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Child Custody

Child custody is one of the most important, yet stressful and emotional parts of a family law case. Often times, a minor child is put in the middle by one or both parents, seeking leverage in such a situation. The courts in Maryland and the District of Columbia handle thousands of these types of cases every year; and, always seek to protect the best interest of the child.

However, courts only know what is presented by the parties involved and the process can be confusing. An experienced legal team will do far more than just represent a parent in court, they will work to ensure the rights of the parent and their child are protected as the case progresses and into the future.

It should come as no surprise the courts in D.C. and Maryland examine many criteria before awarding custody to one or both parents. Factors like the family dynamic are considered, any domestic violence issues, finances of both parents, as well as the wishes of the child.

The Best Interest of the Child

The courts of Maryland and the District of Columbia use similar criteria to determine a minor child’s best interest. Having an experienced and zealous lawyer is paramount to being awarded custody, whether sole or joint.

Determining a Child’s Best Interest in Maryland

The state of Maryland uses at least five factors in determining the best interest of a minor child, which include, but are not limited to:

  • The wishes of the child, if the minor child is 12 years old or older. The court also considers the child’s intelligence and level of maturity
  • Any past history of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other traumatic events
  • The relationship a child has with both parents
  • The distance between each parents’ homes
  • Each parent’s ability to encourage and foster a healthy relationship between their child and former spouse as well as the collective ability to make joint decisions about the minor child which are intended to have a positive impact

Minor Child’s Legal Right to File a Custody Change Petition

Should the child be of 16 years of age or older, the courts in the state of Maryland do allow a minor child to file his or her own petition for a change of custody with a parent of his or her choosing. Upon filing the petition, the court will either schedule a hearing or amend the existing custodial decree and grant the child his or her petition, thereby changing custody.

Determining a Child’s Best Interest in D.C.

The District of Columbia uses at least five factors in determining the best interest of a minor child, which include, but are not limited to:

  • The wishes of the child, if the minor child is 12 years old or older. D.C. courts also consider the child’s intelligence and level of maturity
  • The wishes of both parents
  • The minor child’s adjustment to changes in the family dynamic which include such things as school, his or her community, and home
  • The physical and mental conditions of both parents and the minor child
  • The minor child’s parental relationship with both parents, as well as his or her relationship with any siblings and extended family
  • The proximity of both parents’ homes
  • Each parent’s ability to encourage and foster a healthy relationship between their child and former spouse as well as the collective ability to make joint decisions about the minor child which are intended to have a positive impact
  • The demands placed on each parent by their respective employer

Parenting Plan

The District of Columbia, the court might require both parents to submit what’s known as a parenting plan. This document is used to help determine which parent or if both parents, are awarded custody of the minor child. The plan typically spells out each parent’s right, roles and responsibilities, as well as the following:

  • Information about the child’s education
  • The child’s primary or shared residency
  • Planned visitation as it relates to holidays, weekends, and summer vacations
  • Religious training
  • The communication between both parents and between the minor child and both parents

Child custody can be a time consuming and emotional matter. It’s important to have an attorney that will not only dutifully represent a parent, but also fight for the best interest of the child. Our firm has extensive experience to assist parents with their right to child custody.

Types of Child Custody

In the state of Maryland, as well as in Washington D.C., there are three types of child custody given to one or both parents. Though these are quite similar, there are differences in each jurisdiction and only an experienced attorney can explain the nuances between each one.

Child Custody in Maryland

Maryland has three kinds of child custody, and awards each based on the individual circumstances of each case, as well as precedent:

Sole Legal Custody

Legal custody in Maryland means a parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions about a minor child’s education, religious training, discipline, medical care, and other important parts of their life. It is important to understand that the parent without legal custody still maintains certain rights, such as the ability to make day-to-day decisions, while in their care, which can include something like having to seek emergency medical treatment.

Joint Custody

The state of Maryland does not have a legal preference or predisposition for either the father or the mother of a minor child. In a joint custody situation, both parents have equal say and responsibilities as to their child. However, there are instances where the court will give a “tiebreaker”, meaning giving one parent a bit more say in a post- divorce relationship. Our firm can explain such situations and the consequences and repercussions of such a circumstance.

Physical Custody

This type of custody is actually joint, but specifically refers to right and obligations of the parents to provide a home and make day-to-day decisions when and while the minor child is physically present. This type of custody might more be accurately described as “shared” or “divided” custody.

Child Custody in D.C.

Washington D.C. also has three kinds of child custody, and awards each based on the individual circumstances of each case, as well as precedent:

Sole Legal Custody

Legal custody in Washington D.C. means that just one parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions about a minor child’s education, religious training, discipline, medical care, and other important parts of their life. In this situation, the other parent not granted any form of custody may or may not have visitation rights.

Joint Custody

The District of Columbia does not have a legal preference or predisposition for either the father or the mother of a minor child. In a joint custody situation, both parents have equal say and responsibilities as to their child. However, the child will reside primarily with only one parent.

Joint Physical Custody

This type of custody is actually joint, but specifically refers to right and obligations of the parents to provide a home and make day-to-day decisions when and while the minor child is physically present. This type of custody might more be accurately described as “shared” or “divided” custody.

Child Support

The matter of child support is treated much the same way in both the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Under their respective laws in each jurisdiction, no one parent is solely responsible of the financial support of a minor child, though one parent might be obligated to pay child support. In other words, both parents are expected to equally contribute finances to support their minor child, for schooling, religious training, medical care, and other important aspects of the child’s life. However, one parent might be ordered to pay child support to the other parent to further the best interest of the minor child.

Guidelines in Determining Child Support

Calculating the amount of child support is based on the factors and the courts use these formulas to determine how much monthly support obligations for each or one parent, these include:

  • The combined gross incomes of both parents
  • The number of minor children involved
  • The percentage of time the minor child or children will reside with each parent
  • Alimony paid in the case at hand
  • Alimony paid in another case
  • Child support paid in another case
  • The cost of the child or childrens’ health insurance, day care, and/or extraordinary medical costs

It is important to note that these three factors are only guidelines, and are not hard and fast rules. The court may modify support at any time in the post-divorce relationship based on such factors and circumstances as change in monthly income, geographical relocation, and other situations. It’s equally important to understand that the court might choose to modify the amount of child support if it believes the statutory guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.

Length of Time of Child Support

Generally, a parent only is obligated to pay child support until the minor child reaches 18 years of age. However, if the circumstances are such the child needs continued financial support, for reasons such as severe or permanent mental or physical disabilities, the court might extend child support obligations accordingly. The court may also modify the amount but continue it after the child turns 18 years of age.

Child Support and Visitation Rights

It is important to understand that child support and visitation rights are not “tied” to one another. If the parent ordered to pay child support and fails to do so, the other parent, no matter the type of custody awarded by the court, cannot disallow visitation. The parent receiving child support may take legal action, against the parent in arrears, but may not keep the owing parent from seeing the child or children. In some instances, a judge might bar one parent from visitation, but this is rare and is only done in circumstances to protect the best interest of the child or children.

To better understand the obligations and rights of child support and custody in the state of Maryland or Washington D.C., contact us immediately. We can assist in protecting your rights and the rights and wellbeing of your child or children. We are an experienced in family law and will fight for you and the best interest of your child or children.


     

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