Frequently Asked Questions About Maryland Child Custody

What is Child Custody?

Child custody is a term that refers to both legal and physical custody of minor children.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

A parent with legal custody decides on long-term decisions involving the child’s life, including education, religion, medical care, and other major decisions concerning the child’s general health and welfare. Parents of their children have joint legal custody unless the court orders otherwise.

Physical custody is the time each parent spends with the child. The term “primary residential parent” means just as it sounds: the parent with whom the child primarily resides. The majority of children whose parents do not live together primarily reside with one of their parents; however, a growing number of children for an equal, or nearly equal, amount of time with parents who do not live together.

How do Maryland courts decide which parent has primary physical custody?

In Maryland, the court will resolve a custody dispute based on a determination of the child’s best interest. There is no litmus test for deciding what is in the child’s best interest. Custody determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, and can widely vary because of the different facts and circumstances of each case.

Some of the factors the court will consider in custody disputes include some of the following factors, but this is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Fitness of the parents
  • Character and reputation of the parties
  • Willingness of the parents to share custody
  • The preference of the child when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form a rational judgment
  • Capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare
  • The geographic proximity of the parent’s residences and opportunities for time with each parent
  • The ability of each parent to maintain a stable and appropriate home for the child
  • The potential disruption of the child’s social and school life

Is there an automatic right for the mother to have primary custody in Maryland?

No, there is no maternal preference. Neither parent is given preference solely because of their sex. Parents are considered joint natural guardians of their children. In determining custody, the Court must decide what is in the child's best interests. The Court does this by considering a number of factors, some of which include the following:

1) Capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach share decisions affecting the child’s welfare
2) Willingness of the parents to share custody
3) Fitness of the parents
4) Relationship established between the child and each parent
5) Preferences of the child
6) Potential disruption of the child’s social and school life
7) Geographic proximity of the parental homes
8) Demands of parental employment
9) Age and the number of the children
10) Sincerity the parents request
11) Financial status of the parents
12) Impact on state or federal assistance
13) Benefit to parents and
14) Other factors that the Court deems relevant and appropriate

Will my child’s parent still get access even if he or she is not paying child support?

Yes. A parent’s access to their child is not conditional upon their payment of child support. Child support and access are two separate issues. The court does not look favorably on a parent who withholds visits from the parent that owes child support. Instead, to enforce a child support order, the parent owed the child support should file a petition for contempt for non-payment of support and use the court process to deal with the unpaid child support.

Is there a way to change my current Maryland custody order?

Yes, you must show that there has been a material change in circumstance since the entry of the last Order to meet the burden to modify it. Some examples of material changes are a child’s increase in age; a child wanting to spend more time with one parent; or a change in the child’s grades.

If you would like more information, or if you have a question that was not answered here, we invite you to contact us at (301)637-6070 or using our online contact form to schedule a consultation.