Untimely Objections in Maryland Family Law

birthday-party-4-118437-mIf you are served with a notice that your parental rights may be terminated or any other kind of legal notice from the State related to your children, it is critical to contact a Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible. Some parents fail to understand the urgency of these notices and take their time in responding. But important legal time limits may exist and any kind of delay may jeopardize your long-term relationship with your children.

In a 2009 case, three government agencies had sought to terminate a mother’s parental rights in connection with her three children. In 2004, two of her daughters were placed in foster care and found to be children in need of assistance (CINA). Three days after he was born, her son was also found to be a CINA.

An agency sought guardianship of all the kids on the same day the show cause orders were filed. These orders stated that if no objection was filed within 30 days after the Order was served on her, the mother would be agreeing to terminate parental rights. The mother was personally served on August 26, 2008. The father was served two days later.

The father filed an objection to the guardianship petitions. Meanwhile, an attorney appeared on behalf of the kids and consented to the petition filed by the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS). The mother objected 35 days after she was served and requested appointment of an attorney. The BCDSS moved to strike the mother’s objection because she had failed to file within 30 days as required by the Maryland Rules.

The mother filed an answer to BCDSS’ Motion to Strike Late Objection arguing that she had given voluntary consent, which could be revoked within 30 days. At the hearing, the mother’s attorney claimed that by filing her revocation more than 30 but less than 60 days after service, she had satisfied the Maryland rules. BCDSS’ attorney claimed that the rule regarding voluntary consent only applied to written consent, not to the default consent given by the mother in this case.

The court disagreed with the mother’s argument, finding the rule regarding voluntary consent to be irrelevant in light of the mother’s failure to sign away her rights or otherwise present a written consent that could be revoked. The mother challenged this ruling on appeal. She argued again that her failure to file was a “volitional consent” and not a “deemed consent.” The latter is a consent that occurs by operation of law.

BCDSS again argued that the failure to file an objection was a deemed consent, which was irrevocable. The children’s attorney similarly argued that the mother’s deemed consent was irrevocable.

The appellate court considered the statutory language, explaining that only if there was ambiguity would it look at legislative intent. The statute mandated a petition for guardianship had to be filed before a petition for adoption. Maryland Rule 9-105(e) specified the form that had to be used for a show cause order. Maryland Rule 9-107(b)(1) required a parent served with the form to file an objection within 30 days.

The appellate court explained that the revocation had to occur either 30 days after someone signed a consent or 30 days after consent was filed. It explained that failure to file amounted to consent. However, the plain language of the statute did not address whether a consent entered by operation of law, as in this case, was revocable. There was no provision for whether revocation was possible if someone simply failed to act.

Looking at legislative intent as described in earlier cases, the appellate court explained that a deemed consent cannot be revoked because it rises by operation of law; it is not volitional. The Maryland Department of Human Resources had written a statement to the General Assembly, explaining that many parents recognized adoption was in their children’s best interest, but could not bring themselves to sign a consent. Rather, they just let the law take effect.

The appellate court reasoned that achieving a permanent placement for children in the system was very important, and therefore the laws were written and enacted in order to prevent excessive delay towards that end. The appellate court concluded that there is no  right to revoke a statutorily deemed consent that has been entered by operation of law. Therefore, the appellate court found the lower court had not erred in striking the mother’s untimely objection.

If you have are dealing with sensitive child custody issues, contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation. Our office may be able to help you through this difficult time.

More Blogs:

Dissipation of Marital Funds in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 26, 2013

Neglect in Maryland Family Law Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 12, 2013

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