Child Custody and Visitation

Child Custody and Visitation 

Legal Standard 

In Maryland, the custody of your child will be determined according to what the Judge believes is in the “best interests of the child”. Judges consider several factors in child custody and visitation cases, but the central determination is what is in a child’s best interests. 

Although joint custody is preferred under Maryland law, it is not always appropriate. An important factor for the Court in determining whether joint custody is appropriate is whether the parents are able to communicate and reach shared decisions regarding their children. 

Physical vs. Legal Custody

Custody encompasses two main concepts: Physical Custody and Legal Custody.

Physical custody involves where the child will physically reside. In addition to providing a home, it involves the day-to-day decisions that are required during that time. Legal custody is decision making for the child regarding matters of significance, including decisions about religion and education. “Visitation” describes contact that the non-custodial parent has with a child. 

Factors Considered in Custody Cases

The guiding principle for all child custody decisions in Maryland is the best interests of the child. To determine what is in the child’s best interests, the Court looks at several factors; 

  1. Fitness of the parents
    • capacity of parents to communicate
    • parents’ willingness to share custody
    • financial status of the parents 
    • impact on state or federal assistance 
  2. Character and reputation of the parties
    • sincerity of parents’ request
  3. Desire of the natural parents and agreement between the parties
    • benefit to parents
  4. Potentiality of maintaining natural family relations
    • relationship established between the child and each parent
    • potential disruption of the child’s social and school life
  5. Preference of the child
  6. Material opportunities affecting the future life of the child
    • demands of parental employment
  7. Age of the child
    • age and number of children
  8. Health and sex of the child
    • child’s physical needs 
    • child’s moral needs
    • child’s intellectual needs
    • child’s psychological needs 
    • parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs 
  9. Residences of the parents and opportunity for visitation
    • geographic proximity of parental homes 
  10. Length of separation from the natural parents
  11. Prior voluntary abandonment or surrender 
  12. Other factors 

The factors are contained in: Montgomery County Department of Social Services v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406, 381 A.2d 1154 (1977), Taylor v. Taylor, 508 A.2d 964 (Md. 1986), and Shunk v. Walker, 87 Md. App. 389, 589 A.2d 1303, 1307 (1991). 

In certain contested cases, the Court may appoint an attorney for the child, to ensure the child has an advocate for their best interests. The Judge may also want to interview the child personally.

Modifications to Custody and Visitation

Modifications to custody and visitation orders can come into play when there have been material changes in circumstances. This could be an event like a job relocation or serious medical issue. The party filing for modification, however, cannot simply re-argue issues that were already decided and incorporated into the custody order currently in effect.

A Compassionate Child Custody Advocate

Bethany Shechtel, Esquire has years of experience guiding clients through child custody matters and fighting for their rights. If you have questions about child custody and visitation, contact BGS Law, LLC today to discuss your situation. 

For more information, contact us today.