It is common for grandparents of a child to seek custody when they believe the parents are unfit to the point of endangering the child’s welfare — and very often, the Courts rule in their favor when it is found to be in the best interests of the child. But one significant Maryland case drew the line a few years ago, in a decision that is especially relevant today to families serving in the military.
In McDermott v Dougherty, the maternal grandparents of a little boy filed for custody when his parents sought a divorce, claiming that the father’s job as a merchant marine — which caused him to be away at sea for months at a time — met the requirement of exceptional circumstances that warranted the removal of custody. The lower courts approved and upheld the awarding of custody to the grandparents, asserting that the arrangement would be in the best interests of the child.
But the Court of Appeals overturned the decision, establishing that a court cannot award custody to third parties, even if it might be in the best interests of the child, without first finding:
- Both of the child’s natural parents are unfit
- Extraordinary circumstances exist that would make continued custody by the parents significantly detrimental to the child
In addition, the Court stated that it would be absurd to deny custody to a fit and willing parent whose means of supporting his family required his periodic absence, so long as he arranged suitable and safe care for the child while he was gone. The precedent has been hailed as a significant boost to military parents, whose custody might otherwise be challenged.
The Baltimore Grandparents Rights lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC provide legal advice and support for all matters pertaining to divorce and child custody including the rights of grandparents. Call our Hunt Valley, MD office today at (443) 589-0150 to arrange a free consultation with a qualified Baltimore County Grandparents Rights lawyer or contact us online.