What Is Custody?

Celebrity custody battles often make headlines- the drama and fighting all highlighted and blown out of proportion in an effort to create entertainment out of someone else’s struggles. As the scenes of the melodramatic soap opera unfold in the weekly issues of People and Us magazines from week-to-week, those of us following along find ourselves cringing and praying we never find ourselves in such a situation. Celeb battles like Gossip Girls Kelly Rutherford’s battle with her ex-husband have us paranoid; convinced that custody battles are ugly, messy, and traumatic for the children involved. While they certainly can get that way, it’s important to understand that if you find yourself going through a divorce and you have children, your own custody battle won’t necessarily be as ugly as Ms. Rutherford’s. Her case is complicated by her celebrity and the fact that she is fighting her ex-husband, who lives in Monaco, from New York City. Having a general understanding of what custody actually means in Maryland is a good first step towards making it easier for everyone involved.


What is Custody?

Generally, custody is defined as the physical care, supervision, and legal responsibility of a child under the age of 18. While there are a number of custody arrangements that can result from a custody case, there are only types of actual “custody” in Maryland: physical and legal, with each type taking various forms.


What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody deals with the physical care and supervision of a child and addresses who the child will live with on a day-to-day basis and who will make decisions that come up during that time.


The following forms of physical custody arrangements exist in Maryland:

  • Primary or Sole Physical Custody: The child lives with the “custodial” parent and an access schedule is general provided to the “non-custodial” parent. The custodial parent generally determines the activities of and who will care for the child on a day-to-day basis. The custodial parent’s address is generally used for school purposes.
  • Shared Physical Custody is broken down into three categories:
    • Partial Shared Physical Custody: the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of his/her time with one parent and the rest of the time with the other;
    • Full Shared Physical Custody: the child has two residences, spending equal amounts of time with each parent; either on a weekly (switching once a week), split weekly (often 2 days during the week with each parent then rotating weekends schedule), or switching on a daily basis.
    • Split Custody (of two or more children): this is when there are two (or more) children and each parent obtains full physical custody over at least one child. Some of the considerations that may cause this type of custody arrangement are the age of the children and each child’s preference.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make decisions for the child’s education, religious training, discipline, and medical care. It is also the mechanism by which the parents have the right to obtain this type of information about their child.


The following forms of legal custody arrangements exist in Maryland:

  • Joint Legal Custody: Each of the parents have the right to make legal decisions (such as authorizing medical care or educational services). This does not mean that each parent is required to “sign on the dotted line”. It means that each parent has the ability to do so. It also means that each of the parents is entitled to access the information about their child such as from health or educational providers. If the parents disagree, then court action may be filed to determine who gets to make the decision.
  • Sole Legal Custody: Only one parent has the right/responsibility to make legal decisions or receive information. This is generally disfavored in Maryland absent a compelling reason.


It is worth noting that one of the more commonly perpetuated myths about a custody case is that the court “favors” the mother. This is not the case as Judges in Maryland do not automatically give preference to either the mother or the father and, in fact, have been moving more and more towards ensuring that children have equal access to both parents. There are many factors that judges must take into consideration when determining what type of custody is in the “child’s best interest”.


Before any custody “battle” begins, it’s best if parents have not only their own understanding of what is considered but also knowledgeable representation in order to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved. A skilled lawyer will take the time to explain to his or her client all of the possible outcomes they stand to face. One of Ferrante and Dill’s founding partners, Jennifer Dill, is one of the most distinguished Family Law attorneys in Southern Maryland. She has been recognized by Super Lawyer’s magazine as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Maryland. Call our office today to set up a consultation! (410) 535-6100 or email us at info@ferrantedill.com.


This blog post that is published by Ferrante & Dill is only available for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. By viewing these blog posts, the reader understands there is no attorney-client relationship between the blog publisher and the reader. The blog post should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and we recommend readers to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a specific situation.