This post on custody and visitation is written from the point of view of a Maryland Custody Lawyer for divorcing parties who wish to negotiate a Separation Agreement. My prior posting offers a list of items that should be successfully negotiated and reduced to writing in an agreement in order to minimize legal expenses and stress in ending a marriage. You can also read my posting about protection that the Maryland General Assembly has provided against the custodial parent relocating the child without the non custodial parent being given adequate notice or opportunity to contest the decision.
In a traditional arrangement one parent gets custody and the other gets visitation. The custodial parent is responsible for the day to day care of the child and the obligation to provide food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. Custodial parent is charged with making long range decisions such as health care, education, religious training, place of residence and other decisions affecting the well being of the child. Visiting parent has the right to make decisions affecting the child during visitation, including emergency decision that must be made before the custodial parent can be contacted. The visiting parent will pay child support to the custodial parent usually based on the Maryland Child Support Guidelines
Frequently parents agree to share "legal custody" with sole physical custody going to one of them. This means that they must jointly make decisions of long term consequence to the child because neither parent has sole decision making authority.
Parents can also agree to joint "physical custody" which usually means that they will split the child's time between them and share in the day to day parental decision making. Joint physical custody is accepted by the Maryland Courts under certain circumstances. The most important factor that the courts will examine is whether the parties are able to effectively communicate and make shared decisions with respect day to day matters that impact the child's well being. Usually joint custody is an arrangement that is agreeable to both parties. Other factors that the court will examine, include but are not limited to, the fitness of each parent, the relationship of the child to each one, the child's preference, the potential disruption to the child's life, geographic proximity of the two residences, the parent's work schedule, age and number of children and financial status of parents.