What You Need To Know About Child Custody in Maryland
There are two types of custody: Legal and physical custody. Legal custody relates to how decisions regarding a child's general health and welfare will be determined, while physical custody relates to who will care for the child and when.
What is Legal Custody?Legal custody differs greatly from physical custody/visitation. There are two basic types of legal custody: sole custody and joint custody. In sole custody, one parent makes all the decisions. In joint custody, the parties are expected to cooperate with each other to decide in the best interest of the child. The decisions considered in legal custody include education, religious affiliation, medical care, daycare and other matters which affect the child's general health and welfare. The fact that the parties have joint legal custody does not mean they share physical custody. The physical custody/visitation issue is different. Joint legal custody means that the parties have an equal voice in deciding what is in the best interest of the child. All decisions are to be jointly made and the parties must cooperate with each other. There are also hybrids, where the parties have joint legal and one party has tiebreaker authority or the parties agree to attend mediation (or have a provider (depending on the particular topic at issue) decide for them) if the parties cannot reach a decision after good faith efforts No matter the type of legal custody that the parents have, the parent physically caring for the child can make the day-to-day decisions for the child while the child is in their respective cares. So long as, the decision does not affect the child general health and welfare.
What is Physical Custody? Who Gets the Kids and When?There are 3 different types of physical custody: The Court can award sole physical custody with visitation to the other parent, shared physical custody, or joint physical custody/visitation. Shared physical custody means that both parties have the child more than 35% of the time. 35% equates to roughly 128 nights. Shared custody is based on overnights and not days or amount of hours a parent has with a child. Access to a minor child is a basic right of a natural or adopted parent, but not necessarily an absolute right. A parent is ordinarily awarded access to his or her child unless the contact would endanger the welfare of the child (if the parent is abusive or neglectful). Ordinarily, even under those circumstances, a court will nonetheless award visitation with restrictive conditions such as supervised visitations or a requirement that visitations be contingent upon counseling, therapy, or drug or alcohol treatment participation and completion. As hard as it may be emotionally for you, the other parent's rights to have access to the minor child are important and you as a parent should be happy to have free time to take care of other responsibilities. It is important for a child to develop a relationship with both parents (if that is feasible). The goal should be for both parents to want to maintain a relationship and raise the child in a good and safe environment (if no abuse or other issues are present).
What factors are considered when the Court determines custody?Courts have very broad discretion in matters involving legal and physical custody. An award of custody of a minor child by a court to one or both parents (or a third party such as a grandparent) is based upon what is in the best interest of the child. In determining child custody matters, a court considers and weighs numerous factors including: The mental and physical health of each parent; The fitness and character of each parent; The willingness of each parent to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent; The relationship between the child and each parent; The motivation (sincerity) of each parent's custody requests; and The parental preference of the child when the child is of sufficient age to form a rational judgment, which is determined by the Judge hearing your matter. There are additional factors if an action involves a third party, such as a grandparent, or if this is a modification of a prior court order, which must be considered before the Court even considers what is in the best interest of the child(ren). These factors will be discussed in another guide