Notes from Annapolis: The Commission on Child Custody Decision Making

For those of us who follow changes in Maryland’s family law, December 2014 is an important month. On December 1, the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making released its final report to the General Assembly. As suggested by its name, the Commission took a comprehensive look at the topic of child custody in our state. Born of repetitive introduction of clashing bills on the topic of child custody, the Commission came into being following the passage of legislation by the General Assembly, effective in July 2013. The members of the Commission included individuals who have expertise or particular interest in this topic, and the members of the Commission represented a variety of perspectives and constituencies. To accomplish its mission, the Commission divided into six distinct committees, met over 90 times, and identified issues raised at five public hearings. The December 1 report marks the fulfillment of the Commission’s responsibility to study the child custody decision-making process and to report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly.

The Commission’s entire report of over 300 pages can be found on-line. While all of the findings and recommendations contained in the Commission’s report are too numerous to be listed here, the influence of the report prepared by this Commission may be significant. Previous reports by Commissions on domestic relations law–particularly with respect to alimony and marital property– have set the stage for major statutory initiatives in family law. An initiative on the topic of child custody in Annapolis in the coming year is likely.

Included in the Commission’s report is a proposed draft custody statute. The proposed draft custody statute neatly organizes many of the principles contained in Maryland’s current statutes and case law and codifies the factors that a court both must consider and may consider in determining parenting time and responsibility for a minor child. The Commission’s report also specifically notes in one of its guiding principles that there should be no presumed schedule of parenting time, a major point given the history of bills previously introduced in the General Assembly. For divorcing parents who are unable to reach agreement about the arrangements for their children, the proposed draft statute prepared by the Commission may be of crucial importance.