The most emotionally charged issues in a divorce are those involving children. It is critically important that the parties make their best efforts to work together and reach agreements on matters like how much time the children will spend with each parent and which parent will be responsible for making the important decisions in the future.
These agreements can be hard to reach even inside a healthy marriage, but when parents are engaged in a stressful divorce, these matters become difficult, if not impossible to negotiate.
LEGAL CUSTODY/RESIDENTIAL CUSTODY
Legal custody gives one parent decision making authority. Residential custody, also referred to as physical custody, is where the children will live. In other words, in which parent’s home will the children sleep.
If the court believes that the parties can work together and reach decisions in the best interest of the children, then the court will award Joint Legal Custody. Conversely, if the court does not believe that the parties can work together and reach joint decisions that are in the best interest of the children, then the court will award one of the parents Sole Legal Custody. The parent who has legal custody is responsible for making decisions involving health, education, and religious training. Over the last decade or so, there is a hybrid of sole legal custody. For example, the court may award one parent “tie-breaking decision-making authority”. This award requires that the parent work together to reach a decision, and if after good faith efforts to reach a joint decision, if they are unable, then the one parent has the authority to make the decision. “Tie-breaking authority” may apply to all matters, or only some. For example, one parent may be awarded tie-breaking decision-making authority for medical decisions only.
Residential custody is also called physical custody. It is the access schedule or a child custody visitation schedule that the children will follow. For example, if one parent is awarded Primary Residential Custody, the other parent may have alternating weekends, and perhaps a mid-week visit with the children. Parents may equally share physical custody. Some examples of a shared custody schedule would be alternating weeks, or a split week.
HOW IS CUSTODY DECIDED IN A DIVORCE CASE IN MARYLAND?
If custody is litigated and decided by the court, it is decided based on what the presiding Judge believes is in the best interest of the child at issue. The “best interest” is decided by considering the “custody factors” defined in Maryland case law. The factors include which parent primarily cared for the children, the health and age of the children, whether there is any agreement by the parties, the character and sincerity of each parent, the preference of the child if appropriate, and the health of the parents. Custody litigation is only necessary if the parents are unable to reach an agreement.
Custody litigation is often the most expensive part of family law litigation. It can involve mental health professionals, or a child custody attorney for your children, and countless hours of litigation for each parent. Parents who are able to put their feelings aside, and make decisions that are child-centered are most likely to avoid these bitter disputes. However, it takes both parents to compromise. However, compromise may not be the right thing to do. Issues affecting the best interest of a child can be very complex and may not allow for compromise.
CHANGING A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER
Child support is modifiable in Maryland if there is a change in circumstances warranting modification. A change in circumstances is most often related to a change in the income of the payor spouse or a change in the cost related to the child. For example, there would be a qualifying change if the cost of daycare became no longer necessary or if the payor parent became unemployed.
At Paré & Associates, LLC (formerly Law Office Of Alice Paré), we have been helping clients in Germantown, Boyds, and throughout Montgomery County for more than thirty (30) years. Our attorneys are available to meet with you in person, over the phone, or online – however, you prefer.
Call us today at 301-515-1190 or go online to schedule an appointment, to discuss your situation.