Child custody disputes fall into two categories with respect to those seeking custody:
- disputes between the biological parents
- disputes between a biological parent and a third party.
Custody may be reviewed by a court of competent jurisdiction in any cases.
In Maryland, resolving child custody questions is a function of the equity courts.
The jurisdiction of a court of equity includes the custody, maintenance, visitation and support of a child.
A third party may also seek custody and guardianship of a child or seek:
- guardianship of the person (i.e., making decisions about the child’s well-being)
- guardianship of the property (i.e., making decisions about the child’s finances) in equity court
This jurisdiction is a continuing one, and the court may from time to time set aside or modify its decree or order concerning a child.
Any individual can file a motion to gain custody over a child; however, the burden of proof is quite high as a change in custody divests parents’ of their constitutionally protected right to raise their children without intervention.
Families may also need to seek a court order for guardianship or third party custody based on consent of the parents due to extenuating circumstances that result in the parents being unable to care for their child for a period of time, such as:
- military service
- temporary job relocations
- parental issues with addiction
Whether seeking custody in juvenile or equity court, the transcendent important principle that guides the court’s ruling is best interest of the child.
When a third party attempts to divest a parent of custody of his or her child there is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interest of a child to be raised by his or her parents.
Therefore, in parent-third party disputes over custody, it is only upon a determination by the court that the parent is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances that a court would change custody from the biological parents to a third party.
Exceptional circumstances include:
- length of time the child has been out of the parents’ care
- attachment to the proposed guardian
- the emotional impact on the child
- ability to provide proper care
While a third party seeking custody is usually well-intentioned, understanding the law is key before seeking a judicial remedy.
If the care provided to a child might be viewed as neglectful or abusive, but the evidence does not meet the definition of abuse or neglect, there is little probability of success.
FLAG’s attorneys have over a decade of experience representing parents and children in abuse and neglect cases. We know the law and will educate you on the probability of success.
We will also offer you suggestions on to help a child and how to strengthen your case for possible future court intervention.
When a child is placed with a family member or friend by consent, there are strict procedural requirements that must be followed to allow that family member or friend to obtain third party custody or guardianship over the minor child.
Allow FLAG to help you achieve your intended goal: to protect a child.
The goal of any third party custody action is to protect children and provide them with a loving, nurturing, supportive environment.
This goal can be achieved through FLAG’s assistance.
There are many alternative ways to help provide for the safety and security of children. We will educate you to be a proactive, positive force for children and advocate on your behalf in the courtroom or community that will most positively impact the life of the child you intend to protect.