For many people, the issue of mental illness is a part of their lives and an ongoing battle. When a person with mental illness is also a parent, the issues become that much more complicated, especially when it comes to child custody and visitation litigation. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals highlights the important concept that a parent’s improving or declining mental health may constitute the sort of material change of circumstances required to modify an existing order of custody and visitation.
The case regarding the custody of, and visitation with, one little boy from Western Maryland has touched upon some of the most visible social issues of today. What it also did, following a recent ruling by Maryland’s highest court, was re-establish the existence of a “de facto parent” doctrine and to give these de facto parents certain rights with regard to the children that they helped nurture and raise. The high court’s ruling has been praised as an important victory for gay and lesbian individuals with children.
A recent ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided a case involving an unfortunately common scenario in family law cases involving custody and visitation, in which one parent claims she seeks only to protect her children from unsafe and unhealthy material and behaviors, while the other parent claims he is a fit and loving parent entitled to contact with his children. In these cases, one vital element of success is getting all of your evidence on the record. In this recent case, the mother was unable to admit into evidence her statements about the “sexually precocious” language the children used because her statements were inadmissible hearsay.
Child custody cases’ resolutions are often the result of the specific facts unique to each case. In addition to being fact-intensive, these cases may also become very legally complicated when the residences of the family members involved span state lines. In one such case recently decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals, a Maryland father was unable to pursue a modification to his custody and visitation arrangement because the specific facts in his case indicated that the mother and children no longer had sufficient minimum contacts with Maryland, meaning that Maryland courts no longer had “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over the case.
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.
Divorce is a serious matter. Depending on the particular family circumstances, there may be a variety of important and challenging decisions to make that will have a long-term impact on the parties involved. In most cases, spouses will be expected to address issues such as child custody and visitation, spousal support (or alimony), property and debt division, and child support, among other things. Because of the nature of divorce, parties often do not agree on even the most fundamental decisions. In order to sort through the myriad issues that may arise throughout the proceedings, and to ensure that your rights are fully protected every step of the way, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible.
Child custody issues have a tendency to bring up very strong emotions on behalf of both parents. And if there has been an allegation of child abuse or neglect in a child custody or visitation proceeding, a court will step in to protect the best interests of the child. Because of the seriousness of such allegations, Section 9-101 of the Maryland Family Law code sets forth specific provisions to guide courts that must deal with this disturbing issue. Specifically, the first part of the relevant statute provides that, if a court has “reasonable grounds” to believe that a child has been abused or neglected by a party to the proceeding, the court must determine whether the abuse or neglect is likely to occur if that person is granted custody or visitation rights. Continue reading →
Last year, this blog covered an interesting ruling by the Court of Special Appeals in which the court ruled an adult sibling found to be a Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) had no rights to visit with her younger siblings against their parents’ wishes. Recently, the Court of Appeals issued a new decision in this case.
As noted in other blog posts, parents of minor children have a fundamental right to make major decisions about the care, custody and control of their children. Usually third parties who want visitation against the parents’ wishes have to make a showing of exceptional circumstances such that the court failing to grant visitation would have a very detrimental effect on the children. The earlier ruling followed a Supreme Court ruling about a Washington statute where the Court ruled a statute that didn’t give parents’ beliefs a presumption of acting in the child’s best interests was unconstitutional.
In this case, an older sister born in 1993 wanted to visit her half-siblings over the objections of her father from whom she was estranged after being declared a CINA. She had been deemed a CINA after her father wouldn’t let her come back home to him, his new wife and their two small children. Her own mother had committed suicide and she had alleged her father was abusive. Continue reading →
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 →
Parents in Maryland and other states have the constitutional right to determine the “care, custody and control” of their children. There is a traditional presumption that a fit parent acts in the best interest of his or her child. The right to determine care, custody and control is not absolute, however. The issue of grandparents’ rights (or other third-party rights) sometimes complicates matters. Maryland jurisprudence on this issue is well developed.
In the seminal Maryland appellate case (Koshko), it was ruled that a grandparent must make a threshold showing either of parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances that demonstrate that a lack of grandparental visitation will have a substantial deleterious effect. A 2009 case considering the effect of Koshko on modification of an order arose from a situation between an unmarried mother and father and the father’s parents.
The father was seriously hurt in a motor vehicle accident in 2004 and was left in a coma. After that the relationship between the mother and the father’s parents became tense and the mother refused to let the father’s parents see her daughter. The grandparents petitioned for visitation and the mother sought only to limit the frequency of visitation. The visitation was granted on the schedule agreed to by the mother. The original order granting the grandparents’ visitation was made before Koshko was decided. Continue reading →
Maryland divorces can be very stressful, having consequences for extended families, including grandparents. A 26-year study released last year found that the rate of divorce may depend at least partly on the strength of the relationship with one’s in-laws. The study found that a husband who has a close relationship with his wife’s parents has a risk of divorce that is decreased by 20 percent. On the other hand a wife with a close relationship to her husband’s parents has an increased risk of divorce.
The study conducted by Terri Orbuch, a research psychologist at the University of Michigan, looked at the relationships of 373 couples in their first year of marriage in 1986 and followed up with them. Orbuch explained that this study could be explained by the perceptions of husbands and wives. Women valued their close relationship to the in-laws, but saw them as interfering, whereas men did not take their in-laws actions as personally. Conversely, women felt taken care of when a husband made an effort to get along with her parents.
When a divorce happens, it may have an effect on how often grandparents visit with their grandchildren. In Maryland, since 2000, a grandparent seeking visitation must show (1) that there is parental unfitness or circumstances that show a detriment to the child without the grandparent’s visit, and (2) that visitation is in the child’s best interest. This is a tougher standard than many other states. Continue reading →