Child custody orders are never set in stone. Of course, an award of custody can be changed. In Maryland, the court requires that there has been a material change in circumstances that negatively effects the child, and the change is in the best interest of the child. This applies whether the award was sole physical custody or joint custody. It also applies to legal custody.
Changes in Circumstances That Qualify to Modify a Child Custody Award
If a parent’s behavior is such that it endangers the child, like drunk driving with the child in the car, the court may modify child custody. If a parent frequently violates the order. For example, the parent does not use the court ordered time with the child, or a parent withholds access. Neglect or abuse of the child will also warrant a change to the child custody order. Endangerment of the child will also effect a change in child custody. If a parent has to move a distance away so that it is not possible to abide by the existing custody order, that may be a material change.
Changes in Circumstances That May Not Qualify to Modify a Child Custody Award
Changes in the parent’s life or circumstances do not necessarily qualify as a material change in circumstances that warrant a modification of custody. For instance, if a parent was struggling with addiction issues when the custody order was issued, and the parent went through a treatment program and has maintained sobriety for a considerable amount of time. This change is to the parent, and is not a “material change in circumstances” that warrant and change in custody. Some custody orders are issued when the child is an infant. Even though the needs of the child change, the fact that the child is growing up is not considered a material change in circumstances. The “material change” must be a change that is detrimental to the child.
Proving a Material Change in Circumstances
Obviously, it is easy to prove a change like moving out of the jurisdiction. Proving a material change becomes more difficult when the other parent disputes the alleged material change. Proving a “material change” means that you gather evidence that can be admissible in court that will demonstrate the change. If the material change is bad behavior by the other parent that the child is exposed to, then the behavior AND that the child was exposed to the behavior must be demonstrated in court through evidence.
You Also Must Prove That The Desired Change Is In The Best Interest Of The Child
The factors that the court will consider when deciding what change in legal custody is I the best interest of the child are:
- The fitness of the parents
- The character and reputation of the parents
- The natural parents’ desires based on any agreements between them
- The possibility of maintaining natural family relations
- The child(ren)’s preference if old enough and able to make a rational judgment
- Material opportunities that will affect the child’s future life
- The age, health, and sex of the child
- Where each parent lives and the feasibility of the non-custodial parent visiting
- Amount of time the child has been separated from the natural parent who is seeking custody
- The impact of a prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody
If the parent is seeking a change in physical custody, then in addition to the legal custody factors, a Maryland Court will also consider:
- The willingness of each parent to share custody (including whether or not parents can or will communicate)
- The psychological and physical health of each parent
- The bond between child and each parent
- The effect shared physical custody will have on the child’s social and school life
- The geographic proximity of the parents’ homes
- The demands of each parent’s employment
- The number of children involved and their ages
- The motive behind the parents’ request
- Financial status of the parents
- Impact on state or federal assistance
- Benefit to the parents
Change in the Circumstances
You need to talk with your attorney and prove that you have overcome all the weaknesses identified by the court while deciding on child custody. Assess your negatives and work hard to portray yourself as a good dad who is fully capable of winning sole custody. Prove the court a “material change in circumstances,” words embedded in the Code to set a standard for evaluating a shift in custody. Pointing out the negatives of your spouse will never erase the negatives present in yourself. So it would help if you showed the court that you could better handle your children’s future than your spouse.
Talk to an Attorney
As a father, you have the whole right to get sole custody of your kids. Courts might see some negative in you and award sole custody to your spouse. It would help if you talked with an experienced attorney to gain back the sole custody of your kids.
Paré & Associates, LLC (formerly Law Office of Alice Paré) is an experienced Family Law Attorney in Germantown, Maryland, who can help you with all type of child custody issues. Call us at 310-515-1190 for a free initial consultation. We have been helping clients in Germantown, Clarksburg, throughout Montgomery County and all of Maryland for more than thirty (30) years. Our attorneys are available to meet with you in person, over the phone, or online – however, you prefer.