In Maryland, custody is decided on a case by case basis. The governing factor is what is in the best interest of the child. If child custody is going to be a factor in your separation or divorce, it is important for you to understand and anticipate what the court is going to consider when it renders its decision regarding custody. It is critical that you analyze your circumstances regarding what the court’s consideration is going to be (i.e., from the court’s perspective) and adjust your approach so that you gain the court’s favor. There are a few considerations that you should be aware of, that you really can’t influence, such as the age of your child.
When children are under two years of age, it is very unlikely that there is going to be any shared physical custody. If you want shared physical custody, you should not separate or divorce with children until they are more than two years old. Another governing concept is that courts look to keep things the same and maintain the status quo. In other words, the court will consider what has happened in the past with regard to the children. The court looks to the past because stability and consistency are critically important to the healthy development of children. If you want shared physical custody and you have not been terribly involved in the day to day life of your children, before you even begin a discussion with the other parent regarding custody, you would want to start to change your relationship with your children. You want your involvement with the children to be the same as the involvement that you are looking for the court to award you. So if you want shared physical custody from the court, before proceeding to court be as involved with the children as the other parent
The factors that the court will consider at trial are governed by case law. It is important for you to know each factor and consider how you can use that factor to help you achieve the custody order that you want. For example, the first custody factor that the court will consider is the fitness of the parent. The court will analyze based on the evidence presented at trial whether the parent makes child centered decisions? A parent might, for instance, treat the child more like a friend and look to have adult conversations with the child. That is inappropriate and it’s not a fit parent who would include a child in that type of conversation. Excessive use of alcohol, illegal drugs, violence, anger, and those types of characteristics in a person really count against the fitness of that person as a parent. Even things like poor housekeeping are not looked at favorably. Mental or emotional illness is a concern, especially if it is accompanied by behaviors like stress or suicide attempts.
The next consideration by the court is the character and reputation of each parent. Very often, the character and reputation is presented to the court through witnesses. The character and reputation of each parent counts for a lot. Character flaws like anger, bigotry, and the like weigh heavily against an award of custody.
The third factor is the desire of the parents to have the children with them and any agreement between the parents. Often times, a parent is compelled to pursue shared physical custody because the child support obligation in a shared physical custody circumstance may be less than if one parent has primary physical custody. So in the past if a parent was relatively uninvolved with the daily care of the child, and then becomes much more involved after child support becomes an issue, the court may conclude that the motivation is financially driven and not an actual desire to have your children with you.
Often, one parent is the financially dominant parent. That parent may have a more demanding career and, as a result, they are less available in family life. This weighs against the busier parent having equal access. If a parent is able to rearrange their work schedule so that they can be more available for the children, the court will not necessarily consider the limited past involvement against them. It will depend on what the court believes the parent’s motive to be. The court understands that separation creates a different family dynamic and if a parent who was less available can make themselves more available, the court may encourage greater access by that parent.
Another important custody factor is which parent creates the potential for the children to maintain a natural family relationship. It’s important for the children to respect and be involved with both parents. One parent might look to turn the children against the other parent. An angry spouse may use that anger to manipulate the children to further the result that they are looking for. The angry spouse may look to isolate the child and keep the child with them. It is important to not let your anger effect your behavior toward your children. No matter how angry you may be at your spouse, you should not try to convince your child to adopt your opinion regarding his parent. Conversely, if your spouse is angry and is manipulating the children against you, it is advisable to seek professional guidance how to handle this. Parental alienation irreparably harms children in many significant ways. If you do not control your anger, it is likely to hurt any chance you have regarding child custody.
Another variable considered by the court is the preference of the child, depending on age. A child’s preference at four years old is very different from the child’s preference at 16 years old. The older child the more likely the child’s preference will matter. However, the reason behind the preference is something that the court is concerned with. If a 16 year old wants to be with Mom because he or she gets to do whatever the teenager wants, that’s will weigh against Mom. On the other hand, if the preference to be with one parent is because the child is avoiding the anger of the other parent, then that may be a very justified preference. In other words, the validity of the preference is what matters.
Yet another factor considered is the material opportunities affecting the child’s future. If one parent is able to provide a lot more than the other parent, that might be considered. Similarly, if one parent would deny the child opportunities that would certainly be a factor that is considered. Where the parent lives in relation to the other has to be considered. If the parties separate and a parent decides that they would rather live closer to their job in Virginia, the ability of that parent to see the child during the week has been seriously diminished. The decision to move to Virginia would weigh heavily against that parent having a custodial preference. It’s best to live close to your children’s school when you are going through a separation and divorce.
Some people are able to put their personal feelings aside and work with the other parent to make sure that the best decisions are reached regarding their children. Parents who are able to put their feelings aside are more likely to have joint legal custody. Awarding joint legal custody to parents who cannot set their personal opinions aside would almost guarantee that the children are raised in a war zone. This one of the most damaging scenarios for children. Divorce is tough on children, but if they have the reassurance and the love of their parents, they will adjust well. If they have the reassurance that their parents are on the same page when it comes to them, they’ll be that much better off. It’s when the parents are fighting that the children get hurt. Children raised in a war zone make very bad decisions and have problems that follow them well into adulthood. It’s important to learn how to communicate with the other parent and how to put your anger aside. Chances are, if you can’t do that, it will be the other parent who gets awarded sole legal custody.
The court also looks at the relationship between the parent and the child. If the child has a loving, trusting relationship with a parent, that really plays in favor of that parent. If the child is afraid of the parent, that is going to play against that parent. Whether the child trusts the parent, confides in the parent, and is happy in the presence of the parent are all variables that are important to the court. Oftentimes, in Maryland, a family evaluation is done as part of a custody case. The family evaluator has the opportunity to observe the child with the parent. It’s in those instances where the court learns of the relationship between the parent and the child. If you are preparing for a custody litigation and you have a good relationship between you and your children, you would want witnesses to come into court and be able to describe that relationship and why they think that it is important
Another overwhelming consideration by the court is the attitude of a parent towards visitation. One parent might be a supporter and the other parent might constantly try to undermine the child in their relationship with the other parent. It’s important to appear supportive of the other parent. The mental health of a child is a huge concern to the court, especially in the case of autistic children or children with ADHD. Children with those challenges don’t necessarily adjust as well as other children and shared physical custody may not be the best idea. If one of the children has one of these challenges, it’s a good idea to try to make changes between the homes to make the homes as consistent as possible. This means having the same rules and routines. The willingness of the parents to work together is something that affects whether or not shared physical custody or joint legal custody is a real possibility.
For more information on Deciding Child Custody In The State Of Maryland, an initial consultation is your best next step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (301) 515-1190 today.