Articles Posted in Child Custody

The scenario is a familiar one for a lot of people. You meet someone and fall in love. Your partner has issues, but you rationalize them away. “She’s not perfect, but who is?” or “He’s got his problems, but I can change him,” you might say. So you get married and have kids. Then the relationship breaks down and you are confronted by your spouse’s issues… be they alcohol, drugs, mental health, domestic abuse or something else. You’re also confronted by the fact that, at this point, your primary goal needs to be protecting your children. When that happens to you, make sure you’ve retained an experienced Maryland family law attorney to ensure that you’re doing everything properly to use the legal system for the maximum protection of your children.

C.W. was one of those parents with that kind of family law problem. He and his wife, T.T., had a child together shortly after they wed. After the marriage, the wife began displaying anger management issues. She also resumed contact with an ex-boyfriend who had a history of abusing heroin and abusing T.T.

After the marriage broke down, a custody battle ensued. During that custody case, the father wisely had an attorney the entire time. At the court hearing, the father’s attorney put on multiple witnesses, including T.T.’s former work supervisor. In that hearing, the husband was able to present evidence that the mother had moved seven times in the preceding five years, including West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Utah.

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If you are familiar with child support, then you know how important proof of the parents’ actual incomes is. That’s because, in most situations, the court will base the amount of support on the parents’ actual current incomes unless there is substantial proof (and a finding from the judge) that a parent is voluntarily avoiding working (or voluntarily avoiding earning what he’s capable of earning.) Those latter two scenarios are called “voluntary unemployment” and “voluntary underemployment,” respectively, and if you think that your child’s parent has engaged in either, it is essential to consult a skilled Maryland family law attorney so that he can assist you in getting a court order that sets support at a fair amount.

The law allows the court, if it finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, to “impute” income to that parent. Imputing income means that the court calculates child support based, not on the parents’ actual incomes, but on the voluntarily underemployed/unemployed parent’s imputed income and the other parent’s actual income. For example, consider a hypothetical couple where the father was an experienced attorney making $250,000 per year, and the mother was a pediatrician who, during the divorce, voluntarily left her $200,000-per-year practice to become a preschool teacher making $40,000 per year. In that case, the court might set support at the amount consistent with what the guidelines dictate for a supporting parent making $250,000 and the residential parent making $200,000 (or something close to it.)

Sometimes, though, a parent’s low ebb (in terms of income) is not voluntary but is completely beyond his control. When it happens that your ex-spouse experiences an uncontrolled low ebb in his income right around the time of your divorce, does that mean that you are just out of luck? As one recent case from Annapolis demonstrates, the answer clearly is “No, you’re not!”

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COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, has disrupted many things about almost everyone’s lives. Instability and uncertainty are hard enough on adults, but they are even harder for children. If your children are the subjects of a visitation order by a judge, the current state of things may make maintaining the regular schedule that the court ordered tricky. Like the many other unplanned things in life that may upset a visitation schedule, this pandemic demands many things from you. One of those demands is to work together in a collaborative way with your child’s other parent and act in the best interest of your children. Also, just as is true in any other major unexpected event, always obtain advice from a knowledgeable Maryland child visitation attorney before you take unilateral action that is not in compliance with your court orders.

Business Insider recently looked at this exact issue of visitation and COVID-19. Many of the suggestions and recommendations made within that piece are effective ones. For one thing, use your common sense. If your ex has primary physical custody of the kids and you’ve just tested positive for COVID-19, don’t let the children come to your home for their regularly scheduled visit.

On the other hand, if you are the children’s primary residential parent, you should also make sure the decisions you make are rational ones. If your ex’s current spouse has the virus, or your ex currently lives in Italy, then that is a reason to delay visitation. On the other hand, if your ex’s coworker’s spouse recently traveled from Ireland (but has no symptoms and self-quarantined for 14 days after returning home,) that alone probably isn’t a valid justification for denying a court-ordered visit.

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The breakdown of a relationship between two parents is often very difficult on everyone. That’s true whether you’re a famous celebrity or an “ordinary” person. It’s also true whether or not you are biologically related to your child. However, if you are in a situation (like many LGBT+ couples) where one of you is a biological parent and one is not, that fact can complicate things if a custody dispute arises after your separation. If you find yourself in a custody disagreement, then you know that nothing may be more important to you than your relationship with your child. Be sure you are protecting that relationship to the maximum extent by securing legal representation from a skilled Maryland child custody attorney.

As an example of how difficult breakups can be for families with children, there’s the case of two of the stars of Bravo’s Flipping Out series. Although the two men never married, they had been together for 10 years and shared a three-year-old daughter when they separated in 2019.

According to a Yahoo! Entertainment report, although the daughter was the biological offspring of one partner and no biological relationship to the other, both fathers would have legal parental rights. “According California State Law, both [fathers] have equal parental rights to [the child], regardless of biology, because both of their names are listed” as parents on the daughter’s birth certificate.

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Going through a custody dispute can be a scary thing. You may recognize that you need capable legal representation, but you may fear that you lack the financial resources to hire a skilled Maryland child custody attorney. Never let that fear stop you. Always talk to counsel first. There may be various options available to you to address your financial resource-related concerns, including getting a court order that makes your ex-spouse or partner responsible for paying your attorney’s fees.

Biological parents have long understood that, in Maryland, they have the potential to persuade a judge that the other side should pay their attorney’s fees. The law says an award of attorney’s fees is available and the judge may award any amount of “fees that are just and proper under all the circumstances,” according to the statute. You simply have to give the court evidence of your financial status, your needs, your ex’s financial status and your ex’s needs, along with proof that you had a valid justification for bringing your case.

Of course, as we all know, parenthood is something much deeper than just DNA. There are lots of people who act as a child’s parent while sharing a lesser biological tie to that child… or none at all. This can include some families with stepparents and families with LGBT parents. Fortunately, Maryland recognizes these parents’ legal status under something called ‘de facto’ parenthood. This may lead you next to wonder… can these ‘de facto’ parents, if they need to pursue a custody case in court, receive an award of attorneys’ fees? The good news is that a case from last year made it clear that the answer to this question is “Yes!”

You work hard to provide for your family. You also have a strong desire to be an active and involved parent in your child’s life. A recent case from Baltimore County looked at the conflict than can arise from these two things. Namely, the case looked at whether one parent should only have physical custody during periods of time when he wasn’t working. In order to foster your relationship with your child, it is important to have time with that child, including overnights. Sometimes, you may have to work during parts of those periods. That doesn’t mean that you should lose custody time. To achieve a custody arrangement that best promotes your relationship with your child, be sure to retain the services of an experienced Maryland child custody attorney.

As the court stated in this important victory for the father, the law doesn’t require that you either be off work or relinquish custody time. The law requires that a physical custody schedule promote the best interests of the child.

In the case, the dispute focused on the son of D.B. and N.W. The parents were never married and lived separately, but decided to raise the boy together. The father worked nights and the mother worked in the daytime. Eventually a dispute arose regarding the schedule and the parents ended up in court.

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Having a knowledgeable family law attorney on your side in your child custody case can help you in a number of ways. That’s because there are a number of ways in which your case can go wrong if you lack the sort of effective legal counsel that your case needs.

Procedural mistakes, for example, can be devastating. You can have the strongest evidence possible or make the most compelling and persuasive argument possible, but if you have not met all of the requirements of the procedural rules, then that proof or argument may go for naught and you may still lose.

A case from Prince George’s County offers up a good example. In early 2016, a mother and a father reached an agreement on joint custody. A few months later, the judge decided that the mother had engaged in misconduct to deny the father visitation and ordered that the father receive sole legal and physical custody of the child, with the mother receiving only daily electronic contact via Skype or Facetime.

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In life, everyone makes mistakes, sometimes. Some of those mistakes happen within the confines of your family law case and, if that happens, the consequences can be severe. Even if you have made significant mistakes in your case, it is still imperative that you don’t give up and that you continue aggressively to fight for your relationship with your children. The law in Maryland may give you more options than you might have thought. Contact an experienced family law attorney to find out what paths may be available for you.

So, what do we mean by mistakes? As an example, let’s look at the case of C.K.N., a Montgomery County mom and Cameroonian immigrant going through a custody battle with her child’s father, E.L. A custody case, like other civil law cases, has a “discovery phase,” where each side has the opportunity ask the other side to respond to certain questions (called “interrogatories”) and to turn over copies of certain documents (called “requests for production.”)

One of the reasons it is so important to have a skilled family law attorney representing you during every phase of your case is that failure to follow certain rules, including discovery rules, can lead to severe punishments. In C.K.N.’s case, she failed to respond to certain discovery requests on time, so the judge punished her by imposing severe restrictions on what she could argue at her hearing and what evidence she could present in her custody case.

An old saying by English author Alexander Pope theorizes that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” In few places is that more true than in the law. Too many times, non-lawyers sincerely believe that they can pursue their case successfully on their own. They think that, by spending a little time with the Google or Bing search engines, they can equip themselves adequately to act as their own attorney in their Maryland family law dispute.

Very often, they are mistaken. The consequence of that mistake is often losing a case that, with the aid of skilled lawyer, might have possibly ended more favorably. With something as precious and valuable as your family at stake, why would you chance losing due to some statutory technicality, filing deadline or nuance of caselaw that you’d overlooked? Your family is too important, which is why you should be sure you retain a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney to handle your case.

How can your case go very wrong on your own? A recent dispute addressed by the Court of Special Appeals offers a useful example. O.K. was a father in a dispute with E.L., his children’s mother. On a temporary basis, the court gave the mother sole legal and physical custody.

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When it comes to setting up a child custody schedule in Maryland as part of a divorce, small differences have the potential to have massive impacts. A difference of just a few overnights can greatly alter what will owe in child support. Potentially, one or two extra overnights may mean owing hundreds, or even thousands, less in child support every month if those extra nights give you shared custody. In other words, it pays to exercise great care when it comes to a custody schedule in a marital settlement agreement. And it pays to have an experienced Maryland child support lawyer on your side who knows this and other nuances of the law keenly well, to get you the best outcome possible.

So, how can just a slight alteration of a custody schedule make such a big difference in child support? As a recent case illustrated, the key lies in Maryland’s definition of shared custody versus sole custody. In this state, the dividing line is 35%, or roughly 128 overnights. If you have fewer than that, then the other parent has sole physical custody. If you have more than that, then you and the children’s other parent have shared physical custody.

That recent case involved a father who had visitation on alternating weekends, alternating Wednesday evenings, some federal holidays and part of the summer break. He was also required to pay $2,620 per month in child support but later asked the judge to reduce his obligation. He argued that his support obligation was being calculated as if the mother had sole physical custody but, based on the number of overnights the children had with him, the parents shared joint physical custody.

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