Special Circumstances in Maryland Child Custody

No two custody cases are the same. Many involve special circumstances like the ones highlighted below. If any apply to you, consult an attorney for more information.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

Parents who have a history of serious criminal activity, violence or substance abuse don't often receive legal or physical custody. In extreme cases, they can lose all rights to see their child.

A parent who has shown a willingness to change their behavior usually gets supervised visits with the child. These might happen at the home of a friend or family member the parents agree on, or they might need to take place at a supervised visitation center where professionals monitor the parent's interactions with the child.

If a parent can prove lasting change, they do have a chance at receiving custody. If need be, counselors and others with knowledge of the parent's recovery can testify at trial.

If one parent makes false allegations against the other, they could lose custody or face other repercussions.

Victim of domestic violence

If the other parent in your case has abused you, your child or any member of their household, there are resources available to help you.

If it's unsafe for them to know where you live, request address confidentiality.

To ask for a protective order, file a Petition for Protection Form with an addendum.

Temporary protective orders can last a few days or weeks. Typically, you automatically receive temporary custody of your child if granted one. These orders can also mandate that the other parent:

  • Stop abusing, threatening or harassing you
  • Move out, if you are living together
  • Stay away from your home, work or school
  • Cease contact with you

If necessary, final protective orders last up to a year. They may include a child visitation schedule for that time period; typically, the child lives with the parent who receives the protective order and has visits with the other parent. Final protective orders can make the mandates listed above and may also give the victim:

  • Possession of a vehicle owned with the other parent
  • Counseling
  • Emergency financial support

Parental alienation

Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to harm their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims or manipulation.

If parental alienation is alleged or suspected, the judge may appoint a best interest attorney or order a custody evaluation.

If a parent alienates the child from the other parent, they could lose some or all of their custody rights. In more serious cases, the child and alienated parent may need to attend reunification therapy to rebuild their relationship.


A custodial parent who wants to move must first get a court order, regardless of where they're moving.

They must notify the other parent at least 90 days before the move. Exceptions are made if financial or other extenuating reasons cause the move or if notifying would endanger the custodial parent or the child.

The other parent has 20 days to respond with a written statement. They can consent to the move or object.

At a hearing, the court ultimately decides whether to allow the move based on the child's needs. Judges rarely stop a request to relocate if the noncustodial parent consents.

If the request is granted, the court issues a new parenting plan with an access or visitation schedule that accounts for the distance.

Parents can also negotiate outside of court to create their own revised parenting plan — potentially a long-distance parenting plan — and submit it to the court for approval.

Third-party custody and visitation

Most third parties (i.e., nonparents) seeking custody or visitation are grandparents or other close family members.

A third party seeking custody must prove that one or both parents are unfit to care for the child. Evidence of neglect, abandonment, physical or emotional abuse, or inability to care for the child can help prove parents unfit.

Third parties only need a court's permission to visit a child if the child's parents won't allow it. Then, the party must prove that a parent is unfit, that denying visitation rights would harm the child or that the child once lived with or had extended visits with the third party.

De facto parents

A de facto parent is someone who is not the biological or adoptive parent of a child but has established a parental relationship with the child. They have the right to seek legal and physical custody like any other parent.

This avenue is designed mainly to allow parents in same-sex partnerships to obtain custodial rights, but anyone helping raise a child can apply as a de facto parent (except paid caretakers).

After filing a petition for custody or visitation, you have to prove that you are the child's de facto parent and should become their legal parent.

To be considered a de facto parent, you must meet four criteria:

  • Your relationship with the child was fostered by at least one of the child's parents.
  • You lived with the child.
  • You performed parental duties.
  • You have a bond with the child.

However, meeting these criteria does not guarantee you will be named a legal parent, especially if the child already has two legal parents. The court will decide based on the best interests of the child.

If a de facto parent is granted custody, it's possible that both biological parents will have to pay them child support.

Foreign languages

Court business is conducted in English. The Maryland Court Interpreter Program has interpreters for about 60 languages. These services are free.

To request an interpreter, submit a Request for Spoken Language Interpreter. For sign language, submit a Request for Accommodation for Person with Disability. In either case, do this at least 30 days before your court appearance date.

You can also request an interpreter for court-related services, such as custody evaluations, mediation, parenting classes and meetings with supervised visitation centers. In addition, interpreters provide help translating court documents, instructions and web pages.

The court uses LanguageLine, which provides interpreters over the phone, to help parents speak with court staff.

Addressing special circumstances in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it must follow a format the judge will understand and use language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want.

It's a sure way to get a plan that's both up to court standards and tailored to your family.

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