Child Custody and Support
Child Custody, Visitation and Support in Maryland
Child custody is perhaps the most heavily litigated, emotionally intensive, and divisive issues in family law. Maryland law recognizes two forms of child custody, each governing different aspects of a minor child’s life and having additional distinctions therein:
- Physical custody: Either primary physical custody awarded to one party, or shared physical custody awarded to both parties.
- Legal custody: Either sole legal custody awarded to one party, joint legal custody awarded to both parties but with one party having tie-breaking authority, or joint legal custody awarded to both parties.
Physical custody involves the short-term decisions governing the child’s day to day life, such as what the child will wear to school or eat for dinner. Depending upon the number of overnights each parent has over the course of the year, the parties can have shared physical custody or one can have primary physical custody. Legal custody involves the long-term decisions governing the child’s life, such major life decisions related to health, religion, and school, and can be shared jointly between the parties (with or without one party having tie breaking authority) or awarded solely to one outright. In any custody or visitation proceedings, the Circuit Court is charged with making custody determinations in the best interests of the minor child based upon specific statutory criteria. Indeed, even where the parties reach a custody and visitation agreement, the Court must still be satisfied the agreement is in the minor child’s best interests.
There is no one-size fits all answer to custody and visitation, and the ultimate resolution of these issues depends heavily upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, the Circuit Court does not need to decide custody and visitation in every case. While statutory requirements must be considered, there are often practical and common-sense resolutions that should be considered. With a complete and thorough understanding of Maryland law, litigants are often able to fashion their own custody and visitation plans that are more thorough and finely tuned to the circumstances than could otherwise be obtained from the Court.
Child support in Maryland is, in essence, a simple mathematical calculation based upon the parties’ income and physical custody schedules. However, the simple mathematical calculation can have a significant and far-reaching impact upon the party obligated to make support payments. Maryland law sets forth strict schedules for child support that the Circuit Court is obligated to follow except under rare and particular circumstances. Once entered, a child support obligation continues to accrue until and unless the Court rescinds or modifies the amount to be paid. Non-payment of support can have far-reaching consequences, including wage and bank garnishments, license suspension, and even jail time.
Many litigants believe they are able to calculate child support on their own without a complete understanding of the nuances governing child support calculations. To their detriment, self-represented litigants often obligate themselves to over-pay or are unable to secure the support that Maryland law would normally provide. Maryland law permits different credits to monthly child support calculations, such as health insurance or childcare.
Modification and Enforcement of Custody and Support Orders
Even at the best of times, life circumstances change as time moves on and often in unpredictable ways. Parties to a divorce or custody proceeding will inevitably remarry, change their employment and income, move residences, or have additional children. Such changes may result in the need for a modification of a previously entered custody or support orders, which now prove unworkable or unequitable after the passage of time. Likewise, spousal support orders (alimony) may now be inappropriate or require adjustment.
However, in order to prevent parties from continually litigating custody and support orders, Maryland law carefully limits the criteria that allow for modification. Circumstances qualifying for a modification in one case may not necessarily apply in another. Additionally, attempted modification by a dissatisfied litigant can, in unfortunate circumstances, result in a change favoring the opposing party. Modification of custody and support are typically highly contested and re-touch upon many of the same issues contested in prior proceedings.
Parties dissatisfied with a Circuit Court’s ruling can often be reluctant, or outright refuse, to comply with a custody or support order. Under Maryland law, child custody and support orders are issued based on the Court’s determination of the best interest of the child to provide for the child’s well-being. Likewise, spousal support orders are intended to provide for a financially dependent spouse to become independent. Courts do not look favorably upon those that ignore court orders, whether willfully or inadvertently. However, the process of enforcing a court order can be as complex and time-consuming as obtaining the court order in the first instances. There may be a more practical solution than the litigation process.
Annapolis Child Custody Lawyers at Oliveri & Larsen Work Towards Solutions That Work for Families
If you have a dispute you are unable to resolve, our Annapolis child custody lawyers at Oliveri & Larsen can help you resolve the matter. Call 410-295-3000 or contact us online today to schedule your initial appointment. Strategically located in Annapolis, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Maryland, including Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Calvert County, Harford County, Howard County, Ocean City, Queen Anne’s County, St. Mary’s County, Worcester County, and the upper and lower Eastern Shores of Maryland.