Articles Posted in Child Custody

As a spouse going through a divorce, you’ll face many choices. You may elect to resolve all your issues via a negotiated settlement, all via a trial, or some in each of those two settings. As is true in any negotiation setting, it is exceptionally important to understand when you have a complete agreement, when you have a partial agreement, and when, under the terms of the law, you have no binding agreement at all (even if you and your spouse seemed to reach some consensuses during the conference.) To understand what your legal rights and options are, be sure to get skillful advice from an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer.

Although the central issue driving a recent divorce case from Prince George’s County was child custody, the lessons it teaches are universal across many family law disputes.

A.W. and B.W.’s was a short-term marriage. They wed in 2014, had a child in 2018, and the wife filed for divorce in 2020. In early April 2021, the court convened a remote settlement conference over Zoom.

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The Maryland legal community was shocked to the core by the horrific death of Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was murdered in his driveway by a man who was litigating his divorce case before the judge. While the killer in this case potentially had mental health issues, divorce litigation can impose an incredible amount of stress and emotion divorce litigation on the spouses going through the process… even those without mental health problems. The stress that’s often involved (and exacerbated if you try to go it alone) is an excellent reason to retain an experienced Maryland family lawyer when litigating your divorce.

Not all divorces are traumatic. An out-of-state lawyer, who began his career clerking for a small-town family court judge, once described an older couple’s appearance in court to finalize their divorce. As the judge inquired whether the couple met the statutory qualifications, one question inadvertently inspired the husband to disclose that the couple had most recently engaged in intimate relations less than one week before the hearing.

The judge explained that she could not grant the divorce because the couple didn’t meet the state’s requirement for being separated, and the couple exited, smiling and joking with one another.

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In a very recent case opinion announced by the Court of Special Appeals, the court wrote that “[s]ometimes one misstep early in a case can have repercussion for the rest of the case.” Those kinds of damaging missteps can include, among other things, failing to comply with all the pretrial deadlines the trial court sets. Whether it is managing deadlines, accumulating evidence, securing expert witnesses, or tending to any of the other essential “details” that go into a successful family law case, make sure you’ve retained the services of an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer to handle your matter.

These things may sound small, but a shortcoming — even just a single one — potentially can have massively harmful results, as a recent Montgomery County case demonstrates.

R.Z. and D.Z. were parents going through a child custody case. In any kind of civil case in Maryland, all parties will receive something called a “scheduling order.” This is an order that sets various dates and deadlines, like the trial date, pre-trial conference date, discovery deadlines, and so forth. One of the things generally included in these kinds of orders is the deadline for parties to designate their expert witnesses.

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In many walks of life, it is said that “timing is everything.” In the law, timing isn’t everything, but it definitely can be a crucial thing. Get your timing wrong in carrying out some procedural step in your case and that incorrect timing may have disastrous consequences. This is just another one (among the countless) reasons why, when your divorce is going through the legal process, you need a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer from beginning to end.

As a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when your timing is not correct, there’s this recent divorce case that originated in Prince George’s County. The couple litigated their divorce in 2020 and, on Jan. 7, 2021, the judge granted an absolute divorce. The divorce judgment also covered the marital home (ordering the wife to transfer her interest to the husband,) child custody, and child support.

The judgment did not, however, say how much child support the wife was required to pay the husband each month.

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When you have to go to court in a divorce or child-related case, there are countless reasons why it pays to have quality legal representation from a skilled Maryland family law attorney. One of these comes up when something happens that causes you to question, “Can the judge really do that?”

If you have no counsel, you may be inclined simply to accept it, because the judge is the judge after all, and (you assume) can mostly do what he/she wants, right? On the other hand, an experienced attorney knows there are limits to a judge’s power in making his/her orders, knows when the judge has overstepped and knows what to do when that takes place.

Here’s an example of how it can happen. A recent case heard by the Court of Special Appeals pitted a father against a mother on the issue of child custody. The parents had engaged in “nearly continuous litigation” for almost a decade. After a five-day trial in 2018, the trial judge hearing the parents’ case ordered the parents to complete two mediation sessions before either could file any future motions for modification of custody.

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As anyone with children knows, the relationships you have with your children are about much more than just shared DNA. Just because a child you’re raising is not “yours” in the biological sense does not diminish the bond you share, the responsibility you feel for her well-being or the value that your care provides to her. Recognizing that, the law in Maryland allows people who are not biological parents to go to court and, if they have the right evidence, demonstrate that they are something that the law calls a “de facto” parent, which gives them an equal footing with that child’s other legal parents. If you are raising a child that is not biologically yours, you need the right Maryland family law attorney when it comes time to make those kinds of “de facto parent” arguments and protect your relationship in a court of law.

Some of Maryland’s earliest cases establishing de facto parenthood related to same-sex couples with children, especially those who were not married and where only one parent had a biological tie to the child. As the law has recognized, however, de facto parenthood extends to more than just families involving gay or lesbian parents.

Take, for example, this case from Prince George’s County. In the case, the two children were the biological offspring of D.D., the father, and E.N., the mother. The parents lived together until the father was imprisoned for drug crimes.

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Most people know that a parent who owes child support owes that obligation until the child turns 18 (or 19 if the child turned 18 while still in high school,) unless a court order terminates that obligation at some earlier point. Many families in which one parent owes an obligation of support may experience substantial life changes during those years and, sometimes, those changes may occur when the child is 17. In those situations, you may wonder, what can I do if I can’t get a court date before the child’s 18th birthday? Fortunately, the mere fact that your child turned 18 before your court hearing does not automatically deny you the right to get a modification that relates to the support you paid before the child turned 18. To make sure that you are approaching your case properly to get what you deserve, be sure you have obtained legal representation from a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.

A recent case that originated in Montgomery County offers an example of what a supporting parent can do. The parents, Y.B. and M.K., were married for two months when the wife filed for divorce. On Aug. 24, 2001, M.K. gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son. By the fall of 2018, the father had sole legal and physical custody of the son, and the mother paid child support.

In November 2018, the son began living outside the father’s home, staying with various friends. The mother, in turn, went to court in early 2019 to seek a modification of child custody and her child support obligation. However, the case did not come for a hearing right away and, in fact, when the son turned 18 in August 2019, the case was still pending.

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Each state has its own laws regarding child custody and those laws get minor updates periodically. Less frequently, though, a larger change takes place. Maryland, for example, now has a requirement that each set of parents must complete something called a parenting plan. What, you may wonder, is a parenting plan and how will it impact me and my child(ren)? For answers to those questions and more, and to make sure you end up with a parenting plan that fully protects — and fosters the continued growth of – your relationship with your children, retain a skilled Maryland family law attorney.

2020 is the first year that Maryland has required parenting plans in custody cases. According to the judiciary, a parenting plan specifically is considered to be “a written agreement describing how people, called parties, will care for and make decisions about their child(ren).” In other words, it is an agreement, mutually reached by the child’s parents, that lays out exactly how decision-making and other care-related responsibilities will be handled between the parents.

Many parents may think of this as an equivalent of a “custody agreement” and, therefore, may think it’s as simple as something like, “Joint legal custody, with the mother having primary physical custody and the father to have every other weekend, spring break and summer vacations,” or like “Joint legal custody and 50-50 physical custody, with each parent having the child for alternating two-week periods.”

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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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