I’m Not Married To My Child’s Other Parent. What Are My Rights in Maryland Family Courts?

  • 05 Feb 2018

If you are the parent of a child in Maryland seeking a child support or custody agreement, but you were not married to the child’s other parent, the law gives you certain rights and privileges regarding your future relationship with your child.

What Does Maryland Law Say About Unmarried Parents?

In general, child custody laws in Maryland for unmarried parents operate the same as those for married couples with children, with the main exception being that, for unmarried couples, paternity must be established before the case moves forward. There are several ways this can be determined, including a man being named the father on a child’s birth certificate, the man has declared himself – orally and in writing – to be the child’s father with no objection by the mother, or a genetic test has determined paternity. MD Fam L Code §5-3A-06 (2013).

Both the mother and father are assumed to have equal rights to the child, unless evidence and a judge determines that one parent should have sole custody. MD Fam L Code §5-203 (2013). No parent is assumed to have a superior right to custody of a child, all things being equal. Factors that can impact a parent’s access to a child include mental and physical fitness, a history of abuse, or the physical distance between the parents’ homes. [1]

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Does This mean My Child’s Other Parent and I Will Get Joint Custody?

Not necessarily. If you and your child’s other parent come to an agreement for joint custody, both physical (meaning who has what visitation times) and legal (who makes decisions on matters such as education and healthcare), then things are pretty cut and dry. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, child custody cases proceed to a hearing before a judge, at which time a standard called the best interests of the child is applied to the decisions the judge makes.

There are many factors that contribute to a determination of what is in the best interests of the child, including:

  • Fitness – The physical, mental, and emotional ability of one parent to meet the needs of the child.
  • History of domestic violence or abuse
  • Any prior abandonment or surrender of custody
  • Ability to maintain family relationships [1]

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In many cases, applying the best interests standard still will result in joint custody of some kind. There are, however, situations that require one parent being given more parenting time or a larger share of the decision-making responsibilities. Unfortunately, as the judge is the one that makes these decisions, it is impossible to predict the potential outcome of a custody hearing, though an experienced family law attorney can give you a guess based on prior hearing outcomes.

Expert Family Law Advice in the Baltimore Metro Area

The team at the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado have years of experience providing compassionate, expert family law representation to unmarried parents in the Baltimore metro area. Contact us today to discuss your family law case.

[1] “Child Custody in Maryland,” The Maryland People’s Law Library.

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