When Can a Child Choose a Custodial Parent in Maryland?

One of the most difficult issues to resolve in a divorce is figuring out your child custody agreement. Parents often disagree on what is best for their child, so this can be a highly disputed issue. However, what happens if your child would like to be included in child custody conversations? Can a child choose a custodial parent in Maryland? Today, we review how a child’s preferences could impact a child custody determination. 

How Does a Child’s Preferences Affect Child Custody?

The courts must determine how to allocate parental responsibilities, including where the child will live. The court divides child custody into two categories: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make decisions for the child, including medical and educational decisions. Physical custody refers to where the child will reside.

When determining physical and legal custody, a judge will refer to a set of factors to evaluate what it feels is in the child’s best interest. One of these factors is the child’s preferences along with the following:

  • Each parent’s parenting abilities
  • Each parent’s home environment
  • Child’s relationship with each parent
  • Child’s age, sex, and health
  • Willingness of each parent to share custody
  • Each parent’s job and financial wellbeing
  • Parents’ ability to work together
  • Ages and number of children the parents have together

The court will also include the child’s preferences if the child is at least 16 years old. At that age, the child can also petition the court for change of custody. This does not mean the court will forgo other factors though before determining custody. Additionally, if the child’s preferences would go against the child’s best interest, the court may go against them.

Can a Child Under 16 Years Old Determine Their Custodial Parent?

The judge will consider the child’s maturity and age before determining if his/her preferences should be taken into consideration in a custody hearing. Asking a child to choose their custodial parent puts an immense amount of pressure on him/her, which is why a judge is hesitant to consider a child’s preferences if the kid is under 16 years old. Instead of speaking directly to the child the judge may ask to have an attorney appointed to represent the child or appoint a private custody evaluate. This allows a child’s preferences to be expressed and then presented to the court.

Does a Child Have to Testify in Court?

The child can testify in court with their parents present if this is appropriate. The child can also testify in court without their judge present or speak to the judge outside of the courtroom. The judge will listen to what the child has to say; however, it is his/her obligation to act in the child’s best interest. The child’s opinion does play a role in this determination though. Whether a child testifies in the courtroom under oath or outside the courtroom in the judge’s chambers is up to the judge’s discretion.

If you require assistance with your child custody agreement, contact our office online or call us at (410) 593-0040.

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