Child Custody & Support
If you have minor children and the relationship has ended between the parents, it is important to come to an understanding about custody and support for the children. Custody has two components: (1) physical custody and (2) legal custody. Physical custody is where the children reside. Primary physical custody is determined based on the number of overnights that the children spend with each parent. The number of overnights also determines the level of child support that is paid by the non-residential parent. On the other hand, legal custody relates to the parents’ decision making for important issues in the children’s’ lives, such as education, medical treatment, and religious training.
The courts consider a number of factors in determining physical custody. These non-exclusive factors include the following:
- fitness of the parents
- character and reputation of the parties
- desire of the natural parents and agreements between the parties
- potentiality of maintaining natural family relations
- preference of the child
- material opportunities affecting the future life of the child
- age, health and sex of the child
- residences of parents and opportunity for visitation
- length of separation from the natural parents, and
- prior voluntary abandonment or surrender.
Montgomery County v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406, 420 (1978).
If the parties can reach an agreement about physical custody, a parenting plan can be drafted which outlines the child access schedule, along with the legal custody framework. A parenting plan or other agreement can be prepared by attorneys or by a neutral mediator. In many cases, mediation saves parties a significant amount of money over litigation, but it is still advisable to have an attorney review any draft agreement proposed by a mediator to make sure that you understand the agreement, as well as to make sure that nothing is omitted.
Once the child access schedule is established, child support will be determined through application of the Maryland Child Support Guidelines. While child support is primarily a mathematical calculation based on the parties’ respective monthly incomes (before taxes), less various deductions, including daycare and the children’s health insurance coverage, there nevertheless can be room for negotiation or deviation from the Guidelines. I have over 20 years of experience working with the Child Support Guidelines and can review with you a range of possible outcomes in your case based on the information that is known about your income and the other side’s income.