Child custody can always be modified based upon a change in circumstances and the best interests of the child.
In joint custody cases, Maryland courts apply the following additional factors to determine if joint custody is in a child's best interest:
Willingness of each parent to share custody.
Psychological and physical "fitness" of each parent.
Strength of relationship of child to each parent.
Potential disruption of shared physical custody upon a child's social and school life.
Geographic proximity of the parents' homes.
Demands of parents employment
Age and number of children involved.
Sincerity (motivation) of parent's requests.
Financial status of parents.
Impact on state or federal assistance.
Benefit to parents.
Other factors, as appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
The court applies the "best interests of the child" standard when making custody decisions, and must consider the following factors: The "fitness" of the parents to have custody. The character and reputation of the parties. The desire of the natural parents and any agreements between them. The ability to maintain natural family relations. The preference of the child -- when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form a rational judgment. Material opportunities affecting the future life of the child. The age, health, sex of the child. The suitability of the residences of the parents, and whether the non-custodial parent will have the opportunity to visit. How long the child has been separated for the parent who is seeking custody. The effect of any prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody of a child.
The law does not favor mothers over fathers. The court applies the same gender-neutral factors in all child custody cases.
Legal custody has to do with the way parents make decisions about a child's education, religious training, discipline, medical care, and any other important matters that might effect a child's general well-being.
Physical custody is more straightforward and has to do with the physical care of a child; where the child will live and sleep.
In Maryland, child custody is a blanket term that includes "legal custody," which has to do with decision making for a child, and "physical custody," which has to do with where a child actually lives.