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Modern Family Law Views

Modern Family Law Views – New Custody Laws Around the Corner?

June 11, 2013

New Custody Laws Around the Corner?

A new law from the latest Maryland legislative session creates a commission to study the practice, principles, and process for child custody decision-making in Maryland, and to submit reports and recommendations to the Governor.  The commission membership is to include a cross-section from the legal, mental health, special interest, and educational communities.  The work of this commission could mean the child custody law of Maryland soon undergoes many substantial changes.

First, the form of custody law in Maryland currently is primarily based on jurisprudence, meaning it is contained piecemeal in published cases from the two Maryland appellate courts.  This can make it time consuming, difficult, and expensive to ascertain the exact contours of the law.  The commission is specifically tasked with studying the custody statutes of other states and with studying whether instead the Maryland Code should contain a statute that includes definitions and factors for making custody decisions.

Second, the substance of the law might be changed in any of a variety of ways.  For example, the commission is to study how to make child custody orders more uniform, fair and equitable; study how to promote and ensure that children have ongoing relationships with each parent; and study the advantages and disadvantages of joint physical custody.

Third, the wording of existing legal concepts could change.  For example, the law specifically charges the commission with studying the standardization of language used by courts for clarity and to eliminate exclusionary or discriminatory terms.

Fourth, the court process and procedure for getting to a child custody decision could change.  As part of its duties, the commission must study how to improve timely access to the court for temporary, initial, and modification child custody proceedings.

Fifth, the commission might lead to more informed and uniform child custody orders.  The commission is supposed to study how to make judicial training programs regarding child custody more available, consistent, and culturally sensitive and diverse.

If this sounds like a tall order, it is made more so by the short timeline for the commission to complete its mandate.  The law establishing the commission goes into effect July 1, 2013.  The commission then must be appointed, organized and begin deliberations no later than September 1, 2013.  It is to hold public meetings in at least five different locations throughout Maryland by December 31, 2013.  It also must report interim findings and recommendations by the same date, and submit a final report no later than December 1, 2014.

Similar commissions in the past lead to sweeping reform of Maryland alimony and marital property laws.  So look for many substantial changes in the Maryland child custody law to be proposed in the 2015 legislative session!

For a complete text of the new law, see the Maryland General Assembly homepage at: and search for HB687.

© 2013 by Hadrian N. Hatfield

Modern Family Law Views is meant as an information tool to help people going through the separation or divorce process and those working with them.

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Scott M. Strickler

Hadrian N. Hatfield

Heather L. Mehigan

Geoffrey S. Platnick

Kelly E. Davis