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If you are involved in a custody dispute, there will be several steps to the legal process. One of these may involve a custody evaluation. It is important to understand exactly what a custody evaluation does, and does not, mean for your case. Even if the determinations made by the custody evaluator are not favorable to your position, you should not give up hope, as Maryland law makes it clear that the judge in your case will be the one to decide the dispute and the judge is not bound to follow the recommendations made by a custody evaluator. Whether or not your case has a custody evaluation, your case should have a skilled Maryland family law attorney on your side advocating for your interests.

One case involving a custody evaluation was the dispute between C.O. and L.N.O. The pair was initially involved in a very long-distance relationship. When they married in 1997, he lived in Maryland and she lived in Vietnam. The wife moved to Ellicott City in 1998 and the couple resided there for 18 years, until their separation.

After litigation, the trial judge awarded primary physical custody to the father, and gave the mother visitation on every other weekend. The mother appealed this ruling, arguing that the trial judge’s custody arrangement improperly went against the sort of custody split that the custody evaluator had recommended.

For some grandparents, their relationship with their grandchildren may involve weekly Sunday visits or perhaps longer get-togethers over holidays and vacations. For others, though, their relationship may place them in a situation in which they need to assume legal custody of a grandchild. If you find yourself in that circumstance, it is important to recognize that there are certain legal procedural “hoops” you must pass through and you must make sure that you get it all right in order to get the outcome your family needs. To make sure your case has everything that the court is looking for in order to award you custody, retain the services of a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.

Here’s one example from Baltimore: J.M. and H.M. were the maternal grandparents of a girl named Mary. The couple’s daughter, R.E., was the mother. A man, J.R., who believed he was the father at the time of Mary’s birth in 2009, signed an affidavit of parentage. The girl’s birth certificate named J.R. as the father. The grandparents, however, came to believe that another man, M.S., was the biological father of the girl, as R.E. had allegedly told M.S. that he was the father. R.E. never married either man.

All of these details came to matter a great deal when Mary’s mother died at the young of 41 in the summer of 2015. With Mary’s single mother now deceased, the maternal grandparents went to court to seek third-party custody of the girl. The legal action named both J.R. and M.S. (A subsequent DNA test revealed that M.S., not J.R., was the girl’s biological father.)

When seeking sole legal and physical custody, there are several things that you need to show to the court. You must establish that such a custody order would be in the best interest of the children. Part of that “best interest’ analysis involves showing the judge that you have the ability — personally, financially and otherwise — to meet the children’s day-to-day needs. You don’t have to prove that yours is the perfect home, just that yours is the best home of the options available to the children. Providing this evidence and making the sort of arguments that will be persuasive in court are efforts that are often enhanced by having representation from an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

The case of L.R. demonstrated an example of the process in this state. L.R. was a father of two children born in El Salvador. According to the father, he, the mother, his parents and the children all lived together in El Salvador for a time, but the father moved to the United States in 2006, hoping to eventually move his children to this country and provide a better life for them here. In 2008, the mother allegedly moved from the father’s parents’ home and ceased being involved in the children’s lives.

In 2016, the children came to live with the father in Frederick and had been living with him for roughly one and one-half years when the father went to court. In his court action, the father sought an order granting him sole legal and physical custody of the two children, and a ruling that would allow the children to seek “Special Immigrant Juvenile” status from federal immigration authorities.

A lot of people understand that before you sign any legal document it is important to read it and to attempt to understand it to the best of your abilities. People may often proceed with caution before signing a contract to buy a car or a home, to take out a loan or to start a new job. However, the agreements to which you assent in family law are often just as legally binding, so it is advisable to proceed with just as much care. To be sure you are protected, retain legal representation from a knowledgeable Maryland divorce attorney.

As an example of the importance of knowing what you’re signing, there’s the case of T.C. and W.C. According to the wife, very early one November morning (roughly 5:30 a.m.), the husband woke her to discuss putting together the agreement governing the division of their property for their upcoming divorce. The couple took out a writing instrument and a piece of paper and allegedly set to work. According to the wife, the couple created a “his” and a “hers” column. The husband’s column included, among other tangible assets, an entry for “$150,000.” The wife asserted that this was a sum that the husband had earned from previous employment and that its entry was included to signify that the husband could keep those funds.

The husband argued something very different. He contended that the “$150,000” entry was meant to signify that the couple was agreeing that the wife would pay the husband a lump sum marital award of $150,000 in lieu of the husband’s receipt of alimony. The husband also alleged that the discussion took place at around 8:30 a.m., not 5:30.

Perhaps you are an adept writer, perhaps you’re not. Either way, chances are high that the topics about which you communicate very successfully and persuasively on a daily basis are things related to your profession. You probably don’t know all of the rules and requirements, or the “tricks of the trade,” that come with engaging in effective trial practice or appellate practice, nor should you be expected to. What you should do, if you find yourself involved in litigation, is make sure that your case doesn’t get defeated by all-too-avoidable procedural problems. Instead, be sure to retain the services of a skilled Maryland divorce attorney to handle your representation.

A recent case from Prince George’s County served as an example of how representing oneself can go very wrong. The case was one regarding child support and custody. At the end of the hearing, the trial judge awarded sole legal and physical custody to the father, J.H. The mother, S.S., was ordered to pay child support and received no visitation.

This, obviously, was a very severe and profoundly unsuccessful outcome for the mother. Her plan for going forward was to file a motion asking the court to rescind the order. She did so without the aid of an attorney. The trial judge upheld the order, concluding that, because there was no fraud, mistake or irregularity, there was no basis for rescinding the order.

In the weeks before each Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the greeting card aisles of stores are filled with cards for moms and dads. They also often have spaces for cards addressed to those who are “like a mother” or “like a father” to the sender. These cards acknowledge that extremely close, family-like bonds can often extend beyond just biological kinships. Here in Maryland, the law has achieved this realization, too. Maryland law now recognizes those whose relationships essentially mirror those of a parent, making the person a “de facto” parent.

What’s more, and what the courts reminded everyone recently, is that de facto parenthood in Maryland, while often serving as a vital aid to gay and lesbian people raising children, is not limited to individuals whose ties to a child involve a same-sex relationship with the parent. In Maryland, this type of parenthood is much broader. So, whether you’re a grandparent raising a grandchild, a heterosexual step-parent, a same-sex partner of a biological parent – or you have some other relationship with the child – if you meet the law’s standards, you can qualify and be entitled to custody and/or visitation. Certainly, if you find yourself in this type of dispute, be sure that you have retained knowledgeable Maryland family law counsel to handle your case.

The most recent example of this from the courts was from a Montgomery County case. The person seeking “de facto” parent status was a boy’s stepmother. The stepmother and the boy’s father had raised the child, essentially full-time, from the time he was three until age nine (when the father and stepmother separated). The stepmother did all the things a legal parent might do: transporting him to school and to extracurricular activities, taking him to the doctor and to play dates, packing his lunches, attending parent-teacher conferences and so forth.

Back in the 1990s, a famous politician once responded to a question under oath by noting that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” While that answer might be puzzling to some, the reality is that, in the law, sometimes outcomes hinge upon small phrases or even single words, and the very precise definition of those terms. The outcome of a Florida case not too long ago hinged upon what the definition of a “sale” was. Recently, here in Maryland, the outcome of one ex-wife’s case alleging her ex-husband violated the couple’s marital settlement agreement rested squarely upon two things:  whether a thing qualified as an “asset” and whether that asset had an established, non-speculative value. All of these very nuanced details had the potential to have major consequences, and they highlight why it is so important to have skilled Maryland divorce counsel on your side.The couple, R.G. and S.G., began divorce proceedings in 2012 after 25 years of marriage. Seven months after the wife filed her divorce petition, the husband had a dream. That dream was the origin of a groundbreaking invention – a flossing toothbrush. The husband consulted one of his former patients, a businessman, about the invention, but he did not consult a patent attorney right away. Allegedly, the husband was trying to avoid leaving a “trail” that could provide the wife with an opportunity to claim the invention as a marital asset.

The couple entered into a mediated marital settlement agreement on Nov. 18, 2013. Sixteen days later, the husband contacted a patent attorney. In late January 2014, the divorce became final. A week later, the husband filed a provisional patent application for his toothbrush invention. The following November, the wife brought the husband back into court, asserting that he violated the settlement agreement when he failed to disclose the idea for the invention. Specifically, the wife alleged that the husband violated the “Disclosure” paragraph, which required that each spouse disclose all of the assets in the litigation. An improper non-disclosure, according to the agreement, meant that the injured spouse would receive 50% of the value of the undisclosed asset.

The question in this case was, what is an asset? When does a thing become an asset, and even if it was an asset, was the husband’s non-disclosure a violation of the agreement? The husband argued that the idea for the invention was not an asset and had no value as of the date that the spouses signed the settlement agreement.

With modern technology comes modern problems. That can be true in divorce as in other legal areas. One aspect of this is the very contemporary issue of electronic/digital assets. Digital assets can be complicated, as one person’s electronic files may be housed on a computer, hard drive or other storage device that belongs to another. Because these digital files may be things like emails, photos or videos with high sentimental value, those that are potentially embarrassing or harmful, or digital documents with important personal or financial information, resolving the distribution of these assets in a divorce is very important. To make sure that all of your assets, both electronic and physical, are distributed properly, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case from Anne Arundel County was an example of this type of dispute. In the divorce, the husband agreed that he would return all of the wife’s computer files. This included the email archives from several email accounts.

The husband did not return all the files, however. The wife went back to court, this time seeking an order declaring the husband in contempt for his failure to deliver the files. The husband declared that he had deleted many of the files “in a fit of rage” a year before the spouses established the agreement for delivery of the emails. The wife then asked to review the husband’s hard drives. He asserted that the hard drives were damaged in his move out of the marital home and that he had thrown them away.

Without question, maintaining a vibrant relationship with your child can be challenging if your child resides most of the time with her other parent and you live thousands of miles away. If, however you get the opportunity to relocate closer to the child, you may desire to take that opportunity to have a larger role in the child’s life and spend more time with her. When experiencing a situation like this, you still have to go to court and secure a modification of visitation, which means you still have to demonstrate a sufficient change of circumstances to the judge. This is a substantial requirement that requires careful knowledge of the law. To make sure you get the change you need to enhance your relationship with your child, consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

The case of L.J. was one where the father was a U.S. Marine who found himself in that type of situation. He and his wife had a daughter in 2009 and divorced in 2012. When they divorced, the husband was on active duty, stationed in California. The wife lived and worked in Maryland. After the separation, the parents worked out a custody arrangement and a visitation schedule. The schedule gave the father 120 days per year until the child started school. After school began, the father received all but three weeks of summer break, in addition to spring break, Thanksgiving break and every other Christmas holiday.

Three years after the divorce, the father received a medical discharge from the military and returned to Maryland. His new home was roughly 30 minutes from the mother’s residence. Based upon this change, the father asked the court to modify the visitation schedule and allow each parent to have the daughter 50% of the time.

Maryland law recognizes two different types of alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is alimony that is paid (or received) for a fixed and finite period of time. Indefinite alimony is, as the name suggests, something that does not have a specified end date. While Maryland law generally disfavors indefinite alimony, there are certain situations in which indefinite alimony is proper. The key is to understand which type of alimony the facts of your case point toward. An experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you to determine which type of alimony you are entitled to.

Alimony was a key issue for one long-term married couple when they divorced, in the following case. Like many married couples, this pair had a wide disparity of incomes. The couple had married in 1989 and the wife filed for divorce in 2016. The wife was a self-employed fundraising consultant who made approximately $75,000 per year. The husband was a highly successful attorney who earned $474,000 at the time of the divorce. As part of her divorce action, the wife sought spousal support. The court, in issuing the divorce judgment, awarded the wife spousal support of $5,000 per month for nine years. The wife appealed this ruling and obtained a reversal.

The law in Maryland typically favors awards of spousal support that last for only a fixed, limited period of time. There are, however, two situations in which indefinite alimony is the proper outcome. One of these is if the recipient spouse cannot reasonably be expected to become self-supporting, whether due to age, illness or disability. The other is if, even after the recipient spouse has become as self-supporting as possible, the disparity between the spouses’ incomes is “unconscionably disparate.” The latter of these two circumstances was the successful argument for the wife in this case.

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