For married parents thinking of divorce, the most gut-wrenching discussions revolve around their children; specifically, child custody. For parents, the idea of not being able to interact with a child at any time is heartbreaking. This is why understanding the child custody process in Maryland can be a good first step to reduce parental apprehension.
Depending on the parents’ ability to agree, the child custody cases involve several steps. First, often prior to meeting with the judge for the first time, or soon after the first meeting, family law cases that involve children are referred to family support services. Every county in our state has a Family Services Program managed by a Family Services staff, and six counties have a designated Family Division. Family support services including co-parenting courses, custody evaluations, parenting coordination, mediation, and child access and visitation services.
The second step is a scheduling conference. This is where the parties first meet in the courthouse with the family court judge. The judge will help the parties identify the disputed issues and refer the couple to family resources, like co-parenting courses and mediation services, if they have not already connected with family support services. The judge will also set case deadlines during this initial conference.
The next meeting with the judge is the pre-trial settlement conference. This is the conference that is schedule prior to the family court trial. At this conference, the judge will attempt to reach a settlement, if one was not already reached. If there are still outstanding issues, the judge will coordinate on how to proceed to trial, if needed.
Finally, if the parties cannot agree on all outstanding issues, the parties will proceed to trial. At trial, the family court judge will decide parenting time, physical and legal custody, and child support. These decision are made based on the best interests of the child.
While it is possible to navigate this entire process without help, because child custody and divorce will affect every aspect of one’s life, having professional help can make a huge difference. Having someone there to help navigate the process and fight for the parent’s interest makes the entire process go smoother and ensures one’s rights are protected.