Bethesda Child Custody Attorney

maryland divorce attorneys

When going through a divorce or separation as a parent, one of the most important aspects of the process is establishing child custody. In Maryland, the courts recognize that it is in a child’s best interests to spend meaningful time with both parents (except in rare circumstances), and all child custody determinations focus on protecting the best interests of the children involved. Bethesda child custody attorney Brandon Bernstein has been helping divorcing and separating parents establish parenting plans for more than a decade. He can use his experience to help you secure your desired custody rights in accordance with Maryland law—amicably if possible and in court if necessary.

In addition to representing parents during divorces and separations, Brandon also assists parents with enforcing and modifying their child custody rights. Regardless of your specific needs, we can help if you have questions about child custody, and we encourage you to schedule a time to discuss your personal circumstances in confidence.

Establishing Child Custody Rights During a Divorce or Separation

Maryland still primarily follows the established case law in Taylor v. Taylor and Montgomery County v. Sanders; but it should be noted that the state’s child custody laws underwent a major overhaul in 2020. As a result of this overhaul, the factors for determining a child’s best interests are now specifically enumerated in Maryland Rule 9-204.1. This Rule also encourages parents to develop a mutually-agreeable parenting plan during their divorce or separation—addressing both legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (parenting time) with their children’s best interests in mind.

Maryland’s “best interests factors” are both non-binding and non-exclusive. Maryland Rule 9-204.1 states that parents “may” consider these factors along with “[a]ny other factor deemed appropriate by the parties.” With that said, divorcing and separating parents will want to focus on these factors in the vast majority of scenarios, giving due weight to each individual factor based on their unique family circumstances. Some examples of Maryland’s “best interests factors” include:

  • The stability and foreseeable health and welfare of the child;
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and any siblings, other relatives or other “individuals who are or may become important in the child’s life”;
  • The child’s developmental needs, including physical safety, emotional security and cognitive growth;
  • The child’s day-to-day needs, including education, socialization, and mental and physical health;
  • The child’s age;
  • The parents’ ability to communicate and resolve disputes without intervention; and,
  • The location of each parent’s home in relation to the child’s school and activities.

If divorcing or separating parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding legal custody, physical custody or both, they must submit a Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time to the court. The court will then issue a binding decision, taking into consideration any areas of agreement and the relevant “best interests factors.” While this will be necessary in some cases, Bethesda child custody attorney Brandon Bernstein has had significant success helping parents amicably negotiate comprehensive parenting plans even in highly contentious situations.

When divorcing or separating parents are willing to work together, they have a variety of options for developing a parenting plan that addresses their respective needs and desires while also complying with Maryland law. If you and your spouse or partner are interested in an alternative custody arrangement—such as co-parenting or bird’s nest custody—Brandon can work with you to develop a plan that will serve your family for years to come.

A Bethesda Child Custody Attorney Can Assist with Enforcements & Modifications

In Maryland, violating the terms of a child custody order or parenting plan can be a serious legal matter. If your former spouse or partner has violated your child custody rights, you have clear legal remedies available. Bethesda child custody attorney Brandon Bernstein can assess your situation and help you decide how to move forward—whether this involves attempting to work out an amicable resolution or filing an enforcement action in court.

Obtaining court approval for modification of a child custody order or parenting plan requires evidence of a material change in circumstances. If your current child custody arrangement is no longer working, Brandon can help you seek a modification based on events that have transpired subsequent to your separation or divorce. Negotiating a modification is an option as well—and, here too, the terms of your agreement must comply with Maryland’s “best interests of the child” standard.

FAQs: Understanding Child Custody in the Context of a Divorce or Separation in Maryland

Is It Possible to Obtain Sole Custody in Maryland?

While it is possible to obtain sole custody in Maryland, sole custody awards are generally reserved for cases in which it is not in a child’s best interests to spend time with one parent after a divorce or separation—usually due to concerns of violence, drug use, incarceration or similar types of issues. One must also keep in mind and be aware of the factors related to sole legal and physical custody. Sole legal custody can be granted in cases where parents can’t communicate and reach shared decisions. However, primary physical custody generally means a child can spend a certain number of overnights with one parent. As of now, the law allows for shared physical custody even if the non-primary parent has the child for 92 overnights a year.

Do Maryland’s Child Custody Laws Favor the Mother in Opposite-Sex Separations and Divorces?

No, Maryland’s child custody laws do not favor either parent. The child’s best interests are the central focus in all cases.

How Can I Get My Spouse or Partner to Agree to a Reasonable Child Custody Arrangement?

Even if your spouse or partner is being unreasonable, it may still be possible to negotiate a mutually-agreeable parenting plan. There are several tactics an experienced Bethesda child custody attorney will be able to use to help steer your negotiations in the right direction.

Is the Parent Who Receives Primary Physical Custody Entitled to Child Support?

While child custody and child support are related to an extent, a parent who receives primary physical custody won’t necessarily be entitled to child support in all cases. There are several other factors involved in determining parents’ child support obligations as well.

Is Co-Parenting an Option in Maryland?

Yes, co-parenting is an option in Maryland, and it is becoming increasingly popular among divorcing and separating parents who have young children. If you are interested in co-parenting, we encourage you to contact us to learn more.

At What Age Can a Child Choose to Live With a Parent?

Child custody decisions are among the most contentious and emotionally burdensome issues in family law. Parents develop unique bonds with their children during the marriage, but divorce can test those bonds. As such, family law courts approach these issues with great sensitivity, looking at the circumstances in their totality and trying to make the best decision for all parties involved.

When determining whether a particular custody arrangement will be in the best interests of a child, Maryland courts consider the following factors, among others:

  • The fitness of each parent
  • The child’s primary caregiver
  • The child’s preference
  • The ability to maintain family relationships
  • The material opportunities afforded by each parent
  • The character and reputation of the parents
  • The age, health, and gender of the child
  • The residences of the parents and the opportunity for visitation
  • Any prior abandonment or surrender of custody
  • Any agreements between the parents concerning custody

A child cannot choose to live with a parent at any age. However, the courts do take the child’s preferences into consideration as one factor among many. The weight courts give to such preferences depends upon the child’s age, the child’s ability to make rational choices, and the child’s ability to tell the truth. This generally means that the older and more mature the child is, the more weight will be given to his or her preference.

Once a child custody order is in place, a child who is the subject of that order may file a petition to modify it — including a change of residence — when he or she is 16 years old or older. The court will then hold a hearing to allow the child an opportunity to be heard. If the court determines that the child’s request is in his or her best interest, it will modify the order and place the child in the custody of the child’s preferred parent. If your child wishes to modify a custody agreement, please consider speaking with a Bethesda child custody attorney.

Types of Child Custody Arrangements

There are two forms of custody in Maryland family law: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of a parent to make decisions affecting the child’s health, safety, and welfare. This includes the child’s education, relationships with other family members, religious observance, and medical care, among other issues. Physical custody refers to the right and responsibility of a parent to care for the child’s physical and day-to-day needs. This includes providing for the child’s housing, clothing, meals, hygiene, and supervision, among other things.

It is not uncommon for divorced parents to share both legal and physical custody of their children. Courts generally prefer shared physical custody, but there are some situations in which the child may be better served by living with only one parent most of the time. However, these decisions are intensely fact-specific; for more information about the types of custody arrangements available in Maryland, please contact a Bethesda child custody attorney.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation with Bethesda Child Custody Attorney Brandon Bernstein

If you have questions about child custody, your next step is to schedule a free initial consultation. Please call 240-395-1418 or get in touch online to schedule an appointment with Bethesda child custody attorney Brandon Bernstein today.