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Divorced parents arguing about child custody

How Is Child Custody Determined in Maryland? 

Kathleen M. Kirchner Attorney At Law  June 13, 2024

Child custody can be one of the most contentious issues during a divorce or separation. It’s not just about legal definitions and court orders; it’s about ensuring that the child’s best interests are the priority.

In Maryland, the process of determining child custody involves several factors and legal procedures that every parent should understand.  

Understanding the essential aspects of child custody laws is crucial for parents to ensure the best possible outcomes for their children and themselves.  

Understanding Child Custody in Maryland

In Maryland, child custody is divided into three main types: legal custody, physical custody, and visitation rights. 

  • Legal custody: This refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions about the child’s welfare, including education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Legal custody can be sole, where one parent has all the decision-making power, or joint, where both parents share these responsibilities. 

  • Physical custody: This pertains to where the child lives and the day-to-day care and supervision of the child. Similar to legal custody, physical custody can be sole, where the child lives primarily with one parent, or joint, where the child’s time is split between both parents. 

  • Visitation rights: When one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent typically has rights to spend time with the child through scheduled visits. These visits can be structured (specific dates and times) or reasonable (flexible and agreed upon by both parents). 

Understanding these key aspects of child custody in Maryland will equip parents with the knowledge needed to effectively navigate this challenging aspect of family law

Factors Affecting Child Custody Determination

Maryland courts prioritize the child's best interests when determining custody arrangements. Several key factors are considered: 

  • Child’s best interests: This is the paramount consideration in any custody case. Courts evaluate what will best serve the health, safety, and welfare of the child. 

  • Parent-child relationships: The quality and depth of each parent’s relationship with the child are assessed. Judges consider which parent has been the primary caregiver and the child’s emotional ties to each parent. 

  • Parental fitness: The mental and physical health of each parent, along with their ability to provide for the child's needs, is scrutinized. Any history of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse will weigh heavily. 

  • Child’s preference: Depending on the age and maturity of the child, their preferences may be taken into account, although this is just one of many factors. 

  • Stability and continuity: The court examines the importance of maintaining continuity in the child’s life, including the potential impact of uprooting the child from their current living situation, school, and community. 

Legal Process of Child Custody Determination

Here’s a step-by-step guide to determining child custody: 

  1. Filing for custody: Either parent can file a petition for custody as part of the divorce proceedings or as a standalone action if they are unmarried or already divorced. 

  1. Serving the papers: The filed petition must be served to the other parent, providing them with legal notice of the custody action. 

  1. Response: The other parent has the opportunity to respond to the petition, either agreeing or contesting the proposed custody arrangement. 

  1. Mediation: Maryland courts often require parents to attend mediation sessions to try and reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement without going to trial. 

  1. Custody evaluation: In some cases, the court may order a custody evaluation by a qualified professional to assess each parent’s home environment and relationship with the child. 

  1. Court hearings: If mediation fails, the case proceeds to court hearings where both sides present evidence and arguments. 

  1. Final custody order: After considering all evidence and testimonies, the judge issues a final custody order detailing legal and physical custody arrangements and visitation schedules. 

Understanding Maryland’s child custody laws and processes is essential for parents to effectively advocate for their child's best interests during and after a divorce. 

Parenting Plans and Agreements

A well-crafted parenting plan or agreement can make a significant difference in co-parenting effectively. A parenting plan typically includes: 

  • Custody arrangements: Details about legal and physical custody, including specific schedules for holidays, vacations, and special occasions. 

  • Decision-making protocols: Guidelines on how parents will make important decisions about the child’s welfare. 

  • Communication: Agreed-upon methods and frequency of communication between parents regarding the child. 

  • Dispute resolution: Processes for resolving any disagreements that may arise, such as returning to mediation before going to court. 

Creating a detailed parenting plan helps to minimize conflicts and provides a clear roadmap for co-parenting, ensuring the child's needs are always prioritized. 

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Child custody cases often come with unique challenges, but understanding and preparing for them can help parents navigate the process more smoothly.  

High levels of conflict can make custody negotiations difficult. Utilizing professional mediators and prioritizing the child's well-being can help manage and reduce parental conflict. 

Logistical differences, such as parents’ living situations, work schedules, and proximity to schools, can complicate custody arrangements. Flexibility and creative solutions, such as virtual visitation, can address these issues. 

Finally, the emotional toll of custody battles can be overwhelming for both parents and children. Seeking help from therapists, counselors, and support groups can provide emotional relief and guidance. 

Importance of Legal Counsel

Navigating the complexities of child custody law requires the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney. Kathleen M. Kirchner, with over 17 years of experience in family law and criminal defense, offers invaluable support to parents facing custody disputes. Her affordable, aggressive, and compassionate approach ensures that parents receive the quality legal representation they deserve. 

Get Professional Guidance Today

Child custody is a critical aspect of divorce that requires careful consideration and understanding. By familiarizing yourself with Maryland’s child custody laws, the factors affecting custody determinations, and the legal process, you can better prepare for this challenging journey. 

For parents in Maryland seeking reliable and empathetic legal support, Kathleen M. Kirchner, Attorney At Law, stands ready to assist. With her extensive experience and commitment to affordable, high-quality representation, Kathleen ensures that her clients' rights and interests are fiercely protected. 

Take proactive steps today to understand your rights and responsibilities in child custody matters. For personalized legal advice, reach out to Kathleen’s Annapolis office and schedule a free consultation. Your child’s future is worth it.