When you go through a divorce or a breakup and there are children involved, the process can be complicated and emotionally taxing for you and your ex-partner. Understanding how custody agreements commonly work will help you better navigate this process and allow for the best outcome for your child.
Step 1: Child Custody Petition
At the time of divorce initiation, you’ll also open a child custody case in order to come to a legal agreement with your ex-spouse regarding the care of your child. Your petition will include:
- The full names and current addresses of both parents and the child.
- The type of custody you are seeking: Physical and/or Legal, Sole or Joint.
- An explanation for why you are seeking this form of custody (may discuss why the other parent should not have custody or present evidence that your ex-spouse is unfit).
- Whether or not you are seeking child support payments from your spouse.
- Certain other information required pursuant to Maryland law
Step 2: Response to Petition
When the other parent receives your petition for custody, they will also be given a summons to respond to the petition by a specified date. It is their responsibility to respond to your petition. They will file the response document with the court and must provide you with a copy as well.
Step 3: Child Custody Hearing
When your court date arrives, you and your ex will attend a Scheduling Conference where the family magistrate will discuss your ex-partner’s response to your petition (agree/disagree). If parents disagree on custody, the judge will suggest or require mediation in order for a fair agreement to be made. If your ex agrees with your initial child custody petition, you will be asked to submit an agreement that addresses custody and child support. This settlement is submitted to the court for approval and once approved, the child custody order will be issued. This is a very simple summary of what is, in fact, a complicated process.
Step 4: Custody and Visitation Plan
The child custody agreement will address both legal and physical custody terms.
Legal Custody: Determines how and by whom major decisions regarding your child’s health, welfare, and education will be made.
Physical Custody: Determines the child’s place of residence, visitation schedules, childcare, and additional logistics.
The agreement will also address whether custody is sole or joint.
Sole Custody: One parent gets custody of the child while the other has visitation rights.
Shared Custody: Both parents have the child with them for a minimum number of overnights.
Sole Legal Custody: One parent makes the major decisions that impact the child.
Joint Legal Custody: Parents share responsibility for the major decisions that impact the child.
Step 5: Mediation
It’s not uncommon for Maryland courts to impose mandatory mediation in child custody cases. A lawyer can be invaluable to you when mediation is ordered by the court. Mediation involves working with a family mediator to determine and work out details of child custody. This option does not have to be ordered by the court, however, and parents seeking help in working through their differences and drafting a custody agreement can benefit greatly from mediation.
Step 6: Trial
If you and your ex-partner cannot reach an agreement, you will present your case to a judge or family magistrate. Witnesses can be called to testify, and evidence will be presented to the court. The court will then make a decision as to where your child or children will live and with whom, how decisions will be made and by whom, and who will pay child support and how much.
Get Help from a Reliable Custody Lawyer in MD
Navigating the custody process can be difficult. Alan Billian is a Maryland custody lawyer that can help you make the right legal choices to ensure the best outcome for you and your child. With over 28 years of experience, we have the expertise and compassion to make divorce and custody proceedings easier to understand and less stressful to navigate. Give us a call today to get your free consultation.