GRANDPARENT & 3RD PARTY CUSTODY
MARYLAND FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
Grandparents Visitation Rights in Maryland
When courts need to make a decisions about child custody or visitation, the court balances what is best for the child with what a parent’s constitutional right is in regards to how the child should be raised. There are a variety of factors the court will look at including the role of any other party such as grandparents. Maryland law allows grandparents to ask the court for visitation rights and even custody rights. If you are trying to get visitation rights for your grandchild, make sure to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can help you with your case.
The natural parent’s proposed schedule of access is deemed to be presumptively in the minor child’s best interest and a third party has to show either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances warranting visitation or custody rights exist. If the third party demonstrates either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances, then the court will consider what schedule would be in the child’s best interest.
Keep in mind, if you aren’t a parent or considered a “de facto” parent, you will be regarded as a third party. A de facto parent is someone the court treats like a parent due to the person’s relationship with the child. The requirements are:
- The legal parent consented to and fostered the relationship between you and the child;
- You have lived with the child
- You perform parental functions for the child to a significant degree;
- A parent-child bond has been forged. To prove this, you may need to show that the bond has formed over enough time.
A third party is anyone that doesn’t fall in a parent or de facto parent and often this includes close family members and friends. As mentioned before, the court will always consider the best interest of the child in deciding whether to grant visitation. Because each case is different, consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney.
Third Party Visitation Rights
In all visitation cases, the court will always rule in the best interests of the child and usually, it will honor the wishes of the custodial parent and believe that any schedule for visitation scheduled by the parent is in the best interest of the child. The issue of a third party visitation originates from a case in 1999, Troxel v. Granville. In this case, the grandparents pursued an expanded visitation schedule and the court ruled it unconstitutional to allow any third party to visit at any time based solely on the best interest of the child. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that it violated a mother’s Constitutional rights when it ordered her to comply with increased visitation order by the grandparents.
In this case, the mother did not oppose or deny visitation for the grandparents, but did object the court for imposing such a schedule, implying that the mother was unfit. Therefore, in Maryland, grandparents can still file a petition for visitation but the petition will only be considered if the parent has been found unfit, exceptional circumstances existed or the parent denied grandparent visitation all together.
Maryland’s laws do not give any preference to grandparents over third parties in seeking custody of a child. In the eyes of the court, there are only “parents” (who are the preferred caretaker) and “third parties”. However, the court will take into account the closeness of the relationship of the child and the third party.
There are other factors as well that weigh in when coming to a decision and that includes: the length of time the child has been away from the biological parent, the age of the child when the third party assumed care, the possible emotional effect on the child of a change of custody, the period of time which elapsed before the parent sought to reclaim the child, the intensity and genuineness of the parent’s desire to have the child, and the stability and certainty as to the child’s future in the custody of the parent.
Custody/Access Law – Consent Orders
Family is one of the main support systems anyone can have, but even the most stable families could have problems, especially when it comes to divorce and determining the custody of children. For the children, this could be a very difficult time and it’s important you contact an experienced and knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney who can put the best interests of your child first.
Under Maryland law, both natural parents are presumed natural custodians of their children and the court does not favor the mother or the father. Determining custody and visitation rights is dependent on a few factors but keep in mind it is never permanent. As situations change, a parent can always petition the Court to modify the court or consent order. A consent order is generally a voluntary agreement worked out between the two parents but it has the same effect as a court order and can be enforced by the court if necessary.
Types of Custody
If the parents cannot agree about who should have custody, the court will have to decide. The different types of custody the court could decide are:
- De facto custody: Custody referring to who actually has custody of the child before the court is involved
- Temporary custody: Also called pendente lite, meaning “pending the litigation”. In order to formalize custody, you need to file for temporary court ordered custody which is not the initial award of custody. It is temporary as you wait for the court to hold a hearing.
- Legal and Physical Custody: Legal custody involves the right to make long-term plans and decisions for the education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significant concerning the child’s welfare. Physical custody involves spending time with the child and making decisions about the child’s everyday needs.
- Sole custody: one parent may be granted sole legal custody, sole physical custody or both
- Split custody: split custody is when there are 2 children or more and each parent has an equal number of children. Some of the factors that could affect this is the age difference between the children and their wishes.
- Joint custody: broken down into three categories: joint legal, shared physical and combination
What Happens in a Custody Case?
All cases require:
- Pre-trial conference: a master or judge may attempt to identify issues and help you reach a settlement. If issues remain, the master or judge will discuss with you and the other party how trial will proceed
- Trial: the court will decide with whom the child should live (physical custody), who has the right to make major decisions regarding the child (legal custody), and whether either parent must pay child support
Most cases require:
- Mediation: helps parents reach agreements, define issues or improve communications about caring for and parenting your children. Mediation also exists for disagreements about marital property and other family issues.
Some cases require:
- Co-parenting classes
- Custody evaluation
- Parenting coordination
- Mental health evaluation and treatment
- Visitation services
Each custody case is unique. Make sure to contact a Maryland family law attorney to help you and your family with your specific situation.
CONTACT MARYLAND FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY FOR HELP
The Burton Law Firm understands how divorce can affect you and your family’s life indefinitely. Having years of experience handling all types of divorce cases throughout the state of Maryland, you can trust us to handle your case with care. Give us a call at (301) 420-5540 to speak to a family law attorney in Maryland.
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Contact our office as soon as possible so our team of family law attorneys can properly evaluate your case and protect your rights.