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Is a Statutory Presumption of Joint Custody in Maryland in the Best Interest of Children?

There is currently legislation pending before the Maryland General Assembly that would create a rebuttable presumption that joint legal and physical custody to each parent for equal periods of time is in the best interest of the child in certain custody proceedings. You can find the pending legislation at the Maryland General Assembly’s website. This bill would require parties in custody proceedings to overcome the statutory presumption that joint custody is in the child’s best interest. This would mean parties would enter a custody hearing on equal footing with respect to having the child in their shared custody and the Judge would have to find that one of the parties met their burden of overcoming the presumption in order to award a party sole physical or legal custody. The presumption aligns with the rights of parents without a custody order, in that parents have equal rights to their children, without a custody order stating otherwise. However, there is currently a great debate among family law attorneys over this pending legislation. Those who propose the bill support fathers’ rights, believe that parents may fight less over custody if the presumption is in place, and believe this takes such an important decision out of the court’s hands. Those who oppose the bill believe that the parties who have to take their custody case to trial should not be the ones who have a presumption of joint custody because they can not get along. Further, they do not believe that this decision should be taken out of the court’s hands, that the other best interest factors will not be considered if the presumption is in place, that those who are awarded joint custody who can not communicate will be back in court again and again, and that the current system is working well.

As we discussed in our October 23, 2009 blog, the current standard that is used when determining custody of a child is the “best interest standard.” This is a standard in which Judges consider a number of factors such as the parents fitness, relationship of child and parents, children’s current environment, ability to maintain natural family relationships, who has been the primary care giver, wishes of child in some circumstances, any agreement the parents have made, prior abandonment of a child by a parent, the age and health of the child, and many, many other factors to determine what custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.

For more information on custody please contact an experienced Maryland custody attorney.