Guide to Child Custody Laws in Maryland
Every state has its own child custody laws, and what is established law in one state may not factor into a court's determination at all in another. Child custody laws in Maryland are unique in several ways, so if you are currently having a custody dispute in the state, you need to understand the specifics of Maryland law. In general, Maryland courts use the same standard as other U.S. family courts: the best interests of the child. This guide will help you understand some of the child custody laws in Maryland and the types of custody available for divorcing parents.
Can My Child Choose?
A child's wishes are only taken into account in family courts in some states. In Maryland, children who can express a reasonable preference (usually children over 12, although the judge is allowed to adjust this number upward or downward depending on the specific child and circumstances) have their wishes taken into account when a custody determination is being made. However, this is only one factor that the judge will consider, according to child custody laws in Maryland.
If a child is 16 or older, they may petition the court for custody with a particular parent. Child custody laws in Maryland make this option available to any child after their 16th birthday. Courts will often allow a child of this age to simply select which parent they prefer to live with, in recognition of the fact that it can be very difficult to make an older, rebellious teenager comply with a custody order that they do not agree with.
Making a Parenting Plan
Child custody laws in Maryland generally assume that children are best served when their parents can come to an amicable agreement about the division of their parenting responsibilities. Parenting plans are sometimes relatively easy to negotiate if both parents can agree on most aspects of the division, but in some cases, parents may find it difficult to agree.
When this happens, child custody laws in Maryland (Rule 9-205) allow the judge in your child custody case to order you into mediation. Mediation can be ordered if you are just beginning a custody hearing or if you are trying to obtain a change in your custody arrangements. If you are ordered into mediation, a court-appointed neutral third-party mediator will help you and your ex-spouse to work out an agreement that is acceptable to both of you.
Parenting plans must be approved by the court to be valid according to child custody laws in Maryland. The judge will grant approval to all parenting plans as long as the child's safety does not seem to be at risk.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
There are really two types of custody that can be awarded in a child custody case. Legal custody refers to who gets to make life decisions for a child, including decisions about school, religion, and healthcare. Physical custody refers to where a child lives. Child custody law in Maryland allows judges to award sole or joint custody for either type of custody.