Your Children’s Education and a ‘Material Change of Circumstances’ in a Maryland Custody Case

When it comes to the well-being of a child, most parents will do everything in their power to give their children the best of all available opportunities. This can be especially true when it comes to education. When where you live is the subject of a custody order or agreement, things can be more complicated. In one recent case involving a mother’s desire for her children to attend school in D.C., the Court of Special Appeals determined that the children’s “thriving” in school was not a material change of circumstances that allowed the courts to modify an existing custody agreement.

The parents, an orthodontist and a federal government employee, lived in Prince George’s County for the entirety of their nearly eight-year marriage. In 2014, they began divorce proceedings. In the summer of 2015, and in violation of a court order, the mother relocated herself and the couple’s two children to Washington, D.C.

The couple’s divorce and custody case continued onward until, in December 2015, they reached a voluntary agreement. On the issue of the children, the agreement stated that the kids would finish the current school year at their school in D.C. and then, in 2016, return to Prince George’s County to enroll in school there by no later than the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Along the way, though, each spouse had filed motions that brought the parents back to court, where they participated in mediation and ultimately reached a second agreement. That agreement re-affirmed that the couple would continue to have joint legal and shared physical custody of the kids. There was nothing in this agreement that changed the previously agreed-upon terms related to schools.

The mother continued to pursue a motion to modify custody. Specifically, the mother wanted an order showing that the children would attend school in D.C., rather than Maryland. In order for the court even to consider (or grant) such a request, the law required the mother to show that a material change in circumstances had taken place that warranted the judge revisiting the custody issue and entering a modification order. The material change in circumstances that, according to the mother, existed here to warrant modification was the extent to which the children were thriving in the elementary school in D.C. that they attended in 2015-16, as well as the extent to which that school was a superior choice compared to the school they would attend if they returned to Maryland.

The trial judge denied the motion, and the appeals court upheld that decision. The reason for the courts’ decisions came down to what, under the law, is (and is not) a sufficient event to constitute a “material change of circumstances.” Here, the change that had occurred was that the children had attended a new school in 2015-16, and allegedly they had been very successful during that school year. This was not, in the eyes of the courts, the sort of material change required by the law.

The rule requiring proof of a material change of circumstances exists to ensure stability and to prevent a “litigious or disappointed parent” from trying to “relitigate questions of custody endlessly upon the same facts” in search of a sympathetic judge. The sole fact that this couple’s children attended a new school in 2015-16 and thrived there simply was not enough to meet the high bar imposed by the “material change of circumstances” standard.

Whether you are seeking to modify a child custody order or are opposing a modification, Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi can help. This office has spent many years helping many families seek the outcomes they need in their family law cases. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

The Challenge of Overturning Child Custody Decisions on Appeal in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 29, 2017

Maryland Family Law Governs the Enforcement of Child Custody Orders, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 1, 2015

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