Articles Posted in Visitation

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.

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.

Without question, maintaining a vibrant relationship with your child can be challenging if your child resides most of the time with her other parent and you live thousands of miles away. If, however you get the opportunity to relocate closer to the child, you may desire to take that opportunity to have a larger role in the child’s life and spend more time with her. When experiencing a situation like this, you still have to go to court and secure a modification of visitation, which means you still have to demonstrate a sufficient change of circumstances to the judge. This is a substantial requirement that requires careful knowledge of the law. To make sure you get the change you need to enhance your relationship with your child, consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

The case of L.J. was one where the father was a U.S. Marine who found himself in that type of situation. He and his wife had a daughter in 2009 and divorced in 2012. When they divorced, the husband was on active duty, stationed in California. The wife lived and worked in Maryland. After the separation, the parents worked out a custody arrangement and a visitation schedule. The schedule gave the father 120 days per year until the child started school. After school began, the father received all but three weeks of summer break, in addition to spring break, Thanksgiving break and every other Christmas holiday.

Three years after the divorce, the father received a medical discharge from the military and returned to Maryland. His new home was roughly 30 minutes from the mother’s residence. Based upon this change, the father asked the court to modify the visitation schedule and allow each parent to have the daughter 50% of the time.

In 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.

When 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.

One of the many goals of family law cases is to create a degree of stability and finality in the decisions made by the courts. To this end, the law seeks to discourage parents or spouses from using different jurisdictions to re-litigate the same issues repeatedly. This was an issue in one recent Maryland case, in which the Court of Special Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision not to hear a visitation modification case because, according to the lower court, the issue had already been litigated completely elsewhere.

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There 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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Sometimes, family law can present challenging factual issues for the courts. In deciding custody and visitation matters regarding three young children recently, the courts were handed evidence of two parents who had numerous flaws and weaknesses as caregivers. The maternal grandparents, however, offered a degree of stability that the parents’ homes had each allegedly lacked previously. Nevertheless, and despite the grandparents’ close involvement with the children in the past, they were not entitled to any court-ordered visitation, according to a recent Court of Special Appeals decision. The ruling is very instructive on the issue of grandparent visitation rights. If the parents are fit (as the trial court found both parents in this case to be), they have a fundamental constitutional right to control whom their children visit, including the grandparents.

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For some families, one of the greatest challenges is achieving a successful and workable arrangement regarding child custody and visitation. For some parents, an unfavorable ruling in their visitation case may create a temptation to ignore parts of the court’s orders. While both parents should always strive to work cooperatively for the good of their child and obey orders issued by the courts, it is nevertheless important to know what a trial judge can and cannot do if one parent violates an order. In a case that originated in Montgomery County, a mother found herself in contempt for violating a visitation order. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals threw out the punishment against the mother because the contempt order did not give the mother an avenue through she could immediately “purge” the contempt charge and avoid the sanction of lost visitation time with the child.

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