Articles Posted in Custody case law

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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A divorce case automatically becomes more complicated when the couple has children. Not only will the parties be expected to address and resolve issues of property division and spousal support, but also they will need to address the emotional and practical issues associated with parenting time and a child custody arrangement. The two most important matters to consider are legal and physical custody. In some unique cases, parents dispute the particular jurisdiction within which to resolve the dispute. In any divorce case, but especially one that involves children, the parties are encouraged to consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney to be sure their family’s rights are adequately protected.

A recent Maryland divorce case illustrates how tricky a child custody matter can become once the parents begin disputing the jurisdiction of the court. The question centers on the court’s authority to entertain the issue of custody in the first instance. Here, while both parents are United States citizens, the mother is a native of Niger, and the father is a native of Senegal. The couple was living in Maryland when they got married in Niger while on vacation. Soon thereafter, the mother began working for the United Nations. The family moved to New York for her first assignment but maintained residences in Maryland to which they would travel every weekend.

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“Res Judicata” precludes parties from re-litigating any suit that is based on the same (earlier) cause of action. This means that parties may not bring the same claim, based on the same facts, time and time again. While the principle of res judicata applies to child custody cases, courts may entertain a custody issue, involving the same child or children, if the parent is seeking the modification of a custody arrangement due to a change in circumstances since the previous court order. The outcome of any child custody case will have a tremendous impact on the family going forward – financially, emotionally, and logistically. To sufficiently protect your rights, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney as early in the process as possible.

No two child custody cases are alike. Parents may dispute any number of issues, including physical and legal custody, as well as visitation and child support. In fact, a couple in a recent custody case argued over the child’s surname (among other things). Here, the parents were never married but had a son together in 2009. The mother failed to place the father’s name on the birth certificate and did not give the child the father’s last name. The father argued that the mother did not tell him when their son was born.

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Maryland courts review virtually every request in a child custody case in accordance with the “best interests of the child” standard. Judges seek to protect the well-being and general welfare of children brought before them, no matter the circumstances. In some cases, courts will intervene when a child is being neglected by his or her parents. In fact, state law protects children from “neglect,” which is legally defined as “leaving a child unattended or other failure to give proper care and attention to a child by any parent . . . under circumstances that indicate (1) that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm.” In order to properly understand your rights in any child custody case, during a divorce or separation proceeding, it is important that you contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible.

Child custody cases take many different shapes and forms. In some unique situations, a child may be a citizen of another country but in the United States and in the care of a family member other than a parent, in order to avoid neglect. When this happens, courts may be called upon to determine whether it is in the child’s best interests to be reunited with the parents. In some instances, the court could determine that reunion is not a viable option due to neglect.

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When parents separate or decide to divorce, they must be prepared to address and hopefully resolve many important issues, such as child custody and visitation. In an ideal situation, both parents will agree on an arrangement that suits the best interests of the child. However, under Maryland law, either parent may petition a circuit court for custody of a child, and if the parties do not agree about who should have custody, the court will make the determination and grant sole or shared custody. Each custody case is unique. In some extreme cases, the court must step in to take a child out of the biological parent’s custody, with the hope of eventually reuniting the family members. No matter what your child custody case involves, it is extremely important to protect your rights. Parents are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney from the very outset.

In a recent Maryland custody case, In re: Andre J., the juvenile court determined that the then eight-year-old was a “child in need of assistance” (or “CINA”).  The child had significant intellectual disabilities. The local Department of Health and Human Services (the “Department”) filed a petition with the court alleging that the mother neglected Andre and his siblings, and that she was unable to provide her children with proper care and attention. He was removed from his mother’s custody and care and placed in a foster care arrangement.  The court established something known as a “permanency plan of reunification” with his mother and granted her visitation.  Andre reportedly thrived in his foster home under the care of a special education teacher.

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When a married couple decides to go forward with a divorce, there will undoubtedly be many tough issues to address and resolve before the proceeding is over. Many spouses often choose to put off filing for a divorce, due to the emotional and financial repercussions. One of the most contentious issues tends to involve the children and how to allocate both physical and legal custody. There are many ways to sort through this part of the process, but no one solution is right for every family. Ideally, spouses will consult with their own legal counsel to ensure that their individual rights and interests are protected. The best course of action is to reach out to a Maryland family law attorney with a great deal of experience handling divorce cases.

In a recent case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals was faced with a somewhat unique issue in a child custody and divorce matter:  whether to make “factual findings” under a federal immigration law, concerning the child’s potential status as a “special immigrant juvenile” or “SIJ.” Here, the parents were together since 1998 and got married in 2010 in Washington, D.C. They are both residents of Maryland. Their first child was born in 2000 and is a citizen of Ecuador, where she lived with her maternal grandparents. In 2010, the child moved to the United States to live with her mother. She is currently an “undocumented alien.”

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As many people know, divorce can be difficult. There are serious practical, emotional and financial issues for the parties to identify, weigh, and hopefully resolve as amicably and quickly as possible. Since each family is unique, with its own set of personal facts and circumstances, there is no one simple solution for dissolution of marriage. The important thing to know, however, is that an experienced Maryland family law attorney can help to move your case along smoothly and efficiently, with the goal of protecting your interests and rights every step of the way.

When a divorcing couple has children, it can make the matter even more complicated. Issues such as child custody, visitation, and support have the potential to elicit strong disagreements between the spouses. In a recent Maryland court of special appeals case, the couple divorced in 2001, and the court granted the parties joint legal custody of their two sons but awarded the father sole physical custody. Child support was not given to either party. From 2002 until 2010, the mother lived in the state of Washington. During that time, one of their sons was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and other medical issues. The boys had limited contact with their mother while she was in Washington. In 2012, the husband filed a motion for child support. He also asked the court: 1) to find that the son with autism was a “destitute adult child,” and 2) to order the mother to pay for medical expenses and for his attorney’s fees.

The wife opposed the motion and sought custody of one of their sons. The circuit court denied the motion to change custody, determined that the child was a destitute adult child, and ordered the wife to pay $850 per month in child support for both children, as well as the husband’s attorney’s fees. The wife appealed, arguing (among other things) that there was no analysis regarding the child’s total reasonable living expenses, and therefore child support should have been denied. She did not raise a question as to whether or not the court’s determination of child support was accurate. The court of appeals affirmed the decision in its entirety. Regarding the child support award, the court pointed to Maryland law, which makes it a misdemeanor for a parent with sufficient means not to provide support to his or her destitute adult child. Once a child has been determined to be so, the state child support guidelines under Family Law Section 12-204 apply to ascertain a parent’s support obligations. Here, the court found that the child was properly adjudicated a destitute adult child. Continue reading

By its very nature, divorce divides a couple. Throughout the proceedings, spouses are expected to address and resolve many emotionally charged issues, such as child custody, visitation, division of property, spousal support, and many other significant matters. While many divorce cases are fraught with contentious conduct on behalf of one or both spouses, there are ways to approach a case with an eye toward moving the process along efficiently and amicably, while protecting one’s interests. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney, whose primary purpose is to resolve your divorce case as smoothly as possible, while aggressively protecting your interests.

In a recent case, described by the court as “particularly acrimonious,” the father attempted to modify an existing child custody order and objected to the “best interest attorney” or “BIA” whom the court appointed to represent his children in the proceeding. Here, the parties first separated and then ultimately divorced in February 2012. The divorce judgment incorporated prior written agreements, including a “parenting agreement” that granted the mother sole legal and primary physical custody of the children. The father was granted visitation rights. With respect to the children and their interaction with one another, the court pointed out that before and immediately after the divorce neither party behaved “admirably.” The husband claimed that the wife obstructed his visitation rights.

In July 2012, the husband sought a modification of the custody order, requesting sole custody of the children. He also began to withhold his alimony and child support payments and instead to apply them to the mortgage payments on the family residence. The wife sought to hold him in contempt for redirecting the payments and further asked the court to appoint a BIA to represent their children. The state of Maryland provides guidelines for court-appointed lawyers who represent children in child custody matters. Ultimately, the BIA recommended that the father’s custody petition be dismissed. The father sought to disqualify the children’s BIA and then changed his custody request, asking instead for sole legal custody while his wife retains physical custody. Continue reading

When a married couple has a baby in Maryland, each person in the couple is automatically viewed as being the legal parents of the baby. They automatically have the rights and obligations of parenthood. However, when a couple is not married, only the mother is automatically recognized as a parent with the attendant responsibilities and rights. Further action needs to be taken to establish paternity.

Establishing paternity is an important step to claiming the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood in Maryland. The court will not order custody, visitation, or child support unless paternity is established either because the father admits paternity or someone else proves he is the father. There are four ways to establish paternity. In addition to being married before the child’s birth, a couple can establish paternity by having the father and mother marry after the baby is born with the father verbally acknowledging the baby is his, the parents signing an Affidavit of Parentage and having the father’s name added to the birth certificate, or bringing a lawsuit to establish paternity.

Going to court is the most difficult of these options. However, you should not sign an affidavit if you are an alleged father with doubts about paternity. The affidavit is legally binding. By signing the affidavit, the father gets the right to go to court and ask for custody or visitation. Continue reading

Who decides custody if two parents or two other people with an interest in custody of a child live in two different states? Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a court in a child’s home state has exclusive jurisdiction to initially determine child custody. What is a home state? A home state for children over the age of six months is a state where the child lived with a parent or person in the role of a parent for six consecutive months or more immediately before the child custody proceeding.

In a recent case, an appellate court considered whether a seven-year-old boy’s visit to Maryland was a temporary absence after the visit interrupted his 17-month residence in Indiana. The court looked at the mother’s intent to change homes from Indiana to Maryland.

The case arose when the boy’s maternal grandparents, who were Maryland residents, sued for custody of the boy. The parents were Indiana residents, and they were named as defendants. The boy was born in Indiana to Jennifer Bornman and Edward Wright. He lived in Indiana until he was about 18 months old. In 2006, he and his parents moved to Maryland. They lived with Bornman’s parents. In a few weeks, his father moved back to Indiana. Continue reading

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