Sole and Joint Custody: What You Need to Know

When filing or petitioning for custody in the State of Maryland, it is important for all parties to be aware of custody laws and precedents that may differ from elsewhere in the country.

While Maryland courts show preference to the natural parents of a child before other family members or potential guardians, there is no favor given between the mother and father in terms of legal and physical custody (If the natural parents are unmarried, custody will be given to the mother by default until legal/physical custody can be decided). The standard of “Best Interest of the Child” is the precedent of the court in custody matters. This standard is determined by multiple factors including primary care, fitness, character of the parent(s) as well as the age, health, gender, and (if deemed old enough to consider) preference of the child.

In situations where sole custody is decided, one parent may have the either sole physical custody (custody of physical and everyday needs), sole legal custody (custody of the child’s long-term plans and decisions), or both.

When Joint Custody is decided, it may take the form of Joint Legal Custody, Shared Physical Custody, or a combination of both. In Joint Legal Custody, both parents agree to share care and control regardless of where or with whom the child physically resides, whereas in Shared Physical Custody, the child has two residences, one with each parent, and is required to spend at least 35% of the time with each. Combining these types of Joint Custody can be decided in court.

Additionally, if both parents have come to an agreement on how custody will be handled, they may write their own stipulation and consent order for custody. If they disagree, however, the court may need to intervene. In cases where neither parent is found to be fit for custody in the Best Interest of the Child, other relatives and potential guardians may be considered.

When petitioning for custody of a child, having the knowledge of custody and understanding the Maryland laws that enforce it beforehand will empower you to make the best decision for your child’s future and well-being.

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