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Whether through a divorce or through a custody action, determination of custody and visitation with your children is important. A comprehensive agreement minimizes conflict and reduces the chances of returning to the courthouse to modify it. Although very important, many couples find it very difficult to come to a custody agreement. It is indisputable that the parents' agreement designs the best custody plan and addresses the individual needs of their children and family dynamics. However, if an agreement cannot be made, the court will look at what is in the best interests of the child to make a custody determination.
There are two types of custody arrangements for children in Maryland: Legal Custody and Physical Custody.
Legal Custody in Cecil & Harford Counties in Maryland
Legal custody addresses the question of which parent will make important decisions for their children. Important decisions include subjects such as non-emergency medical treatment, education, and religious upbringing. Although there is no presumption that joint legal custody is most appropriate, courts are inclined to award joint legal custody where the evidence demonstrates that parties can communicate effectively and reach shared decisions regarding their child or children.
Joint Legal Custody in Cecil & Harford Counties in Maryland
Where parties share joint legal custody, both parents have an obligation to inform and discuss important issues with the other parent before taking any affirmative action. In addition, both parents must agree on the course of action before it is initiated. For example, if one parent wants to place the child in psychological counseling, both parents must consent to such treatment before any provider begins therapy.
Sole Legal Custody in Cecil & Harford Counties in Maryland
Sole legal custody means that only one parent has sole decision-making authority regarding important decisions in the child's life. In a sole legal custody arrangement, the parent with legal custody must not consult with the other parent before making important decisions for their child.
Hybrids in Cecil & Harford Counties in Maryland
Under some circumstances, courts will award a hybrid of joint and sole legal custody. Hybrids can be specific to the final decision maker or divide up decision-making responsibility. For example:
1. The parties share joint legal custody, but in an impasse the mother has tie-breaking authority.
2. The parties have joint legal custody regarding religious and non-emergency medical treatment, but the father has sole legal custody concerning academic decisions.
Physical Custody in Cecil & Harford Counties in Maryland
Physical custody refers to where the child is physically spending his or her time. Physical custody and its various forms are referred to by many different labels, including, but not limited to, sole custody, joint custody, shared custody, and visitation.
The "Best Interest" of the Child
The court uses the "best interest" standard when deciding the custodial arrangements for children. In determining the best interest of a child, the court may consider the following factors, among others:
Fitness of the parent
Character and reputation of the parents
The willingness of each parent to share custody
Relationship between the child and each parent
Potential disruption of particular custody arrangement upon a child's social and school life
The geographic proximity of parents' homes
The desire of the natural parents and the terms of any agreements between them
The likelihood of maintaining natural family relations
The preference of a child when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to make a rational judgment
Opportunities affecting the future life of the child
Age, health, and gender of the child
Suitability of the homes of the parents and whether a non-custodial parent will have adequate opportunities for visitation
Length of time of any separation between a child and natural parent
Effect of any prior voluntary abandonment of the child
Demands of each parent's employment
The financial status of each parent
After the court determines what custodial arrangement is in the child's best interest, the judge will sign an order setting the terms of the arrangement. This order will govern the custodial arrangement until the child reaches 18 or until either parent seeks a modification of the custody order.
Modification of Custody Orders
The court can only modify a custody order if a parent is able to establish that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the last court order. A change in circumstances can be almost anything, but the moving party must establish that the change has some impact on the child's best interest. Some examples of a substantial change in circumstances may be the remarriage of a parent, the relocation of a parent, drug use of a parent, change in academic performance, or change in living conditions. Once the court determines that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the court will reevaluate the current facts and make a new determination based on the child's best interest.
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