Maryland Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Maryland and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Maryland courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
The Maryland Code, the Maryland Court Rules, and Maryland Case Law are the foundations of the very involved and complex Maryland Family Law.
Maryland Family Law is derived from these three sources that intricately combine to form the basis for court procedures and rulings.
Having knowledge of the law and the requirements of the court can empower and enable you to create a parenting plan that will not only satisfy the requirements of the court, but serve the best interests of your child, as well.
No, the state does not discriminate against or rule in favor of a parent based on gender.
Prior to petitioning the court for custody in the State of Maine, you are both equally considered to be the natural custodians of your child and are equally charged with the care, nurturing, support, and other custodial obligations, rights, and responsibilities of your child (MC § 5-203).
It is only after petitioning the court that these natural rights may be challenged, modified, and/or adjusted. Sufficient evidence or cause must be presented to the court to take custodial rights away from you or the other parent.
There are two kinds of custody in the State of Maryland.
- Legal custody pertains to the rights and obligations regarding decision making on important aspects of the child's life, such as education, a religious upbringing, medical and healthcare needs, and any other important matters of major significance in a child's life.
- Physical custody entails providing a residence for the child and being responsible for the day to day aspects and decision making in a child's life while the child is in the physical care of a parent (MC § 9.5-101-o).
There are a few different ways that physical and legal custody may be awarded:
- Joint legal custody means that both parents are entitled to and charged with making the major and significant decisions in a child's life.
- Joint physical custody, sometimes referred to as "shared custody", means the parents shall share the physical custody of the child in a way that ensures the child will have frequent and ongoing contact with both of the parents. It does not necessarily mean the parents are required to share the child's time equally.
- Sole legal custody means that only one parent is permitted to make the major decisions involving the child, and the other has limited rights, if any.
- Sole physical custody means that one parent maintains the primary residence for the child and has the child in his or her physical care the majority of the time. The other parent may or may not be entitled to visitation rights.
The State of Maryland's main concern in family law cases involving children is the best interest of the child. There is not one single factor that defines the best interest of a child. The best interest of a child is the main objective of the court that all decisions must be made in accordance with.
Some of the factors the court considers when determining the child's best interests are:
- The age, gender, and health of the child. A child sixteen years of age or older in the State of Maryland is entitled to petition the court as to his or her custodial preference (MC § 9-103).
- The character and morals of each of the parents and their ability to create a safe, healthy, nurturing environment for the child.
- The wishes of the parents as to a custodial arrangement and any agreements (parenting plans) they may have.
- The residences of the parents, their proximity to each other, and whether or not disrupting or maintaining the child's current home, relationship with others, school, and community would serve the child's best interests.
- The history of the nature of the relationships of the child and each parent and each parent's ability to encourage and foster a loving and ongoing relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Any evidence of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect.
- The ability of the parents to communicate with each other about their child and the likeliness of each parent to work together with the other parent when making major decisions about the child's welfare.
- Each parent's financial status, the demands of each parents employment, and the availability of each parent outside of their work schedule.
A comprehensive parenting plan may and should include:
- A statement assigning legal and physical custody to either or both of the parents.
- A child visitation schedule that dictates when your child with spend time with and/or reside with each parent. The visitation schedule should also include a holiday schedule and a vacation schedule.
- A statement delegating specific duties and responsibilities, ranging from who will be responsible for your child's religious upbringing to who will be responsible for transporting your child back and forth between exchanges to either or both of you. You can include as many situations and stipulations as you both see fit.
- A list of items the parents agree on. You may agree to have peaceful exchanges of your child, to share information regarding your child in a timely manner, to allow your child reasonable phone access to each parent, etc. Having two parents in agreement is always in the best interest of any child.
- A method for any future dispute resolution.
- Any other information you may find relevant.
If you include all of this in your Maryland custody agreement, you will have a good chance that the court will accept it. When possible, parents are encouraged to work together to come up with an agreement that everyone supports.
Sometimes parents are simply not able to agree, and if this is the case, you should prepare an individual agreement that you can present to court. You should be prepared to explain how your agreement is best for the child. The court will then determine the final custody agreement.
The top ten cities in Maryland (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Baltimore, Silver Spring, Rockville, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Bowie, Hagerstown, Annapolis, Salisbury, College Park.