magistrate deciding the best interest of the child looks to two (2) cases that have long established a legal interpretation of the phrase “best interest of the child”.  (1) Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290 (Ct. of Appeals 1986), and (2) Montgomery County v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1978). In both of these cases, the Court establishes a series of factors for the Court to consider when assessing and determining the best interest of the child.

Factors including, but not limited to:

  1. Primary Care Giver – Who is the person who takes care of the child primarily, including feeding, bathing, clothing, getting the child ready for school, etc.?
  2. Fitness – What are the psychological and physical capacities of each parent? 
  3. Character and Reputation- The Court has the ability to look at the character and reputation of each parent that is relevant to each parent’s ability to parent and/or co-parent for the sake of the child. 
  4. Agreements – The Court looks to the status quo—such as, are there any existing custody arrangements that the child has already become accustomed to. 
  5. Ability to Maintain Family Relationships – Will the child be able to maintain relationships with their family members, immediate family, cousins, aunts, and uncles, grandparents, etc. while in the care and custody of each parent—or does one parent make it difficult to continue these relationships?
  6. Child Preference – The decision of the court may be reversed on appeal if the judge will not hear the child’s preference. However, the judge may choose to interview the child outside the presence of the parents. Though it is rare, the court will hear from a child under 7 years, and a child as young as 5 or 6 years of age may be heard. The child’s maturity, and whether the child can tell the truth from fiction will guide the decision of whether a child may be heard. A child of at least 10 or 12 years of age is certainly entitled to have their opinions heard and given weight in legal proceedings about custody. Additionally, the court has the power to appoint an attorney for the child in contested cases.
  7. Material Opportunity – The Court looks to, not necessarily which parent has the most money, but rather which parent has the ability to provide material opportunities for the child and which parent is more willing to prioritize the child’s material opportunities. 
  8. Age, Health and Gender of Child – The Court will also look to the child’s age, gender and health as children of certain ages require more or less attention and has more or less needs than other children of different ages, health, and genders. 
  9. Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation – Geographical proximity is a major issue when the child is of school age. During the school year, routine is very important for children and Courts often prefer the child to be in one residence primarily throughout the school year. However, if the parents live in close proximity, the routine may be able to maintain even on a shared schedule.
  10. Length of Separation – As stated previously, the Court looks at the status quo, including how long the child has been separated from either parent and whether the child is already accustomed to a certain household.
  11. Any Prior Abandonment or Surrender of Custody – Is there a history of one parent walking out and leaving the other parent to cope with the child and the home? Which parent left when you last broke up?
  12. Religious Views – These will be important in the court’s decision only if you can show that religious views affect the physical or emotional well-being of the child.
  13. Disability – A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability affects the best interest of the child.

As one can see from the two cases above, child custody decisions are often less straightforward than simply rotating care between parents. A number of issues can complicate a custody case. If you are facing a child custody decision, it is in your best interest to speak with a knowledgeable lawyer.

The Baltimore family law attorneys at The Bishop Law Group understand the complexities of Maryland law and the challenges faced by divorcing parents. With more than 75 years of combined legal experience, we can help you navigate the child custody process with respect and dignity.

What Types of Child Custody Are Recognized in Maryland?

Child custody refers to the care, control, and maintenance of a child. While both parents are presumed to be the natural and proper custodians of a child, the court may be asked to determine custody in some circumstances.

There are two primary types of child custody in Maryland:

  • Physical Custody: This type of custody involves where a child will physically reside.
  • Legal Custody: This applies to the parents’ ability to make major life decisions on behalf of the child, including decisions about a child’s medical care, religious upbringing, education, and general welfare. For example, parents with legal custody can make decisions regarding which doctor or school a child goes to.

Depending on the court’s decision, physical and legal custody can vary:

  • Sole Physical Custody: This is when one parent is primarily responsible for the physical custody of the child. Physical custody is determined by where the child is staying overnight.
  • Shared Physical Custody: This is when both parents are involved and responsible for the physical custody of the child, and where the child will be staying at both parents’ homes overnight on a custody schedule.
  • Sole Legal Custody: This is when one parent has the absolute authority to make all major decisions on behalf of the child.
  • Joint Legal Custody: This is when both parents have an equal say in major decisions on behalf of the child.
  • Joint legal custody with one parent having tie-breaker authority: This is when both parents have an equal say in major decisions on behalf of the child. However, in the event of a disagreement, one parent has the final say.

Speak with a Baltimore Family Law Attorney Today

If you are facing divorce and have questions about child custody laws in Maryland, the family law attorneys at The Bishop Law Group can help.

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Contact our office today online or at (410) 390-3101. We serve families in Baltimore, Ocean City, and other areas.