In child custody matters in Maryland, the court enters different kinds of custody orders. Custody orders may be permanent or temporary in nature.
De facto custody
The term De Facto means in fact. In this context, De Facto custody means who actually has custody of the minor child during the initiation of child custody proceedings.
Nature of custody orders entered by Maryland Courts
Temporary child custody in Maryland
Any custody order entered by the court during the pendency of the custody matter is termed as Pendente Lite custody order. Every custody dispute begins with the filing for temporary custody. In a motion for pendente lite custody, the petitioner states to the court that there exists a dispute between the parties regarding child custody and in connection with the same, the petitioner requests court to order pendente lite custody till the final order in the child custody proceeding is entered. The order so entered is temporary in nature and merely because one party is given temporary custody of the minor child, it does not guarantee that the final custody order also would be entered in his favor.
Legal and Physical custody order entered by Maryland Court
When one party in a custody dispute is granted legal and physical custody, it means, the court is giving such party the right to take all decisions about the child’s education, religion and other such matters relating to the child’s progress. When a parent is awarded physical custody, it means that all decisions to be taken in the child’s days to day activities will be taken by such parent.
Sole Custody order by Maryland Court
In some cases the court decides based on its discretion that one party may be awarded sole custody and in such cases both legal and physical custody may be granted to the same person.
Split Custody orders by Maryland Court
In some cases where there is more than one child, Maryland Courts are conferred with the discretion of ordering split custody. Split custody orders indicate a situation where one parent is handed custody of one child and other party is handed over custody of the other child. When entering a decision of split custody, the court gives consideration to the age of the children and the preferences of the children as to which parent they want to reside with.
Joint custody orders entered by Maryland Courts
Generally, when joint custody is ordered by the court, it may be joint legal custody or shared physical custody or a combination of both.
When both parents discuss and take all the major decisions regarding the minor child together, such custody order is termed as joint legal custody. In instances where the court orders joint legal custody, the court also gives higher authority to one parent indicating that his/her opinion is the final decision in case a conflict arises between the couple about any decision concerning the child. In joint legal custody, the child may reside at the home of one of the parties. But in shared physical custody, the minor child resides at homes of both parties. The time spent in each party’s home is fixed so that the child spends at least 35% of his/her time at the residence of both the parties.
When Maryland becomes the state having jurisdiction to decide child custody issues
If one has a pending custody case in Maryland, Maryland has jurisdiction to decide the case.
If the minor child in question resides in Maryland, Maryland is considered the home state of the minor child or the parent has an established contact in the State of Maryland. Established contact in Maryland means that the parent either works or resides at Maryland. In some cases, the minor child may no longer be a resident of Maryland but there is sufficient proof to show that Maryland was the minor child’s home state in the last six months and the party petitioning for custody continues to be a resident of Maryland. Additionally, most people who are aware of the facts of the case are Maryland residents. In some cases where the child is in Maryland and there is a need for an emergency order due to the harm the child is facing, Maryland has jurisdiction to hear such a case.
How does the court determine the best interests of the child in Maryland?
There are several factors that are considered by the court to determine the best interests of the child. One of the important questions in determining the best interests of the child is which parent spends the maximum time with the minor child, whether it is the mother or the father. The level of fitness of each parent, both physically and psychologically, is considered by the courts. Any previous incident of abuse by either parent tilts the case in favor of the other parent.
The court analyzed the ability of each parent to support the child in maintaining the relationship of the child with the other parent. The preference of the minor child is also given importance. The preference of the minor child is generally known based on the minor child’s conversations with the judge. In most cases, the judge speaks to the child without the parents’ being present. The court also gives importance to the financial situation of the parties to come to a conclusion as to which parent is in a better position to take care of the child.
Other factors the courts consider in determining the best interests of the minor are as follows:
- Parents’ willingness to share custody of the minor child
- Parent’s fitness
- The relationship between minor child and parents
- Preference of child
- Whether the child’s life would remain stable even if a change in custody arrangement is ordered by the court
- Nature of employment of the parties, whether the job allows the parent to spend time with the child
- Parties’ age and number of children;
The court refers to different factors to arrive at the best interest of the child and there is no fixed number of factors and based on the facts and circumstances of the case, the factors may vary.
Consent order of custody entered by parties
At times the parties enter into an agreement about the custody of the minor child. All relevant terms and conditions are included in such agreement and such order is signed by the judge.
Modification of Custody under Maryland law
A custody order entered by the Maryland court may be modified based on changed circumstances. The party requesting modification has the burden of proving to the court that a modification is necessary as the circumstances have changed. Only if there is clear and convincing evidence about the need for modification, the courts’ order modification of custody. In most cases, the court is of the opinion that if there is no substantial change, there is no need to modify the custody. Also, the courts favor a stable lifestyle for the child and do not order modification as it may affect the stability of the child’s life.
Though modification requires changed circumstances, temporary custody or pendente lite custody does not require changed circumstances.
Child’s preference in custody matters in Maryland:
Under Maryland law, a minor child who is 16 years of age may request a change in custody but it the responsibility of the minor to submit proof that his best interests require the change in custody.
A child at least 16 years of age can seek a change in custody on his/her own. However, it will be the minor’s burden to prove that a change of custody would be in his/her best interests at this time.
The relevant Maryland statute dealing with the preference of minor child is Maryland Code, Family Law § 9-103 and states as follows
(a)A child who is 16 years old or older and who is subject to a custody order or decree may file a petition to change custody.
(b)A petitioner under this section may file the proceeding in the petitioner’s own name and need not proceed by a guardian or next friend.
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this article, if a petitioner under this section petitions a court to amend a custody order or decree, the court:
(1) shall hold a hearing; and
(2) may amend the order or decree and place the child in the custody of the parent designated by the child.
The court which originally entered custody order has powers to retain jurisdiction and modify the custody order. In certain instances, the court having actual jurisdiction of the custody case may not hear the case if the minor child may have been wrongfully removed from another state without the consent of the custodial parent.
Custody and visitation rights of grandparents in Maryland
In cases where parents are found to unfit or in exceptional circumstances, third parties like grandparents are given custody and visitation rights.
If you need a Maryland Child Custody Lawyer to help you with a Maryland Child Custody Case, Call our office at 888-437-7747. Our Maryland child custody attorneys can help you. C