Recently, our office assisted a Dad who wanted to obtain sole residential and sole legal custody of his two young children. He was a young father, only 21 years old, but he had already demonstrated a level a maturity of someone much older. He had been taking care of the children for about a year with little to no support or even contact from the children’s mother.
The Dad, acting on his own without the assistance of an attorney, filed for custody with the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, MD. When he filed for custody, he never anticipated that the children’s mother would fight him. However, that is exactly what happened. After being served, the children’s mother hired an attorney, who immediately opposed the Dad’s request for sole custody and filed for joint custody on the mother’s behalf.
By the time the Dad had saved a little money to hire an attorney and had sought assistance from our experienced family law attorneys, the custody merits trial was less than one week away. The Dad came to our office petrified and nervous that he was going to lose custody of his children. He believed that the Court would favor the mother solely because she was the mother and she would automatically get joint custody even if that wasn’t in the best interest of the children.
During a lengthy initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys, the custody process was explained to the Dad in great detail including the difference between sole and joint custody and the difference between residential and legal custody. It was also explained that in Maryland, the Judge has a great deal of discretion in determining what is in the best interest of the children and awarding custody.
After thoroughly explaining what would happen during the custody merits hearing, the Dad still had a valid fear and concern that if a Judge were to decide custody the ruling might not be in his favor, which is always a risk any time one goes to trial or a hearing. Therefore, it was very important to the Dad that an agreement, also called a Consent Custody Order, try and be negotiated with the children’s mother. Our family law attorneys recommended filing a Motion for Continuance with the Court, which would the delay the custody merits hearing for a few weeks in order to allow a possible agreement to be reached.
After the Motion for Continuance was granted, our attorneys immediately took action. They served the mother with discovery requests and entered into negotiations with her attorney in an attempt to reach an agreement. An agreement was reached that was in the best interest of the children and the Dad.
However, a week before the custody merits hearing was to take place, the children’s mother, who had fired her own attorney and was acting pro se (without representation), refused to sign the Consent Custody Order that had been prepared.
While the fact that the mother was refusing to sign the Consent Custody Order mere days before the hearing would have caused an inexperienced family law attorney to panic – not our family law attorney. Our attorneys are always prepared for every possible contingency.
In this case, our attorneys had already drafted the direct examination questions they were planning to ask our client and his witnesses. Upon learning the mother would not sign the Consent Custody Order, our attorneys prepared the Dad and his witnesses for trial by going over every question they intended to ask during direct examination as well as discussing possible topics the mother might ask during her cross examination.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge awarded our client, the Dad, sole residential and sole legal custody of his two minor children and this young family remained intact. The Judge did award the mother visitation but did not set a formal visitation schedule. Based on the evidence and testimony produced and elicited by our family law attorneys at trial, the Judge felt it would be in the best interest of the children for the Dad to determine when visitation would be appropriate.