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Part 2: Understanding the language of law in child custody matters

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2021 | Child Custody

Regular readers of our Bethesda Family Law Blog will undoubtedly recall a recent post that shared the Maryland Judiciary’s explanation of legal terms frequently used in child custody proceedings.

You’ll recall that in cases of joint legal custody, the court will sometimes designate one parent to make final decisions when there is disagreement between the two parents. That parent then has what’s known as “tie-breaker authority.”

One parent making long-term decisions

In sole legal custody, one parent makes long-term decisions without having to come to an agreement with the other parent (who is regardless, still entitled to information about the child).

Physical custody (also called parenting time) refers to where a child lives and how much time he or she has with each parent.

Not always exactly equal

“Shared physical custody means that the child spends significant time with each parent, though that doesn’t always mean a 50-50 arrangement,” the woman in the Maryland Judiciary’s video says (you might recall that she has a big coffee cup and friendly tone).

Primary physical custody refers to the situation in which the child lives mainly with one parent, and spends arranged time with the other parent. That scheduled time is an aspect of parenting time known as visitation.

Always with best interests in mind

As a child custody case unfolds, your family law attorney, the court and others will refer to “the best interests of the child.” When a court makes a decision about custody, it will always do so in the best interests of the child – that standard applies in orders and actions by the court.

Two more terms to understand: magistrate and judge. A magistrate is a court officer who hears family law matters and then makes recommendations. A judge must approve those recommendations before they become the custody order.

If your case is before a judge, the judge’s decision in the matter becomes the custody order.

The court’s decision

Finally, the custody order is the court’s written decision – a determination that the court has the authority to enforce. That order is valid until it’s replaced or modified by a new custody order.

There are, of course, many other legal terms regularly used in divorce and child custody cases – terms that your family law attorney will help you understand as your case moves through the legal system.