Many residents initiate custody proceedings in the Family Division of the Circuit Court of Maryland under the assumption that shared parenting time is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. However, in the state of Maryland, this presumption is not the law. In fact, new legislation drafted to codify a presumption of equal parenting time, has been rejected by the Maryland General Assembly repeatedly. Aaron Bates, the chairman of the Maryland affiliate of the National Parents Organization (NPO), says equal parenting time “seems to be a hard subject for legislators.”
According to its website, NPO’s purpose is “to protect the rights of children to the love and care of both parents.” As such, the organization embarks on an uphill battle to pass legislation to make a presumption of equal parenting time the law, in all 50 states. According to Bates, Maryland is no exception, as Legislators summarily reject the sentiment each and every time new legislation regarding presumptive equal parenting time is presented.
Delegate Jill Carter, of Baltimore City echoes Bate’s pessimism and claims any attempts to further legislation designed to add the presumption that joint physical custody, with equal parenting time, is in the best interest of the child is “probably an exercise in futility…” as to date, “opposition to the presumption strong”.
The essence of a presumption of equal parenting time requires litigants to present evidence that shared parenting is NOT in the best interest of THIER child. Such evidence would include facts that demonstrate the individual needs of the child are better served by granting one parent physical custody, circumstances pertinent the family dynamic-such as the parties inability to communicate, the distance between the parties’ homes, the child’s personal preferences etc.- are prohibitive; or that under the circumstances, the abilities of each parent to provide an appropriate familial environment for the child are disparate.
In my experience, this type of evidence is that which one would reasonably expect every family law judge to consider in any custody proceeding. As such, the real question becomes, “Why is equal parenting legislation so controversial?”
One could argue the proposed minor adjustment to existing domestic laws is simple, (redundant even) as an impartial jurist should have to be persuaded that the needs of a particular child are better served by spending more time with the one parent over the other. Proponents of shared parenting contend change is imperative, as in 2014, the State of Maryland, when graded nationally regarding it’s current shared parenting legislation, received a grade of D minus. The legislature hasn’t exactly failed its constituents, but critics claim Maryland’s stance on shared parenting does not pass muster.
To be fair, the National Report Card regarding shared parenting legislation indicates most of the country received grades well below average on existing shared parenting laws in 2014. However, the Huffington Post reports that in 2015, 20 states proposed legislation to facilitate equal sharing time to state legislators. The initiative has and continues to gain traction nationally because (1) the presumption that an award of primary physical custody to the mother is in the child best interests has been abrogated (2) generally, children benefit from the involvement of both parents in their day to day activities and (3) litigants demand impartiality.
As Bob Dylan famously sang in 1964, “The times are a- chagin”. Will Maryland move to the front of the class?