Maryland Family Law Blog

Child Custody Determinations - The "Best Interests of the Children"

Child Custody Determinati…

If parties to a custody dispute are unable to agree on a custody and visitation agreement, then the issues will end up before a judge of the Circuit Court for a determination after a hearing on the merits.  In evaluating the evidence, the trial judge is required to make specific findings of fact that support an ultimate determination of what is in the best interests of the children that are being considered.  This “best interests of the children” standard was further developed in the laws of Maryland in the case of Montgomery County v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406, 419 (1977), where the court stated that

there is no litmus paper test that provides a quick and relatively easy answer to custody matters.  Present methods for determining a child’s best interests are time-consuming, [and] involve a multitude of intangible factors that ofttimes are ambiguous... The fact finder is called upon to evaluate the child’s life chances in each of the homes competing for custody and then to predict with whom the child will be better off in the future. 

For the fact finder to be capable of evaluating what is in a child’s best interests, there are a number of factors that must be evaluated in relationship to the child.   According to the treatise, Fader’s Maryland Law, 2011, (p. 5-8 thru 5-10) these factors include but are not limited to the following:

  1. The fitness of the parents;
  2. The character and reputation of the parties;
  3. The requests of each parent and the sincerity of the requests;
  4. Any agreements between the parents;
  5. Willingness of the parents to share custody;
  6. Each parent’s ability to maintain the child’s relationships with the other parent, siblings, relatives, and any other person who may psychologically affect the child’s best interest;
  7. The age and number of children each parent has in the household;
  8. The preference of the child, when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form rational judgment;
  9. The capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
  10. The geographic proximity of the parents’ residences and opportunities for time with each parent;
  11. The ability of each parent to maintain a stable and appropriate home for the child;
  12. Financial status of the parents;
  13. The demands of parental employment and opportunities for time with the child;
  14. The age, health, and sex of the child;
  15. The relationship established between the child and each parent;
  16. The length of separation of the parents;
  17. Whether there was a prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody of the child;
  18. The potential disruption of the child’s social and school life;
  19. Any impact on a state or federal assistance;
  20. The benefit a parent may receive from an award of joint physical custody, and how that will enable the parent to bestow more benefit upon the child;
  21. Any other consideration the court determines is relevant to the best interest of the child.

With all of these issues under consideration, it is easy to see that child custody determinations are among the most difficult decisions a Court is called upon to make.  As a result, if these conflicts remain unresolved, they typically result in a multi-day merits hearing where witnesses are called and where the relevant facts are developed and litigated.  At the conclusion of this process, the judge will then make conclusions as to the future custody arrangement will be in the best interests of the children.

For information about divorce, child custody or other family law matters, contact the Law Office of Michael Golburgh. We have years of experience in family law and divorce, with a mission to protect what our clients value most.

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