Introduction to Child Custody
Having dealt with the issues of divorce, child custody, and child support as a family law attorney in Howard County, Maryland, and surrounding counties for over thirty years, I know that of most importance to many of my clients is the protection of their children despite the fact the spouses will be living separately. If the parties cannot agree, the courts will make a determination as to “what is in the best interests of the child”. The following factors are considered by the courts –who has the requisite parenting skills, who has been active in the child’s life, are one or both of the parents considered nurturing and supportive to the child or children. Factors that can negatively affect one of the spouses from becoming the primary or sole custodian include: domestic violence or abuse, physical disabilities that affect the ability to provide parenting functions, addictions such as alcohol or drugs that are not controlled, lack of involvement with the child or children, failure to financially support the children, negligence, and indifference. These are not of all the factors and each individual case must be reviewed to determine what is in the best interests of the children.
There are varying types of custody and visitation. “Sole custody” generally means that one parent makes all of the major decisions affecting the child’s health, education, and welfare. In a typical sole custody arrangement, the child lives with that parent and, on a schedule, visits with the other parent.
“Joint custody” often means that the child divides his/her time, not necessarily equally, with each parent.
If the parties cannot agree regarding custody and visitation, the Court will make those determinations, initially on a temporary basis, and then on a more permanent basis. Even if the parties enter into an agreement regarding custody and visitation, the Court still can modify the written agreement if the agreement is determined not to be in the best interests of the child/children.
Maryland has guidelines that are used in establishing the amount of child support. These are called the Maryland Child Support Guidelines and, when the guidelines are applied, the support amount is presumed to be correct.
Prior to the implementation of the Guidelines, each side would utilize all kinds of efforts and tricks to achieve either the most amount of child support if you were representing the custodial parent or the least amount if you were representing the non-custodial parent who was paying child support. (See link to applying the child support guidelines.)
The parties can agree that the child support is to be paid directly from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. However, the courts usually create a withholding order that is directed to the non-custodial parent’s employer to help ensure that the child support is paid. The withholding order directs the non-custodial parent’s employer to withhold the weekly, bi-weekly, semimonthly or monthly child support amount and to pay it to a state agency ( Child Support Agency) which then forwards the payment to the custodial parent. The drawbacks from using payment through a child support agency are that from the time either the Court establishes the amount of child support or the parties agree to the amount of child support it takes several or more weeks for the order to be performed by the child support agency. Also, if the custodial parent is terminated from his or her employment or voluntarily leaves the job, there may be a considerable gap in time before the custodial parent receives the child support.
There are many sub-issues involving child support such as determining how much more income is to be added to the parties’ incomes for voluntary contributions to 401(k) plans, other deferred income contributions, expenses paid by employers that are actually payments that provide the employee with additional funds for “personal expenses,” how much of the total health insurance premium is attributable to the children and not the parent, and many other sub-issues.
We can answer your questions and concerns about child support so call us for your free initial consultation. Call Fred at 410 730 4404 or in the Washington, DC area call 301 596 1166 as that line is routed to our offices here in Columbia, Maryland.