What is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Permanent Custody?

Maryland law considers that both biological or legally adoptive parents are the custodians of their children. The law doesn’t favor mothers over fathers or vice versa, as some have been led to believe. When parents are separating, either one can ask a Maryland circuit court for custody. Suppose the parents can reach an agreement regarding custody of their children. In that case, the court will either grant custody to one parent alone or give shared custody to both parents. There are many different types of custody and custody situations, such as legal custody and permanent custody.

Legal Custody vs. Permanent Custody

Legal custody and permanent custody aren’t mutually exclusive.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the opposite of physical custody. Whereas physical custody refers to where the child spends the majority of the time and lives, legal custody means which parent has the right to make significant and long-term decisions for the child’s:

  • Religious upbringing
  • Education
  • Non-emergency medical care
  • Discipline
  • Other substantial matters in the child’s life

Both legal and physical custody can be granted to one parent or as shared custody to both parents.

Permanent Custody

Physical and legal custody can also be temporary or permanent. Temporary custody is determined while the parents wait for the court hearing to determine permanent custody. Although the temporary custody arrangement could become permanent, it is only temporary until the judge can consider all factors and rule on the matter. Once the judge rules on permanent custody, it is expected to be permanent. Only certain changes, such as health, financial, or job changes, in the lives of the parents or child will warrant the court considering a change of permanent custody orders.

How Do Courts Determine Custody in Maryland?

Like most state courts, Maryland courts use the “best interests of the child” standard to make custody decisions. Judges look at several factors to make their ruling, and no one factor is more important than the others. The factors are many but typically include:

  • The primary caregiver—who takes care of the child, shops for their clothes, gets them ready for school, feeds them, and arranges daycare? Who does the child want when they are injured or ill?
  • Physical and psychological fitness—does either parent have a history of abusing children? What are their capacities as parents?
  • Ability to maintain family relationships—which parent will best help the child maintain relationships with the other parent and other extended family members?
  • Age, health, and gender of the child
  • The child’s preference—the judge may interview a child as young as five or six outside the presence of their parents. The child’s ability to tell the truth from fiction will weigh heavily on if their preference is considered in the judge’s decision. Once a child is between the ages of 10 and 12, their preference is given more weight.
  • Finances—which parent can best care for the child’s financial needs?
  • Where do the parents live/are there opportunities for visitation—how close do the parents live to each other and other extended family members? Is one parent living closer to the child’s school, activities, and social circle?
  • Prior abandonment or surrender of custody—did one parent walk out and leave the other parent to deal with the child and the home? Which parent left when they knew the marriage was over?

Speak with a Child Custody Attorney Today

Child custody can be one of the most challenging aspects of a marital split. It’s in your and your child’s best interest to hire an experienced child custody attorney as you navigate this process. Your attorney can help you understand the various types of custody and your legal rights. In addition, they can represent you in court and ensure the judge considers the factors that would make you an excellent choice for custody of your child.

Contact our office today.