Articles Posted in Child Custody

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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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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