Child Custody- The Basics

What Every Parent Should Know Before Filing for Custody

Before one parent files for custody in the state of Maryland, both parents of a minor child are considered that child’s “joint natural guardians”. As the natural guardians, neither parent has a higher right to the child. Both parents are responsible to take care of the child physically, emotionally, educationally and financially. When parents live apart, and one parent is refusing to perform their responsibilities as a natural guardian or, one parent is interfering with the rights of the other parent to perform their duties as natural guardian, one or both parents may consider filing for custody.

Types of Custody

There are two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody allows one or both parents to make important decisions for their child like medical decisions and educational decisions. Physical custody determines where the child will live. The child will reside with the parent that has physical custody. When a parent is filing for custody for the first time, it is important that they know exactly what type of custody they are asking for.

How will the court order custody?

Within the two types of custody, a judge or magistrate can structure the custodies in a number of ways. Here are the following ways a court can order custody.

Legal Custody

Sole Legal Custody– When a parent is awarded sole legal custody, that means that parent is able to make all important decisions for their child. Usually the court will require the parent with sole legal custody to at the very least discuss the issues with the other parent before making a decision, but at the end of the day, the parent with sole legal custody is able to make whatever decisions for their child they think is best, whether the other parent agrees with the decision or not.

Joint Legal Custody– When parents are awarded joint legal custody, they are tasked with working together to make decisions in the best interest of their child(ren). This requires the parents to communicate with one another and keep one another informed of what is happening in the child’s life. In a joint custody situation, the parents need to be able to communicate and agree on whatever decisions need to be made for the child. Sometimes in Maryland, when a court orders joint custody, they will usually give one parent tie breaking authority. This means in the event the parents cannot agree, one parent has the right to make the final decision.

Physical Custody

Most of the time when people decide they want to have custody of their child or children, they are generally thinking of physical custody. As stated above, physical custody determines with whom the child will live and with whom the child will maintain visitation. As with Legal Custody, a parent can have sole or primary physical custody or joint custody.

Sole or primary custody– A parent who has sole or primary physical custody is the person responsible for maintaining a residence for the child to live. This means that the child lives with them for more than 65% of time then with the other parent. The parent with whom the child lives is called the custodial parent. The other parent is called the non- custodial parent.

Joint Custody– When parents are awarded joint custody, it means that their child or children live between the two parents home on an equal or regular bases. For the purposes of child support, parents have shared or joint custody when the child spends at least 35% of their time at each parents’ home.

Split Custody– Split custody is awarded when parents have two or more children and the court orders that one or more of the children will reside with one parent and one or more children will reside with the other.

How is custody decided?

It is important to note that in Maryland, one parent is not valued any more than the other. In deciding custody, the court is most concerned with what is in the best interest of the child. In making that determination, the court is guided by a number of factors that have been established by caselaw (previous cases decided by the court). It is important to sit with a lawyer and discuss these factors before engaging the court.

If you have a custody case pending, or are thinking about filing for custody and would like to speak with a lawyer, please contact Khalfani Law, LLC for a consultation.

This blog is intended to provide general information and is NOT intended to serve as legal advice.