What Happens When Parents Can’t Agree on Custody?

When two parents divorce or decide not to live together, there is the need to determine how they will share custody. There are two main aspects to custody – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody sets out which parent gets to make important decisions for the child and when. Physical custody sets out the schedule of when the child will live with or visit each parent.

The best way for parents to determine custody arrangements is to agree on how they should share custody. Often, parents are able to reach an agreement that works best for their schedules and the lives of their children. When this happens, the court can simply approve the agreement as long as it is in the best interests of the child.

However, what happens if the parents cannot agree to a custody arrangement? What if one parent wants sole custody, but the other wants to protect their custody rights? In this situation, there are some options.

Negotiations by Attorneys

Each parent should have their own custody attorney – especially if they cannot agree on an arrangement. Your lawyers can review the situation and inform you of the options for custody under the law. The law in Maryland sets out that when possible, both parents should share custody rights. The law makes it difficult for one parent to win sole custody when the other parent is fit and presents no risk of harm to the child.

Your attorneys can advise you on the law as it applies to your case, as well as realistic solutions for custody arrangements. Then, your attorney can negotiate with the other parent’s attorney to try to find a reasonable solution.


If negotiation is not enough, parents can attend mediation sessions. A third-party mediator will review the circumstances and help to facilitate discussion and cooperation between the parents. If mediation is successful, you can sign a mediation agreement to present to the family court. However, never sign any mediation agreement without first having it reviewed by an experienced attorney. A mediator cannot provide legal advice to the parties, so you want a legal representative to ensure your parental rights are protected.


If you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation, it will be necessary to take the case before the family judge. At trial, the judge will hear the evidence and arguments of both parents. Then, the judge will determine what type of custody arrangement is best for the child.

There are many factors that determine the best interests of the child, including:

  • Each parent’s fitness, character, and reputation
  • Whether it is possible to maintain both parental relationships
  • The child’s preference (if they are old and mature enough)
  • The impact of the custody arrangement on the child’s material life
  • Where each parent lives
  • Whether the parents can co-parent in a healthy manner
  • The relationship of the child with each parent
  • Other relevant matters to the case at hand

When a judge decides custody, you will have to follow the order, even if it is not ideal for your situation. Having representation by a Maryland custody attorney is critical in any custody matter.

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