Maryland law provides two ways for divorced parents to have child custody: physical custody and legal custody. However, if you are fighting for the custody of your child in or near the Montgomery County area, you must have the advice and services of a Montgomery County family law attorney.

Nothing can cause more concern or anxiety for a parent than a fight over child custody. During or after your divorce, you may have growing concerns about who is actually raising your child, when and if you may visit your child, and what the future holds.

In every state, judges make child custody decisions on the basis of the child’s best interests. However, Maryland law does not spell out for judges what factors must be considered. Judges may take into account any or all of the circumstances and facts when making a custody decision.

What Is Legal Custody and Joint Legal Custody?

Legal custody of a child gives a parent the responsibility and the right to make decisions about the child’s discipline, health care, education, religious training, and any other matters that affect a child’s interests and well-being.

Parents with joint legal custody have equal parental rights and duties. If a significant parenting disagreement arises after a divorce, and neither parent will compromise, a parent may need to have a Montgomery County child custody attorney take legal action and ask a court to resolve the dispute.

What Is Physical Custody and Shared or Joint Physical Custody?

Physical custody refers to the responsibility and right of a parent to house, feed, clothe, and supervise a child on a daily basis. If only one parent has physical custody, the court usually sets up a visitation schedule or parenting plan to allow the other parent to spend time with the child.

Joint or “shared” physical custody means divided custody. It may be divided on a fifty-fifty basis, but more often, a child resides with one parent through the school year and resides with the other parent in the summers, or with one parent throughout the week and the other on weekends.

Are You Seeking Sole Legal or Physical Custody?

There may be good reasons why one parent and only one parent should have sole legal or physical custody. Parents who are considering this type of legal action as well as parents who are targeted by it must be advised and aggressively represented by a Montgomery County family law attorney.

The many reasons why a parent may seek sole legal or physical custody include but are not limited to:

  • Your child’s special needs are being disregarded by the other parent.
  • Your community has better schools and/or less crime.
  • The other parent is cohabiting with someone who is abusive.
  • The other parent’s drug abuse, alcohol, or mental health issues make that parent unfit.
  • The other parent is incapacitated or has been convicted of a serious crime.

It is extremely rare for a Maryland court to deny visitation rights to a parent, although in some cases the court may require those visits to be supervised. It’s even more unusual – a drastic measure – for a parent’s legal parental rights to be terminated involuntarily by the court.

What Do Judges Consider When Making a Decision About Physical Custody?

In a child custody proceeding in Maryland, the court may not presume that one parent or the other is “naturally” a better parent. Instead, the court’s paramount consideration in a child custody dispute is always the best interests of the child.

As mentioned previously, Maryland law does not spell out for judges what factors must be considered when arriving at a decision about a child’s physical custody, but generally speaking and in most cases, a judge will take these factors into account:

  1. a child’s age and gender
  2. any evidence of family violence or domestic abuse
  3. how the child has adjusted to his or her community, school, and home environments
  4. the mental and physical health of the parents and child
  5. the parents’ and child’s wishes
  6. the relationships the child has with siblings and with each parent
  7. whether a child has been or is being cared for by a third-party “de facto custodian”

Should Parents Prepare Their Own Parenting Plan?

When divorcing or divorced parents can make some compromises and reach some agreements, coming up with their own parenting plan is a good idea. The plan should specify how much parenting or visitation time each parent will have with the child.

Provided that a parenting plan makes the child’s best interests its top priority, a Maryland court will almost always approve a plan that the parents have established and agreed upon.

It’s always better if divorced and divorcing parents can work together on a plan that fits into their schedules and lets a child have a positive relationship with each parent. If parents can’t agree on a parenting plan, a court may impose its own judgment about physical custody and visitation.

If You Are Involved in a Bitter Child Custody Dispute

A child custody battle can be the most contentious part of a divorce. Even after your divorce, if your ex will not compromise about matters that are important, or if you feel that your child is at risk in the other parent’s physical custody, you may have to take aggressive legal action.

In such a situation, you’ll need to work with a Montgomery County child custody attorney – an attorney you trust and you’re comfortable with. The court will consider your role in the child’s life, your own mental and physical stability and health, and your contribution to the child’s upbringing.

Can a Child Custody Order Be Changed?

The courts in Maryland may modify a child custody order or a parenting plan, but a judge will not modify an existing child custody order or parenting plan unless the parent who is making that request can show that it is in the child’s best interests.

To modify a child custody order, you and your family law attorney will also have to prove that a considerable change of circumstances has happened to the child and/or one or both of the parents.

Nothing is more important than our children and our families. Do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with a Maryland family law attorney if you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce in this state or if you are involved in any dispute over visitation, child custody, or child support.