Natural Guardians & Child Custody Under Maryland Family Law
Maryland law applies a multifaceted series of duties and responsibilities for child custody. For parents, guardians, and custodians, they are responsible for the support, nurture, welfare, and education of the children under their care. In that vein, Maryland provides special considerations for a child’s birth mother and father, who are referred to as natural guardians.
Maryland Definitions of Mother & Father
Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-1001 defines the terms mother and father. The term “mother” refers to the individual who gives birth to the child, regardless of gender. Though in certain cases where parentage is established before birth, the term mother may apply to a different individual.
Under Section 5-1001, the term “father” refers to the individual, regardless of gender, whose sperm fertilizes the ovum and leads to the child’s birth. Sperm donors are not usually considered a child’s father, unless:
- The mother and the donor agree in writing that the donor will be the child’s father; or
- The donor is married to the mother at the time of conception.
Natural Guardianship in Maryland
Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-203 provides the legal considerations for natural guardianship. From a macro standpoint, a child’s birth parents — their mother and father — serve jointly as the natural guardians of a child.
Maryland family law treats a child’s natural guardians in an equal fashion. Neither parent is presumed to have superior custody rights to the other parent. As joint natural guardians, the mother and father of a child must jointly and severally:
- Support the child;
- Care for the child;
- Nurture the child;
- Safeguard the child’s welfare and best interests; and
- Provide for the child’s education.
That being said, one parent may become the sole natural guardian of a child if:
- The other parent dies;
- The other parent abandons the family; or
- The other parent is incapable of fulfilling their parental duties.
Maryland Rules for a Child’s Domicile
Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-204 furnishes the rules for a child’s domicile. When a child lives with their natural guardians, they all share the same domicile. But in certain cases, the child’s domicile may only match up with one of their parents.
If a child only has one living parent — or one parent is the sole natural guardian — the child’s domicile is the same as their parent/guardian. If the parents live apart, however, the child’s domicile is the same as:
- The parent who has custody over the child; or
- The parent with whom the child lives, if there is not a custody award.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about child custody in Maryland, it can be exceptionally worthwhile to reach out to a diligent Bel Air child custody attorney. The attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered have more than 60 years of combined legal experience in family and criminal law, including child custody. If you need legal help, contact us today for an initial consultation.