Articles Posted in Child Custody

drug testResolving 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.

familyIn 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.

courtroomWithin 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.

grandparentsAn 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.

gavelWhen you are faced with a family law dispute and the potential need to go to court to contest an issue like child custody and visitation, it may be tempting to try to handle your case, or your appeal, on your own. This choice is often ill-fated. Experienced Maryland child custody attorneys understand many things that may not be in the “knowledge base” of even a knowledgeable lay person. This includes not only the law but also the details of court procedural rules, in addition to the types of arguments and presentations that are most likely to persuade judges and juries. The case of a self-represented mother, whose appeal document relied heavily upon relatively broad and imprecise constitutional claims, provides just such an example.

The Court of Special Appeals’ involvement in this dispute followed a long-running and sometimes messy custody battle. The child was born in June 2015. Within just a few months, the parents’ relationship had deteriorated, and the mother had opened a custody case in California. The court concluded that Maryland was the child’s legal “home state.” The court in Maryland entered an order on custody and visitation. In May 2016, the father attempted to discuss a visitation handoff of the child, but the mother did not return his calls. Eventually, with the mother still unreachable, the court modified custody to give the father sole custody and issued a child abduction warrant for the mother. Three months later, in September, authorities tracked down the mother and child, who were in Seattle.

After this incident, the mother filed multiple requests for visitation. The trial court rejected them, refusing to give the mother any kind of visitation until she underwent a psychological evaluation.

sickThere are lots of things that could affect your child custody case. They could involve procedural issues, evidentiary issues, or complexities related to the law. Or they could involve finding yourself sick and unable to travel on the morning of your custody hearing. For one father who was in that position, and whose trial court judge opted to conduct the custody hearing without the father or counsel representing him, he was able to get that trial court’s order overturned on appeal. Under those exceptional circumstances, the father was entitled to a continuance postponing his case, according to a Court of Special Appeals ruling.

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schoolWhen it comes to the well-being of a child, most parents will do everything in their power to give their children the best of all available opportunities. This can be especially true when it comes to education. When where you live is the subject of a custody order or agreement, things can be more complicated. In one recent case involving a mother’s desire for her children to attend school in D.C., the Court of Special Appeals determined that the children’s “thriving” in school was not a material change of circumstances that allowed the courts to modify an existing custody agreement.

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birth certificateAn old adage warns the reader to “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” The adage is a reference to the notion that many outcomes, even ones we desire strongly, may come with unintended consequences. This arguably was the case for a Maryland mother who lost a custody case with the man she named as her child’s father on the child’s birth certificate. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals upheld that custody determination, even in the absence of a paternity test.

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walking to schoolIn a recent case involving two parents who disagreed regarding where their daughter should attend kindergarten, the outcome of the case is an important reminder of the importance of achieving success at the trial level, due to the deference given to trial courts in child custody cases. Despite finding that the child would derive some benefit from going to the school that would maintain continuity, the trial judge awarded tie-breaking authority on educational decisions to the mother, even though that inevitably meant that the child would attend the school that did not maintain continuity. Nevertheless, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision, concluding that the trial court’s decision was not so completely in defiance of logic and the facts of the case as to constitute an “abuse of discretion” and trigger a reversal.

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Maryland welcomeThere 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.

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