When Your Living Arrangements Can (and Cannot) Delay Your Child Custody Case in Maryland

Family dynamics can be unique and complicated. Sometimes these complex sets of facts can create difficulty for the courts in meeting such goals as “the best interest of the child” while also complying with the statutes. In an important recent ruling from the Court of Special Appeals, that body determined that the courts could rule on a father’s request for modification of child custody, even if the child’s mother resided with him temporarily.

The family in this case included two unmarried parents and their one child, a daughter. Originally, the couple had joint custody. Challenges emerged with this arrangement, however, after the mother developed worsening health problems, and those problems affected her living situation. The father filed to modify custody. The father alleged that the mother did not have a fixed address and was no longer able to care for the daughter, and that the child had lived exclusively with him for the previous several months.

At the modification hearing, the father testified that both the child and the mother had been living with him. This arrangement was done in order to give the child a place to live where she received adequate care, and to give the mother a temporary home while she sought treatment for her health issues.

Upon hearing that both the father and the mother were living under the same roof, the trial court recessed and then came back and dismissed the case. Since the parents resided together (even if only on a temporary basis), the trial court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to enter the requested custody modification.

The father appealed and won. The appeals court acknowledged that the relevant statutes were ambiguous regarding whether the parents had to live apart before the courts could modify custody, but a 2006 case had concluded that a judge could modify custody even if the parents lived in the same household. Courts had this power because at “the heart of the Court’s analysis is the long-established principle that a court’s authority to decide issues of custody in the best interests of minor children is inherent,” the court wrote.

In the 2006 case, the parents in the case were married and going through a divorce. In this case, the parents had never been married to each other. One of the key aspects of this recent decision is that the court has made it clear with this decision that the rule established by the 2006 case (allowing courts to modify custody even when the parents live in the same household) is unambiguously extended to include situations in which the parents who are living together were never married to each other.

With this ruling, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to hear the father’s modification request.

Each family law case presents its own individualized set of facts. The key to success is understanding your unique situation and applying your facts to the law. For this type of representation, contact Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has helped many families for many years in seeking to achieve workable solutions. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Father Loses in Custody Dispute Due to Maryland Not Being the Child’s ‘Home State’ Under UCCJEA, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 29, 2016

Assessing Child Custody and Child Support in a Grandparent Custody Action in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 22, 2016

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