The general rule is that in order for a custody or support order to be modified in Maryland, there must be a material change in circumstances. For example, financial hardship due to the loss of a job, the addition or removal of certain expenses related to children (e.g. daycare), or a windfall of money are events that would likely qualify as a change in circumstances, and thereby warrant a modification to a support order.
The process of justifying a modification to a custody order is much more detailed. Specifically, it is a two-step process, whereby it must be established that there has been a material change in circumstances that is affecting the best interests or the general welfare of the child.
For instance, if one parent moves out of state, then the child might not be able to visit with that parent as often. Alternatively, a parent who lived far away could move closer to the child, and request additional time with the child. It could be that the children are poorly raised and are starting to exhibit dangerous behavior linked to a living condition, and there may need to be an intervention. For example, if a parent begins abusing substances or gets incarcerated, then that would warrant a modification to the custody order.
It is not always the case that the proposed change in circumstances is significant enough to warrant a custody order modification. Oftentimes, one parent will just be upset at the other, or just want the custody order to be changed. It is not easy to execute a modification to an existing custody order without clear evidence of a substantial change in circumstances that affects the best interests of the child.
Determining the best interests of the child requires a consideration of roughly 25 factors, including the fitness of the parents. If there has been no material change in circumstance but the fitness has deteriorated, that may not justify a modification, although it would be a concern. This is a source of frustration in some cases. Other factors in the determination of the best interests of the child include geographic vicinity, material aspects affecting the child, the age of the child, and the nature of communication between the parents.
How Often Can You Modify Child Custody In Maryland?
There is no limit to the number of times, or the length of time, during which custody modification petitions can be made. However, as you are required to show a change in material circumstances in order to justify that request, and prove the change to get it accepted, the number of opportunities for doing so may be quite limited.
That said, wherever there are significant changes in circumstances, custody can be modified. If a parent is hospitalized, loses or gets a new job, moves to a new home, or any other number of possible changes in circumstances that affect the well-being of the child, a custody change can be requested.
These changes must impact the wellbeing, or potential wellbeing, of the child, however. Not the convenience of the parents, or even the preference of the child unless they are older. Starting at 16, a child can make the request themselves for a change in custody as well but will need to provide reasons beyond a preference for doing so.
What Forms Do I Need To Modify Child Custody In Maryland?
While it is possible to fill out your own forms to request a child custody modification, it is probably wiser to have a lawyer do so for you. Incorrectly filling out the forms, missing deadlines, or missing attached documents can all cost you your chance at a better custody arrangement.
That said, if you do wish to do so yourself, you’ll have to start with a DR-7 form (domestic relationships form 7), assuming there is already a custody court order in effect in which you were either the plaintiff or defendant.
To this, you will need to attach the original court order, as well as the current addresses and phone numbers of both yourself and the other parent (or other plaintiff or defendant in the original case).
Once you have filled in all the relevant information, you will need to indicate the change in material circumstances that motivates your request to modify the current custody order. Remember, these changes need to be significant, as does the impact on the child’s well-being if you wish to have a chance at a new arrangement.
Can One Parent In Maryland Stop The Other From Seeing Their Child?
In Maryland, unless the court has deprived one parent of their visitation rights, it is impossible to legally prevent contact between a child and their parent.
During divorce proceedings, courts will consider and resolve the issue of child custody for any children of the couple. This could result in sole custody, or shared custody, for both legal and physical custody of the child. Even in cases of sole custody, however, the court will generally require that a visitation schedule and arrangement be reached so that the child can continue to see both parents. With some exceptions.
In cases of truly violent, dangerous, or heinous acts, a court can deny the parental rights of the abuser, including depriving them of visitation rights. This is not done lightly, however.
It is also the only way to prevent a child from seeing their other parent, legally. Physically preventing them from doing so within the bounds of their visitation agreement without permission from the courts is a crime.
Can A Request Or Petition To Modify A Decree Be Challenged Or Opposed?
A request or petition to modify a decree can absolutely be challenged. In court, one party could deny every single thing the other party claims, and they could file their opposition to the court. Often, cases involve heavily contested issues.
For more information on Modification Of Court Orders In A Divorce, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (240) 331-0083 today.