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Understanding child custody and the best interest of the child

Parents in Maryland may be interested to know more about the best interest standard when it comes to child custody. Historically, child custody rights were assigned almost exclusively along gender lines. While biology may have played a part, in reality, it was simply a reaction to the roles most couples adopted within their own homes. Today, however, gender no longer defines the duties and responsibilities of parents. In fact, the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that nearly 71 percent of mothers are part of the workforce. While this may seem trivial, it can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a divorce.

To understand why this fact matters it is important to understand how child custody despites are settled and what child custody rights exist. In Maryland, there are two primary types of child custody rights: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody concerns a parents right to make important life decisions for their child. These typically include educational decision, religious decisions and health care decisions. In most cases, legal custody of the child will be assigned to both parents. This is referred to as joint custody.

The second form of child custody is the physical custody of the child. Physical custody refers to a parents right to care for their child on a day-to-day basis, or the majority of the time. Whichever parent has the child more than 50 percent of the time has physical custody of the child. Physical custody is also typically assigned to just one parent, also known as sole custody. The non-custodial parent is assigned visitation rights. This determination is vital because the non-custodial parent who is required to pay child support.

In Maryland, the court makes child custody decisions based on the best interest of the child standard, or the "totality of circumstances." The standard for assigning child custody rights takes into consideration a variety of factors such as the mental health of the parents, location and stability, as well as who has been the primary caretaker of the child throughout the course of the marriage. With more and more married women working and out earning their husbands, it is not uncommon for this person to be the father. A person facing a child custody issue should be aware of their rights and the specifics of the law.

Source: Huffington Post, "Child Custody and the Working Mom," Lisa Helfend Meyer, June 01, 2013

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