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Legal Information: Maryland

Maryland Custody

Laws current as of November 27, 2023

What is custody?

Custody is generally the physical care and supervision of a child under 18 years of age and the legal responsibility of the child’s long-term needs. When the court issues a custody order, it will address these two parts of custody:

Physical custody is the physical care and supervision of a child.  In other words, it addresses who the child will live with on a day-to-day basis and who will make decisions that come up during that time.1

Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make long-range plans and decisions for the child’s education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significance to the child’s welfare.2

1 Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9.5-101; Taylor v. Taylor, 508 A.2d 964, 967 (Md. 1986)
2 The People’s Law Library of Maryland; Taylor v. Taylor, 508 A.2d 964, 967 (Md. 1986)

What are the different types of custody arrangements that can be issued?

According to the The People’s Law Library of Maryland, the following forms of custody exist in Maryland:

Sole custody is when both legal and physical custody are given to one parent. The child has only one primary residence.

Split custody is easiest to describe in a situation where there are two children and each parent obtains full physical custody over one child.  Some of the considerations that may cause this type of custody arrangement are the age of the children and each child’s preference.

Joint custody is actually broken down into three categories:

  • Joint legal custody is where the parents share care and control of the upbringing of the child, but the child has only one primary residence;
  • In shared physical custody the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of his/her time with one other parent and the rest of the time with the other;
  • Additionally, a person can make his/her own joint custody agreement that is any combination of shared physical and joint legal custody.  One example of this is when there is one residence for the child and the parents rotate living there with the child.1

Note: In Maryland, judges deciding custody do not automatically give preference to either the mother or the father.2

1 See The People’s Law Library of Maryland website
2 Md. Code, Fam. Law § 5-203(d)(2)

What is visitation?

Visitation usually involves timed visits with the child that are either supervised or unsupervised. Supervised visitation is when the parent is only allowed to visit with the child in the company of another person.  Supervised visitation often calls for a restriction of visitation to a particular location and time.  Visitation does not give decision-making responsibility or long-term care of the child.  A parent that does not have custody often has some form of visitation.1 Guidelines for visitation are often included in the official custody order issued by the judge.

1The People’s Law Library of Maryland website; MD Law Encyclopedia, Parent and Child § 17

Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request although this may depend on your situation.

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to MD Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

What is mediation? Is it ordered for victims of abuse?

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.1

If a judge orders mediation, s/he will choose the mediator. However, the parties can file a request to change the court-designated mediator to another mediator who has the proper qualifications by filing with the court a “Request to Substitute Mediator” within 15 days after service of the order of referral to mediation.2 The judge can order the parents to attend a maximum of four hours in one or two mediation sessions. Upon the recommendation of the mediator, the court may order up to four additional hours if the judge believes there is good cause to do so. If the parties agree, they can extend the mediation beyond these hours.3

If you can show the court that you or your child has been abused or there is coercive control in your relationship, and that mediation would be inappropriate because of this, the court may not order mediation.4

1 MD Rule §§ 9-205; 17-102(g)
2 MD Rule § 9-205(d)
3 MD Rule § 9-205(h)
4 MD Rule § 9-205(b)(2)

Who pays for mediation?

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.1

1 MD Rule § 9-205(l)(2)