A custody decision is not always as simple as alternating care between mother and father. Unmarried couples, adopted children, the need to relocate, history of abuse—these are just a few of the things that may complicate a custody case. It’s wise to consult with an experienced Maryland family lawyer before you go to court, even if you have the custodial responsibilities “figured out” between you and your spouse. And to get you up to speed on how custody works in Maryland, here are a few things you need to know.
Who Can Get Custody
Generally, Maryland courts give custody to natural or adoptive parents of a child. A natural parent is someone who is biologically related to the child, while an adoptive parent is connected to the child through the adoption procedure. If both of the parents are found unfit or are otherwise unable to become guardians, a third party, such as an aunt or a grandfather, may be given custody.
The situation may get complicated when either one of the parties is not a biological parent of the child. Quite often, people consider adopting children of their spouses a legal formality, yet this doesn’t make them any less of a parental figure. This is another situation when an experienced Maryland custody lawyer can help build your case and negotiate a custody agreement.
Types of Custody
That’s right, there is more than one type of custody. In fact, there are two:
- Legal custody involves long-term decisions about child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care and overall welfare. A parent with legal custody can decide where the child attends school or which doctor he or she goes to.
- Physical custody has to do with the day-to-day decisions about a child’s life and where he or she physically resides most of the time.
Custody can also differ depending on who it is awarded to:
- Sole custody is awarded to one parent.
- Joint custody is when both parents share the custodial responsibilities.
- Split custody occurs when each parent gets custody of a child when there is more than one child.
Now the confusing part: sole, joint and split custody can be legal, physical or both. For example, parents may have joint legal custody, but physical custody is not shared and vice versa. That’s why it helps to consult with a custody lawyer before you decide to go into a custody battle.
What Custody Decides
Physical and legal custody are the bones of your custody agreement. However, you and your spouse can also include your own provisions to address any possible issues that may arise. These provisions may include:
- Visitation type and schedule for the parent who doesn’t have custody.
- The role of each parent’s (future) new partner in child’s upbringing.
- Who claims tax deductions for the child.
- How parental duties are shared.
- Requirements for vacations and traveling with children.
- Specific details on how child exchange occurs.
- How the custody agreement can be amended in the future.
Joint custody is one of those situations when you want to spell every detail out, especially if you and your spouse are not on friendly terms. Consider all the “what if’s” before your agreement is finalized, because it will be too late when you want to meet in a neutral location to pick up your child and your spouse doesn’t cooperate.
The Best Interest of the Child
The court doesn’t favor any one of the parents when it comes to custody decisions. What the court looks out for is “the best interest of the child.” This is a rather broad standard that includes many different factors, such as each parent’s character and overall fitness, financial resources, primary residence location, as well as disability or other medical conditions. Child’s preference may be taken into account, but is typically not given much weight, especially in the case of younger children. Basically, the court wants to make sure that the child ends up living as normal and fulfilling of a life as he/she would have had before the parents split up.
Custody Decision is not Permanent
At the time when court decides how to award custody, it’s acting in the child’s best interest. However, the circumstances that led to this decision may change in the future. One of the parents may get arrested or the other parent may get a better paying job. Essentially,what allowed or prevented them from obtaining custody at the initial hearing might not be true anymore. In this case, either parent may file a petition to modify the current custody agreement. Additionally, once a child is 16 years old, he or she can choose which parent to live with.
Hopefully you now have a better idea about how custody works in Maryland. Feel free to give Alan L. Billian, P.A. a call at 410-889-5500 if you have any questions or need legal representation in a custody case.