Child Custody Lawyers in Columbia, Maryland
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.
Columbia family law attorney Fred Coover 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.
Types of Custody in Maryland
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.
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.
One parent may be granted sole legal or physical custody, or they may be given both.
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 upbringing of the child (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 (pendente lite) 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.
How is custody determined 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 in terms of custody.
This is crucial to understand. If you go to court thinking that the judge will rule in your favor because you want them to, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
Below are some of the factors that the judge will consider when making their decision. No one factor carries more weight or is more important than another. Keep in mind that the judge will award custody to the parent who shows the most promise for raising the child in a safe, supportive, loving, healthy household. It’s not all about who has the most money or who is the most religious.
- 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 take care of 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 negatively impact the child. 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 certain 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?
- 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? Keep in mind that this does not mean that a poor 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 wellbeing.
- Disability – Similar to religious views, a parent’s disability will affect the judge’s decision only if it affects the child’s best interests.
Maryland Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents
If a child’s parents are unmarried, custody is automatically awarded to the mother. The father may claim custody or visitation rights by admitting or establishing paternity in court. There are several options:
- Court determination of paternity through a DNA test;
- Acknowledging paternity in writing;
- Marrying the mother, then acknowledging himself as the father, either orally or in writing.
Once a father’s paternity is established, neither party is given preference based solely on their gender.
Compassionate Child Custody Lawyers in Columbia, Maryland
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.
He’s helped hundreds of families come to an agreement through negotiation or mediation. In cases where the parents can’t agree, he’s fully prepared to go to court and work out the best living situation for the child.
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.