Splitting up with your child’s co-parent requires the two of you to decide who will care for the child most of the time and how you will carry out your responsibilities as parents. Settling child custody and visitation issues is often the most difficult and contentious part of a breakup.
Fortunately, a Potomac child custody lawyer knows the law regarding child custody and understands the practical considerations that could impede reaching a custody agreement. With a dedicated family attorney’s guidance, you and your co-parent could develop a parenting plan that works for you and, most importantly, gives your child the best possible start in life.
Courts Favor Neither Parent in Reaching Custody Decisions
Although there is a perception that courts favor mothers when deciding child custody matters, the law requires the decision to be gender neutral. Instead, courts will look at which parent handled caretaking before the couple split and who is best equipped to meet the child’s needs at the time of the decision, along with many other factors.
According to Maryland Court Rules 9-204.1(c), the best interests of the children guide the court’s decisions in custody matters. Besides identifying which parent has been the primary caretaker in the past, other factors a court might consider include:
- Whether a parent has abandoned the other parent and child
- Each parent’s physical, mental, emotional, and moral fitness to provide a safe home
- Each parent’s willingness and capacity to maintain the child’s relationships with extended family
- Location of each parent’s home, if it will impact the child’s schooling or interfere with familial relationships
- Child’s special physical, mental, or educational needs
- Financial circumstances of each parent
- Fitness of each parent.
A Potomac child custody attorney could help a parent persuade a judge that the custody arrangement they favor supports the children’s best interests.
Judges Have Broad Discretion
Parents can exert some control over the custody process by developing a parenting plan to present to the judge. Parents can agree between themselves:
- Who will provide the primary home for the child
- When the other parent can exercise parenting time
- Whether they will share decision-making about all major issues, each decide on specific issues, or one parent will have sole decision-making authority.
An experienced child custody lawyer in Potomac could help parents develop a plan that meets their children’s needs.
Judges favor custody arrangements that permit both parents to maintain meaningful relationships with their children and have a say in their upbringing. However, if the parents present a parenting plan calling for joint custody, the judge will consider whether the parents communicate poorly or disagree about fundamental child-rearing issues. Even in cases where the parents do not communicate well, the judge’s favor joint custody plans.
If the parents agree on shared custody, meaning the child will spend at least 92 overnights with each parent, the parenting plan must be specific about:
- Which days and nights the child spends with each parent
- How the parents will transport the child
- Who is responsible for scheduling appointments for the child
- Other similar issues
A granular parenting plan demonstrates to the judge that the couple has considered and resolved the practical issues that arise when sharing custody.
Seeking Sole Physical or Legal Custody
Sometimes one parent believes the other should not have a say in decisions regarding the child or the opportunity to have parenting time. Sole physical custody might be necessary if a parent is in jail, has relocated out of the jurisdiction, or has abandoned the child. In other circumstances, a parent seeking sole physical and legal custody must prove the other parent is unfit and unable to provide a safe environment or has poor judgment when it comes to parenting decisions.
Maryland Code Annotated Family Law §9-101 allows a judge to deny a parent access or order supervised access to a child if the parent is deemed unfit. A judge might award the petitioning parent sole custody if a Potomac attorney could prove that the other parent has:
- An active substance abuse issue
- An untreated mental health condition that renders the parent potentially unpredictable or dangerous
- Physically or sexually abused the child or the other parent
- Other factors that affect the best interest of the child.
Absent clear evidence that a parent is a danger to a child, a judge will usually allow visitation with the non-custodial parent. Though, the custodial parent may request that any visitation be limited or supervised. The courts generally favor allowing a child to spend as much time as possible with both parents.
Rely on a Potomac Child Custody Attorney During This Time
Decisions surrounding where a child will live and who will provide their care and guidance will impact a child’s life forever. Potomac courts take custody matters seriously and as a parent, you should too.
A Potomac child custody lawyer could help you and your co-parent prepare a parenting plan if you communicate well together. If not, a diligent legal professional could help you make a case to the court supporting the custody arrangement you believe best serves your family. Schedule a discussion with a capable attorney today.