In Maryland, child custody can be broken down into two parts; physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody involves where the child lives and the daily decisions associated with child rearing. Legal custody involves the right and responsibility to make major decisions in the child's life such as those involving education, religion, discipline, and medical issues.
When the term Sole legal custody is used it means the child primarily lives with one parent and that parent makes the decisions regarding the child's life. Joint legal custody means that both parents have equal power in making decisions and they make those decisions together. Joint or shared physical custody is how the child's time is divided between the parents; it doesn't necessarily mean 50-50 split of time with each parent.
When deciding child custody issues, the courts use "the best interests of the child" standard. In using this standard, the courts analyze a variety of factors, including the (1) fitness of the parents, (2) character of the parents, (3) desire of parents and agreements between the parties, (4) the potential for maintaining natural family relations, (5) preference of the child, (6) material opportunities for the child, (7) age, health and sex of the child, (8) residences of the parents and opportunities for visitation, (9) length of separation from the natural parents and (10) the effect of any voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody. The courts have very broad discretion in making custody determinations and therefore one can not predict what a court will do.
According to a recent study conducted by The Women's Law Center of Maryland, Inc. of a representative sample of cases filed through out Maryland, Mothers received primary physical custody in 66% of the cases, while Fathers received primary physical custody in only 14% of the cases.
Sole legal and physical custody was to awarded to the mother in 38% of the cases, joint legal custody with physical custody to mother was indicated in 28% of the cases, joint legal and physical custody occurred in 13% of the cases, sole legal and physical custody to father 7%, joint legal custody with physical custody to father 7% and split custody (some children with one parent and others with the other parent) was awarded in 2% of the cases. In the remaining 5% of the cases reviewed, the outcome was not clear.
If you would like to read the entire report, go to www.wlcmd.org.