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Courts more open to joint custody than in past decades

Maryland fathers who get a divorce are more likely to get a significant amount of time with their children or even share custody than they were several decades ago. The attitude of the legal system has shifted to one where legal custody is generally presumed. Courts are also more open to shared physical custody. However, this can present challenges if parents want equal time since it can be difficult for working parents to move children back and forth during the week.

One 2014 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that in 1980, mothers in the state were awarded sole custody 80 percent of the time. In 2008, this only happened 42 percent of the time. According to one professor who specializes in family law, there are social trends that explain some of these shifts. Attitudes toward divorce and the legal system itself began to change after a surge of early baby boomer marriages in the 1950s and 1960s were followed by divorces. The high rate of custody for women reflected the belief at the time that children should be with their mothers.

However, more women in the workforce as well as fathers playing a larger role in children's lives have changed that. Mothers still get custody more often, but fathers have more generous visitation schedules. More parents are also using mediation to reach an agreement.

Some child custody cases do still end up in litigation, and a parent who must go to court may want to discuss strategy with an attorney. One thing a judge will look in deciding who will get custody is the relationship between the parent and child. The parent who has been the primary caregiver may be more likely to be granted custody. A parent might want to show evidence of attending a child's medical appointments, school meetings and extracurricular activities to demonstrate this.

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