Deciding to separate from your child’s other parent is a difficult decision to make and one that opens up the door to many questions.
If how to take care of your child is the most critical question you have upon separation, you are not alone. Determining child custody is a common but complicated process involving many considerations.
In deciding how you and your child’s other parent will take care of your child, there are two routes you can take. No matter which way you take, your child’s best interest must come first.
The first route is for you and the other parent to come up with a parenting plan without involving the court.
A parenting plan is a comprehensive agreement that lays out how both parents will make decisions for the child, where the child will live, when the child will spend parenting time with each parent, and how the child’s expenses will be shared. Parents can create the parenting plan on their own or with the help of a mediator or attorneys. Attorneys and mediators can help parents include all the aspects of raising a child that need to be decided that parents may overlook on their own. Some factors include what to do with the child during holidays, when the child may travel outside the country, who will decide which camps the child will attend during summer break, how each parent’s family may be involved in the child’s life, and many more.
If you and the other parent can communicate well, a parenting plan may be your best option. Parents know their child best and will be able to craft the parenting plan in a way that both parents know will help ease the child into the separation and new way of living with their parents. Suppose you and the other parent can come up with a parenting plan without involving the court. In that case, you can then ask the court to accept your parenting plan as a custody order so that if a significant change in circumstances happens or if either parent ever fails to follow the parenting plan, the court has the authority to modify or enforce the parenting plan.
If you and the child’s other parent cannot come up with a parenting plan on your own, the court will need to decide child custody.
The court will decide both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is parents’ rights and responsibilities to make significant decisions for their child. These decisions include the child’s medical care, mental health care, education, religion, and extracurricular activities. The court can give both parents equal rights in making these decisions. Sometimes the court may give both parents the right to make these decisions but give one parent “tie-breaking authority” if the parents can not reach a decision. The parent with tie-breaking authority will get to make the final decision after genuine efforts to reach a decision together have failed. Suppose the court thinks that the parents are not capable of communicating well when it comes to their child. In that case, it can give one parent sole legal custody, which means that parent gets to make significant decisions for the child without consulting the other parent.
The court will also decide physical custody, meaning how many nights the child sleeps in each parent’s home. Physical custody also includes the parent’s right to make the day-to-day decision for a child. These include decisions like, “can my child have a playdate,” ” can my child watch that movie,” and other decisions of that nature. Because child support in Maryland largely depends on the number of nights the child spends with each parent, the court will also decide how much child support will need to be paid and by which parent.
The court will look at many different factors to make its custody decision.
Some of these factors include whether any domestic violence has ever occurred, who has been the child’s primary caregiver, the child’s age, and how far away the parents live from each other. These factors are all used to determine what is best for the child; the court does not want the parents’ decision to live separately to affect the child any more negatively than possible. The most important factor the court will look at in deciding whether both parents should share legal and physical custody is how they communicate with each other. The court realizes separation causes tension between the parents. Still, it looks to see if they can put what is going on between them aside to do what is best for the child.
Figuring out how to best raise your child while separating as parents will be challenging and emotional. Whether you choose to come up with a parenting plan outside of court or have the court make custody decisions, an experienced family law attorney can help you come up with the best solution for your child.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The Firm practices family law, estate planning, and probate throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The Firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone and is there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The Firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and its attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.