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 (under 18 years of age). 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)
2The 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 MD:
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 are some of the advantages and disadvantages of getting a custody order?
There are many reasons people choose not to file for custody. Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don’t want to get the courts involved. Some parents make an informal agreement that works well for them. Some parents think going to court will provoke the other parent, or they are worried that if a custody case is started, the other parent will suddenly fight for (and get) more custody or visitation rights than they are comfortable with.
However, getting a custody order from a court can give you certain legal rights. Getting a custody order can give you:
- the right to make major decisions about your child and/or
- the right to residency (to have your child live with you).
However, if you file for custody, the other parent may also request these rights and it may be up to the judge to decide (if the parents can’t come to an agreement).
We strongly recommend talking to a lawyer who can help you think through if filing for custody would be best for you, depending on the facts of your situation. You can find referrals for legal help by clicking on the MD Finding a Lawyer page.
Some people think they should file for custody so they can get child support. While custody and child support are related, you do not necessarily need a custody order to get child support. A custody order will not automatically give you child support. For information on filing for child support, you can contact your local courthouse by going to our MD Courthouse Locations page or talk to a lawyer.
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.
Is there any difference between custody and visitation?
Yes. Custody gives one parent or both parents the right to provide care and supervision for the child, and the right to make long-term decisions for the child. See What is custody? for more information.
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