Courts have extremely broad discretion in matters involving child custody and visitation. An award of custody of a minor child by a court to one or both parents is based upon what is in the best interest of the child. In determining child custody matters, a court considers and weighs numerous factors including, the mental and physical health of each parent; the fitness and character of each parent; the willingness of each parent to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent; the relationship between the child and each parent; the motivation (sincerity) of each parent's custody requests; and the parental preference of the child when the child is of sufficient age to form a rational judgment.
There are two types of child custody in Maryland: "physical custody" and "legal custody". One parent may have sole physical and/or legal custody or the parties may share physical and/or legal custody.
"Legal custody" relates to a parent's right to make decisions and long range plans regarding the child's education, religious training, medical care and other matters of major significance concerning the child's life and welfare.
"Sole legal custody" means that one parent alone has the right to make decisions and long range plans regarding the child without regard to the other parent's wishes.
"Joint legal custody" means that both parents have an equal voice in making significant decisions, and that neither parent's decision-making rights are superior to the other. Joint legal custody does not control where the child lives. It only means decisions are jointly made.
"Physical custody" relates to where the child lives.
"Sole physical custody" means that the child lives primarily with one parent. The other parent typically has access to the child for "visitation" on a set schedule.
The place where the child lives and how much time each parent has with the child may vary greatly from one "joint physical custody" arrangement to another. Usually one parent's home is the "primary residence" and the other parent has the child on a set schedule. However, under some "joint physical custody" arrangements, each parent has the child for a nearly identical amount of time.