For many biological parents, establishing child custody and visitation is an important part of their separation or divorce. However, a strong desire to establish a stable visitation schedule isn’t only important for a minor child’s biological parents. Many third parties such as grandparents, stepparents, and domestic partners of a biological parent have developed a relationship with a minor child and want to maintain their established relationship through consistent contact with the child.
In Maryland, under certain circumstances, these third parties may have a right to visitation with the minor child. The governing Maryland case on this issue is Koshko v. Haining, 398 Md. 404 (2007). Under Koshko, the child’s biological parent’s proposed schedule of access is presumptively deemed in the minor child’s best interest. In order for a Maryland court to issue an order contrary to the biological parent’s proposed schedule, the third party must satisfy a two-pronged test.
First, the third party must show evidence of parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances indicating an existing or future harm to the minor child that merits establishing visitation or custody rights. Second, the third party must prove that establishing visitation is in the best interest of the child.
Although grandparents and other third parties may file a petition for visitation, the petition will likely be dismissed if they fail to meet the first prong of this test. In order to determine whether the party has sufficiently satisfied the requirements under Koshko, the Courts will look at a number of factors including:
- The stability and certainty as to the child’s future in the custody of the parent
- The biological parent’s history of physical or psychological abuse or neglect of the minor child
- The biological parent’s history of substance abuse or violence,
- The emotional, mental, and physical health of the minor child and the third party
- Whether visitation would negatively or positively impact the child’s ability to focus on school and extracurricular activities
- The third party’s prior relationship and history of visitation with the minor child
- The closeness of the relationship between the child and the third party
In Maryland, it is difficult for third parties to overcome the presumption, and it is even more difficult without the assistance of an attorney. If you are a grandparent, stepparent, or close relative and you want assistance establishing a court ordered visitation schedule please consult with an experienced family law attorney. Our family law attorneys at JM Blattner, LLC, will assist you in determining the viability of your claim, drafting your petition, and representing your interests in court.