“Who gets custody of the kids?”
Under Maryland law, both natural parents are the presumed natural custodians of their children.
The law does not favor either the mother or father.
The law looks at what is in the “best interest” of the child to decide on child custody and visitation.
The “best interest” of the child standard looks at certain factors to determine what is best for the child(ren).
When trying to decide what is in the best interest of a child, the Court will look at the following:
• Primary Care Giver – Who is the person who takes care of the child? Who feeds the child, shops for their clothes, gets them up for school, bathes them, and arranges day care? Who does the child turn to when they get hurt?
• Fitness – What are the psychological and physical capacities of the parties seeking custody? The court may also consider evidence of abuse by a party against the other parent, the party’s spouse, or any child residing within the party’s household (including another child).
• Character and Reputation
• Agreements – Is there a custody agreement already in place?
• Ability to Maintain Family Relationships – Who will be best able to help the child keep family relationships? Who is going to let the child speak with their ex-mother-in-law, for example? Who will not penalize the child for any bad action on the part of the other parent?
• 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. A child as young as 5 or 6 years of age may be heard. Though it is rare, the court will hear from a child under 7 years. The child’s maturity, and whether the child can tell the truth from fiction will guide the decision whether a child may be heard. A child of 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.
• Material Opportunity – Which parent has the financial resources to give the child more things?
• Age, Health and Gender of Child
• Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation – How close do the parents live to each other? How close do they live to members of the child’s extended family? Which parent lives closest to the child’s school and social circle?
• Length of Separation- how long has the parent been separated from the child?
• 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?
• 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.
• Disability – A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability affects the best interest of the child.Read the Law: Md. FAMILY LAW § 9-107
Custody and visitation are never permanent. As situations change, a parent can always petition the Court to modify a Court order.
Legal custody involves the right to make long range plans and decisions for the education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significance concerning the child’s welfare.
Physical custody involves spending time with the child and making decisions about the child’s everyday needs.