One of the most difficult aspects of divorce or separation is child custody. Just thinking about having to spend less time with your child may make you feel both sad and scared.
If you are facing divorce or separating from your child's other parent, you may have ideas about what that will mean for your relationship with your child. You may also have a lot of questions about the process ahead.
Like many things in life, the best way to approach child custody is to learn about your options and how the process works. Knowing more about how custody is handled in Maryland can help you approach it with confidence.
Legal custody vs. physical custody
In Maryland, there are two components to each type of custody: legal and physical.
Legal custody means that you have the right to make important decisions on behalf of your child. With legal custody, you can decide where your child will go to school, what type of religious upbringing your child should have, how your child's medical care should be handled in non-emergency situations and others.
Physical custody, on the other hand, has to do with how much time you get spend with your child. If you are granted physical custody, you are allowed to make everyday decisions on behalf of your child when they are with you.
A parent can have both physical and legal custody, one of them, or neither of them.
Joint, Shared or Sole?
Legal and physical custody can be divided between parents in multiple ways:
- Shared physical custody: Your child will live with you and your spouse at least 35 percent of the time.
- Joint legal custody: You and your child's other parent will share in the decisions about how to raise your child.
- Sole physical custody: Your child will live with you or your spouse, not both.
- Sole legal custody: You or your child's other parent will have complete control over major life decisions regarding the well-being of your child.
Custody arrangements look different for different families. In some situations, one parent has sole physical custody while both share legal custody. In other situations, parents might have joint legal and physical custody. In more extreme cases, one parent could have sole physical and legal custody.
Who decides what your custody plan will look like?
Now that you know the basics of custody, you may be wondering which type you will end up with. The answer to that depends on whether you and your child's other parent are able to work together to reach an agreement or not.
If you can work together constructively, the decision is mostly up to you. Of course, you have to agree on the final plan, and a judge must sign off on it, but you have the power to decide together how you want to handle custody.
If you and child's other parent cannot reach an agreement, the court will step in. A judge will determine a child custody plan that is in the best interests of the child based on several factors, including:
- Who has been the child's primary caregiver
- How old the child is
- Any health concerns the child has
- The ability of each parent to care for the child
- What the child wants
Working through a child custody matter can be stressful and worrisome. It is important to know, however, that judges often determine that it is in the best interests of the child to spend time with both of their parents, unless one parent poses a safety risk to the child.
If you have more questions about child custody, it may be helpful to speak with a family law attorney.