Maryland Child Custody And Child Visitation Guidelines

Maryland Child Custody And Child Visitation Guidelines

Married Parents

Maryland child custody laws are unique in some aspects, making it important to be acquainted with these laws and regulations to prepare for your own custody case.

Maryland courts typically grant the types of custody that are common with those of most other states across the country. Legal and physical custody must always be defined in a child custody agreement. Legal custody refers to the important decision-making rights and responsibilities for the child. This includes but is not limited to decisions regarding education, religion, and health issues. Physical custody refers to the primary caretaking rights and responsibilities for the child including providing the child with food, clothing, and shelter, spending time with the child and making every day decisions.

Maryland courts may grant either sole or joint custody. Sole custody simply means that one co-parent holds custody. Joint custody means that custody is shared between both co-parents. In cases where sole physical custody is awarded to one co-parent, the court will typically grant visitation rights to the non-custodial co-parent.  Either one of the separated parents may petition a Maryland circuit court for custody of a child.  If the parties cannot agree about who should have custody, the court will grant custody either solely to one of the parents or joint custody to both of the parents.

Unmarried Parents

For those parents who have separated and never married,  the child is the child of his/her mother.  In Maryland, fathers do not have as many rights as mothers. In order for the father to claim rights to the child (including rights to custody or visitation), paternity must be admitted or established in court.  The court may determine paternity, or the father may establish paternity by:

  • a court determination of paternity;
  • acknowledging paternity in writing;
  • telling others that the child is his;
    • or by marrying the mother and then
      acknowledging  himself as the father,
      either in writing or orally.

Once paternity is established, neither mother or father is given a preference based solely on their gender.

Incarcerated Parents
Maryland courts are prohibited from awarding custody or visitation to parents who have been found guilty of first or second degree murder of:

  • the other parent,
  • another child of the parent,
  • or any family member residing in the household
    of either parent.

Determining Custody In Maryland

In Maryland, the law does not favor either the mother or father. The law looks at the “best interest” of the child standard when deciding on child custody and visitation. The” best interest” of the child standard looks at certain factors to determine what is best for the child(ren).

 Modification Of Custody Orders

When a parent seeks to have the custody order changed, it is his/her burden to show the court why it should be changed. The court follows the notion of, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is based on the idea that stability is best for the child unless you can show that there is something in the environment that will harm the well-being of the child. You will have to show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances and that it is in the child’s best interests to make the change you are proposing.

Registration Of Out Of State Custody Orders

Maryland family law is governed by the Annotated Code of Maryland, and also controlled by federal law.  This factor must be looked at first in deciding whether you have jurisdiction to file for custody in Maryland.

  • Basically, if custody has been first decided in another state, you must return to that state court to modify the order. This is true as long as any of the parties or the child(ren) still live there. An attorney can help you decide about possible exceptions.
  • If no custody order has been entered, the question is whether Maryland is the “home” state for the child(ren). If it is, then you can file for custody in a Maryland court.
  • The court that made the original custody and visitation order retains jurisdiction to decide modification unless the parties and child no longer have close ties to the court and the court surrenders its jurisdiction.

Enforcement Of Court Orders

People go into courthouses everyday telling clerks that the parent has not returned the child at the scheduled time following visitation and they don’t know what to do. When a custody order is violated, the law requires the custodial parent/lawful custodian to first demand the return of the child.  If the requested parent does not return the child, but remained within the state, it can be a misdemeanor — resulting in a fine of $25 or imprisoned for up to 30 days.  If the requested parent takes the minor child across the state-line, it can then be a felony — carrying a fine of $250 -$1000 and/or imprisoned 30 days to 1 year.


Note:  The foregoing information is provided as general family law guidelines in MARYLAND and should not be considered as legal advice specific to your case.  After reviewing the above material, you will be presented with the opportunity to submit more details specific to your case directly to About The Children.

 Submitted by:  Linda O’Marie, Paralegal (6-7-13)

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Posted in A Childs Best Interests, Child Custody, Child Visitation, Divorce, Maryland Guidelines

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