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Child custody: Best interests of the child standard

In any child custody case, the court should focus on one thing above all else: the best interests of the child. This is true in Maryland child custody cases and those around the country.

There are a number of factors that help the court determine what is in the child's best interests, including:

  • The fitness of the parents to raise the child
  • The parents' character and reputation
  • Any abuse allegations
  • The child's age
  • The child's health
  • The child's relationship with each parent
  • Opportunities that impact the child's future (including financial opportunities)
  • Any grounds for divorce that have affected the child
  • Religion
  • The child's preference, if he or she is of sufficient age and is capable of rational judgment
  • The possibility of visitation
  • Prior surrender of custody, or abandonment

A parent's interests are important and can play a role in determining child custody, but generally, a parent's interests are considered in terms of what is best for the child.

When parents request joint custody

When a court decides what is in the child's best interests in cases where parents have requested joint custody, it must consider additional factors, including:

  • The ability of the parents to make decisions together about the child's welfare
  • Whether the parents would like to share child custody
  • The possibility that shared custody would disrupt the child's school and social life
  • The location of the parents' homes
  • The parents' financial abilities and any impact on government assistance
  • The benefit to both the child and the parents
  • Evidence of domestic violence

Source: The Women's Law Center of Maryland, "Marriage & Divorce in Maryland: The Best Interest of the Child Standard," 2008.

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