When it comes to determining child custody and visitation in Maryland, the law does not favor either parent. Both the mother and father of the child or children are the presumed natural custodians. Neither parent has any right superior to the other concerning the child’s custody. This is important to keep in mind as a father or mother pursing primary custody of your child. When deciding which parent the child should primarily reside with during a divorce or parentage action for custody, the court will generally seek to determine what living arrangements are in the best interest of the child.
The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
The court typically will weigh several different factors when deciding what type of custody or parental visitation schedule is best for the child. It is important to note that these factors are all considered together in making the decision, rather than just one or two of them being determinative factors. The best interest standard is a complex evaluation that varies with each individual case. An important consideration is whether one parent has been the primary caregiver for the child prior to the filing of the case and whether the child is thriving. Some of the most important factors which the Court must consider include the following:
- The ability to maintain familial relationships – Do both parents seem willing and able to encourage the child to maintain their close relationships with extended family members, such as grandparents? Or is there evidence that one parent is unwilling to do so?
- Parental fitness – Are both parents equally fit to be the child’s primary custodial parent, or is there evidence of serious issues of concern, such as abuse or abandonment by one parent?
- Prior custody agreements – In some cases, there will have been a prior court order or custody agreement in place. The court will consider the prior agreement with an eye toward maintaining stability for the child.
- Residences of the parents and opportunity for visitation – The court will also consider the distance between the two parents’ homes and how that may impact the visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. For example, if the parents live several hours away from each other, it may not be in the best interest of the child to go back and forth frequently. In that scenario, it may be better for the child to spend a significant amount of their summer vacation with the non-custodial parent, in exchange for less parenting time during the school year in order to make it easier on the child.
- Child preference – The child’s preference as to which parent they want to live with is sometimes a factor that is taken into consideration, though it depends on their age. This factor is given more weight when it comes to older children.
There are also many other factors that the court considers when deciding what type of custody and visitation agreement is best for your child. At The Law Office of Geralyn R. Lawrence LLC, we can help you present your best case for custody or fair visitation by analyzing all of the relevant factors and developing a comprehensive strategy. Attorney Geralyn R. Lawrence has many years of experience fighting for the rights of Maryland fathers and mothers who are seeking primary custody of their children or are seeking a fair visitation agreement. If you are a parent involved in a divorce or custody dispute, contact us today to schedule a consultation. Call Today! We can help! (301) 925-2525.