Will Maryland PRESUME that Joint Custody is Best for Kids?

In Maryland, child custody cases can be very complex, in part, because there are no official “rules” for how judges decide these cases, aside from trying to enter a custody order that is in a child’s best interests. At present, family law judges (and attorneys) are forced to rely on factors set forth in previously-decided Maryland court cases. The two most frequently-cited cases are Montgomery County v. Sanders and Taylor v. Taylor.

 However, in 2013, the Maryland General Assembly established a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making (“CCCDM”) to evaluate the existing laws in other states and determine whether Maryland law needs a statute specific to child custody decisions.

 The CCCDM seeks to ensure that Maryland courts are issuing custody orders that are more fair, uniform, and equitable; to reduce the number of contested custody cases statewide; to encourage children's relationships with both parents; and maximize both parents’ involvement in a child's life. The CCCDM is analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of joint physical custody. A primary focus of the CCCDM is to find ways in which courts can try to lessen or eliminate the adverse effects of custody litigation on children.

 To accomplish these goals, the CCCDM is reviewing the many principles and practices that Judges use in determining child custody orders. Additionally, the CCCDM is looking into the training that judges receive, the impact of domestic violence in custody cases, the availability of pro bono legal representation in custody cases, how the court clerks and administrators manage cases, and other issues such as discrimination based on gender, race or sexual orientation.

 The Honorable Cynthia Callahan, a Judge in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, presently serves as Chair of this Commission.

 The CCCDM began its work in September 2013. Since that time, the Commission has held hearings all over the State of Maryland to gather the public’s input on custody cases. A Final Report is expected to be delivered by the CCCDM by December 1, 2014.

Kate McDonough, Esquire