Articles Posted in Child Custody

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.

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.

Today, people’s lives are more portable than ever. For most people, gone are the days when you would grow up, get married, and raise children in one area, coupled with a spouse doing the same. This new reality can be especially true for professionals working in specialized fields. The increase in the geographic portability of people’s lives and careers can play a major role when your spouse and you divorce, and child custody is an issue. Whether you are the parent seeking to relocate with the child, or you are the parent opposing relocation, you have certain rights under the law, so it is extremely important to have a knowledgeable Maryland child custody attorney on your side to protect your relationship with your child.

One recent case ruling from the Court of Special Appeals provided an example of how these trans-national child custody cases can play out. The father was a geophysicist, and the mother was a doctor licensed to practice medicine in Europe. They met in Germany but eventually moved to Texas. The couple separated after three years, and the Texas court, in the couple’s divorce, granted the mother “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the children, without regard to geographical location.” The court also gave the mother the right to hold the children’s passports.

At some point, one of the parents relocated to Montgomery County in Maryland because the mother filed an action to “enroll” the Texas order in Maryland, which would make the Texas decree enforceable in this state. Later, the mother asked the Montgomery County court to modify custody. She asserted that the children’s passports had expired, that she’d received an offer to practice medicine in Germany, that she intended to move there with the children, and that the children’s passports needed to be renewed.

Resolving family law disputes by agreement can often be a useful and beneficial means of arriving at an outcome. For some parents, resolution by agreement gives them a greater sense of control and makes the outcome more lasting. Even if you intend to try to resolve your family law dispute through agreement, it is worthwhile to have legal representation by an experienced Maryland child custody attorney. Your legal counsel can help make sure any agreement you sign adequately protects your relationship with your child, and they can also assist you if litigation is necessary at a future date.

When you decide to resolve your family law dispute through a mutual agreement, it is very important to understand exactly which rights the agreement does and does not give you. Here’s an example from a recent case. Russell and Marie were a couple who married in 2014 and had a son in late 2015. Sometime shortly after the child’s birth, the mother informed the father that, due to the father’s drug use, the mother was leaving the couple’s home in Maryland and moving in with her mother in Texas. She was also taking the child with her.

Shortly after that, the father went to court, requesting an order of custody and child support. He also asked the court to bar the mother from taking the child out of Maryland “until further order” of the court. The mother also asked the court for an order of custody, child support, and express permission to move the child to Houston.

In a perfect world, there would be no need for court litigation to resolve child custody disputes. In the real world, however, family dynamics are often complicated, and multiple family members may think that they should be the one to care for a child. Sometimes, those claims for custody or visitation may come from non-parents. Generally, though, as a parent, the law gives you certain rights regarding your child, as long as there is no legal finding that you’re unfit. Experienced Maryland child custody counsel can help you protect your family and your rights, and defeat any challenges to your parental fitness.

One such complicated family situation involved a custody and visitation dispute between a child’s father and her great-grandmother. The case was a difficult example of the complicated events that can unfold when a primary caregiver parent passes away unexpectedly. Shakeera was a mother of five children who, along with her children, lived with her grandmother in North Carolina. Shortly after giving birth to the fifth child, Shakeera died suddenly. Tavahn, the father of the eldest four children, traveled from Maryland to North Carolina to attend Shakeera’s funeral and to take the children back to Maryland with him. He had a court order giving him custody of three of the children. Shakeera’s grandmother, Loretta, resisted, but eventually, with the help of law enforcement, Tavahn was able to take custody of the three children named in the order. The fourth child, J.S., was not mentioned in the court order, so the police didn’t allow the father to take that child from Loretta’s home.

Tavahn came back to Maryland and promptly asked a Baltimore judge to issue a custody order for J.S. Loretta contested the father’s request, arguing to the judge that she should have custody of J.S. or, at a minimum, court-ordered visitation with the child. The court gave the father custody. The great-grandmother received neither custody nor visitation.

Within 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.

An 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.

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