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Is a Child’s Preference Considered in A Custody Case?

The Law Office Phillips & Allen PA Nov. 19, 2022

The child never is in a position to make that decision on their own. You can imagine the situation where the teenager is given the choice do I live with dad, who makes me do my homework, who makes me go to bed at a certain hour and eat three good meals versus the mom that lets me run around with my boyfriend, smoke cigarettes, drink beer and miss school and not do my homework which your average teenager is going to do. The child never has that decision. In common law, there is what is called the rule 7, 0 to 7; what the child wants is all but irrelevant, unless the child is reporting some kind of abuse. That age is still believing in Santa Claus and Easter Bunnies and that age is also very prone to saying what they think will please a parent.

They often say in mom’s presence what they think mom wants to hear and in dad’s presence what dad wants to hear. Seven to fourteen, the court is going to listen to what the child says, but their mental development is still, not at a high level yet and it is somewhat taken with the grain of salt unless they are reporting abuse. Fourteen to eighteen, the court is going to give it more weight and it is going to be a full factor, but the court is going to wonder why the child prefers one parent or the other is it for a good reason or bad. Now if you have a teenager, fifteen to sixteen years old, that is making statements about running away, that gives a court pause as to what they are going to do because kids of that age can run away and they do.

Do Grandparents Or Other Relatives Ever Have Any Custodial Or Visitation Rights?

They do not have any rights until a court order is issued. Grandparents or a third party cannot file for custody. In Maryland, the first step is that in the case, they have to prove that the parent or the parents, if there are two parents involved, are unfit. If the court finds that one or both of the parents are fit, grandparents or the third party is out. Their case is where a parent or parents leave the child with the daycare provider or grandparents and disappears for a couple of years, which is an argument that the parent is unfit, but the court has to find the parent or parents are unfit. Once they do that, then the best interest of the child analysis kicks in.

How Long Does It Take For The Court To Decide The Custody Decision?

It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some areas, it moves very quickly. I mean in Garret County, I have child custody cases that go to trial in four to five months. I mean that being said, sometimes it is more like six or seven before you get to trial date.

Can A Custody Or Support Agreement Ever Be Modified?

In custody, you have to show a material change of circumstances. It varies somewhat from judge to judge and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, what they consider a material change of circumstance. Now a typical one would be children with one parent and not doing well in school with that parent. One of the parents moves far away or some health problem develops with one of the parents or if there is some abuse reported.

Those are all material changes of circumstances. Child support varies a bit more. You need to have again a material and considerable change in either custody or income. But there has been a movement in a lot of jurisdictions to periodically review a child support order and that varies really from judge to judge, how often do they do that.

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