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6 Variations of Child Custody Arrangements in Maryland


Child custody is an important consideration for unmarried parents and divorced couples. If either parent can obtain sole custody, then they have the power to control most aspects of their children’s lives. To understand the boundaries of this legal issue, the following sections will explore six concepts involved in child custody arrangements in Maryland.

  1. Temporary Custody

Temporary custody is often referred to legally as “pendente lite” custody, which translates to “pending litigation.” In other words, temporary custody happens during the divorce process. The court will consider the best interests of the children involved and award temporary custody to either parent or will order that the parents will share custody temporarily. At the conclusion of the divorce process, the court will make a final custody determination.

  1. Legal Custody

A parent with legal custody has the right to make many decisions concerning their children’s welfare. Legal custody extends to many significant aspects of a child’s life, including but not limited to academics, healthcare and religion.

  1. Physical Custody

A parent with physical custody oversees the day-to-day needs of their children. Physical custody allows a spouse to spend time with their children in person.   The children could be in the primary physical custody of one parent and have visitation with the other parent, or they could be in the shared physical custody of both parents and spend substantial time with both parents.

  1. Sole Legal Custody

A parent with sole legal custody has the exclusive right to make decisions for their children.  A variation of this is joint legal custody with “tie breaking” authority to one parent in which the parties must consult with one another and share information on the issue being decided, but if they cannot reach an agreement then one parent has the authority to impose a decision.

  1. Split Custody

In a split custody arrangement, the parents split up custody of their children. For example, in a divorced family with two children, each parent could assume primary physical custody of one child. But as always, the courts will consider the best interests of the children involved before awarding split custody.

  1. Joint Custody

There are three types of joint custody in Maryland: Joint Legal Custody, Shared Physical Custody and Combination Joint Custody.

Joint Legal Custody

In a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents participate in the decision-making process. When the parents disagree on a decision or approach, there may be a tie-breaking mechanism in place.

Shared Physical Custody

In a shared physical custody arrangement, the children split their time living with both parents. The children must spend at least 35 percent of the overnights residing with each parent.

Combination Joint Custody

In a combination joint custody arrangement, the courts or parents may decide on a mixture of joint legal custody and shared physical custody. Such a custody arrangement must satisfy the best interests of the children involved.

Contact Us Today for Help

If you need help with a child custody dispute in Maryland, it can be extremely helpful to contact a trustworthy family law attorney. The attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered in Bel Air, Maryland, have more than 55 years of combined legal experience in matters of criminal defense and family law, including child support disputes. If you need legal help, contact us for an initial consultation.

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