Maryland Needs to Bring Its Child Custody Policies Into the 21ST Century

Shared Parenting

MARYLAND LAWMAKERS created a special commission in 2013 to study how child custody decisions are made in the state’s courts. The group met over 18 months and heard from more than 200 stakeholders, including judges, family law attorneys, and mental health professionals. It issued its final report in 2014, detailing a series of ways to improve how these critical decisions, often fraught with emotion, are made. The reforms have yet to be put in place. Let’s hope, then, that when the General Assembly convenes this month, it gives needed attention to this critical issue and follows the thoughtful direction provided by this commission.

The lack of legislative action in implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making has been because of controversy over whether the standard that guides judges in determining custody should be changed. Under current law, Maryland courts prioritize the “best interest of the child” when making child custody decisions. Activists, including those for fathers’ rights, have pushed for a presumption of joint custody, a standard currently under consideration, as The Post’s Michael Alison Chandler reported, by a growing number of states.

The Maryland commission opted against a change to presumption and, we believe, for good cause. There are clear benefits to shared parenting, and it, in fact, is the choice of most divorcing parents. But imposing a one-size-fits-all rule that uses a count of overnights to determine fairness for a parent would undermine important protections for children. Judges must have the discretion to determine what is in the “best interest of the child,” and sometimes that might mean deciding a parent — no matter how loving or well-intentioned — is ill-equipped to share custody.

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