Know the Laws: Maryland
UPDATED August 16, 2016
This page provides legal information on custody law in Maryland. WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a lawyer or domestic violence organization in your area before proceeding with court action. To find help, please go to the MD Finding a Lawyer page.
When deciding who will have custody, a judge will try to make an arrangement that s/he thinks is in the best interest of your child. The court will base its decision on many factors. Some of the things a judge will consider are:
You do not need a lawyer to file for custody. However, it may be difficult for you to file a proper petition and to represent yourself in court without the help of a lawyer. As with all custody issues, it is strongly suggested that you try to get a lawyer to help you, especially if the other parent has a lawyer. For a list of legal resources, some of which may be able to help for free or low cost, please see our MD Finding a Lawyer page.
You can only file for custody in court if that court has the legal ability to take the case. This is called “jurisdiction.” Maryland follows a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which determines what state has jurisdiction over custody cases (meaning where you can file for custody).
Under the UCCJEA, you can generally only file for custody in the "home state" of the child* but there are exceptions to this. See Are there exceptions to the "home state rule?" for more information.
The "home state" is generally the state where the child has lived with a parent (or a person acting as a parent) for at least the past 6 consecutive months. In the case of a child less than 6 months old, the "home state" is the state where the child has lived since s/he was born. Leaving the state for a short time then coming back does not change anything.**
If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least 6 months. Until then, the other parent may be able to start a custody case in the state that your children most recently lived in for at least 6 months.** However, there are some exceptions to this. Please speak to a lawyer regarding the specifics of your case to find out where to file.
Here are some basic examples:
Yes. There are two main exceptions to the home state rule. Please note that this can be complicated, and we strongly suggest you talk to a lawyer before filing anything -- if there are two states involved, you may want to get advice from a lawyer in each. Go to our MD Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. if you think this applies to your situation, you may want to talk to a lawyer in both states about this.
First, if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state have jurisdiction, you may be able to file for custody in another state if:
The steps for filing for custody may vary depending on your particular situation. Custody matters are often very complicated and if you can hire an attorney to draft the paperwork for you, it might make the process a lot simpler. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit the MD Finding a Lawyer page. However, if you are going to file for custody on your own, you may find the forms you need by going to the Maryland Courts website.
Mediation is a process where both parents work with a qualified neutral person (a mediator) who, without providing legal advice, assists the parents in reaching an agreement regarding custody and or/ visitation. A mediator may identify issues and options, assist the parties or their attorneys in exploring what they want/need from a custody order, and, upon request, the mediator can write down terms that the parties agree upon.*
If a judge orders mediation, s/he will choose the mediator.** The judge can order the parents to attend up to two mediation sessions to start; and up to two more sessions may be ordered if the judge and mediator agree that it is needed.***
If you can show the court that you or your child has been physically or sexually abused, and that mediation would be inappropriate because of this, the court is not supposed to order mediation.****
* MD Rule §§ 9-205; 17-102(d)
** MD Rule § 9-205(b)(1)(B),(b)(3)
*** MD Rule § 9-205(c)(1)
**** MD Rule § 9-205(b)(2)
The judge can decide how the costs and fees for mediation should be divided between the parents, and the judge can order the parents to pay. However, the judge may also waive payment all together, which means that no one has to pay.*
* MD Rule § 9-205(g)
WomensLaw.org would like to thank Shannon Gaskin, the Managing Attorney at the House of Ruth in Maryland, for her assistance in an original version of this page.