Gender and child custody outcomes

The way we decide child custody decisions in Maryland is gradually evolving. While the assumption is that courts automatically award the mother physical custody, one appellate court ruled this contradicts our state law and precedent. This resulted in the vacating of a ruling by a Talbot Circuit Court judge’s regarding a child custody matter.

The case concerned the awarding of physical custody of a 14-year-old girl to her mother. The circuit court’s opinion is noteworthy for stating for the girl, “an adolescent female, this may be the most important time in her life to have a solid relationship with her mother.”

Maryland abandoned the “maternal doctrine preference” through statute in 1974. And in 1998, a court ruling stated that the state’s adoption of an Equal Right Amendment prohibited determinations of custody based on gender. Instead, custody decisions require determinations based upon merit.

Courts also have attempted to abandon other assumptions such as a mother would be better suited to raise a daughter or a father would be better suited to raise a son. Still, as the above circuit court opinion demonstrates, courts continually are willing to base child custody determinations at least in part upon such gender related premises.

We want to make certain that we get child custody determinations correctly. Our system is set up in making child custody decisions that are in the best interest of the children. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy determination to make and it is generally dependent upon individual circumstances. Family law attorneys can guide parents through this stressful process. They can provide advice and counsel on what is the best manner of pursuing such cases.

Source: The Frederick News-Post, “Gender bias and child custody,” March 18, 2015

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