Does Maryland Family Law Allow Children to Request Custody Changes?
The Maryland state courts will usually issue a child custody order when unmarried or divorced parents live apart. Subject to the best interests of the child, these orders provide specific rules for parenting time, living arrangements, visitation, and many other important considerations. Though in certain situations, a minor child may request a change to the existing custody order.
What Child Custody Rights are Available to Parents in Maryland?
As provided in Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-203, a child’s biological parents have equal custody rights. Neither parent is presumed to have superior custody rights over the other parent. Instead, both parents are considered joint natural guardians of their minor children.
As joint natural guardians, both parents are equally responsible for their child’s care, education, nurture, support, and welfare. Though either parent may become the child’s sole natural guardian if:
- The other parent dies;
- The other parent deserts the family; or
- The other parent is or becomes incapable of handling parental duties.
If the parents live apart, the Maryland state courts may award:
- Joint custody between both parents; or
- Sole custody to either parent.
How Do the Maryland Courts Determine Child Custody?
All child custody rights under Maryland family law are subject to the best interests standard. In other words, a state court must determine that awarding custody is in the best interests of the children involved. This standard exists to protect the welfare and safety of children subject to custody orders.
In considering a child’s best interests, the Maryland courts evaluate numerous factors, including but not limited to:
- Physical and mental fitness of each parent to carry out required parental duties;
- Role each parent plays in the caregiving, nurturing, and supporting the child;
- Instances of either parent committing child abuse or neglect or presenting a risk of child abuse or neglect;
- Character and reputation of each parent;
- Age, health, and gender of the child;
- Financial circumstances of each parent; and
- Child’s preference, typically once the child reaches an age of 10 to 12 years old.
Can a Child Request Changes to Custody in Maryland?
As explained in Maryland Code of Family Law Section 9-103, it is possible for a child to request custody changes. Under this section, a child gains this right at the age of 16 years old. At that point, the child may file a petition directly with the courts to change custody, without the assistance of a guardian.
Upon receipt of a request to change custody, Section 9-103 requires the Maryland state courts to:
- Conduct a hearing to evaluate the request to change custody; and
- Determine whether granting the request will serve the child’s best interests.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about child custody or other aspects of Maryland family law, it can be helpful to consult with a skilled family law attorney. Don’t hesitate to contact the Bel Air family attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered for help today.