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In a recent case before the Court of Special Appeals, the Court addressed child custody issues when one parent makes the unilateral decision to move out of state with the child.  This case, the mother made frequent visits to her family out of state.  On the last visit, she informed the father that she did not intend to return to Maryland.  The father then sued for custody and the mother received primary physical custody.shutterstock 1108958093 300x200 - Child Custody and Unilateral Moves Out of State

The issue was whether the trial court erred in granting primary physical custody to the mother.  The father argued that this was inappropriate because the mother absconded with the minor child to another state. The father raised several arguments all of which were grounded in policy concerns relating to the fairness for noncustodial parents and deterring misconduct by custodial parents.  The Court affirmed the decision and let stand the decision that the mother have primary physical custody.

The Court stated that the policy issues raised by the father all involved the interests of the parent.  The Court held that in custody determinations, the interests of the parent are not an issue, but rather the issue is always the best interest of the child at the time of the decision.   However, the Court acknowledged that there are significant concerns raised in the relocation of children without the consent of both parents.  However, “the test with respect to custody determinations begins and ends with what is the best interest of the child.”

The Court also praised the analysis of the Circuit Court.  The Circuit Court found: (1) Mother had always been Child’s  primary caretaker, which the court found “very, very important because there’s a continuum of interest going on”; (2) both parents were fit; (3) the court had no concerns about the character and reputation of the parties; (4) both parents were “very sincere about [Child]” and their desire for custody; (5) Mother’s trips to Oklahoma with Child before the parties’ separation “w[ere] all done with the tacit agreement of [Father]”; (6) Mother has family and a job in Oklahoma; (7) Child has “acclimated very, very well” to the home in Oklahoma, including Child’s extended family and school; (8) Child could maintain a relationship with Father even while Child lived in Oklahoma; (9) Child was not old enough to express a preference for either parent; (10) Child’s material opportunities in Oklahoma and Maryland are in “equipoise”; (11) Child has no relevant medical or other conditions; (12) both parents’ residences are suitable; and (13) there had been no prior abandonment by either party.

In other words, the Circuit Court conducted a thorough analysis that consisted of all enumerated factors in determining custody awards.

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