How to Apply for Sole Custody in Baltimore, Maryland

By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.

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In some cases, sole legal custody or sole physical custody is in the best interests of a child. For a parent wishing to establish or modify custody in Baltimore, Maryland, the first step involves communicating to the court the specific reasons for the proposed arrangement. The other parent must then be made aware of the proceedings, and the parties can attempt to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the court will make a determination based on what the judge believes is in the child's best interest.

Types of Custody

Maryland law distinguishes between legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent makes major long-term decisions for the child, such as issues surrounding education or health care. Conversely, physical custody refers to where the child lives, and the physical care and supervision of the child. When one parent has both legal and physical custody, that parent has sole custody. However, the court may also award shared custody where both parents have physical and legal custody, or one parent may have sole physical custody while legal custody is shared, or vice versa.

Applying for Custody

If there is no custody order in place, you will need to file a Complaint for Custody at the Circuit Court of Baltimore City or Circuit Court of Baltimore County. Either parent may file for sole custody, either as part of the divorce process or separate from a divorce action. On the complaint, you must indicate you are seeking sole custody and note why it is in the best interest of your child. Once you file your complaint with the court, you must serve the other parent with summons and the complaint.

Custody Disputes

If the parents are unable to reach an agreement about custody, they may seek help from a mediator. Mediation is confidential and serves to help people reach a consensus that everyone finds fair. In some cases, the court may order the parents to go to mediation. If you still cannot reach an agreement, the court will decide the custody situation that is in the best interest of the child. The court will consider many factors when awarding custody, such as which parent is already serving as the primary caregiver, character and fitness of the parents, and in some cases, the wishes of the child.


If a custody order is already in place and you want to obtain sole custody, you must file a petition or motion to modify the existing custody order. To modify custody, you must fill out the petition or motion, with an explanation of how you want custody to change and reasons for the modification. You will only be awarded a modification if you can show there was a substantial change in circumstances since the original order and how it would be in the best interest of the child for you to have sole custody. If you reached an agreement with the other parent about modification, you may include this with the motion. You must serve the other parent with the motion for modification.