In Maryland, it is assumed that both the mother and the father have equal rights over the minor child. The law has not been framed in a manner that favors custody to be granted to one guardian and not the other. Though both are considered natural custodians of the minor child, it is the best interest factor that determines which guardian will be given custody of the child. The best interest of the child is an analysis made by the court to find out what is best for the child. Even in cases involving third parties like grandparents, the best interests of the child is the important factor that determines minor guardianship. A custody order can never be considered permanent as it keeps changing as per the change in circumstances.
It was traditionally believed that guardianship of minor children should be granted to the mothers. However these days there is a change in the belief and it is now required that children should be raised by both guardians for children to achieve wholesome development. In some instances, mothers are able to prove that granting custody to them is in the best interests of the minor rather than an order of shared custody.
Steps involved in Maryland child custody cases
Following are some of the important steps in a minor guardianship case in Maryland.
The parties generally meet at the court, where custody is filed. In this meeting, the dispute between them is found and various efforts are made to sort out the issue. Various efforts to resolve the problem include mediation, undertaking parenting courses, and other such efforts.
Whether the pretrial settlement is possible
The next step involves analyzing if a settlement is possible before the beginning of the trial. In this step, a judge helps the parties in reaching a settlement. At times, parties who were unable to reach a settlement even after mediation, arrive at a settlement in the presence of the judge. If all these efforts are unsuccessful, the judge and parties decide when the trial can begin.
What happens in a trial in Maryland?
At a trial, the court decides about the guardianship order, whether full custody may be granted to one party. The court also decides who takes the crucial decisions of the minor child’s life and about the financial resources needed to take care of the minor juvenile. In this stage, the court takes evidence to enter a final order of sole custody, shared legal custody or primary custody.
Courses undertaken in child custody cases
One of the courses that parents are ordered to take is a co-parenting course. In a co-parenting course, various aspects of co-parenting are discussed and parents are made to realize the effect of the parties’ divorce on the minor children, the effect of custody arrangements on children and other issues requiring joint decision making by parents.
A custody evaluation is another important step taken by the courts in understanding the best interests of the child. Such evaluation is aimed at properly analyzing the actual needs of the minor juvenile. To arrive at a conclusion about the best interests of the minor juvenile, the evaluator speaks separately with the minor juvenile involved and with each of the parents. To make a complete assessment, the evaluator refers to the child’s school records, medical records of the minor juvenile and each parent. At times to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, the evaluator visits the child’s home to know the true state of affairs. The guardianship evaluator testifies in court based on his written observations.
Mediation is the most popular method of resolving guardianship disputes in Maryland. In mediation, the issues between the parties are thoroughly discussed and the progress of the children is planned. In mediation, a compromise is attempted to be reached regarding any dispute between the parents about parenting the minor children.
In most of the guardianship cases, there is a need for mental evaluation and a need to asses a parent’s capacity to take care of the children, such an evaluator may be a private health evaluator or a court-appointed psychologist. Such a professional would thoroughly analyze the case and interview the parents and the minor juvenile in order to submit his written observations to the court. In some cases, the professional may be required to testify in court.
Visitation in custody cases in Maryland
In Maryland custody cases, the extent of difference of opinion between the spouses may be extreme thus leading to violence in front of the children during those few minutes before visitation by other parent resumes. This situation requires a fixed location for the parties to meet before visitation begins. Such a location is to be monitored to avoid further arguments between the couple.
Best Interests of the Child in Maryland
The standards fixed by the court to mean the best interest of the minor differs from one state to another. The courts’ preference to best interests of the minor has undermined the previous prioritization of the courts to grant guardianship to the mother. Though Maryland law does not define what is the best interests of the child, the courts have in various instances held that the best interest factors are parties’ fitness, reputation, character, agreement between them, possibility of maintaining relationship with other members of the family, child’s preference, opportunity of progress for the child, age and gender of child, medical condition of child, sleeping arrangements at each parents’ home, any previous incident of abuse, parties readiness for shared guardianship of the child, the existing bond between parent and child, the nature of the parties’ employment, the financial status of both parties and other such factors.
Another important factor the court considers in determining best interests is the capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting the child’s progress and development. If the petition for minor guardianship includes a number of incidents where the parents have continued to disagree about the children, it would indicate their inability to effectively communicate regarding the welfare of the child. In such situations, joint guardianship would not be appropriate.
Difference between sole custody and joint custody
Sole guardianship may be sole physical guardianship or legal guardianship. If the children stay with one parent at his/her residence, such guardianship arrangement is called sole physical guardianship. On the other hand, if the children stay with the parent having physical guardianship and the same custodial parent is the final decision maker regarding all important decisions concerning the children like their education and medical care, such custody arrangement is called sole legal custody. These days courts order joint custody for the minor children, by these orders, both the parents share custody of the children. At times if sufficient proof is submitted, courts prefer mothers to have full physical custody.
Out of court settlements in child custody cases in Maryland
In some cases, the courts enter into custody agreements without going to court. In most cases, parties themselves decide that the mother will be the primary custodian of the children. In some instances, mediation solves the problems between the parties and helps them to arrive at a solution acceptable by both parties. There have been instances where mothers have sought guardianship of a child simply based on their gender and such requests have been denied.
How can a parent be awarded full custody of the child
If a parent wishes to have full guardianship of the minor juvenile, there is a need to show the court that being awarded the sole guardianship of the minor juvenile is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such a parent should be able to show to the court that the parent has a strong bond with the child and that the home he/she provides is a stable home. Also, the parent should show that the other parent is financially unable to support the child or has been completely uninvolved in the child’s progress or there is proof of the occurrence of an incident where the other parent has behaved in an extremely violent manner with the minor child or that the other parent is victim to some sort of addiction like alcohol or drugs. In short, the parent seeking full guardianship of the child should be able to show to the court it would be acting against the best interests of the child if full guardianship is not granted to the parent seeking such custody. Even if full guardianship is granted to one parent, visitation will be refused to the other parent only if the custodial parent is unable to prove that harm will be caused to the child during visitation.
If you want to file for Full Custody in Maryland, call our Maryland Full Custody Lawyers for help at 888-437-7747. Our Maryland Full Custody Attorneys can help you. C