While the finality of a divorce can be freeing, the minutia of the divorce process can be mentally, physically, and financially draining. If your divorce includes the determination of a child custody agreement, your stress will likely double. On top of maintaining your personal well-being and future post-divorce, you also have to do so for your children.
Your future ex will be doing the same. You both want what’s best for the children, and in many cases, these two opinions are vastly different. If the relationship between both parties is amicable enough to agree on a fair custody agreement through one-on-one compromise or professional mediation, that’s great. However, that reality is rare. Many custody disagreements end up as custody battles, leading to litigation.
As you would expect, litigation is much more expensive than mediation. Also, the decision of the custody agreement will now be up to the court, not the parties seeking custody. The judge will determine custody based on the best interests of the children.
The question remains, what elements does the judge consider when determining “best interests” and assigning custody?
The determinations vary by state, but the overarching theme does not change. After hearing testimony and judging evidence, The judge finalizes their decision by concluding which setting is best for the children’s current and future development.
Maryland’s “best interest” elements
When considering primary or joint custody, the focus remains on the children. The primary factors that are weighed by the judge include the following.
- Primary caretaker: Which parent handles the brunt of the child care load? Factors like feeding, shopping, bathing, school preparedness, and transportation, among others, will be considered.
- Parental fitness: How mentally and physically capable are the parties seeking custody?
- Integrity and public reputation
- Current custody agreements (if applicable)
- Familial relationship maintenance: Which party will most likely allow the children to maintain meaningful family relationships with their ex’s family members (grandparents, cousins). In other words, which party is less likely to penalize the children due to the split with their spouse.
- Preference of the child: Maryland courts will hear from children as young as five if the child can discern fact from fiction and tell the truth. Depending on the severity of the custody dispute, a judge will appoint an attorney to represent the child solely.
- Each parent’s finacial situation
- Each child’s age, gender and health
- Residence proximity: The location of each parent’s home in relation to the child’s extended family, school, friends and other parent’s residence
- Length of previous parental separation
- Surrender of custody: Which parent left home when the separation occurred
- Parental abandonment: Did one parent ever leave and force one parent to adhere to all parental duties
- Religious views: If any form of religion is commonly practiced in the home and would affect the well-being of the children if removed, the judge will heavily weigh this element.
- Parental and child disabilities (if applicable)
If your custody disagreement does reach litigation and you do not agree with the court’s decision, you can consider an appeal. Just as the court will, when divorcing with children, weigh the consequences of your choices with the effects it may have on your children.