Maryland determines child custody arrangements based on a standard known as the “best interests of the child.” Under normal circumstances, there is a strong presumption that it is best for the child to have regular and sustained contact with both biological parents. In this way, joint physical and legal custody is the most common result achieved in child custody proceedings. A parent who wants to obtain sole custody over the objections of the other parent must be able to show in court why such an arrangement would be in the child’s best interests.
Courts have broad discretion in child custody cases, but Maryland law does direct them to consider certain factors. A parent may be able to get sole physical custody — and in some cases even sole legal custody — of his or her minor children if:
- The other parent has a history of child abuse or neglect
- The other parent has shown a past inability to care for children
- The other parent has unsuitable living arrangements
- The child is over the age of 12 and has indicated a strong preference for staying with one parent
- The other parent has had little or no prior contact with the child
- The parents live too far apart to make joint custody feasible
Most Maryland family law attorneys will tell you that getting sole custody is often a fight. These cases can rarely be resolved through negotiation and parents and their lawyers must be ready to put forth a compelling and well-supported case in court. It is also important for parents to realize that even if they gain sole custody, it may still be subject to visitation. Visitation rights are almost always available to noncustodial parents, even if there is a history of abuse or neglect.