One of the most common questions in child custody cases are how does the Court make its determinations. In Maryland, there are two sets of established, non-exclusive criteria that the Court should examine of purposes of custody. While these criteria govern the Court’s analysis, the list is non-exhaustive. This means that the Court can review other criteria as well. The two sets involve criteria for child custody, and then a separate standard for whether joint custody should be ordered. Both lists are open for interpretation by the Court.
The first set of criteria revolves around child custody. In reviewing child-custody determinations the Court looks at the following:
- Fitness of the parents;
- Character and reputation of the parties;
- Desire of the natural parents and agreements between the parties;
- Potentiality of maintaining natural family relations;
- Preference of the child;
- Material opportunities affecting the future life of the child;
- Age, health, and sex of the child;
- Residence of parents and opportunity for visitation;
- Length of separation from natural parents; and
- Prior voluntary abandonment or surrender.
These questions form the foundation of the Court’s determination of the “best interest of the child” standard. This standard is what every Court must analyze when making custody determinations.
The analysis of this “best interest” standard has been expanded for deliberation as to whether joint custody should be ordered. In this analysis the non-exclusive but still relevant considerations are:
- The capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
- Willingness of parents to share custody;
- Fitness of parents;
- Relationship established between the child and each parent;
- Preference of the child;
- Potential disruption of child’s social and school life;
- Geographic proximity of parental homes;
- Demands of parental employment;
- Age and number of children;
- Sincerity of parents’ request;
- Financial status of the parents;
- Impact on state or federal assistance;
- Benefit to parents; and
- Other factors.
Importantly, as the Court has stated, “[n]one of the major factors in a custody case have talismanic qualities and no single list of criteria will satisfy the demands of every case.” However, in general, the Court starts with this list and may or may not go beyond it.
It is the parties responsibility to address these factors at trial. Experienced counsel can help put frame these factors in terms the Court is used to and can understand. We can help. Contact us for a free consultation on your custody or divorce case today.