Understanding the Difference Between the 4 Main Types of Child Custody

Under Maryland state law, both biological parents of a child have the right to act as natural custodians unless custody is disputed in court (the law treats both the mother and the father equally). Depending on the situation, however, custody may be granted either solely to one of the parents or shared between them. In some cases, grandparents and others may even seek custody as well. Read on to learn about the four main types of child custody offered in Maryland.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is awarded when only a single parent is deemed fit to care for a child. This is often the case because one parent lives very far away or has financial, drug, and/or alcohol problems. A parent may be awarded sole physical custody, sole legal custody, or both (see below).

Joint Custody

Joint custody allows both parents to be heavily involved in the child’s life. How this manifests changes on a case by case basis, however. For example, parents with joint custody might take turns living with their child. The child might spend an equal amount of time living with each parent, or they might live with one parent during the week and another on weekends. In other cases, a child might only live with one parent full time (known as the "custodial" parent), but both parents make important decisions about the child’s upbringing.

Physical Custody

When a parent has been granted physical custody of a child by the court, this means that the parent has been granted the legal right to live with the child. Physical custody may be joint (meaning the child alternatively lives with both parents) or sole (the child only lives with the custodial parent). In Maryland, physical custody may also be referred to as "parenting time."

Legal Custody

Legal custody grants one or both parents the right to make important decisions regarding the child's life, including about things like their religion, education, health, and upbringing. In some cases, while only one parent may be granted physical custody, both parents may be awarded legal custody. In this scenario, even though the child lives with only one parent, both parents have the right to make decisions regarding their child and may be required to collaborate on such choices.

Contact a Child Custody Attorney to Learn More

Though the above are the major types of child custody offered, there are others including emergency (or “ex parte”) custody, which is available when a parent or relative fears for the wellbeing of a child. If you require assistance determining which type of custody is right for you and your child, speaking with a local and experienced lawyer who practices in legal family matters may help. An attorney can inform you of your rights, provide relevant legal advice, and represent you in court if necessary.

If you are in need of legal assistance, we offer free phone consultations to all new clients. Contact our Annapolis office to learn more.

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