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Adultery No Bar to Custody

Mary Louise Davis married John Franklin Davis, Jr. in 1958.  Sixteen years and three children later, Mrs. Davis, together with her six-year-old daughter Leigh, left the marital home and moved into an apartment.  Mr. Davis filed for divorce in Maryland on the ground of his wife’s adultery, and asked for custody of the children.

Judge Latham, after a custody investigation and a hearing, awarded custody of Leigh to the mother.  The father appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which reversed the judge.  The Court said the father should have custody of Leigh because the mother had failed to show repentance for her adultery.

The mother appealed to the Court of Appeals.  The Court of Appeals held:

“Whereas the fact of adultery may be a relevant consideration in child custody awards, no presumption of unfitness on the part of the adulterous parent arises from it; rather it should be weighed, along with all other pertinent factors, only insofar as it affects the child’s welfare.”

The Court said the primary determination was the best interest of the child.  In determining this, Judge Latham had taken into account that Leigh had been living with her mother alone for the past two years and was adjusted to this arrangement; that she was doing well in school and was adequately provided for at home; that even though Mrs. Davis had engaged in adulterous conduct in the past, there was no  showing that it had ever deleteriously affected Leigh; and that Mrs. Davis had engaged in no sexual misconduct since February 1975.

So Leigh got to stay with her mother.

Davis v. Davis, 280 Md. 119; 372 A.2d 231 (1977)

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