Marriage rates are on the decline (divorce rates have actually declined as well), which is why it is becoming increasingly common for unmarried couples with children to rely on custody laws in Maryland. In fact, one third of children are living with an unmarried parent, according to the Pew Research Center. Some of those parents were originally married, while others never were. It’s important for unmarried couples to understand the nuances of child custody and this article explains some of the most important issues that can affect unmarried couples with children.
Rights of The Father: Establishing Paternity
Unmarried parents have the same rights as married parents when it comes to custody, visitation, and the creation of a parenting plan. However, while married fathers are presumed to be the father of their children, unmarried fathers must establish paternity. Otherwise, paternity can be established through a court order or through an Affidavit of Parentage form. When paternity is established, the father has the same rights as the mother when it comes to custody.
Elements That The Court Uses to Make a Custody Decision
While Maryland courts do not give preferential treatment to a parent based on their gender, a judge will use some or all of the following elements to establish custody in the best interests of the child.
- Existing relationship between each parent and the child;
- Who has been the child’s primary caretaker;
- Living arrangements of each parent;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- Special needs of the child;
- Ability of each parent to care for the child;
- Drug addiction, alcohol abuse, criminal record, or domestic violence history of each parent;
- The child’s choice if they are old enough.
Many custody arrangements can be agreed upon outside of the courtroom through mediation. Through cooperation and compromise, the child’s well-being can further be protected during custody decisions. However, when compromises cannot be reached, the matter must be decided by an impartial judge. While studies have shown that children, in general, do best when they have regular and equal time with both of their parents, this is not always the case, and it does not mean that a judge will come to this joint custody conclusion.
Our Maryland Custody Lawyers Can Help
Whether you were previously married to your child’s other parent or you never were, you will benefit from the experience of a Maryland custody & visitation lawyer. Frame & Frame attorneys have been serving the legal needs of our community for over 65 years. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.