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Here's why a Maryland bill could change child custody hearings for unmarried parents

HB1036 was introduced Thursday by Delegate Nick Charles and redefines when an emergency hearing could take place for custody.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — A new Maryland bill introduced Thursday could change the way the courts respond to child custody hearings. One Maryland father said it's exactly what’s needed in order for all parents to have a legal active role in their children’s lives.

“I just want to be a dad to my daughter,” Marcus Trent said.

Being a girl dad has been a long-time dream for Trent. After he and his daughter's mom split, she moved from Maryland to Virginia, more than 60 miles away.

“I wasn't able to play with her, spend time with her, everything that we were doing before the breakup,” Trent said.

Trent said he and his daughter's mother didn’t plan on having to parent in separate homes, but break ups happen. With no custody order in place, it took five months to see a judge, as emergency hearings are reserved for children in danger. 

“There's no laws in place to protect unmarried parents,” Trent said. 

Del. Nick Charles, who represents Prince George's County, introduced House Bill 1036: Child Custody Relocation of Child Expedited Hearing on Thursday. 

“What this bill does is change and redefine what constitutes an emergency hearing to be held and that is a child moving 40 miles outside of where their child currently lives,” Charles said.

The bill is currently in a subcommittee. It then goes to the family judiciary committee, presented back to the full house, second and third readings and debates, and then would be presented to the full senate. 

Charles said this will allow parents to work in the best interest of the child.

"This emergency hearing doesn't sway the court one way or the other who was going to get the custody, it just allows for the courts to be able to hear the situation,” Charles said. “There's a lot of interest for this bill."

Charles said he's hoping his bill makes it to the senate before March 23. 

Trent continues to push for what he calls fair custody. He started a group dedicated to teaching parents about their rights and started a petition that has more than 500 signatures, in hopes more parents advocate for what’s best for the children who are at the center of the battle.

“My daughter is the first grandchild of our family, the first girl in our family, and so it has a ripple effect," he said. "I’m so proud to be a father."

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