In all cases of custody, the standard applied by the court in Maryland is what is in the best interest of the child or children. Generally, the courts in Maryland today believe that it is in a child’s best interest to have regular access to both parents. However in cases in which a parent is found to be “unfit” such as in cases of severe mental illness, violence or dependency on alcohol or drugs, the court will act first to protect the child from harm, and generally will order the fit parent to be the sole custodian and the unfit parent to have supervised visitation.
The most common custody agreement is joint custody, where both parents share legal and physical custody. For a number of reasons, parents may not be able to manage a joint custody relationship. In these cases, a visitation schedule is an alternative way to structure access to the child or children. In some cases, the parties may agree that one parent shall be the sole custodian of the child or children, and the other parent may have a visitation schedule. Even in joint custody cases, the parties may agree to a visitation arrangement, or a court may order visitation, when for example, one parent travels extensively, lives in another state or country, or has limited parenting abilities, making visitation a more appropriate form of child access.
Child Custody in Multiple Jurisdictions:
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
Child Custody cases can involve complex jurisdiction questions, where the parties live or have moved to differing counties, states or countries. Currently 49 states including Maryland have enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which sets forth uniform standards for states to apply in enforcing child custody determinations in other states. The UCCJEA also extends to international cases involving some foreign countries. In Maryland, the UCCJEA helps provide predictability and a legal framework in which to enforce or modify a Child Custody Order from another state, where the child is now a resident of Maryland, and also for ensuring that Maryland orders are enforced in other states that have likewise adopted the UCCJEA. Currently Massachusetts is the only state that has not adopted the UCCJEA.
The UCCJEA provides that child custody jurisdiction for an initial custody determination lies in the courts of a child’s home jurisdiction, which is where the child has lived for the previous six months, or where the child has the most significant connections.
Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
The United States is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is an international treaty with 101 signatory countries.
The Hague Convention is designed to provide a uniform legal structure for parents to pursue recovery of a child who has been abducted to another signatory country. Procedures under the Hague Convention involve notification to the United States State Department and the filing of a petition. An attorney must be retained in the foreign country to process the petition there in the foreign court system.