Articles Posted in Custody case law

If you have doubts about paternity, it is important to raise them from the start. A 2007 appeal illustrates the danger of waiting until years pass to contest or inquire into paternity in Maryland. In the case, the court considered a challenge to paternity with respect to a child born during a short marriage. The father Patrick Ashley and woman were married in 1980. Before their marriage, the woman had dated Steven Reid. When they got together Ashley asked the woman to take a pregnancy test. She told him that the pregnancy test indicated she wasn’t pregnant. They got married. Eight months later, the woman gave birth to a son.

Shortly after that, the couple separated. The court issued a divorce judgment awarding the woman sole custody of her son, visitation to the man, and requiring the man to pay child support.

Over a decade later, the father began to doubt he was the son’s father based on visual observation, and got DNA testing. It revealed he wasn’t the biological father. Instead, the biological father was Reid, the man that the mother had dated just before getting married. Ashley filed a lawsuit to discontinue child support and request paternity testing. He alleged that the mother was pregnant with the son before they married. He also alleged that in 2004, he told the mother about the DNA test results. The woman asked if they should tell the son and asked if he thought the son would hate her. Continue reading →

Domestic violence is a more common problem than you might believe. 1.3 million American women are victims of physical assault by a sexual partner every year. Some of these physical assaults result in homicide. Not all victims are women, but about 85% are. Maryland courts take allegations of domestic violence into account when determining child custody. Often the abusers not only abuse their partners, but also abuse children in the house, triggering the cycle of intergenerational violence whereby male children grow up to abuse their own partners and children. Several measures were recently proposed in the Maryland General Assembly that are expected to increase victim protection in the domestic violence context.

One of the bills reduces the burden of proof required to get a protective order against the person allegedly committing the domestic violence. The burden of proof in Maryland to get such an order currently is “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher standard that any other state in the nation. This measure would lower the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence.” State Senator Brian E. Frosh said this measure is the most important in the group of bills, explaining that the preponderance of the evidence standard is what’s used in almost other civil matters. The Maryland governor’s office found that 1777 protective orders out of 19,043 applications were denied based on the petitioner’s inability to met the high burden of proof.

Another bill calls for those who commit domestic violence in front of children to receive an additional five years in prison. About 70% of domestic violence incidents happen in front of children and can do serious damage to them psychologically. Vicki Sadehvandi, the executive director of Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) noted that “Witnessing the abuse creates ‘the cycle of abuse… Even if they escape physical injury, they suffer from mental injury/abuse.” Many who go on to commit acts of domestic violence were victims or witnesses to domestic violence when younger. The goal of the bill is to create a deterrent for the man people who perpetrate domestic violence repeatedly. Continue reading →

When a Maryland child is removed from a parent’s care and custody, the department of social services has a statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the parent. However, there are cases in which a parent’s inability to recognize and seek treatment for his or her problems can result in those reunification efforts getting terminated.

In a recent case a mother appealed from an order permitting the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (“BCDSS”) to stop making reunification efforts between the mother and her daughter. The mother had five children and a long history with BSDSS. This case involved her youngest child, but she had previously brought her son to the hospital to be hospitalized. Instead, she was evaluated and hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

The Circuit Court found that her son and an older daughter were children in need of assistance (CINA) and took them out of her custody and placed them with the mother’s parents. The mother had only sporadic contact with her son after that and he turned 21 without reunification. Continue reading →

Maryland recognizes the importance of psychotherapist-patient privilege in cases where a parent seeks psychiatric help or counseling. This privilege keeps records confidential in many, but not all instances. The issue of your mental health can come up in a custody proceeding.

In a 2000 case, a mother sought sole custody of her two minor children. She had married in 1985 and worked as a paralegal. Her husband worked as an attorney. When they first married, she had a history of psychiatric treatment, which she continued to receive at her husband’s request through their marriage. The couple had two sons and separated and reconciled several times over the years. They saw a psychiatrist jointly for a period.

When they separated in 1995, they prepared an agreement, specifying joint guardianship, care and custody of their children, with the mother to have primary residential care of them. However, when she filed for divorce, she sought sole custody. Her husband sought sole custody in response. Continue reading →

Before administering corporal punishment, a parent in Maryland must consider the child’s age, size, ability to understand the punishment, and ability to comply with the punishment. Because standards have changed significantly in the last few decades, it can be difficult for some parents to know what kinds of punishments are completely unacceptable and which ones are more appropriate to a situation. While a “spanking” may be appropriate for some children at certain developmental stages, haphazard striking in a fit of rage is not. This issue can become a critical one in a divorce and child custody case.

Section 4-501(a)  contains the definition of abuse for family law cases. Abuse under 4-501 is defined as (1) an act causing serious bodily harm, (2) an act that places someone covered by the law in fear of imminent serious bodily harm, (3) assault in any degree, (4) rape or sexual offense, and (5) false imprisonment. Abuse can also include abuse of a kid, but it does not preclude reasonable corporal punishment by a parent or stepparent, depending upon the kid’s age or condition.

Section 5-701 covers “child abuse and neglect.” That law defines abuse as (1) physical or mental injury of a child by any person who has responsibility for the child where circumstances indicate the child’s health is harmed or (2) sexual abuse.

In a 2008 case, a Maryland appellate court considered whether Maryland recognizes de facto parenthood. In the case, Margaret, a woman in a committed same-sex relationship was seeking custody or visitation of a child adopted by Janice, the other woman in the relationship.

The two women met in 1986 and lived together for the better part of 18 year lived together in Janice’s residence. Janice wanted to be a mother. She was not able to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization, so she adopted a girl from India. Margaret did not try to adopt the girl, though both she and Janice shared childcare responsibilities. In 2004, they separated and Margaret moved out.

After they separated, Margaret saw the girl 3-4 times per week. The two women started having problems and Janice restricted Margaret’s visitation. In the fall of 2004, Janice sent a letter requiring Margaret to arrange visitation through her and to get approval for any activities she wanted to do with the girl. Continue reading →

If you are served with a notice that your parental rights may be terminated or any other kind of legal notice from the State related to your children, it is critical to contact a Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible. Some parents fail to understand the urgency of these notices and take their time in responding. But important legal time limits may exist and any kind of delay may jeopardize your long-term relationship with your children.

In a 2009 case, three government agencies had sought to terminate a mother’s parental rights in connection with her three children. In 2004, two of her daughters were placed in foster care and found to be children in need of assistance (CINA). Three days after he was born, her son was also found to be a CINA.

An agency sought guardianship of all the kids on the same day the show cause orders were filed. These orders stated that if no objection was filed within 30 days after the Order was served on her, the mother would be agreeing to terminate parental rights. The mother was personally served on August 26, 2008. The father was served two days later. Continue reading →

In a recent case, a Maryland appellate court considered a local court policy that limited the parties’ ability to access investigative reports ordered by the court in a child custody matter. The mother challenged this policy after the court awarded sole legal and physical custody to the father of her children.

The case arose when a father filed for divorce. He sought sole physical and legal custody of their two kids. The court ordered that the Adoption and Custody Unit (ACU) investigate and prepare a report. The ACU interviewed the parties, relatives, and the kids and discovered the parties’ personal history, including education, housing, employment, criminal and physical and mental health histories. The report was 147 pages including records. The report did not recommend which parent should get custody.

The day the report was due came and went. The ACU filed the report late. The parties’ attorneys were notified they could now look at the report at the clerk’s office. The policy was that the attorneys could view the report in the office, but could not copy any sections or take it out of the office. Continue reading →

Allegations of sexual, physical or emotional abuse are taken very seriously in Maryland child custody cases. The child’s best interests are of primary importance. In a recent case, the parents’ custody of a fourteen-year-old was modified after the mother learned of sexual abuse allegations in the context of the father and her niece. The parents’ relationship began in 1993 when they were teenagers. Though they did not marry, they bore a daughter six years later. They ended their relationship in 2001. The mother had another child with another father.

The mother said that during their relationship the father was abusive towards her, calling her “crazy,” “nutcase,” “whore” and throwing her down the stairs, locking her in the cold and choking her. In one altercation, the father had pushed both the mother and a third party, resulting in the police being called and the mother getting a protective order against the father for a year.

Three years after their relationship ended, the parents entered into a custody arrangement and a few years after that, the mother was granted primary physical custody. However, the father had visitation on alternate weekends and on certain holidays and they shared legal custody. Continue reading →

Recently, the Maryland appellate court ruled in the case of a father who appealed the finding that his child was a child in need of assistance (“CINA”). The master had recommended this finding to the court after a hearing in which it was shown that the mother and father failed to give their daughter an emotionally or physically safe environment. The court ordered that temporary custody of the child be given to the child’s maternal grandmother and a couple who had cared for the child in the past and in the present.

The master and the court had discovered some disturbing facts from a Department of Social Services (DSS) investigator before the CINA order was issued. The family lived in a trailer that needed to be repaired. The daughter had lost weight, had been left home alone with the family dog, needed medical care she did not receive, and was in an environment of regular domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.

DSS had learned of this family because the daughter had tested positive for the presence of cocaine when she was born. This meant that she was presumed to be not receiving proper care from her mother for one year after her birth and was a CINA. Continue reading →

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