In Maryland, there are two types of custody which must be addressed in each situation – physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the amount of time and the type of schedule that each parent has with their child. When parents separate, the main question becomes: when will the child spend time with each parent? Physical custody addresses this concern, usually through what is frequently referred to as an “access schedule.” An access schedule determines the set times that each parent has access with their children. Access schedules can take several forms depending on the circumstances, including how far the parents live from one another, the children’s school schedule, and various other factors.
Physical custody also addresses vacations and holidays. For example, separate access schedules for the school session and summer break may exist. This, in turn, allows parents to leverage summer break to spend more time with children while adhering to the issued access schedule. When children have breaks from school, this can give parents more flexibility to structure the access schedule in different ways and have more time with their children.
Legal custody is separate from physical custody and refers to the decision-making authority of each parent. There are a few different types of legal custody; joint legal custody, joint legal custody with tie-breaking authority and sole legal custody.
Joint legal custody allows parents to work together to make decisions on behalf of the children if they both believe they are in their children’s best interests. This often works well for parents who can communicate well and discuss issues concerning their children.
Legal custody does not pertain to minor, day-to-day decisions regarding the children, such as what the child eats for dinner or what day their child goes to the park. What we’re referring to in legal custody are major issues like the child’s education, medical decisions, decisions concerning religion and the like.
Joint legal custody with tie-breaking authority is a different type of legal custody. It is similar to joint legal custody but with tie-breaking authority, which means one parent is vested with the ultimate authority to make the final decision. Joint legal custody with tie-breaking authority still requires the parents to work together and have good faith discussions about the issue at hand. “Tie-breaking authority” does not mean that the parent having tie-breaking authority can unilaterally decide without discussing or seeking the other parent’s input. The parent with tie-breaking authority must try to have discussions with the other parent, seeking their input and hoping to find a mutually agreeable solution. If these discussions have occurred and the parents still cannot come to a joint agreement, one parent is vested with the ability and authority to make the final decision on behalf of the child. Sometimes, tie-breaking authority may be limited to specific issues (i.e. medical issues) and need not apply to all major topics concerning the children.
Sole legal custody is another type of legal custody. Sole legal custody exists when one parent has the ultimate authority to make decisions but can do so independently and without seeking the other parent’s input. Sole legal custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent with control shouldn’t seek input from the other parent. It is usually encouraged that parents try to discuss issues together. However, under sole legal custody, the parent with sole legal custody is technically not required to discuss problems with the other parent. Sole legal custody is not frequently granted but may be warranted in certain cases, such as where one parent is completely absent from the child’s life or has demonstrated a complete inability to communicate with the other parent.
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