How the Constitutional Guarantee of Due Process Can Impact Your Maryland Custody Case

Going to court in a family law case can be a very stressful time for many parents and spouses, even when things go the way you expect them to. Now imagine going to court where the judge addresses an issue and makes a ruling that you totally did not expect and for which you were completely unprepared. That would probably be exponentially more stressful. Would you know what you could, or should, do in that situation? Circumstances like this, which do happen in real life, are examples of why it pays to have representation from an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case illustrating this scenario was the custody dispute between M.M. and J.S. For the first few months after the couple divorced, the parents temporarily shared joint physical and legal custody. The father lived in Maryland. The mother lived out of state and was pregnant. The day before the couple’s three-day custody hearing was to begin, the wife’s lawyer informed the court that the wife was experiencing pregnancy complications and could not travel from Illinois to Maryland until after the new baby’s birth, which was still six weeks away.

The wife provided that information as part of an emergency request for postponement of the custody hearing. The judge held a hearing on the postponement request and ultimately postponed the custody hearing. The judge, however, also modified custody, giving the father temporary sole custody. The wife appealed that custody modification and she won. She won because the trial judge’s action violated her constitutional rights.

You’ve probably heard the legal phrase “due process.” One of the things that “due process” means is that you are entitled to notice and a meaningful opportunity to “be heard” (in other words, to present evidence and make arguments) before a court enters a ruling in a case involving you.

In M.M.’s situation, she was given notice of a hearing, and an opportunity to make arguments, in relation to her request to postpone the custody hearing. The parties did not receive any notice that the court was considering making any changes to the couple’s custody arrangement. That meant that, when the judge did reach that subject, the wife did not have a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Under the requirements of due process, the court was allowed either to grant or to deny the postponement, but was not allowed to make rulings about other issues that were not noticed and not the subject of the hearing. These included issues like modification of custody.

The only way to make changes to the temporary custody arrangement would have been for the husband to file a separate motion for modification, which the court could have set for a hearing. Following that process would have given both sides the level of notice and opportunity to be heard that due process requires. Without that, the judge’s modification couldn’t stand.

To be sure you are prepared for whatever your family law case throws at you, rely upon skilled Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping Maryland spouses and parents navigate the court systems for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Your Legal Options in Maryland If Your Child’s Other Parent Refuses to Cooperate as Part of Your Joint Custody Arrangement, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2018

Custody Evaluations and Their Impact on Maryland Child Custody Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 15, 2018

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