Factors Considered in Custody Cases & Proving Material Changes in Circumstances
The court’s primary concern in any custody case is to ensure that the final custody agreement is in the child’s best interest. The goal is to mitigate any disruption to the child’s day to day life and to see that they are cared for in a safe, stable manner. In making this decision, Maryland courts will consider a wide range of criteria. Some factors may carry heavier influence than others based on the specifics in each case. The main factors a judge will weigh include the fitness of the parents and the needs of the individual child. The resulting custody order is typically final unless there is a material change in circumstances that alters what is in the child’s best interest.
The judge will evaluate each parent for willingness and ability to care for the child and their capacity to co-parent as a couple. As part of his or her analysis, the judge will look into the character and reputation of each parent, the sincerity of each parent’s request and the willingness of each party to be flexible in sharing custody. He or she will also consider the relationships between the child and each parent. If there is any evidence of voluntary abandonment or prior surrender of custody of the child it could sway the judge to deny custody to that parent. The judge will also take extended family dynamics into account and weigh the impacts the custody agreement would have on the child’s ability to maintain familial relationships.
Interests of the Child
Finally, the judge will examine the needs of the individual child or children. For example, the number of children in the family as well as each child’s age, gender, medical issues could sway the judge’s decision. If the child has a preference as to which parent gets custody the judge will take his or her requests into consideration as long the judge believes that the child is old enough and mature enough to form a rational opinion. In addition, the judge will consider all the factors that make up the child’s day-to-day routine. This includes potential disruption to the child’s academic and social life, the locations of parental homes and opportunities for visitation.
Proving Material Changes in Circumstances
The only way for a parent to modify a custody arrangement is to prove a material change in circumstances. The parent must demonstrate that a major change in one of the factors discussed above significantly impacts the child’s life and the current arrangement is no longer in the child’s best interest. For example, if one parent is no longer able to care for the child due to an alcohol or drug addiction or if there is new evidence of abuse, the judge could modify the custody order due to a material change in circumstances.
Custody cases can be extremely complex due to the multitude of variables that inform the judge’s opinion. Most parents need legal counsel to protect their interests during this process. At Lebovitz Law, we have years of experience negotiating custody agreements. Give us a call to learn how we can help your family navigate this process. Contact us today at (410) 828-0680.