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Published On: Tue, Nov 15th, 2016

How Maryland Courts Establish Custody

Divorce can be a sticky mess for anybody, and even more so when decisions about children have to be made. In most cases, determining the legal and physical custody of children occurs without the opinions and wishes of the children in question.

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That means, it is up to you, your ex-partner, and the courts to decide the fate of any and all involved minors. Before any decisions are finalized in the divorce, temporary custody is granted in a temporary order hearing before the actual divorce proceedings occur.

This allows time sensitive agreements to be made temporarily without having to wait through a long, drawn-out divorce case. Even though the agreements in the temporary order can be changed for the final custody order, the temporary order can still factor in the judge’s ultimate decision on custody rights. Here are a few dynamics judges take into consideration when determining custody between parents.

  1. Primary care giver. The judge will look at who the children spent the most time with before the divorce, who cooked their meals, who bought them clothes, who drove them to school and other activities, and who took care of their overall needs. Generally this parent has priority in order to keep the children’s environment stable.
  2. Mental, emotional, and financial fitness. Another huge factor a judge will consider is the fitness of both parents. Are both parents mentally stable, or does either one of them suffer from a disorder or condition that would inhibit their parenting decisions? Does either parent have a history of drug or alcohol abuse? Are both parents able to financially meet the needs of the children, or is one parent barely able to take care of themselves?
  3. Character. A judge may consider which parent has a better influence on the children to determine custody. Does one parent dress appropriately, have a good driving record, have a higher education, and attend a weekly religious service while the other has a DUI, gambles for fun, and often brings sexual partners into the home? Nobody is going to be perfect, but overall character can say a lot to a judge.
  4. Proximity. A more logistical factor the judge considers is distance from the parent to the children’s school, friends, activities, the other parent, and extended family members. One of the goals of the judge is to disrupt the lives of the children as minimally as possible, so they may favor a parent who is closer to the children’s social circle, all other categories being equal.
  5. History. This can be especially important if one parent has a history of abandoning the family, walking out during arguments, or repeatedly endangering the children in some way. Again, the judge is looking for who may provide the most stability to the children. On the flip side, perhaps there was a prior visitation schedule agreed upon by both parties that could give insight to the judge on how each parent felt about visitation in the past. The judge may use the previous schedule to assist in the final decision of custody.
  6. Religion. In some cases a judge may inquire about religion to determine if those religious beliefs would in any way endanger the child. For instance, if one parent recently joined a suspect cult, the judge could determine that the child’s physical or emotional well-being is at risk.
  7. Child’s Preference. In rare cases when parties cannot agree on a custody agreement and both parents seem to be fit to raise the children equally, the children are consulted about their preference. Typically courts only hear from children 7 and older, but some as young as 5 have been questioned. In Maryland, children 16 years old and older have the right for their requests to be heard before the final decision is made.

While this is a general guideline of factors judges consider when determining custody, the nuances regarding divorce may vary state to state and even county to county. You will want to consult lawyers in your specific county, as they will be most knowledgeable to help you in your specific case. For example, Jimeno and Gray Law may be more equipped to assist you in your child custody case if you reside in Anne Arundel and Howard counties than in a county north of Baltimore. Regardless, choosing a great lawyer over a good one may be the difference in having a fair custody deal or not.

Author: Amelia Smith

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