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The Best Interests Of The Child Standard Under Maryland Law


Many years ago, the courts would often favor mothers in child custody hearings under the belief that children needed their mothers more than their fathers as they were growing up. The law in all 50 states has evolved from that standard and now employs another: the best interests of the children. In many states, the law lists factors that the courts can consider when determining the best interests of the children. Maryland, however, relied on case law and judges to determine the best interests of the child. That is, until 2020, when the Maryland statutes provided some clarification on the matter. Today, Rule 9-204.1 sets out 14 factors that judges may consider when deciding a child custody matter. In this article, the Maryland divorce lawyers at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered will discuss the best interests of the child standard and how judges make decisions regarding child custody.

Understanding Rule 9-204.1 

Rule 9-204.1 sets forth 14 best interest factors for the courts to consider. These include:

  • The stability and foreseeable health and welfare of the child
  • Continuing contact with parties who can act in the child’s best interests
  • Whether parties who do not live together can share the responsibility of raising the child
  • The child’s relationship with each party and other family members who are important in the child’s life
  • The child’s physical and emotional security (protection from conflict and violence)
  • Whether the spouse can safeguard the child’s developmental needs including safety, security, positive self-image, interpersonal skills, and intellectual growth
  • Whether the spouse can see to the day-to-day needs of the child including their education, socialization, culture and religion, food, shelter, clothing, etc…
  • Whether the spouse can place the child’s needs above their own
  • The age of the child
  • The impact of military deployment on the child
  • Prior court orders and agreements
  • The location of each party’s home in relation to the child
  • The spouses’ ability to act together in the best interests of the child
  • The child’s preference, if they are old enough to have an opinion

How is this standard employed during a child custody hearing?

Judges are allowed to consider any and all of these factors applying as much or as little weight to them as they deem meritorious. In other words, judges have broad discretion in child custody hearings to assign custody and visitation as they wish. Judges tend to focus on ensuring the stability of the child’s environment, maintaining the status quo throughout the divorce, and ensuring that both parents are morally and financially capable of raising the children.

In complex custody battles, the court may appoint a Best Interest Attorney who investigates the matter on behalf of the court and makes recommendations concerning the child’s best interests. All of this can be very confusing to parents who are involved in a custody matter. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call our office and ask.

Talk to a Maryland Child Custody Attorney Today

Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered, represent the interests of Maryland residents who are seeking to divorce their partners. Call our Bel Air family lawyers today to schedule an appointment, and we will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

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