How Do Maryland Judge's Determine Child Custody? - Best Interest Standard

When custody matters head to court, a judge will determine the final order. These are the specifics on how they make those decisions:

  • Several factors come into consideration by judges in custody disputes, composing a "best interest" standard.
  • Whether Mom or Dad, custody goes to who provides those "best interests."
  • Maryland does give children a voice, but it depends on some things.

What Makes Up the Best Interest Standard in Child Custody Cases

In a divorce that involves children, a custody dispute is sure to be an issue. So when custody goes to a Maryland judge to decide, they consider various factors in figuring out the custody order.

Their main concern is the best interest of the child. It is this standard by which judges make custody decisions. But, what is that?

There is no defined list of aspects that Maryland judges use, so they have a lot of flexibility in making custody decisions on a case-by-case basis. It also means that no one aspect weighs heavier than others.

Here are several elements a judge considers in the best interest of the child standard:

  • Primary caregiver – Who is the person who mainly cares for the kids? The primary caregiver is the person who provides the clothing, food, schooling, daycare services, and more for the children.
  • Fitness – Who can physically and psychologically handle raising the children?
  • Character and reputation – Who has the better moral compass and value set?
  • Agreements – Has there already been an agreement in place?
  • Potential for maintaining natural family relationships – Who will let extended family members talk and visit with the child?
  • Material opportunity – Who has the financial resources to give the children more things?
  • Age, health, and gender of the children – Many infants and toddlers depend on their mothers for feeding, and sons want to be like Dad and daughters like Mom. Does a child have a health issue that requires more attention?
  • Disability – Do either of the parents have a disability that would limit them from being in the child's best interest?
  • Religious preferences – These are integral to the judge's decision only if a party can prove they affect the physical and mental well-being of the children.
  • Living arrangements and opportunity for visitation – What is the proximity of the parents' residences? Who lives closer to the extended family? Which parent lives closest to school and the children's social circle?

This list is just a sample of some, not all, the factors a Maryland judge considers when deciding custody disputes and arrangements. As you can see, Maryland judges do not weigh whether you are Mom or Dad as to who they award custody.

Whoever Serves the Best Interests of the Children Win Custody

A long time ago, in a different world, Maryland had a legal preference for awarding custody to mothers. Thanks to the Equal Rights Amendment, that no longer is the case.

The amendment prohibits judges from using stereotypical ideas about gender that a mother is almost always a better parent than a father. Plus, today, we have same-sex marriages. Instead, judges base custody on what is in the best interest of the child.

Key issues that prevent either Mom or Dad from winning custody boil down to abuse, neglect, or anything else that might endanger a child's health or emotional well-being. Not because you are the Dad.

Yes, mothers still tend to be awarded custody more than fathers, but that has more to do with the child's relationship with each parent. Many moms still stay at home to care for the children today, while dads hold down jobs. This dichotomy makes one a primary caregiver and the other the primary breadwinner. Because of this established relationship with the children, a judge may award custody to mothers.

Again, a changing world sees more and more dads becoming stay-at-home caretakers and moms going off to be the primary breadwinner. Switched roles could lead a judge to award custody in favor of Dad.

Still, there is another factor Maryland judges will consider in custody cases, the child's preference.

Maryland Gives Children a Voice in the Matter

Maryland law allows judges to consider a child's preference in custody matters when they think the child is mature enough and able to make a rational choice. Thus, there is no exact age that decides whether the judge will consider the child's preference.

Kids mature at different rates, so on a case-by-case basis, judges have the power to let the children have a say in which parent gets custody. Usually, judges will hold a meeting in chambers to interview them and decide about maturity and rational thinking. Away from the courtroom and their parents, but each parents' lawyer's may be present and they themselves, depending on what the parties and judge agree to.

If a judge thinks a child is mature enough to decide which parent to live with rationally, they will consider their wishes…as long as it is in the child's best interest.

One parent may have a better financial situation than the other, and even though the child wants one thing, what is in their best interest is living with the parent who can supply the necessities of life. This example is just one of many in how a child's preference may not be a factor a judge uses to decide the outcome of the custody case.

Each custody case comes with its own set of unique parents and children, with specific needs and wants. Sometimes, those needs and wants don't line up, and a judge is needed to make the final decision.

Contact JC Law today to see how we can help you get the best outcome in your custody matter. We offer free initial consultations to provide insight into your case. Ultimately, the best interest of the child is to have a relationship with both Mom and Dad.

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