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What Must You Prove To Modify A Custody Agreement In Maryland?


In Maryland, child custody refers to the legal and physical arrangements made for the upbringing of a child. In any divorce case involving children, a final order is entered detailing each parent’s legal and physical custody rights with regard to each child. The parent who does not have primary custody still has visitation or access rights . The ultimate goal of a custody arrangement is to advance the best interests of the children and foster a consistent and nurturing environment.

Custody arrangements are made pursuant to a divorce settlement or court decree in Maryland. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t subject to change. Circumstances may arise that warrant making a modification to a custody agreement. In this article, the Maryland family law attorneys at Schlaich and Thompson, Chartered will discuss modifications of custody orders and how they work under Maryland law.

Types of custody in Maryland 

In Maryland, there are two types of custody under the law: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the authority and responsibility to make key decisions in the child’s life. This include decisions related to a child’s upbringing, education, medical care, and religious instruction. Joint legal custody refers to a situation where both parents have a say in these key decisions; whereas sole legal custody refers to a situation where only one parent makes those decisions.

Physical custody, on the other hand, pertains to where a child resides. One parent may have primary physical custody of a child or, by contrast, a child may split time between two households (joint physical custody).

What is the standard for modifying a child custody agreement in Maryland? 

The Maryland courts primarily apply the “best interests of the child” standard when deciding any factor related to custody. This principal guides courts in determining the most favorable environment for a child’s well-being. Factors the court considers when determining the best interests of the children include:

  • The child’s own preferences (depending on their age and maturity level)
  • The nature of the relationship that the child maintains with each parent
  • The proximity of the homes of each of the parents
  • The mental, physical, and financial fitness of the parents to provide for the children
  • Prior roles each parent has played in the child’s life

Proving a change in circumstances to affect a custody modification in Maryland 

Before a Maryland court will revisit a custody order, the parents need to establish that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. The courts presume that the child needs to have a stable life, so it is heavily invested in the child’s status quo. A change in a custody order can be difficult for a child. So, the courts require a “substantial change” to modify an existing order. This can include:

  • Relocation of a parent to another state
  • A major change in the parent’s employment status
  • Changes to a child’s unique needs
  • Substantial changes to the child’s school or extracurricular activities

The party petitioning for the modification has the burden of proving that a significant change in the circumstances of the parents or the children is enough to warrant a modification of an existing custody arrangement.

Talk to a Maryland Child Custody Attorney Today 

Schlaich and Thompson, Chartered represent the interests of parents who are attempting to modify an existing child custody agreement. Call our Bel Air family law attorneys today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin addressing your concerns right away.

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