What Does It Mean To Be A Non-Custodial Parent in Maryland?

You want to take care of your kids, even after a divorce. But, what do you do when you know you’re not in the right place to take care of your kids?

You may want to become a “non-custodial parent.” To better understand this legal solution, we’ll go over:

What Does “Non-Custodial Parent” Mean in Maryland Courts?

A non-custodial parent is a parent who does not have primary physical custody of their children.

However, a non-custodial parent may still have alternative physical custody and legal custody. So, even though the child lives with one parent, the other parent is still involved in important decisions.

Many non-custodial parents also pay child support. As long as you are not the primary custodial parent, you’ll need to pay child support.

Specific rights and duties of non-custodial parents vary, depending on the custody arrangements determined by the court. Usually, the non-custodial parent is given court-ordered visitation, and the custodial parent must let them meet with their child.

A non-custodial parent is not:

  • Automatically the father. Mothers can lose physical custody if the court determines it’s in the child’s best interest, which would make her the non-custodial parent.
  • Completely absent from the child’s life. The only time one parent will have full responsibility over the child is when they have sole legal and physical custody, which is rather rare in Maryland. Even then, visitation is often allowed.
  • A “dead beat.” Non-custodial parents still care about their child’s life and contribute meaningfully to their growth. It just means that their son or daughter doesn’t live with them all the time.

Remember: Non-custodial parent status is not an all-or-nothing custody solution. Parents can give up physical custody while keeping joint legal custody with the child's other parent.

There’s also shared physical custody, where the child spends equal amounts of time with both parents. And, some non-custodial parents enjoy flexible visitation schedules to spend as much time with their child as possible.

At What Age Can a Child Request Change of Custodial Parent?

Non-custodial parent status can change – especially if the child themselves asks the court to live with the other parent.

Normally:

  1. A non-custodial parent files to change -- "modify" -- the custody order. (“I want my child living with me.”)
  2. To do so, the parent must show there has been a material change in circumstances. ("The other parent is in between living situations and I have bought a house since the original court order.")
  3. Then, they must show the court why it would be in the child’s best interest to change the order. (“My child would be better off living with me for the following reasons…”)

Similarly, if a child seeks to modify a custody order, your child will then need to prove that a change of custody would be in their best interests.

In Maryland, a child needs to be at least 16 years old to try to change a custody agreement on their own.

The child then must prove that their other parent’s home will meet their needs better. “Because my other parent lets me stay out later” will not be accepted as a good reason for a custody change.

Instead, the child must show that there has been a “material change in circumstances,” and that it is in their best interest to make the proposed change.

If the two homes are thought to be equal, then custody will stay the same.

Usually, the court that made the original custody and visitation order keeps jurisdiction over modifications. That is, the same court that made the first agreement gets to decide if any changes will be made.

However, the court with original jurisdiction may refuse to hear the custody case if the non-custodial parent significantly breaches the original order. This situation can arise if they take a child on a trip or move across state lines without the consent of the custodial parent.

What Happens When You Give Up Custody of Your Child?

If a parent gives up full custody of their children – both physical and legal – then they lose their right to make any decisions regarding their child.

From that point forward, all parenting decisions are the sole responsibility of the person who has legal and physical custody of the child.

However, the parent giving up full custody may still keep visitation rights with their child. If there are safety concerns, then the court may order supervised visitation with a third-party.

Giving Up Custody: Does child support go away?

Short answer: No.

Even if you no longer have any legal say over where your child sleeps at night or any significant decisions, you’ll still have to pay child support.

All parents have a legal duty to financially support their child. Whether a parent voluntarily gives up physical custody or a court orders it, they are still expected to pay child support.

A parent's child support obligations only end if they:

  • Voluntarily give up “parental rights,” which is their legal status as parent to the child, if another parent or guardian steps up to replace them, or
  • The court terminates their parental rights due to abuse and other extreme situations.

Of course, Maryland law prohibits parents from voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights just to avoid paying child support. Giving up parental rights can be extremely complicated, legally speaking, and difficult to do.

Giving Up Custody: What happens to your taxes?

When a parent gives up custody of their child, they lose any associated tax benefits.

Basically, non-custodial parents can’t claim the child as a dependent on their income tax forms. They also can’t claim deductions related to childcare or daycare payments.

Child support payments are not deductible expenses. It’s also not considered taxable income to the custodial parent.

However, you may still deduct contributions to a 529 educational savings plan in your child’s name.

These changes may result in a much larger tax bill for non-custodial parents. When in doubt, consult a tax professional.

Giving up physical custody of your child can feel like a blow, but it may be in the best interest of your child. And, it doesn’t mean that you’re gone from their lives – at least, with a good custody arrangement.

If you want to see how non-custodial parent status would impact your custody case – or are worried you could lose physical custody – please reach out for a free consultation with our Firm. We can review your case and plot a plan of action moving forward to keep your child safe, happy, and loved.

[CHECKLIST] If you need a family lawyer or domestic legal counsel in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.