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DNARecently, this blog touched upon a case in which a mother filed a legal action in which she, in effect, tried to disestablish paternity, which would have ended a man’s parental rights to a daughter who had been legally his since birth. That, of course, is a less common type of situation. The more frequently occurring one involves a man who has been told that he’s the father, who signs documents acknowledging paternity, and who then, sometime after the child’s birth, comes to question (or sometimes even know conclusively) that he’s not the father. Whether you are a man who finds himself in this type of situation, or a mother who finds herself in a scenario in which the father is trying escape legal responsibility, you should make sure you have capable Maryland paternity lawyers on your side in any litigation. These are serious cases, and you should retain serious professionals to protect you and your family.

A very recent ruling from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals looks at how trial courts should handle cases in which a man is contending that, although he signed an Affidavit of Parentage, the legal system should throw out that affidavit and de-certify him as the legal father. The case involved Reginald, a college student at Salisbury University, who had sexual relations with Kasandra, a fellow Salisbury student, in July 2014. The pair returned to school in the fall and, by September, began dating and resumed their sexual relationship.

In January, Kasandra texted Reginald and told him that she was pregnant and that he was the father. She told him the baby was due in mid-June. Reginald concluded that he could be the father based upon the due date Kasandra provided. Kasandra gave birth to a daughter, but the girl arrived in mid-May, rather than mid-June. Despite this discrepancy, Reginald and Kasandra both signed an Affidavit of Parentage, stating that they were the biological parents. Reginald assumed that the baby had been conceived in September and had arrived early.

magnifying glassAs you go through the process of getting a divorce, there are several things to keep in mind. For one thing, it may be useful to resolve as many issues as possible directly between the spouses. However, if you do negotiate an agreement on alimony, property division, or other issues, it is important to understand that, just as with any other contract, details matter. To make sure that your agreement accurately reflects the deal you intended to forge with your ex-spouse, make sure that you have an experienced Maryland alimony lawyer on your side.

An example of the importance of details in an agreement was highlighted in the case of Michael and Nancy. The pair was a divorced couple locked in a legal battle regarding alimony. In 2010, when they divorced, they reached a court-mediated agreement regarding alimony. That agreement stated that the husband, an OB/GYN doctor who made nearly $290,000 per year, would pay the wife $5,500 per month for a period of six years.

In 2015, the wife returned to court, seeking to modify the terms of her alimony. During the marriage, the wife had earned a very small income and was also limited as a result of medical treatment related to her long-term cancer battle. At the time of the divorce, she was making $975 per month working for a non-profit music society. In her request for modification, the wife asserted that she had made concerted efforts to become self-supporting but had not been able to secure employment that would make her self-supporting. Based upon this, the wife asked the court to modify the alimony award to make the payments continue indefinitely.

father and childWhen you think of a typical paternity case, the chances are you imagine a mother going to court seeking to use the authority of (and threat of punishment from) the legal system to force a father to take responsibility as a parent. Not all paternity issues are like that. In some cases, the father is fighting not to avoid responsibility but to avoid losing his rights to (and relationship with) the child he had loved and raised as his own for her entire life. Regardless of which scenario is yours, it is vital to make sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland paternity attorney working on your side.

A case that originated in Anne Arundel County and recently went before the Court of Special Appeals involved such a “non-typical” situation. Samantha and John lived together for three years but never married. In September 2012, Samantha gave birth to a daughter. The daughter’s birth certificate listed John as the father, and the daughter shared the father’s last name. Both John and Samantha signed an official form, called an Affidavit of Parentage, on which they attested that John was the girl’s biological father.

Two years later, the couple split up. For a year, they shared a 50-50 split custody arrangement. Then, in the fall of 2015, the mother went back to court. This time, she contended that John was not the daughter’s biological father. (Samantha had engaged in a brief sexual relationship with another man around the time of the daughter’s conception.) The mother wanted the court to order a DNA test to confirm her suspicion that the other man was, in fact, the father. As part of her case, Samantha alleged that both men had already taken paternity tests, and those tests showed that the other man, rather than John, was the biological parent.

courtroomWithin the opinions of appellate courts made publicly available, there is a lot that can be learned, and not just by lawyers. One recent custody case decided by the Court of Special Appeals is such an example. The court’s opinion and the case’s outcome remind anyone of a couple of important truths when it comes to family law litigation:  one, that it is much easier to achieve success initially than it is to overturn an unfavorable ruling later, and, two, that it is always best to make every effort to participate in the litigation process at every step along the way. An experienced Maryland child custody attorney can help walk you through your rights and the means through which you can protect them throughout litigation.

The case was a prolonged and contentious one regarding the son of April and Andre. In late 2013, the father filed an action in Annapolis, seeking custody of the boy. At the time, according to the father, both he and the mother had been residents of Maryland for more than one year, and, to the best of his belief, the son lived with the mother. Along the way, though, April’s mother filed an action in Birmingham, Alabama, asking for custody or guardianship over the boy.

Eventually, the case came before the court in Maryland for a final hearing in late 2014. The mother did not attend. The court awarded the father sole custody. Three months later, he was back in court, seeking a contempt order because, despite the court’s 2014 custody order, the mother refused to turn over the child. The father expressed his belief that the mother or the maternal grandmother was hiding the boy.

grandparentsAn important emerging issue in Maryland and other states in recent years involves situations in which grandparents have gone to court to seek legal custody of their grandchildren. Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals faced a first-of-its-kind case:  a matter in which the courts had to adjudicate parental unfitness within the parameters of a third-party custody request case. While the Court of Appeals ruled against the grandparents in this instance, the case nevertheless provides useful guidance about third-party custody actions and reminds us of the importance of working with a knowledgeable Maryland grandparent rights lawyer who is up-to-date on all of the newest changes in the law.

The home situation for the child at the center of the case was a turbulent one. The parents, Natasha and Mark, married in 2006 and had a son in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, the parents were two-thirds of a three-member polyamorous relationship that also included another woman. The three also used illegal drugs. By 2013, the father allegedly became violent, and the mother obtained a restraining order. The father moved out, and the mother filed for divorce. A consent agreement that was part of the divorce litigation required both parents to undergo drug testing. The father passed all of his tests, but the mother tested positive for marijuana in 2014.

Later that year, the paternal grandparents filed a request with the court, seeking to intervene in the child custody case. They argued that the court was permitted to, and should, award them custody of the child. They contended that they had been closely involved in the child’s life since birth, both emotionally (including caring for the child while the parents used drugs) and financially (including providing money that the parents used to purchase the marital home). In light of the parents’ illegal drug use, the custody of the child should go to them, they argued.

figure with moneyMost areas of the law, including family law, are evolving and changing constantly, to one degree or another. Ensuring that you give yourself a good chance of success means working with a knowledgeable Maryland divorce attorney who is up-to-date on all of the new changes in the law. These changes can occur through a variety of means, whether it is a new ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals, a new law enacted by the legislature, or, as was the case in one couple’s military pension dispute, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively upturned several decades of Maryland caselaw.

The spouses in the case, Walter and Verdena, were married from 1972 to 2004. During the marriage, the husband served in the Army National Guard from 1985 to 1987. (He previously served before the marriage from 1969 to 1971.) During his four years in the National Guard, the husband suffered three injuries. The husband retired from the National Guard in 1998 and filed for retirement at that time.

The couple’s 2004 divorce judgment stated that the wife was to receive one-third of the marital portion of the husband’s military pension benefits. In 2009, though, the husband sought a re-evaluation of his disability status. The government increased the husband’s disability rating, which meant that he was entitled to receive 30 percent of his compensation as disability benefits, instead of the previous 10 percent.

large houseIn many circumstances, a divorced spouse may experience a change in employment and, with it, a sizable change in income. When that happens, the law may allow a spouse who owes alimony to seek a modification of that alimony obligation. If, however, the supporting spouse has intentionally reduced or ended his earnings, the law allows the court to “impute income” to the supporting spouse, which means viewing his support obligations in light of the salary he was capable of earning, rather than what he actually took in. For one Montgomery County divorced couple, that rule meant imputing significant income to an ex-husband who, according to the courts, spent extravagantly on everything except making his alimony payments.

The case involved the prolonged Maryland divorce litigation of Dennis and Sheri, who divorced in 2010. Even after the final divorce decree, the couple continued to litigate financial issues. One of those issues was alimony. The original arrangement called for the husband to pay the wife $9,000 per month in alimony. At that time, the husband earned a salary bringing in several hundred thousand dollars per year.

A few years later, the husband asked the court to modify his alimony obligation. He argued that he had incurred a significant reduction in income and that this reduction necessitated a reduction in his alimony payments. The trial court ruled against the husband. Instead, the court agreed with the wife that the husband was voluntarily impoverished, and, based upon that voluntary impoverishment, the court was entitled to impute income, which it did to an amount in excess of $300,000. With the husband’s imputed income standing at more than $300,000 per year, the husband lacked a sufficient change of circumstances needed to trigger a modification of his alimony obligation.

gavelWhen you are faced with a family law dispute and the potential need to go to court to contest an issue like child custody and visitation, it may be tempting to try to handle your case, or your appeal, on your own. This choice is often ill-fated. Experienced Maryland child custody attorneys understand many things that may not be in the “knowledge base” of even a knowledgeable lay person. This includes not only the law but also the details of court procedural rules, in addition to the types of arguments and presentations that are most likely to persuade judges and juries. The case of a self-represented mother, whose appeal document relied heavily upon relatively broad and imprecise constitutional claims, provides just such an example.

The Court of Special Appeals’ involvement in this dispute followed a long-running and sometimes messy custody battle. The child was born in June 2015. Within just a few months, the parents’ relationship had deteriorated, and the mother had opened a custody case in California. The court concluded that Maryland was the child’s legal “home state.” The court in Maryland entered an order on custody and visitation. In May 2016, the father attempted to discuss a visitation handoff of the child, but the mother did not return his calls. Eventually, with the mother still unreachable, the court modified custody to give the father sole custody and issued a child abduction warrant for the mother. Three months later, in September, authorities tracked down the mother and child, who were in Seattle.

After this incident, the mother filed multiple requests for visitation. The trial court rejected them, refusing to give the mother any kind of visitation until she underwent a psychological evaluation.

wallet moneyA popular science fiction movie contained an oft-quoted line that admonished against being someone who “deals in absolutes.” This is often good advice when it comes to many types of legal matters, including alimony cases. It is also why the answer you may get from your Maryland divorce attorney to your alimony question is, “It depends.” For example, many cases in which a supporting spouse qualifies for a modification of spousal support also involve the imposition of a retroactive modification, but not always. In one recent case, the husband qualified for a suspension of his spousal support obligation but not for a retroactive modification because his spending habits after his job ended belied an inability to meet his obligations.

Robert and Mary Ann were a Montgomery County couple who had divorced. As part of their divorce case, they had reached a marital settlement agreement in 2014. That agreement stated that the husband would pay the wife alimony for a limited duration of time.

In most situations, you can file a petition with a court to seek a modification of your alimony. In order to be eligible for a modification, you have to show the judge that you’ve experienced a substantial and material change in your circumstances. The law gives you, as two divorcing spouses, the right to include in your marital settlement agreement terms that state when, if ever, a supporting spouse is eligible to go to court and seek a modification.

birth certificateThe great English poet and playwright William Shakespeare asked, in his play Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While The Bard’s implication is that a name, by itself, means very little, it can be a very important thing in some family law cases. Whether you are involved in a name change contest or some other family law matter, you have certain rights, which your Maryland family law attorney can help you protect. In a recent case offering an example, a mother was able to get an order changing her son’s name reversed because the trial court didn’t follow the proper procedure.

Anne Marie gave birth to a son on Oct. 25, 2011. Anne Marie was not married. The father was not present at the birth, and no father was listed on the birth certificate. By December, Anne Marie filed a court action seeking genetic testing to establish paternity. Paternity was established the following May, and issues of custody, visitation, and child support were worked out.

In January 2014, the father asked the trial court to alter the child’s name. The son’s last name was that of the mother. The father requested that the court change the child’s last name from that of the mother to his last name. The trial court did not immediately rule on the request.

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