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Unmarried with children: Child custody in Maryland

Many couples who choose not to formally marry often have the same goals as those who do marry, including having children. Similar to married couples, they may decide at any time to dissolve their relationship. When that happens, unmarried parents need to be aware of the differences in how Maryland family law addresses issues of child custody as well as visitation and support.

Laws differ from state to state. Generally, when the parents are unmarried, the natural mother is considered the primary caregiver and holds de facto custody. Even if the natural father lives in the same residence as the child, he will need to provide evidence of paternity. In cases where the father lives separately, the court also requires information about how much time he spends caring for the child, and how present he is in the child's daily life. If living elsewhere, the court will also look at whether the father's residence is set up to accommodate the child's needs.

Other scenarios can become fractious. The parents may disagree about custody or visitation rights. Yet once paternity is established, the law will no longer default physical custody to the mother. At this point, the overall well-being of the child will be the court's standard. Information about each parent's fitness, ability to provide, and importantly, the willingness of each to cooperate in the sharing of custody will all be taken into account.

On the face of it, it may seem to parents that family law should not make such stark distinctions based on whether or not they're married. However, cases exist where one partner may remain unaware for years that he has fathered a child -- a situation highly unlikely in a formal marriage. An experienced Maryland family law firm can help ease a parent's way, whether married or not, through the decisions and logistics of child custody. 

Source: romper.com, "Who Gets Custody If The Parents Aren't Married? Experts Explain The Law", Caroline Shannon-Karasik, Accessed on May 26, 2018

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