Protective Order Does Not Award Permanent Custody of Children
A protective order does not award permanent custody of children. See Coburn v. Coburn, 342 Md. 244, 253, n.8, 674 A.2d 951 (1996)(noting that "filing a petition for protection from abuse does not initiate divorce proceedings or award permanent custody of children ....")(citing Christopher L. Beard and Jacqueline J. Judd, Victims No More: Changes in Domestic Violence Law, 24 THE MARYLAND BAR JOURNAL 29, 30 (July/ August 1992)).
Section 4-506(d)(6) of the Family Law Article merely authorizes a temporary custody award. Despite that, the granting of a protective order can have long-range effects on child custody.
In making child custody determinations, a court weighs numerous factors, including the fitness of the parents, the character and reputation of the parties, and the length of separation of the child from the natural parents. Best v. Best, 93 Md. App. 644, 655-56, 613 A.2d 1043 (1992).
A trial court might consider the issuance of a protective order against one parent when looking at any of these factors. In addition, a court may also consider the effect on the child's stability caused by a change in residence. See Mitchell v. Mitchell, 61 Md. App. 535, 542-43, 487 A.2d 680 (1985).
In Levitt v. Levitt, 79 Md. App. 394, 397-98, 556 A.2d 1162 (1989), the Court stated:
The custody of children should not be disturbed unless there is some strong reason affecting the welfare of the child. to justify a change in custody, a change in conditions must have occurred which affects the welfare of the child and not of the parents.
The reason for this rule is that the stability provided by the continuation of a successful relationship with a parent who has been in day to day contact with a child generally far outweighs any alleged advantage which might accrue to the child as a result of a custodial change.
In short, when all goes well with children, stability, not change is in their best interests. (Quoting Sartoph v. Sartoph, 31 Md. App. 58, 66-67, 354 A.2d 467 (1976) (alteration in original)).
Levitt dealt with a change in custody, not an original award of custody. the Court stated that they are different situations because of the child's need for continuity which arises in the former and not in the latter. Id. As the Levitt Court stated, "if a child is doing well in the custodial environment, the custody will not ordinarily be changed." 79 Md. App. at 398.
Furthermore, in making a child custody determination, if a trial court has reasonable grounds to believe that a child has been abused or neglected by a party to the proceeding, the court must specifically find that there is no likelihood of further child abuse or neglect by the party in order to award custody or visitation rights to the party, except for a supervised visitation arrangement. F.L. 9-101.
A protective order issued by a court that states that one parent abused his or her child pursuant to F.L. 4-501 would give a trial court reasonable grounds to believe that the child had been abused.