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Legal Custody in the State of Maryland – a definition

As with any of our articles in this series, it should be noted that nothing here is a replacement for the advice of a live attorney.  This is not legal advice, just some general guidelines and direction which I hope may help you frame the issues you discuss with a live attorney

After even the most casual review of Maryland custody law, you will quickly observe that custody is described in two ways: legal custody and physical custody.

Physical custody is somewhat clear. It is the more tangible form of custody. Physical custody is an issue of where the child or children principally reside. The more specific definition of shared physical custody versus primary physical custody will be reserved for a future article.

In contrast to physical custody, legal custody is a more intangible commodity.  In Maryland legal custody is defined as the right/responsibility to make decisions regarding the medical care, educational needs and religious upbringing of the child (ren).

What Joint Legal Custody is

If one or the other parents is awarded legal custody to the exclusion of the other parent, that parent has sole decision making power in this regard.  In the case of joint legal custody the parents must confer and agree on these issues.  But, what does that all really mean?

First I should tell you that some of my colleagues may very well disagree with the following opinion.  ln my experience legal custody is like good manners it costs nothing to give it, yet it can make a huge difference in the way you are received.

Most of the divorcing or single parents you know have joint legal custody.  Joint legal custody means that the parents must confer and consult in reaching mutually agreed upon decisions in the best interest of their child, with respect to that child’s medical care educational needs and religious upbringing.

More often than not, these three areas lie at the core of most peoples values and personalities. Consequently, people who enjoyed each others company enough to conceive a child often agree upon these three issues, even if they don’t like each other much anymore.

Nevertheless, people change, circumstances change and sometimes divided parents simply can’t agree on anything. In such a case, joint legal custody will prove to be an empty phrase. A mere representation without any intention of follow through. While such a case can be and an anathema to some touchy feely custody lawyers, my belief is that sometimes you need to “go along to get along.”

Consequently, sometimes it may be a good idea to agree upon joint legal custody, even if you know the other parent won’t really offer discussions or decisions necessary to a strict application of joint legal custody .  There I said it.  Elvis is dead, there are no spaceships at Roswell and lots of people agreed a joint legal custody without any intention following the principles which that entails.

Tim Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place

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