February 21, 2020
187 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Maryland courts put children first in new custody process
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Maryland Judiciary has implemented a new parenting plan process to ensure the parties involved in custody matters focus on the best interests of children and put them at the core of decision-making. Parents are now required to create a parenting plan, a written agreement that outlines how decisions about a child’s health, education, and welfare will be made and when the child will spend time with each party.
“Maryland is formalizing a process that has been adopted in many states to address custody and access issues,” said Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. “Parenting plans reflect recommendations made by mental health and child development experts to help insulate children from adverse effects of conflict between parents. The new process helps ensure the best interests of the child are the focus of and guide the development of the parenting plan for the child.”
A written parenting plan guides how people will care for and make decisions about their child or children. It is developed by the parents, working together, separately, or with a mediator, and is filed with the court, which ultimately decides if the plan is in the best interest of the child.
The parenting plan proposal was based on the work of the Maryland Judicial Council’s Domestic Law Committee and Court Process Work Group. The proposal was included in the 201st report of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, known as the Rules Committee. Unanimously adopted by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the parenting plan process went into effect Jan. 1.
“There are many benefits to a parenting plan,” said Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Callahan, chair of the Domestic Law Committee. “They encourage parents to consider and anticipate their children’s unique needs, foster co-parenting relationships, provide predictability and structure, and promote and ensure children’s continued relationships with each party. In general, it focuses on the children rather than on the adults and on cooperation and mutually beneficial decisions rather than on conflict.”
If the parents are not able to agree on a comprehensive parenting plan, the process directs the parties to complete a joint statement form to tell the court which issues they have resolved and which they need the court to decide. The joint statement form will allow the court to readily identify the narrow issues that are in need of adjudication. For issues in dispute, each parent can also propose a solution they believe is in the best interest of the child. A judge will then consider the entire joint statement in making a decision on contested custody and access.
“The joint statement allows the court to focus on the contested issues and streamline custody proceedings,” said Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Richard “Ricky” Sandy, chair of the Court Process Work Group. “The parents’ proposals may also be used to facilitate further discussion to help reach an agreement where common ground exists. The overriding goal is to keep everyone focused on what is in the best interest of the children.”
The work group created a detailed booklet for parents that includes instructions on how to create a parenting plan, what factors to consider, how to proceed if parents cannot agree on a plan, and a list of important dates and timelines. The booklet, “Maryland Parenting Plan Instructions,” is posted on the Judiciary’s website at www.mdcourts.gov/parentingplan.