How to fairly plan a child custody agreement in a divorce. For most parents, child custody is the most important part of a divorce. This article goes into detail on how courts determine child custody in Maryland and how to file an effective parenting plan.
Child Custody Agreements in Maryland
It’s important to understand how child custody is determined in Maryland before you can reach a child custody agreement. There are a few types of custody and judges consider child custody agreements and parenting plans based on the best interests of the child.
Types of Custody
In Maryland, the terms regarding custody you need to understand include:
- Pendente lite
- Emergency custody
- Joint custody
- Sole custody
- Split custody
- De facto custody
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
Pendente lite custody, sometimes referred to as temporary custody, is custody granted by the family court for the duration of the litigation. Emergency custody is like temporary custody that is granted when there is an imminent danger of harm to a minor child by the other parent.
Emergency custody may or may not continue for the duration of the litigation. Since it’s granted at an emergency hearing, a more comprehensive hearing is necessary to convert emergency custody to pendente lite custody.
De facto custody isn’t court-determined custody. It simply means whoever actually has custody when divorce proceedings begin.
Legal custody gives a parent control over issues such as the child’s education, discipline, healthcare, and religious training. The parent that has legal custody may or may not have physical custody. Physical custody involves which parent the child lives with. Both parents may share physical custody, or one parent may only have visitation rights.
It’s possible for one parent to receive sole custody of a child. Or, the court may grant split-custody, where one parent has custody of one or more of the children while the other parent has custody over at least one of the other children.
The most likely result is a complex hybrid of physical and legal custody merged into joint custody. Joint custody doesn’t mean the child lives with both parents. The child may live with one parent while the two parents share legal custody, and that’s a type of joint custody.
The two parents may have shared physical custody. Shared physical custody is when the child spends at least 35% of the time at each parent’s home. This is also a type of joint custody. Where a child spends 20% of the time with one parent and 80% with the other, this is a kind of joint custody but it’s not “shared physical custody.”
As you and the other parent try to agree on custody, it’s likely the result will be much more complicated than the examples given here. This is because you’ll want to have agreement or judicial instruction on the many factors involved in raising a child.
Now that we understand these terms, let’s look at how a judge makes their decision.
Best Interests of the Child Standard
Judges decide on custody based on the best interests of the child. For very young children, the judge will look at who the primary caregiver of the child is. Who feeds the child? Who bathes the child? Whomever this is, it’s usually considered being in the best interest of the child for them to stay with that parent.
The court will consider the mental and physical health of each of the parents when determining which should have custody. For children 12 or over, the court may consider who they want to live with. The older the child, the more likely the judge considers their preference. In rare cases, judges may ask children as young as six or seven which parent they prefer.
If one spouse has been keeping the child since the couple separated, the judge will consider the length of time separated. The longer the period, the more likely the judge will grant custody to the parent that has been keeping the child all along.
Other factors judges consider when determining what the best interests of the child are include:
- How close the parents live to each other and the opportunity for visitation
- The age, health, and gender of the child
- Whether one parent’s higher income gives the child a better chance in life
Your Parenting Plan
Maryland courts require parents to submit a parenting plan to the court. Both parents will try to come to an agreement on the many aspects of parenting. You can use Maryland’s parenting plan tool to help determine what should be in your plan. If you and the other parent can’t agree on a parenting plan, you’ll need to file a joint statement with the court, outlining the points you cannot agree on.
Parties Are More Likely To Agree to a Fair Parenting Plan
If you’re fair to the other parent when working on your plan, you’re much more likely to come to a parenting agreement the court will accept. Consider your strengths and weaknesses and do the same for the other parent. If you both talk it out and put foremost the best interests of your child, you’re more likely to reach an agreement.
If the Parties Do Not Agree on Custody
Whether or not the parties agree, the judge will have the final decision on custody. But the judge is much more likely to approve a plan that has mutual agreement. You need an excellent lawyer to help you through this phase so you can put your child in the best situation possible.
How a Child Custody Attorney From Divorce With a Plan. Can Help You
At Divorce With a Plan, Josephia Rouse and her senior attorneys have over 30 years of combined experience in family law. Our success is based on the careful plans we create with our clients. There’s no one-size-fits-all parenting plan or child custody agreement. We thoroughly analyze each case and craft a clear plan for your success.