Divorce in Maryland: Can a Child Choose Where to Live?

By Beverly Bird

It's hard enough for adults to accept that a divorce court can decide when and how they see their children. Telling a child that he must live where a judge says he must -- and that he has no choice in the matter -- can be doubly difficult. Several states take a child's preference into consideration when determining custody to try to avert this problem -- and Maryland is one of them. In fact, the state is one of the more progressive when it comes to accommodating the feelings of children involved in a divorce.

Your Child's Preference

Like all other states, Maryland has a statutory list of factors that a judge must consider when deciding custody -- issues that are considered to be in your child's best interests. Maryland courts have long taken the position that your child's opinion matters, and his preference is included as one of the state's best interests factors. The statutes don't cite a specific age at which your child is old enough to have his wishes heard, however. Maryland judges have considered the preferences of children as young as age 10, 11 and 12, but children ages 7 and 8 are sometimes deemed too young.

Considerations

Maryland's reluctance to set a statutory age by which children should be heard allows judges a lot of leeway. It also puts additional pressure on them to play the role of psychologist. Judges must determine whether a child is simply parroting something he's been told to say – particularly if he's young – or if his feelings are genuine. For example, in the case of Wallis v. Wallis, the court decided that the parent seeking custody coached the children and as such, the judge did not consider their wishes. A judge can, and usually will, interview your child without you present. He'll gauge your child's maturity and weigh his reasoning, such as if he just wants to be with you because you're the more lenient parent.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Other Factors

Although Maryland gives some weight to your child's feelings, his preference doesn't exist in a void. The state's other best interest factors come into play as well, and a judge must consider them. Your child's wishes are only one component of the final custody decision. Courts must also consider issues such as which parent was typically the child's caregiver when the marriage was intact and which parent is most likely to promote a continued relationship for the child with the parent who is not granted custody. The judge will also weigh your physical and psychological abilities to care for your child.

Teenagers' Rights

Maryland is somewhat unique in that it allows your child to take matters into his own hands when he's old enough. Teenagers age 16 or older can petition the court themselves to ask for a change of custody if they're unhappy with the arrangement ordered in your decree. If your child does this, however, it doesn't mean the court can't or won't take the state's other best interests factors into consideration. Your child has the burden of proof to establish that such a change supports his emotional and physical well-being.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Who Has the Advantage in a Custody Battle?

References

Related articles

Child Custody Laws in the State of Tennessee for a 12-Year-Old

Establishing a custody arrangement is a required step for all divorces involving minor children. Under Tennessee law, a court must determine custody according to the best interests of the child. Understanding how the child's age can influence custody decisions and his best interests can help remove some of the confusion for both you and your 12-year-old.

How Is Child Custody Decided In Divorce?

Every state defers to a concept called the “best interests of the child” when deciding custody issues. But different states interpret this guideline in different ways. As a parent, you might do your best for your child every day, only to find that a judge disagrees with your assessment. In the end, it comes down to the opinion of that judge and what he and his state believe to be the most important factors in a child’s life. But some standard tenets apply.

If You Get Divorced in Georgia Can You Move to a Different State With Your Kids?

Before 2003, Georgia was one of the more lenient states when allowing a custodial parent to move away or relocate with her children post-divorce. The courts put the burden of proof on the non-custodial parent to convince a judge that such a move would actually be harmful to the children, and this could be difficult to establish. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed this position in the case of Bodne v. Bodne in 2003. At the time of publication, the custodial parent has the burden of proof to establish that a move would improve the children’s lives more than the separation from their other parent would harm them.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Can a Fourteen-Year-Old Child in Georgia Decide on Custody?

Historically, Georgia has been one of the more generous states when it comes to dealing with a child's preference for ...

The Legal Age in California for Choosing to Live With Your Mom or Your Dad

California courts base child custody decisions on the legal doctrine known as "the best interests of the child." The ...

What Age Can a Child Decide Custody?

Most state courts are well aware that children – particularly teenagers – can have firm feelings of their own ...

Factors Used in Determining Child Custody

If you can't reach a custody agreement with your spouse, divorce means putting your family in the hands of a trial ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED