One of the most common questions we hear from our clients during divorces is, “Do my children have a choice about which parent they want to live with?” Maryland has a number of different guidelines regarding children’s involvement in custody proceedings. The older the child, the more valuable their input – but, as in any custody action, the court decides based solely on the best interests of the child.
In a child custody case, a judge may choose to appoint an attorney for the child. This attorney can serve one of three roles:
- A child privilege attorney, who decides whether or not a child’s confidential information should be shared in court
- A best interest attorney, who advocates for a child’s best interests (not necessarily their wishes)
- A child advocate attorney, who advocates for older children whose parents are not serving their best interests
Alternatively, a judge may also choose to interview a child in judge’s chambers to hear their views and wishes. These interviews are not confidential and can be shared in court.
Children over 16 years old
If a child is 16 years or older, however, in Maryland they have the legal right to take custody matters into their own hands. The law gives children aged 16 and older the power to petition the court for a change of custody if they are unhappy with their current custody situation. The child will have to prove that this change contributes to their overall emotional and physical well-being, but typically the court will honor their wishes unless a parent can prove the change is not in the child’s best interests.
Factors the court uses to determine “best interests” include the fitness of the parent, caregiving abilities, where the parent lives, and if the child has any health or special needs concerns.
A 16-year-old does not need an adult, parent or guardian to petition the court on their behalf in seeking a change in custody. However, when dealing with the court, especially as a minor, it’s crucial to have legal representation. Experienced family law attorneys can help ensure all paperwork and documents are filed correctly and that the child and their wishes are properly represented at all hearings.
If the court decides a change in custody is in the best interest of the child, it will issue a modification of the custody order, transferring primary custody to the other parent.
Child custody can be an emotional and trying process on both parents and children. If you need an advocate, the Rockville attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. can help. We provide experienced and knowledgeable representation. Call 443-917-3347, or feel free to reach out to us through our contact form. We also maintain offices in Fulton, Columbia, and Bethesda.
At McCabe Russell, PA, we have an established reputation as assertive and confident negotiators and litigators, offering legal guidance designed to eliminate any of our clients’ worries and confusion. We are experienced family law attorneys in Howard and Montgomery County, but we serve clients throughout Maryland. Read more about McCabe Russell, PA.