When Does the Court Award Joint Custody?
“Best Interests of the Child” Standard
In Maryland, child custody and visitation decisions are based on a determination of what is in the “best interests of the child”. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, after the judge has weighed numerous factors.
Although shared or joint custody arrangements are common in Maryland, it is not always appropriate. For example, in situations where domestic violence or abuse has occurred, or parents have an extremely caustic relationship. A central factor for the Court in determining if joint custody is appropriate is whether the parents are able and willing to cooperate, communicate and reach shared decisions regarding their children.
Factors for Evaluating Joint Custody
Although the “best interests of the child” standard remains controlling, Maryland’s high court enumerated several relevant factors for assessing if joint custody is a viable option in Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290 (1986). The Taylor factors are as follows, with the first given the most weight:
- Capacity of the Parents to Communicate and to Reach Shared Decisions Affecting the Child’s Welfare
- Willingness of Parents to Share Custody
- Fitness of Parents
- Relationship Established Between the Child and Each Parent
- Preference of the Child
- Potential Disruption of Child’s Social and School Life
- Geographic Proximity of Parental Homes
- Demands of Parental Employment
- Age and Number of Children
- Sincerity of Parents’ Request
- Financial Status of the Parents
- Impact on State or Federal Assistance
Maryland Commission on Child Custody Decision Making
Recent research has demonstrated that the most important factor for children whose parents are separated is the quality of their relationship with each parent. Except where a parent is abusive or negligent, children in shared parenting arrangements tend to have better outcomes than those in sole custody arrangements.
The Commission on Child Custody Decision Making conducted an in-depth examination of psychological research on parenting plans and parenting time arrangements, and issued a final report to Maryland’s General Assembly on December 1, 2014. The Commission’s report notes that social scientists have reached a consensus regarding the most critical factors affecting children’s long-term well-being when parents do not reside together. Although the Commission did not recommend a statutory presumption of joint custody, it found that available research supports the conclusion that a child’s well-being is enhanced when;
- children enjoy a high-quality relationship with each parent,
- both parents are active in their child’s life, and
- both parents participate in a wide range of activities and parenting tasks.
Other factors found to impact children’s long-term outcomes include;
- the level of cooperation or conflict between the parents,
- the parents’ psychological adjustment,
- the availability of adequate resources,
- the child’s ability to maintain significant relationships,
- fewer employment changes for the adult and fewer school changes for the child, and
- less overall disruption in the child’s life.
The Commission found that there is also consensus among social scientists that, in general, children need to spend at least 30 to 33 percent of the time with each parent to have a close relationship.
Is Joint Custody Right for Me?
Joint custody can be a great way to ensure children maintain meaningful relationships with both parents. However, the best custody arrangement for you depends on your relationship with the other parent and your family’s unique circumstances. To determine your next steps, it is a good idea to consult an experienced child custody attorney.
Bethany Shechtel, Esquire has years of experience guiding clients through child custody matters. If you would like to learn more, contact BGS Law, LLC today to discuss your situation.