Maryland Child Custody Mediation Lawyer
There is no more emotionally charged issue in a divorce than child custody. The topic provokes a primal reflexive reaction in most parents. Parents have children expecting to experience every day of their Child’s young life with the Child. Separation and divorce changes that expectation. Parents fear that separation and divorce will cause lasting psychological damage to the Children. How can your family become a well-functioning post-divorce, dual-residence family? That should be your shared goal.
Learn what the courts know- mediation is the forum of 1st resort for most child custody cases. Disputed Custody matters in Maryland courts are most often referred to mediation.
Child custody issues can drive rational human beings to rage and despair. Being directly involved in the decision-making process leads to greater satisfaction with the outcome in child custody matters.
If you are married and are seeking a comprehensive agreement relating to Alimony, Property Division and Allocation of Debts, your Parenting Agreement relating to the mediated Child Custody and Child Support will be set forth as specific provisions in the Marital Settlement Agreement. When filed with the Court, the terms of enforceable and modifiable by the Court.
If you share Children but were never married, the Parenting Agreement is the binding contract which contains the mediated Child Custody and Child Support terms. When filed with the Court, the terms of enforceable and modifiable by the Court. The parties may choose not to file the Parenting Agreement with the Court, but many parents decide to take advantage of the Court’s enforcement authority and file it.Legal Custody in Maryland
In mediation, the parents themselves, as co-parents determine how important decisions will be made about the children. This is called “Legal Custody.” Examples of such important decisions controlled by Legal Custody are:
- Where the children will live?
- Where will the children attend school?
- What will be the children’s religious upbringing?
- What medical choices will be made for the children?
In mediation the parents discuss and make the schedule of the Children. This is called “Physical Custody.”
Physical custody involves:
Setting the Regular Schedule for the Children, including allocation of overnights and other opportunities for parents be with the Children;
Determining the holiday schedule for each parent with the Children; and
Determining vacation rights for each parent.
There are more options that simply “sole” custody and “joint” legal custody. A creative neutral mediator can help tailor your family situation to meet the needs of your dual-residence family.
Physical custody sharing is one primary factor in setting Child Support.
Parents can share Legal Custody while one parent has Sole Physical Custody of the children. For example, if one parent’s employment schedule makes frequent overnight custody of the children difficult, the parents may still make major decisions about the children together, by sharing information and weighing options together.
One parent may have sole Legal Custody even though the parents share physical custody. For example, if the parents have great difficulty jointly making major decisions for the children, but both want to spend substantial time with the Children, this option may work for their family.
Shared physical custody is Maryland, means the parents share the overnights of the Children from a maximum 50-50% (each parent having 182.5 overnights) to a minimum of at least 35% of the overnights (128) and the other party has 65% (237).
If one parent has 238 overnights or more, then under Maryland law that parent has sole physical custody of the Children. A parent must have 128 scheduled overnights or more to “share” physical custody under definitions found in Maryland child support law.
Mediation of child custody presumes that the parents are better deciders for the Children’s scheduling than adversarial negotiating lawyers or a judge who knows very little about the Children. In mediation there is a presumption that the parents understand the needs of their children and share an interest in raising well-adjusted children.The Best Interest of the Child Standard
The legal standard for deciding custody issues, legal and physical is this: What is in the children’s best interests?
A mediator is trained to guide the parents to make decisions to meet the children’s best interests and to guide the parents’ focus away from his or her own needs, hurt or anger. A great benefit of mediation is that the mediation provides a kind of training ground to future decision-making between the parents. Do they work better by email, text telephone or in person? A mediator will try to train the parents how to approach issues in the future to become successful co-parents. Mediation of child custody is a reconstructive approach to child custody whereas litigation can be quite destructive and long-lasting damage to co-parenting relationships.
Important points of discussion in mediation for custody include (but are not limited to):
- The age, health and gender of the children;
- The proximity of the parents’ homes to one another;
- Where each parent’s home is in relation to the children’s school or child care provider;
- What each parent desires with regard to custody;
- Whether one parent was the primary caretaker of the children or whether it was a shared caretaking;
- The employment schedules of the parents now and/or in the future;
- Each party’s involvement with the children (from driving to school, to giving baths, to feeding, to coaching sports teams);
- The preference of the children, although children asked to voice preference may experience painful and lasting guilt and undue involvement in parental strife;
- Whether a parent has been separated from the children, and if so, for how long;
- The basic fitness of the parents to care for the children;
- Prior agreements relating to custody and what the actual custodial sharing of the children has been during the separation.
In Maryland, the Court has the authority to order the parents to mediation for child custody disputes; and that will usually occur absent a family history of abuse or violence Md. Rule 9-205.Changes of Circumstances Affect Child Custody in Maryland
The same is true if one party is seeking to change the current child custody arrangement. Child custody can be modified over the years based on “material changes of circumstances”. Examples of “material change of circumstance” include (but are not limited to): each child’s maturation and changing schedule preferences; a change in how a child is reacting to the current custody arrangement; and changes in the parents’ lives like a change of residence or employment schedule.Mediation is a Positive Path to Successful Co-Parenting and Raising Well-Adjusted Children
Child custody issues may arise, whether the parents are married or unmarried, divorced or never married. Which party has custody affects financial issues such as child support, tax dependency exemptions and tax filing status. But mostly, child custody and the parents’ success in co-parenting after separation or divorce may mean the difference between emotionally well-adjusted children and mal-adjusted children, and of course that best interest must be the focus of the decision-making process. The path to making positive choices starts with a positive process like mediation. In general where the parents begin their lives as separated co-parents in litigation, they continue litigation throughout the child-rearing years. Where the separated co-parents begin in mediation to make productive, restorative choices for their children’s lives after the trauma of separation and/or divorce, very often they learn to approach future problems constructively, often by themselves. When a dispute arises that they cannot resolve themselves, they go to mediation for help to keep them positively on track to continue on as healthy, well-adjusted dual-residence families.
Nancy Caplan, Esquire has mediated hundreds of child custody matters with great success.