In Maryland and other states across the country, it is common for custody and visitation laws to be written under the strong presumption that the biological parents of a child have the strongest claim to custody of that child. In such states, the more competent of the two parents is typically awarded primary custody if the court determines this arrangement is in the child’s best interest, and the other parent is typically entitled to some degree of visitation.
But what happens if neither of the child’s biological parents is competent enough to be awarded custody? What if a different custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interest? In today’s modern world, these alternate arrangements are becoming far more common. The very definition of ‘family’ is changing before our eyes. Children are routinely raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other extended family members. In many of these cases, it actually would be in the child’s best interest for these extended family members, and not the biological parents, to be awarded primary custody.
The problem is that our society values its freedom to reproduce and raise children as we please. Society presumes that a child will be raised best by the people who brought the child into the world. Parents should be able to make their own choices as to how their children are raised, for better or worse. It is these presumptions that a third-party family member will have to battle against if he or she wants to raise the child in a more nurturing environment than the biological parents can provide. And even if the biological parents know in their heart of hearts that their child would be better cared for elsewhere, most tend to put up a fight.
This is where an experienced Maryland family lawyer can be extremely useful to the third-party family member seeking custody. A family lawyer knows how best to present the “best interest of the child” standard to a judge, and how best to invalidate any arguments made by an incompetent biological parent. After all, the law is well settled that the presumptive entitlement held by a biological parent “is not an absolute one and that the right may be forfeited where it appears that any parent is unfit to have custody of a child, or where some exceptional circumstances render such custody detrimental to the best interests of the child.” Ross v. Pick, 199 Md. 341, 86 A.2d 463 (1952).
Biological parents can be declared unfit for a variety of reasons. Courts will typically award custody to a third-party family member if the biological parent is habitually engaged in illegal drug use, is financially insolvent to the point that he or she cannot provide food or shelter for the child, or is providing an unreasonably dangerous environment for the child by engaging in criminal enterprises or by having dangerous weapons within reach.
If your niece, nephew, or grandchild was being raised in an environment like that, wouldn’t you want the right representation to help you take over custody?
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