There are many things that can impact your relationship with your child. Certainly, one major factor is geography. For many parents, the event that leads to litigation is one parent’s choice to relocate far away. In a recent case decided by the Court of Special Appeals, however, the event was a father’s moving back, going from 3,000 miles away to being a half-hour drive from his daughter’s home. In this ruling, the court explained that a move like this clearly impacts parental access to the child, which means that it is a material change in circumstances for the purposes of modifying an order of custody and visitation.
The couple battling in court was a pair who both grew up in Maryland. They married in 2006 and divorced in 2012. By 2012, they no longer both called Maryland home. The husband was a U.S. Marine on active duty stationed in California. When they divorced, the couple worked out an agreement regarding custody and visitation of their one child, a daughter. The agreement gave the father four months out of every year until the girl started school. Once she was in school, the girl would spend most of her summer breaks with the father, along with spring breaks, Thanksgiving, and alternating Christmas holidays.
This worked out until June 2015, when the father asked the court make a modification to the custody and visitation arrangement. The father had obtained a medical discharge from the Marines and was no longer in California, but instead lived in Glen Burnie, roughly a half-hour from the mother’s house in Bowie.
Whenever you request a modification like the one this father sought, there are two things that the court must analyze. First, the court has to assess whether or not the changes in your life qualify as a “material change in circumstances” under the law. If they don’t, then the court cannot enter a modification order. If they do, then the court looks at the best interest of the child to determine if a modification is proper.
In this case, the issue of “material change in circumstances” was the key. The trial court concluded that the father’s move from California to suburban Baltimore did not qualify. The Court of Special Appeals, however, decided that the move was a material change. The “central fact” guiding both parents, when they hammered out their original custody and visitation agreement, was the husband’s being stationed in California, 3,000 miles away from the mother’s (and daughter’s) primary home in Maryland.
In this case, both parents’ conduct implicitly proved that the change was material. They did so by informally and voluntarily modifying the visitation arrangement for the duration of the litigation. This conduct illustrated that the child’s welfare was best served by having regular and frequent contact with both parents. Given the strong extent to which the father’s move had impacted the issue of access to the child, it constituted a material change in terms of both custody and visitation.
Having found a material change, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to take more evidence, as necessary, to make a determination regarding the second criterion: whether or not a modification was in the daughter’s best interest.
When you are divorced and you have changes in your life, these changes may have legal ramifications, especially if you and your ex-spouse share custody of children. To make sure that you are, to the maximum extent allowed by the law, a full and vibrant part of your children’s lives, you may need to go to court. Experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi can help you fight for your rights and ensure that you are allowed the access that the law says you should have. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Father Loses in Custody Dispute Due to Maryland Not Being the Child’s ‘Home State’ Under UCCJEA, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 29, 2016
Mother and Children’s Exit from the State Leads Maryland Courts to Decline Jurisdiction in Child Custody Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 29, 2016