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gavelIn any court case, including family law matters, it is important to follow the orders handed down by the judge. If orders are not followed, it is also important to understand the consequences that can flow from noncompliance, such as contempt of court. In a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the court upheld a trial court’s decision finding a husband in contempt, ordering him to pay $12,000 to purge the contempt and threatening the man with jail if he didn’t pay the $12,000 within 60 days. The appeals court acknowledged that a party cannot go to jail for failing to pay an amount he lacked the financial ability to pay, but the man’s appeal of the threat of jail in this case was premature.

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checkbookIn a case arising from a somewhat unusual marital settlement agreement, the Court of Special Appeals recently threw out a summary judgment order in favor of a husband who had persuaded the trial court that he had substantially complied with his financial obligations spelled out in that agreement. However, since the wife had presented enough evidence to raise a potentially triable case regarding whether a check she received from her husband was a payment under the agreement or a gift, the trial court should not have granted a summary judgment in favor of the husband.

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looking over papersTrials and court hearings, in some ways, can be like sporting competitions. Both litigation and sports have their own sets of rules. Some of these rules may seem excessively technical and unnecessary, but they are the rules, and you overlook them at your peril. For example, the rules of civil cases say that generally, if you want the judge to order a particular outcome, you must expressly ask for it in your court pleading documents (meaning your complaint if you are the petitioner or your answer or counter-complaint if you are the respondent). In the case of one Maryland husband, his failure to follow this rule cost him the opportunity to obtain his part of the marital portion of his wife’s retirement benefits, according to a Court of Special Appeals decision.

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grandfather and grandsonSometimes, family law can present challenging factual issues for the courts. In deciding custody and visitation matters regarding three young children recently, the courts were handed evidence of two parents who had numerous flaws and weaknesses as caregivers. The maternal grandparents, however, offered a degree of stability that the parents’ homes had each allegedly lacked previously. Nevertheless, and despite the grandparents’ close involvement with the children in the past, they were not entitled to any court-ordered visitation, according to a recent Court of Special Appeals decision. The ruling is very instructive on the issue of grandparent visitation rights. If the parents are fit (as the trial court found both parents in this case to be), they have a fundamental constitutional right to control whom their children visit, including the grandparents.

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monopolyWhen it comes to family law, especially as it relates to children, one of the things for which the courts strive is stability. To achieve that end, the law makes it very difficult to modify a child support obligation once a court order is in place. This is done to ensure the stability and ongoing proper support of that child. However, when a supporting parent does experience a major change, such as a dramatic reduction in income, the law does create a path to obtaining a reduction. That’s what happened in a recent Court of Special Appeals ruling, in which the court upheld a trial judge’s decision to reduce a father’s support amount in the wake of his job loss and massive decline in income.

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Sony PlaystationFor some families, one of the greatest challenges is achieving a successful and workable arrangement regarding child custody and visitation. For some parents, an unfavorable ruling in their visitation case may create a temptation to ignore parts of the court’s orders. While both parents should always strive to work cooperatively for the good of their child and obey orders issued by the courts, it is nevertheless important to know what a trial judge can and cannot do if one parent violates an order. In a case that originated in Montgomery County, a mother found herself in contempt for violating a visitation order. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals threw out the punishment against the mother because the contempt order did not give the mother an avenue through she could immediately “purge” the contempt charge and avoid the sanction of lost visitation time with the child.

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internet job searchFor many people, the loss of a job and subsequent unemployment can be a stressful time. This can become even more so if your ex-spouse is seeking to make you pay child support commensurate with an income that you don’t make. In one recent case, an out-of-work science professor made the ill-advised decision to represent himself in court, leading to a trial court decision that imputed an income of $95,000 to the unemployed man and a Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling upholding the lower court’s judgment.

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depressionFor many people, the issue of mental illness is a part of their lives and an ongoing battle. When a person with mental illness is also a parent, the issues become that much more complicated, especially when it comes to child custody and visitation litigation. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals highlights the important concept that a parent’s improving or declining mental health may constitute the sort of material change of circumstances required to modify an existing order of custody and visitation.

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same sexThe case regarding the custody of, and visitation with, one little boy from Western Maryland has touched upon some of the most visible social issues of today. What it also did, following a recent ruling by Maryland’s highest court, was re-establish the existence of a “de facto parent” doctrine and to give these de facto parents certain rights with regard to the children that they helped nurture and raise. The high court’s ruling has been praised as an important victory for gay and lesbian individuals with children.

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Witness standA recent ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided a case involving an unfortunately common scenario in family law cases involving custody and visitation, in which one parent claims she seeks only to protect her children from unsafe and unhealthy material and behaviors, while the other parent claims he is a fit and loving parent entitled to contact with his children. In these cases, one vital element of success is getting all of your evidence on the record. In this recent case, the mother was unable to admit into evidence her statements about the “sexually precocious” language the children used because her statements were inadmissible hearsay.

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