Settling Child Custody in Maryland: 3 Options

Settling allows parents to make court-enforceable custody decisions together. It entails reaching an agreement, writing it into a parenting plan and submitting the plan to the court. With the approval of a judge, the plan becomes the final order for your case.

In addition to saving parents time and money, settling can lead to a successful co-parenting relationship, as it requires that parents compromise.

Use one of the options below to reach a settlement agreement before or after opening a case.

Note that if parents weren't married at the time of their child's birth, they need to establish the child's paternity before they can open a custody case.

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Option 1: Hire an attorney

Attorneys can oversee negotiations between parents or get involved once parents have reached an agreement on their own. Either way, the lawyers take care of turning in the parenting plan and any other paperwork to the court.

If you cannot afford an attorney, contact a legal aid office.

Option 2: Alternative dispute resolution methods

Alternative dispute resolution methods (other than arbitration) involve professionals who help parents communicate civilly and agree on a parenting plan.

After both parents sign the plan in front of a notary, they submit it to the court following Steps 2 and 3 below. If they hire lawyers to help them through the alternative dispute resolution process, the lawyers submit the parenting plan instead.

Option 3: Settle on your own (3 steps)

Parents who can sit down to amicably discuss their issues can draft an agreement on their own. However, it's recommended you hire an attorney to review it before you turn it into the court.

Step 1: Draft your agreement

Describe your legal and physical custody arrangements and include parenting provisions in a parenting plan. You may use any format, including the Custody X Change parenting plan template.

If you're divorcing or separating, also draft a separation agreement to cover the remaining matters (e.g., property division). Keep in mind that this agreement does not give you the right to remarry or have sex with another partner before the divorce finalizes.

You can settle child support as well. To do so, detail who will pay and why your settlement differs from the amount calculated using the child support worksheet (which you must fill out and attach). Divorcing parents can include this information in their separation agreement. Others write an agreement separate from their parenting plan after opening a child support case.

Check with your family court to see if it requires additional forms for settling. Sign all documents in front of a notary, and make copies for both parents to keep.

Step 2: File your settlement

You can hand in your settlement when you open a case (required for mutual consent divorce) or anytime afterward. You can skip the service step when opening a case if you file a settlement at the same time.

There's no fee to settle, though you must pay $165 to open a case.

If your county requires you to attend a settlement hearing, the court clerk will give you the date. You cannot change any of your agreement's terms before the hearing.

If you're not divorcing and have a child support settlement, hand it in at or mail it to your local Child Support Administration office. You'll pay a $15 application fee if your case is just starting.

Step 3: Get the judge's approval

In some counties, the judge signs off on agreements without a settlement hearing. You can get copies of the final order from the clerk.

If there's a settlement hearing, both parents must attend. Bring copies of all your paperwork and, if applicable, a parenting education certificate and child support worksheet. Check with the court to see if you need to provide any other forms.

The hearing allows the court to confirm that both parents agree on the settlement and that it serves the child's best interest. If so, the judge will sign off to make it the final order, and you can get a copy from the court clerk.

If your plan is not approved, you can start from Step 1 and submit another plan, or you can continue through the court process. You'll have another chance to settle at the pretrial settlement conference.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive a final order. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

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