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Understanding Child Custody & Visitation Cases

What is Child Custody & Visitation?

Child Custody refers to the legal arrangements about who a child will live on a regular basis (physical custody) and how major decisions about the child will be made (legal custody). If the Court awards a parent sole legal custody, that parent alone can make major decisions for the child. However, if the Court awards parents joint custody, they have to work together to make decisions for their child.

If parents choose to settle the case, they can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of the children. If the Court must decide custody, the judge will determine what is in the best interest of the children.

Visit the Child Custody Access & Mediation page to learn more about how parents can create their own custody plan on behalf of their children.

Download the Supervised Visitation Brochure (PDF)


Basic Steps in Child Custody & Visitation Cases

Before parents can address the issues of custody and visitation of their minor children, either the mother or father from a married couple must first file a Complaint requesting a divorce or file a Petition for custody/visitation and support of minor children's action. If the parents are unmarried, either the mother or the father must file an action to establish the parental relationship or file a Petition for custody and support of minor children.

Once you, as a parent, have considered all the topics involving family cases, and you or your attorney has taken steps to file a family case, the other parent must be served with a copy of the paperwork filed in the Court and a Writ of Summons. Next, the served parent must file an Answer to the Complaint. The Answer indicates how the served individual would prefer to deal with the Complaint for child custody and visitation. If he/she fails to file the Answer within the time period specified on the Summons, the Court assumes that he/she agrees to its terms.

If the served parent files an Answer, the case will then proceed to a child custody hearing. The issue of child custody is often contested; in other words, the parents do not agree on the terms of where their children live and how the important decisions about their children’s lives and education, etc., should be made.

The Court may also order the services of a Parenting Coordinator to reduce the effects or potential effects of conflict on the child.

Child Custody & Visitation Filing Fees

$165.00 cash, money order, or check (payable to the "Clerk of Court"). No credit cards accepted.

Custody Forms

Child custody and visitation forms are available at the Circuit Court Family Department or the Maryland Judiciary website. Be sure to file all forms with the Family Department.

The Family Department maintains copies of the following forms:

  • Packet #3: Petition for Contempt for Denial of Visitation
  • Packet #4: Complaint for Custody
  • Packet #5: Complaint for Visitation
  • Packet #7: Petition/Motion to Modify Custody or Visitation
  • Packet #9: Answer to Complaint/Petition/Motion

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