Custody and Visitation

Maryland law presumes that both biological parents are the natural custodians of their minor child.  However, either parent may petition the court for custody.  Disputes over custody and visitation typically arise between two parents but may also arise between a parent and other third party.  Our family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy have represented mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, and other third parties in custody and visitation matters.

In addition to the emotional aspect of custody and visitation cases, there are often other complicating factors.  Our family law attorneys are experienced in handling cases where these complex factors, such as substance abuse or mental health concerns, arise.

Paternity Establishment

In some cases, establishing paternity, or having the court formally recognize the father’s relationship to the child, is an important first step to pursuing custody and visitation.  Paternity can be established by the marital presumption, by both parents signing an Affidavit of Parentage at the time of the child’s birth, or by court order.

Maryland law provides that when a child is conceived or born to a married woman, there is a presumption of legitimacy for the child; the woman’s husband is automatically presumed to be the child’s biological father, even if the parties were separated with the intention of getting a divorce at the time the child was conceived or born.  Challenging this presumption is difficult and cannot be done simply by testimony of the husband and wife.

Our family law attorneys have experience in establishing paternity and challenging the marital presumption of paternity by testimony of third parties, DNA evidence, and other means.

Types of Custody

In Maryland, there are two main types of custody – legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody refers to the decision-making authority to make major life decisions for the minor child, including decisions regarding his or her education, health, religious upbringing, and general welfare.  Parents can jointly hold legal custody, or one parent may be granted sole legal custody of the child.  On the other hand, physical custody refers to where the child resides and how much time he or she spends with each parent.  Parents can share physical custody, or one parent may be granted primary physical custody with visitation or access awarded to the other.

If you believe there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm to your minor child, you may ask the court for emergency custody.  A hearing on emergency custody generally takes place within a few days after the filing of the request.  An order granting emergency custody is temporary, and you will need to pursue a custody and visitation action to obtain a final order.

In all custody and visitation cases, the court looks at what is in the best interests of the child.  There are designated factors that the court must consider in determining what is in the best interests of the child.  Such factors include, but are not limited to, the parents’ physical and psychological capabilities, each parent’s ability to maintain family relationships, the child’s age, health, and preference, and the distance between the parents’ two homes.

Interstate Custody Disputes

Our family law attorneys have assisted clients with interstate custody disputes, including cases where the parents agree to live in two different states, where one parent needs to move out-of-state for a new job, and where one parent has taken the child without permission.  At Brown, Goldstein & Levy, we work closely with our clients to understand their goals, and to devise an appropriate strategy to achieve those goals in the best interests of the minor child.  We do not give up on finding a child, using all means available through the investigative and legal process to reunite the child with a parent.

Modification of Custody and Visitation

To modify a custody or visitation order, you must first prove to the court that there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the current order.  The material change must be one that affects the child, and not solely the parent.  Once the court has found that a material change exists, you must then prove that modification of the current order is in the best interests of the minor child.  Because Maryland law encourages stability for the benefit of the minor child, convincing the court to modify custody or visitation can be difficult.  The family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy have extensive experience in working with clients to modify custody and visitation orders with and without court intervention.