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Reasons to Modify Child Custody Agreements and Visitation Orders in Maryland

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Your child custody agreement outlines physical custody, which determines parental access and visitation, and legal custody, which determines decision-making authority. Both components are crucial to your rights and responsibilities as a parent. While your current child custody orders may have been suitable when you first divorced or when the court initially established them, circumstances can change over time.

Maryland courts acknowledge that child custody modifications may sometimes be necessary and grant them when warranted, typically when a substantial change has occurred. While the court aims to maintain a sense of normalcy, it recognizes that change is inevitable and circumstances can evolve. In such situations, modifying child custody and visitation orders may be required. This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary information on how to modify child custody and visitation orders in Maryland.

Grounds for Modifying Child Custody and Visitation Orders

To request a modification in Maryland, the two factors considered are a significant change in circumstances and the child’s best interests.  

Material Change in Circumstances

A modification request must be based on a “material change in circumstances” since the last custody order. Examples include changes in a parent’s financial situation, relocation, changes in the child’s needs, or a parent’s inability to adhere to the current custody arrangement.

Here are some a few scenarios where clients may inquire about the application of Maryland law. These examples demonstrate the court’s analysis, arguments, and determinations, particularly when evaluating whether these cases satisfy the requirement of showing a substantial change in circumstances.

In the case of  McMahon v. Piazze (2005), the court highlighted that a substantial change is needed to meet the criteria for significant change in circumstances. Changes such as the child aging and interacting with new people at home were not deemed sufficient to prove a material change

Here’s another example: in the case of Gillespie v. Gillespie (2012), it was shown that messing with visitation rights could result in a court-ordered modification. The parent with custody actually assaulted the ex-spouse’s partner, and as a result, the court ruled in favor of the parent who requested a custody modification due to this incident and other significant changes in circumstances.

Additional Examples of “Material Changes”

Parent is Not Exercising Parenting Time. If a parent does not exercise parenting time for an extended period, requesting a modification for sole custody may be grounds. Considering that the child is in the parent’s care full-time, A change in support might also be considered .

Financial difficulty or windfall might also constitute as significant changes that would call for a custody or support order modification. For instance, if a parent loses their job and experiences financial hardship, the court may reconsider the current support order. On the flip side, unexpected windfall, say a lottery win, might also warrant a reassessment of the support order.

Geographical relocation is another circumstance that might necessitate a modification. If the custodial parent decides to move out of state, it might limit the child’s access to the noncustodial parent, triggering a need for adjustment in the custody arrangement. Alternatively, a noncustodial parent moving closer to the child could request additional visitation rights, which would also necessitate a modification.

Deterioration in a child’s behavior or wellbeing due to their living conditions might also be grounds for custody modification. For instance, if a child begins to exhibit harmful behavior as a result of their environment, an intervention might be needed which could include a modification in custody arrangements.

Parental incarceration or substance abuse are serious circumstances that would certainly warrant a reevaluation of the custody order. Such situations could potentially endanger the child’s wellbeing, and the court might then decide to modify the custody order to ensure the child’s safety

Parental Noncompliance: There are instances where a parent might find it challenging to adhere to the existing custody orders. For example, significant changes in a parent’s work schedule could render the existing arrangement unmanageable. In such cases, a modification might be necessary to accommodate these new circumstances.

Health Changes: Alterations in the health status of either parent or the child might also warrant a reassessment of the custody arrangements. For instance, if a parent becomes physically or mentally incapacitated or if a child develops a serious illness that requires specialized care, the court may need to modify the custody order accordingly.

Negative Circumstances: The presence of harmful situations in a parent’s home, such as abuse, neglect, or other forms of danger, can initiate a child custody modification. If it is determined that a child’s wellbeing is at risk, the court will likely take action to alter the existing custody order in the interest of the child’s safety.

Looking for more Information? Download our FREE Guide “Parenting Through Divorce”

Best Interests of the Child

The second consideration for a modification to family law orders in Maryland is that is must serve the best interests of the child, taking into account factors like the child’s age, health, emotional ties with each parent, the child’s preference (if age-appropriate), and the ability of each parent to provide a stable and nurturing environment.

In the context of child custody and visitation modifications, the “best interests of the child” standard is a guiding principle that courts use to make decisions. This principle takes into account various factors that affect the child’s well-being, including:

  • Each parent’s ability to effectively parent and meet the children’s needs
  • The children’s needs, including any special needs they may have
  • The preferences of each parent and, if applicable, the authentic preference of each child
  • Each parent’s commitment to supporting the other’s ongoing relationship with the children
  • Each parent’s commitment to maintaining open communication with the other
  • The overall physical and mental health of each parent and each child
  • The relationship between each parent and each child
  • The impact of each parent’s job demands on their availability for the children
  • The distance between the parents’ homes and its effect on visitation
  • The opportunities each parent can provide for the children
  • Any other relevant factors considered by the court in the specific case at hand.

Here are some scenarios that illustrate how this standard might be applied in actual cases:

Age-Appropriate Arrangements for a Newborn: In the case of a newborn, Maryland law may prioritize the child’s need for consistent and frequent care, which is often provided by the primary caregiver, typically the mother, especially if breastfeeding. The visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent might be structured to allow shorter but more frequent visits to establish a bond with the infant, rather than extended overnight stays that could disrupt the baby’s routine.

School-Age Children and Education Stability: For school-age children, stability in education is a key concern under Maryland law. A modification might be considered if one parent relocates to an area with schools that better serve the child’s educational needs. Alternatively, if a parent moves away, the court in Maryland may adjust the visitation schedule to reduce the impact on the child’s school routine, such as longer visits during school breaks rather than frequent weekends.

Teenagers Expressing Preference: With older children, especially teenagers, Maryland courts may give more weight to the child’s preference, if age-appropriate and maturely reasoned. For instance, a teenager might prefer to live with the parent who resides closer to their school, friends, or extracurricular activities, and the court in Maryland may consider this preference in modifying custody arrangements.

Health Considerations: If a child has specific health needs or a chronic medical condition, Maryland law may require a modification to ensure they reside with the parent best able to manage their medical care. This could involve proximity to specialized healthcare facilities or the parent’s ability to handle the child’s day-to-day medical needs.

Changes in Parental Circumstances: Changes in a parent’s lifestyle or circumstances can also prompt modifications under Maryland law. For example, if a parent has significantly improved their living situation, demonstrated recovery from substance abuse, or shown enhanced stability and ability to provide a nurturing environment, the court in Maryland might consider increasing their custodial time.

Parental Alienation: If one parent is alienating the child from the other parent, Maryland courts might modify custody to ensure that the child maintains a healthy relationship with both parents. This could involve adjusting custody arrangements to reduce the influence of the alienating parent according to Maryland law.

Procedure for Filing a Modification Request in Maryland

Should you believe that you have grounds for a custody modification or if a co-parent has made a request To start the modification process, there are a few steps to follow. We have more details about how to modify family law orders in Maryland in this article. In general, the process of justifying a modification to a custody order involves a two-step process to establish that there has been a material change in circumstances affecting the best interests or general welfare of the child, which the court will consider when reviewing the request.

Common Questions About Child Custody & Visitation in Maryland

How Often Can You Modify Child Custody In Maryland?

In Maryland, there isn’t a set number of times you can modify a child custody order. However, courts are less likely to grant modifications unless there is a significant change in circumstances that affects the welfare of the child. The court’s primary concern is to ensure stability and consistency for the child, so frequent requests for modification may not be looked upon favorably.

Can One Parent In Maryland Stop The Other From Seeing Their Child?

In Maryland, one parent does not generally have the right to stop the other parent from seeing their child unless there is a court order restricting visitation. Such orders are typically granted only in cases where there’s evidence that the child’s safety or wellbeing could be at risk during visitation with the other parent.

What Is the Age at Which a Child’s Preference Is Considered in Maryland Custodial Cases?

In Maryland, there is no specific age at which a court will take a child’s preference into account in custody cases. However, the child’s preference is generally given more consideration as the child gets older and becomes more mature. Courts may start listening to the child’s preference at around the age of 12 or 13, but this can vary depending on the individual child’s maturity and the specific case circumstances. The court will always prioritize the child’s best interest regardless of their expressed preference.

Can A Request Or Petition To Modify A Decree Be Challenged Or Opposed?

Yes, a request or petition to modify a custody decree can be challenged or opposed in Maryland. The parent opposing the modification must respond to the petition, stating their case and providing any necessary evidence. Both parents will have an opportunity to present their arguments before the court, which will then make a determination based on the best interests of the child.

When Can You Consider Modifying Child Support?

You can request a change in child support under Maryland laws when there’s a significant financial change. This could be due to the birth of another child, a considerable increase in the parent’s income, or the parent losing their job. It could also apply if the child’s needs change, like higher medical or educational expenses. To see how these changes might affect support, it’s a good idea to talk to your family lawyer. They can help you figure out how changes may impact your payments.

How Does a Change in Custody Arrangements Affect Child Support?

If there is a change in custody arrangements, such as one parent taking on more custodial responsibilities, child support obligations may need to be recalculated according to Maryland law. For example, if a child moves in with the non-custodial parent paying child support, this parent may request to reduce or terminate their child support payments, subject to Maryland’s specific guidelines and regulations.

Should I Just Negotiate Changes in Child Custody with My Co-Parent?

Coming to a mutual decision with your ex about child custody modification may not be legally binding. The original child custody orders will still be in effect, and failing to comply with them could have legal consequences.

What Happens If a Parent Does Not Comply With Custody Orders?

If a parent fails to comply with custody orders in Maryland, the other parent has the right to seek court intervention. Repeated noncompliance can result in a finding of contempt of court. The consequences of contempt may include fines and, in extreme cases, even jail time. The objective is to ensure that all parties adhere to family law orders and prioritize the best interests of the child. It is crucial to consult with a family lawyer to understand the enforcement process specific to Maryland and the potential legal consequences you may face.

Can Educational Needs of the Child Lead to a Modification in Child Support?

Yes, under Maryland law, the educational needs of the child, including tuition for private school or college, can be considered as a factor in modifying child support. Both parents are generally expected to contribute to these additional expenses.

Related Resources on Maryland Custody Laws

Our website offers a wide range of resources dedicated to Maryland custody laws. These resources are designed to answer common questions about child custody modifications in Maryland. You’ll find information on the modification process, the impact of a child’s opinion on custody decisions, and how to qualify for family law order modifications. Knowing these laws will help you navigate the court system more effectively and advocate for your child’s best interests.

Disclaimer: Maryland custody laws are subject to change. Therefore, for the most current and applicable information relating to your situation, it’s advisable to consult with your lawyer. The guidance provided here is general in nature and may not accurately reflect the nuances of your personal circumstances or recent modifications in the law.

Put Our Legal Team to Work for You

Are you looking to modify child custody and visitation orders in Maryland? This legal process requires proper preparation, documentation, and, if needed, assistance from legal professionals.

If you’re searching for reliable family lawyers in Maryland, you’ve come to the right place. At Petrelli Previtera, our dedicated team has helped numerous individuals overcome family challenges. We’re committed to listening, guiding, and providing support in any family legal matter you’re dealing with. Contact us today to discuss your case. Our Maryland family lawyers are here to support you and work towards a brighter future for your family.

Get Help from our Legal Team

Are you modifying child custody and visitation orders in Maryland? Let’s carefully examine significant changes and find the best solution for your child. This legal process requires preparation, documentation, and, if necessary, assistance from a legal professional. Reach out to our legal team in Maryland today.

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