In the case In re Victoria C., the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered the question of sibling visitation by an adult sibling. The girl in question was born in 1993 and became an adult while the instant case was pending. Her mother passed away and her father married her stepmother in 2005. She has two half-brothers who are small children and an older brother. She lived with her father from birth until her father was accused of abuse, at which point she was sent to live with her mother’s sister in Texas in 2009, for one year before returning.
Upon her return from Texas, George wouldn’t allow his daughter to live with his family. She was taken into the custody of the county’s social services department. The court judged her a child in need of assistance (CINA) in 2010.
Alongside the CINA hearing, the girl asked for visitation with her two half-brothers. Her father and stepmother opposed this request. In 2011, at the hearing on her request, the girl said she missed her siblings. A letter from her therapist was presented stating that her feelings about visitation with her siblings were appropriate. The girl admitted she didn’t have contact with her siblings while in Texas and that she had a hostile relationship with her father.
The girl’s father presented a clinical family therapist as one of his witnesses. The family therapist had worked with the family individually and had two joint sessions with the girl and her father before therapy was stopped on the grounds that the father and daughter were not making progress with their relationship to the other and felt extreme anger and distrust towards each other.
The girl’s father testified that he hoped to have a relationship with her, but she was not interested. He testified that he thought it was damaging to his sons to have visitation with their sister in light of the bad relationship between him and the girl. He also said that his daughter was a stranger to her half-brothers.
The girl’s stepmother also testified that the girl’s hostile relationship with her father might affect his relationship with his sons, as well as her own. The stepmother testified that one of the sons didn’t remember his sister and the other didn’t recognize her in family photos, though he asked about her sometimes.
The case’s Master recommended that the girl be allowed visitation with her siblings because exceptional evidence existed, as required by Maryland law. Her father and stepmother filed exceptions. The girl turned eighteen before the circuit court heard arguments on the exceptions. Before the court issued its opinion, the girl said she planned to leave her foster placement and custody was terminated.
The court issued an opinion denying the father and stepmother’s exceptions early in 2012. They appealed. The appellate court considered the question of whether an adult sibling under the above described circumstances was entitled to visitation with her minor siblings. The girl argued that the situation of sibling visitation was different than other third party visitation. However, her father argued that the issue was the same as grandparent visitation and subject to the same test.
The appellate court agreed with the father. The girl had to show parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances that a lack of visitation would have “a significant deleterious effect” upon her siblings in order for the court to conduct a best interests analysis. The court noted that the girl did not claim her father was an unfit parent and concluded that both the Master and the circuit court had looked at the girl’s need for visitation rather than her minor siblings’ need. The circuit court had impermissibly assumed that because he had asked about her, her half-brother would suffer a deleterious effect if he did not have visitation. Because the girl did not present evidence of a deleterious effect, the appellate court reversed the visitation order.
If you are dealing with difficult family law matters such as the one described above, the well being of your children may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland family law, including matters of divorce, prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, property distribution, custody arrangements, alimony, and domestic violence.
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