Separation or divorce is tough on everyone involved, but children often suffer more than their parents realize because they just don’t understand what’s going on. That’s why it’s so important to help children feel safe, supported, and loved through a well-thought-out custody plan with the help of a Columbia, Maryland child custody attorney.

Columbia family law attorney Fred Coover of Coover Law Firm will help you establish a firm, fair custody agreement that puts your child’s best interests first. He’s helped hundreds of families reach custody agreements through mediation and negotiation, but he will also litigate when necessary.

We’ll make your custody case as amicable and straightforward as possible for your child’s wellbeing. Please call us today at (410) 553-5042.

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How courts grant custody in Maryland

The court’s final rule is based on whatever they consider to be in the child’s best interests. It will be made regardless of any agreement you and your ex may have made regarding custody.

This is crucial to understand. A Maryland child custody attorney can explain the important factors in your circumstances.

Below are some of the factors that the judge will consider when making their decision.

Primary caregiver

Who spends the most time with the child? Who feeds them, bathes them, clothes them, and takes them to school or daycare? Who does the child turn to when they’re sick or hurt?

Physical and psychological fitness

Is the parent physically and mentally stable enough to care for the child? Is there any history of abuse by one parent against the other or against the child? Does one parent have a terminal illness? This last is rarely awarded by judges unless the parent’s illness has the potential to impact the child negatively. For example, if the parent suffers significant behavioral changes due to brain disease.

Character and reputation

Does one parent suffer from substance abuse? Is there a history of abuse? Are they known around town for specific unsavory engagements such as selling drugs? Have they committed or been convicted of any crimes, including white-collar crimes like tax fraud or evasion? Has the parent lied to the court? Do they post inappropriate or slanderous material online?

Custody agreement

Is a custody agreement already in place? If so, how has it worked out? Have both parents adhered to the terms of the agreement? Are they able to work together efficiently and amicably? Are they both doing what is best for the child and providing them with a stable, loving environment?

Ability to maintain family relationships

Who is best able to help the child keep up family relationships, such as with the child’s grandmother (ex-spouse’s mother)? Is there a possibility that a parent will punish the child for a bad action on the part of the other parent?

Child preference

Children who are at least 10-12 years old can certainly have a say in which parent they would prefer to live with. Children younger than that may or may not be given preference unless the child is mature enough to tell fact from fiction.

In rare cases, children as young as five or six may be heard. The court’s decision may be reversed on appeal if the judge will not hear the child’s preference, and the court has the power to appoint an attorney for the child in certain cases.

Material opportunity

Which parent has more financial resources to support the child? Remember that this does not mean a financially disadvantaged parent cannot be granted custody. Finances come into play if the parent is unable to properly care for the child within their means or financial situation.

Proximity of parents and opportunity for visitation

Which parent lives closest to the child’s school and social circles? How close does each parent live to members of the extended family? How close do the parents live to each other?

Length of separation – How long has the parent been separated from the child?

Prior abandonment or surrender of custody

Has one parent ever walked out, leaving the other parent to care for the child alone? Which parent left during the most recent breakup?

Religious views

Religion could affect the judge’s decision only if the parent’s religious views might affect the child’s physical or emotional well-being.


Similar to religious views, a parent’s disability will affect the judge’s decision only if it affects the child’s best interests.

Types of custody in Maryland

Not all custody arrangements are the same. The rights of custodial parents depend largely on the type of custody awarded to them, whether it’s legal, physical, sole, or joint.

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Legal custody

Gives a parent the right to make long-term decisions regarding the child’s education, religion, discipline, non-emergency medical care, and other important matters. Legal custody can be ordered in different ways.

Physical custody

Also known as “parenting time,” physical custody gives a parent the right to spend time with the child and make decisions about their everyday needs, including where the child lives. Physical custody can be ordered in different ways.

Sole custody

One parent may be granted sole legal or physical custody, or they may be given both.

Joint custody

In Maryland, there are three types of joint custody: Joint legal custody, shared physical custody, and a combination of both.

  • Joint legal custody – Gives each parent equal voice and control of the child’s upbringing (even if the child has a primary residence). Hybrid versions exist where one parent may have “tie-breaking” authority, or the final word in a disagreement.
  • Shared physical custody – The child has two residences and spends at least 35% of the time with each parent.
  • Mixed sole and joint custody – In some cases, the court will give one parent sole legal custody but award both parents joint physical custody. Or, the court may order the opposite, giving one parent sole physical custody but both parents joint legal custody.

Split custody (Two or more children)

Split Custody awards one parent sole custody of some children and the other parent sole custody of the remaining child(ren). For example, in a two-child family, one parent would have sole custody of one child and the other parent would have sole custody of the other child.

Temporary custody

Temporary Custody, also known as pendente lite (pending the litigation) can sometimes be awarded while waiting for the court to hold a hearing where they’ll make a final custody decision.

To be awarded this type of custody, you must file a request for a pendente lite hearing and request pendente lite custody in your complaint for custody or divorce.

Child custody disputes in Maryland

A child custody dispute occurs when parents cannot agree on the terms of their custody arrangement. If a dispute arises, you may want to consult with a Maryland child custody attorney. Examples of areas of disagreement include:

  • Both parents seeking sole custody
  • One parent seeking sole custody over the other parent’s objections
  • Where the child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent
  • Which parent will make decisions about the child’s upbringing and education

Parents who face a custody dispute have two options for resolution: alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or litigation. ADR involves mediation with a neutral third party or other forms of out-of-court negotiation to reach an agreement. If ADR is successful, the parents can submit a written agreement to the court for approval. When available, this is often the more favorable option as it allows for more flexible and creative solutions that meet everyone’s needs.

If the parents cannot reach an agreement through mediation, they can proceed with litigation, where each party presents evidence and arguments to a judge, who then decides the terms of the custody arrangement. This can be a lengthy, stressful, and expensive process, but it may be necessary if mediation is unsuccessful or if there are serious concerns about the child’s safety or well-being. A family law attorney in Columbia MD can help you determine which option is best for your family.

Modifying a child custody order

The court’s involvement in a child custody matter does not always end with the initial order being issued. Either parent can request a modification of the order if there is a substantial change in circumstances.

To request a modification, a parent must file a motion with the court and show evidence that the current order is no longer in the child’s best interests. The court will schedule a hearing and consider arguments from both parents before deciding on the modification request.


One of the most common changes of circumstances that may prompt a request to modify custody is if one parent wishes to relocate to a new city or state. Maryland has strict rules for relocation that aim to protect the child’s relationship with both parents and to ensure that the change in circumstances is reflected in the child custody agreement.

The court may require the parent wishing to relocate to notify the other parent and the court of the proposed move at least 90 days in advance. The other parent must respond within 20 days, indicating whether they object or agree to the proposed relocation. If they agree, they may include any terms they would like included in a revised custody order. If they object, the court will schedule a hearing to determine if the relocation would be in the child’s best interests.

Grandparent or third-party custody and visitation rights

In some cases, grandparents or other third parties, such as aunts, uncles, or adult siblings, may seek custody or visitation with a child. Such requests are unlikely to be successful if the child’s parents object to them. However, they may have a chance of being granted if the court finds that the parents are unfit for custody or if exceptional circumstances exist that make the request in the child’s best interests.

A parent may be considered unfit if they have a history of abuse or neglect, addiction, severe mental health problems, or a criminal record. If the parent has abandoned the child, allowed another person to harm the child, or has behaved in any other way that is detrimental to the child’s well-being, the court may also consider them unfit.

“De facto” parents

The court will likely give greater custody consideration to a grandparent or other family member who has acted as the child’s “de facto” parent. This is someone who has lived with the child and has performed significant parental functions, such as providing financial support and emotional care, to the degree that a parent-child bond has been created. However, even in these cases, the de facto parent must demonstrate that the proposed custody arrangement would be in the best interests of the child.

Our Columbia, Maryland  child custody lawyers are proud to help you work toward a resolution

Child custody can be a contentious issue, especially if parents are not on good terms. But custody isn’t about the parents; it’s about the child(ren). Columbia divorce lawyer Fred Coover will work to establish custody in the child’s best interests.

No matter where you are on your custody journey, Mr. Coover will help set a firm, fair plan moving forward. Call us at (410) 553-5042 today.