Articles Posted in Child Custody

Going to court in a family law case can be a very stressful time for many parents and spouses, even when things go the way you expect them to. Now imagine going to court where the judge addresses an issue and makes a ruling that you totally did not expect and for which you were completely unprepared. That would probably be exponentially more stressful. Would you know what you could, or should, do in that situation? Circumstances like this, which do happen in real life, are examples of why it pays to have representation from an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case illustrating this scenario was the custody dispute between M.M. and J.S. For the first few months after the couple divorced, the parents temporarily shared joint physical and legal custody. The father lived in Maryland. The mother lived out of state and was pregnant. The day before the couple’s three-day custody hearing was to begin, the wife’s lawyer informed the court that the wife was experiencing pregnancy complications and could not travel from Illinois to Maryland until after the new baby’s birth, which was still six weeks away.

The wife provided that information as part of an emergency request for postponement of the custody hearing. The judge held a hearing on the postponement request and ultimately postponed the custody hearing. The judge, however, also modified custody, giving the father temporary sole custody. The wife appealed that custody modification and she won. She won because the trial judge’s action violated her constitutional rights.

As a parent in a custody case, there are several hurdles you have to clear. Obviously, the first one is achieving success in the trial court. Once you’ve done that, though, you may still have some hurdles ahead of you. The other parent may decide to appeal the ruling. If you find yourself in the role of the “Appellee” (which means that you were successful in the trial court and are asking the appeals court to affirm what the trial judge ordered) it is important to understand that there can be multiple ways to get the outcome you need, which is a ruling of “Affirmed.” To get the representation you need to get that positive result, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

As an example of how this legal process can play out, there’s the case of K.M. and C.D. The two were the parents of two children, a son and a daughter, the younger of whom was born in December 2010. In 2013, the father, who had never been married to the mother, filed for custody. The mother appeared in the case and counterclaimed for custody.

One of the issues in this couple’s case was the mother’s alleged lack of stability, including a history of mental health problems and substance abuse. In her arguments, the mother asserted that she was in treatment for anxiety and depression, that she had begun refraining from drinking, that she had acquired a proper home for overnight visits and that she’d been gainfully employed for more than 12 months.

A lot of parents may struggle with communication with their child’s other parent in the aftermath of the end of the parents’ relationship. It is always of paramount importance to make every possible effort to work together collaboratively with your child’s other parent when it comes to matters regarding the child. First and foremost, you should do that because it is generally what’s best for the child. Additionally, though, you should try to work with the other parent because if you go to court and tell the judge that absolutely cannot co-parent with the other parent, the judge is going to award one of you sole legal and physical custody–and it may not be you. For thoughtful advice about how to pursue your child custody case, be sure to talk to an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

As an example that illustrates the above point, there was the recent case of J.W. and A.J. The pair had a son together, born in April 2015. The parents were never married. Shortly after the boy turned two, the father asked a Baltimore judge to award him sole legal and physical custody of the child. The mother filed her own court papers, indicating that the child had resided with her his whole life and asking the judge to award her sole legal and physical custody. Just a few days later, the judge entered a temporary order that gave each parent joint legal and physical custody of the child, with exchanges to take place at a Baltimore police station.

Many parents, after a relationship’s end, struggle with high acrimony between them. These parents’ case was a somewhat extreme, however. Each parent took the witness stand in court and testified in the custody hearing that he/she could not communication or co-parent with the other in an effective way. At the hearing’s end, the judge considered the testimony of the father, the mother and the mother’s two witnesses and determined that the mother offered a more stable home environment and, as a result, should receive sole legal and physical custody.

Almost any divorce is a stressful event, especially if children are involved. You, as a spouse and a parent, work hard to achieve an outcome in your case that you believe is workable for you and your family. But what do you do when you discover in the weeks and months after the judgment was entered that your ex-spouse is not cooperating with you and does not intend to do what the judge ordered? That’s just one of many reasons why you need a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney beside you every step of the way. Your skilled counsel can help you achieve a divorce resolution that is fair and functional and then, if necessary, help you fight in the aftermath of the divorce to obtain the proper enforcement of what the judge ordered.

One example of a couple that did not achieve resolution after the entry of the divorce judgment was the case of Z.M. and M.M. The pair married in the summer of 2014. One month later, they welcomed a daughter. 13 months after that, the wife filed for divorce. The mother received primary physical custody of the child, but the court gave both parents joint legal custody.

The court gave the mother tie-breaking authority. Maryland law allows judges to award one parent the authority to make a final decision in the event that the parents are hopelessly deadlocked in terms of resolving an important decision-making issue regarding the child. The law also allows the courts to put conditions on the exercise of that tie-breaking authority. In Z.M. and M.M.’s case, the court demanded that the mother only use her tie-breaker power after she had made a good faith effort to inform the father and engage in a decision-making dialogue with him (except in emergency cases).

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.

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