Maryland Child Custody Lawyer           Jack I Hyatt             410 - 486 - 1800

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"....Thank you for the conscientious way you represented me in my custody case and dealing with the unusal issues that came up throughout my case. As the result of your tireless and persistent representation, you were able to get my two sons back for me in a case that seemed to be a constant uphill battle. Your representation was excellent and you are truly an outstanding dedicated lawyer. I do not believe anyone will find better representation in a custody case than from your office....."

H. Seebold III

".... Since you took over the case from my last attorney, I could see a world of difference as your being aggressive and persistant seemed to make all the difference. Thanks again for getting my daughter back....."

William M.

".....I wanted to express my thanks for the concern you have shown in representing me with an emergency petition for modification of the existing custody order. It is not often an attorney will devote Saturday and Sunday hours to be sure all douments are promplty filed and serviced to meet last minute time conditions. I felt comfortable as your answres to my questions were much more understandable than answers from my last attorney, and you seemed more knowlegeable about custody and family law issues....

David J.

"...Once again, thank you for being patient, answering all of my questions and turning around what once seemed to be a losing, long drawn out struggle to get back custody of my child...."

Deborah L.

"....I was begining to lose hope because it seemed my last lawyer did not do anything unless I called him. I appreciated that you kept me informed without me having to ask, gave me straight forward answers to all of my questions and being aggressive. Thanks again...."

Chuck F.

All testimonials are on file in our office.


Unfortunately, a child custody battle is exactly what it will turn into. Before you reach the point of court intervention to decide custody think long and hard. A child custody battle puts the child right smack in the middle of your battle. Why are you fighting for custody? Are you fighting FOR custody or fighting so that your ex-spouse DOESN'T HAVE custody? Is it in the best interest of the child? If you've determined that it's the right thing to do for the children to go forward, what can you expect when the court intervenes?

"The court will take into consideration the best interest of the child when making the decision who gets child custody. "If the court feels that neither parent is acting in the best interest of the child a guardian ad litem may be appointed to help in making decisions on the behalf of the child. "Depending on the age of the child, their wishes may or may not be taken into consideration. Some states strongly take into consideration the wishes of the child depending on their age, some states do not consider the child's wishes at all, without regard to age.

"Traditionally, the judicial system leans towards deciding in favor of the mother in custody cases. However, with more women pursuing full time careers this trend may be changing. It is no longer assumed that the mother is the primary caregiver. "Unless the situation is so obvious that one parent should have custodial rights over the other (such as in drug abuse or physical abuse) a court ordered independent evaluation will probably be ordered. The evaluation is usually done by a court appointed mental health professional such as a psychologist or a social worker.

A thorough evaluation can include the following: interviews with all the parties involved (individually and possibly with the parent and child together); psychological testing of both parents and the child; review of school records and or conversations with teachers; review of medical records and developmental history; review of legal records, such as the papers filed regarding the divorce, any possible domestic disputes and any criminal records of either party involved. Be prepared for the evaluation to take at least four to six weeks if not longer. Be prepared for a time consuming and costly battle.

Family Law Attorney
Maryland Custody Lawyer
Attorney Credentials:
Former Assistant State's Attorney
Admitted To Practice Before:
The U.S. Supreme Court
All Maryland Courts
Federal District Court
Maryland State Bar Association 
Baltimore City Bar Association 
Baltimore County Bar Association 
University of Baltimore 
A.A. B.S. J.D. 
Honorable Discharge U.S. Army

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Types of Custody

Learn the difference between legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and joint custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.

If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won't get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you -- which may harm the children. What's more, if you're represented by an attorney, it's sure to be expensive.

If you think you have circumstances that make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won't communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for a change in custody so that you have sole legal custody. But, in many states, you will have to overcome a presumption that joint legal custody is preferable.

Physical Custody

Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody to both parents when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have sole physical custody, with visitation to the other parent. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.

Sole Custody

How can I keep custody of my daughter when her father has a criminal record?

One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. In most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role a divorced father plays in his children's lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody , the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In that situation, the parents would make joint decisions about the child's upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights.

Courts generally won't hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit -- for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect.

It's understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse. But it's best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may simply allow supervised visitation, while still ordering joint legal custody.

Joint Custody

Parents who don't live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:

joint legal custody

joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent),


joint legal and physical custody. It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, but not necessarily the other way around.

When parents share joint custody, usually they work out a schedule according to their work requirements and housing arrangements and the children's needs. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent's house or apartment. Other joint physical custody arrangements include:

alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other.

Joint custody has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents. And it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent. There are, of course, disadvantages:

Children must be shuttled around.

Parental noncooperation or ill will can have seriously negative effects on children. Maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.

If you do have a joint custody arrangement, maintain detailed and organized financial records of your expenses. Keep receipts for groceries, school and after-school activities, clothing, and medical care. At some point your ex may claim she or he has spent more money on the kids than you have, and a judge will appreciate your

Bird's Nest Custody

Bird's nest custody is a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, spending their out time in separate housing of their own.

The terms "sole custody" and "joint custody" are somewhat generic.

They represent categories of custody, but custody itself is best understood as a continuum, as unique as the parents who divorce.

Imagine a continuum with parents who are completely cooperative at one end and a single parent raising children alone, with no involvement on the part of the other parent, at its other end. At the cooperative extreme, parents may live next door to each other and the children may go back and forth interchangeably. At the other, the non-custodial parent may have died or disappeared. While the former example is more usual than the latter, your family probably falls somewhere in between

Types of Custody

In general, legal custody refers to whether one or both of the parents make legal decisions regarding the child - such as educational, medical or religious choices. A court can give parents joint legal custody, in which case they make such decisions together, or give one parent sole legal custody, in which case that parent makes decisions alone, although the other still has a right to be kept fully informed. Physical custody refers to the child's living arrangements. A court can give both parents physical custody, in which event they share parenting time on an approximately equal basis, or it can give one parent primary physical custody and the other more limited parenting time.

It is possible for a court to award joint legal and joint physical custody to the parents. However, a court can also award joint legal custody, but give one parent primary physical custody. On rare occasions (such as when one parent is mentally impaired but otherwise a positive influence), a court may even award sole legal custody to one parent, with a shared physical custody arrangement.

Factors to Consider

What's best for your children depends on many factors.

You and your spouse would be good candidates for joint legal custody if: Both of you are good parents;

Each of you trusts the other to be a good parent;

Each of you has the maturity to set aside the personal differences that gave rise to the divorce because your primary focus is on doing what's best for your children;

and There is no history within your relationship of domestic violence or other control issues that would make joint decision-making difficult or impossible. The very worst place for children to be is at the center of ongoing conflict between their parents.

Parents Working Together

Regardless of whether or not joint custody is appropriate for your case, please understand that parents can and should attempt to work together in most cases, even when one parent has sole custody. There are unusual situations in which the other parent is so harmful that your duty, as a good parent, is to protect your children from him or her. Fortunately, this is rare. In the vast majority of cases, children of divorce will do best when both parents take a positive and active role, and each encourages an ongoing, meaningful relationship with the other.

The Importance of Consulting an Attorney

There are many ways in which custody issues impact divorce.

To explore the various types of custody in adequate detail and evaluate which may be best for your children, consult with a competent domestic relations attorney.

Please keep in mind that custody should be done right the first time. If you enter into a custody agreement that is inappropriate, or if the court is presented with inadequate information upon which to enter orders, the impact on your children can be negative. Even so, once custody orders are entered, they can be extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to modify.

This is true regardless of whether those orders were the result of negotiated settlement or litigation.

You could end up in court (or back in court if the case was initially decided by a judge) attempting to re-litigate issues you thought were settled. Worse yet, you might be unable to convince the court to change custody and visitation orders that harm your children.

Therefore, it is essential to focus from the outset on obtaining custody orders that best serve their needs.

Children are Priceless

Attorneys are expensive but children are priceless.

Even if you and your spouse are in agreement about custody and visitation, I recommend you consult with a competent domestic relations attorney before making any important decisions.

Temporary Custody

- "De facto" (means "in fact") custody refers to who actually has custody of the child at this time. This can be different from "court ordered custody". In order to formalize custody before you begin litigation, you will need to file for temporary custody. Temporary custody will be based on the "best interests" of the child standard. It is not an "initial" award of custody. Instead it is temporary custody while you wait for the court to hold a hearing.

Sole Custody

- Custody is made up of: legal custody and physical custody. A person with legal custody has the right to make long range plans and decisions for the education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significance concerning the child's welfare. A person with physical custody has the child living primarily with them and they have the right to make decisions as to the child's everyday needs. Sole Custody is when both legal and physical custody are given to one parent. The child has only one primary residence.

Split Custody

- Split custody is easiest to describe in a situation where there are two children and each parent obtains full physical custody over one child. Some of the considerations that may bring about this result are age of the children and child preference.

Joint Custody

- Joint Custody is actually broken down into three categories: Joint Legal, Shared Physical, and Combination.

Joint Legal custody is where the parents share care and control of the upbringing of the child, but the child has only one primary residence.

In Shared Physical Custody the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of their time with the other parent.

Additionally, you can make your own special joint custody agreement that is any combination of Shared Physical and Joint Legal Custody. One example of this is when there is one residence for the child and the parents live with the child there on a rotating basis.

The court looks very closely at Joint Custody agreements. The most important factor to Joint Legal Custody to Shared Physical Custody is the ability of the parents to talk about and reach joint decisions that affect the child's welfare. If you are constantly fighting over what religion or what school, the court may strike down your agreement.

Other factors include:

willingness to share custody; fitness;

child's relationships with parents;

child's preference;

ability to stabilize child's school and social life;

closeness to parent's homes (primarily a factor during the school year) ;

employment considerations (e.g. long hours, extensive travel, etc.);

age and number of children;

financial status;

benefit to parent.

Additionally, the sincerity of the parties involved is important. The court will want to make sure that joint custody isn't being traded for concessions on other points. Another consideration is whether the grant of joint custody will affect any assistance programs.

Currently, Welfare and Medical Assistance are affected based on the award of Joint Legal Custody. Be sure to check with your contact at any social service agencies before entering into an agreement or you may be jeopardizing your benefits. This list is not meant to be complete and the court will hear anything that they believe to be relevant.

Child Custody Concerns in Maryland

Whether handling a stipulated stepparent adoption or an emotionally-charged child custody dispute, the family law attorneys at Stearns-Montgomery & Associates provide all of our clients with caring and supportive legal advocacy along with experienced legal representation and results.

Our firm is a smaller law firm by choice: we know our clients by name and personally manage every aspect of their case, providing outstanding representative in a cost-effective manner. When deciding issues regarding child custody, courts in Georgia will consider many factors including:

Best interests of the child

Suitability of each parent as custodian Psychological, emotional, and developmental needs of the child Ability of the parents to communicate Prior and continuing care that the parents have given the child Wishes of the child Safety of the child

Custodial agreements of the parents

History of domestic abuse

We zealously represent the best interests of mothers, fathers, grandparents and other interested parties in custody controversies without putting children in the middle of the dispute. We are committed to providing the most effective level of service to each of our valued clients in a caring and compassionate manner. We handle child custody issues including:

Adoption and stepparent adoptions

Child custody, legal custody, physical custody, temporary custody and visitation Child support, child support enforcement and child support modification Guardian ad Litem services regarding child custody and modification Grandparent custody, grandparent visitation and grandparent rights Interstate jurisdictional issues-Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). Marital settlement agreements Mediation and settlement agreements

Call Now for a Thorough Evaluation of your Case. 410-486-1800

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