What You Need to Know about Maryland Child Custody Agreements

“Who gets custody of the children?” This is one of the most difficult questions to answer during a separation or divorce. Despite people often believing that the mother is favored to win custody, the law in Maryland is neutral and does not favor either parent.

When determining custody, a court seeks to answer only one question: what is in the “best interest” of the children?

Child custody is often a long fought battle, and proving what is in the children’s best interest can be quite complex. It is important to hire a lawyer who practices family law with experience in custody disputes. Houlon Berman’s team of attorneys can offer you the support you need and help you through this complicated process and towards a desirable outcome.

Let us help you understand child custody laws in Maryland and how they may affect your family. If you want to find out more about child support, please click here.

Types of Child Custody Arrangements

There are many ways to resolve a child custody dispute. In fact, visitation arrangements, determining which parents sees the children and when, can be arranged in any number of ways that reflect the schedules best suited for both the parents and children in each unique situation.

However, when a court determines child custody, it does so within just a few categories.

Pendente Lite Custody

After you have filed a custody suit with the court, but before the court makes its final decision, the court will first determine pendente lite custody – that is, the custody arrangement for the children while the case is waiting to be heard by the court. Like all other types of custody, this temporary arrangement is determined based on the best interest of the children. However, unlike the court’s final custody ruling, in a pendente lite ruling the court will often find maintaining the children’s current living situation is in their best interest as it promotes consistency.

Here are the final custody determinations a court will make after determining pendente lite custody:

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Maryland courts recognize two different types of custody over children: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody includes the right to make important, long-term child rearing decisions. Such decisions include issues arising around the children’s education, health and medical treatment, and religious upbringing. The parent awarded legal custody will determine things like where the children go to school, who their doctors are, and what, if any, religion the children will follow. If both parents are awarded joint legal custody then these decisions must be made together.

Physical custody determines where the children live on a daily basis and governs day-to-day decision making as well as child support obligations. A parent awarded sole physical custody of the children will physically have the children for the majority of the time while the non-custodial parent will be awarded visitation determined by a set schedule. Parents can also be awarded joint physical custody where the children spend 50% of the time with one parent and 50% of the time with the other.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

Both types of custody, legal and physical, will be awarded by the court as either sole or joint.

Sole custody is when the court awards custody to just one parent. In the instance of legal custody, the court awards one parent the right to make all long-term decisions about the children. In the instance of physical custody, this means that one parent will have the children reside with them for the majority of the time while the other parent will see the children during court-appointed or agreed upon visitation times.

Joint custody is when the court awards custody to both parents. In the instance of legal custody this means all long-term child rearing decisions must be made by agreement by both parents unless one party has tie-breaking authority. In the instance of physical custody this means that each parent has substantial overnights with the children each year.  A parent who has more than 35% of the overnights is considered to have joint physical custody.

As always, the standard for awarding either sole or joint custody is the “best interest of the child.” Where the parents are unable to get along and make joint decisions about the children, sole custody becomes a consideration.

Bird’s Nesting Custody Agreement

Bird’s nest custody is a co-parenting agreement where the children remain in one home and their parents take turns living in the home with them. When one parent is not living with the children, they maintain a separate residence. Once the visiting parent’s turn is over, he or she moves back to his or her own dwelling, or a shared dwelling, and the other parent moves in with the children.

A bird’s nest custody agreement is very different from a typical joint-custody arrangement, where the children take turns visiting each parent and adapting to new environments. A nesting custody arrangement during a divorce can help keep the children’s current routines in place and allow them to stay in familiar surroundings. However, it’s important to note that nesting is generally a temporary arrangement until each party can secure their more permanent residence.

If parents can work cooperatively in a nesting arrangement, it can often benefit the children by maintaining the status quo of their routine, school and residence for a period of time while they are adjusting to their parents’ separation. It also benefits the children because they do not have to immediately begin packing their belongings each week to transition from one home to the other, and they can participate in the more permanent homes selected after the nesting period has ended. It is the child-focused solution for co-parents who are willing and able to agree to nesting.

Keep in mind that a nesting custody arrangement means that the parents are physically separated for purposes of a divorce based on separation, as long as they do not both spend the night in the same residence at the same time. It is important to consult with a lawyer to discuss how best to develop a nesting agreement that is legally sufficient and protects your rights and the interests of the family.

Negotiating Child Custody Arrangements

As custody situations are emotionally charged and unique to each family, the courts prefer custody arrangements be agreed to by the parties outside of court. Coming to an agreement as to child custody is preferable because the courts may not fully understand the intricate needs of your family. Having a skilled family law attorney is integral to reaching a custody agreement. While you may not be getting along with your child’s other parent, practiced family law attorneys have experience negotiating these agreements.

At Houlon Berman, our attorneys often negotiate custody agreements with opposing parties through myriad processes including negotiation, mediation, the collaborative process, or through the use of a third party neutral like a parent coordinator. We provide you with all options, allowing you to choose the process that’s best for you.

Stipulation Agreement

Once you have reached an agreement as to custody, you still need your attorney. You may want to have your lawyer write a stipulation order, which both parties sign, that describes the agreement made regarding custody.

You also want your lawyer to draft a consent order for the judge to sign. Once signed, the court can enforce your agreement.

Speaking with a Child Custody Professional

Many issues complicate reaching an agreement on child custody. Regardless of the relationship between you and the other parent, the sheer number of issues that must be decided in drafting a custody agreement calls for an experienced professional.  

It is important to speak with a skilled family law attorney in Maryland when facing custody issues to protect your rights, your child’s rights, and to ensure that any agreement that is reached covers all issues that may arise in the future and will be enforced by the courts.

Contact the Family Lawyers at Houlon Berman Today

Our team of professionals has extensive knowledge of Maryland child custody laws, as well as experience both settling and litigating custody disputes in the Maryland court system. We frequently work with clients in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, Frederick County, and surrounding areas to resolve custody disputes.

To find out how we can help you, contact us today! 

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