Maryland Appeals Court Rules No Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction in a Child Custody Case

In a recent case, a Maryland appellate court looked at whether it retained jurisdiction over a custody dispute of a girl who lived all her life in Florida. The case arose from a marriage in 1997. The couple lived in Maryland until the woman became pregnant, at which point, the couple separated. The mother gave birth to her daughter in Florida in 2006. They divorced in 2008, agreeing that the mother would be the primary physical custodian, but the father would be allowed liberal visitation.

The mother raised her daughter in Florida with the help of her parents. In 2011, the mother was detained for shoplifting. The officers found a bottle of hydrocodone on her; it was labeled with a prescription for someone else. The mother was arrested for theft and drug trafficking.

The father decided to take the daughter to Maryland. He filed an emergency motion for custody, in which he stated his belief that the mother was using drugs and would probably take her daughter to Switzerland, where the mother was a citizen. The court granted him sole custody on a temporary basis.

At a hearing on the father’s motion, the father testified as to all the reasons he believed the mother was not fit to retain custody over the child, including her felony drug charge. The mother moved for judgment at the close of the case and argued that the court lacked emergency jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the court cited a long list of reasons why the father had a good faith basis to believe his daughter wasn’t properly cared for by the mother. The mother’s attorney recounted the story of the arrests from the mother’s perspective and requested that the father keep the daughter only temporarily and stated that the mother wanted to ask the State of Florida to solidify the custody order.

The court found that the mother’s account of her arrests were not credible and ruled it had jurisdiction. The mother appealed.

The appellate court noted that a court has “exclusive, continuing jurisdiction” over the daughter’s custody until a Maryland court determines that neither the child nor her parents have a significant connection with the state. The trial court should have conducted a “significant connection” or “substantial evidence” test for jurisdiction. The appellate court reasoned that although the parties litigated their divorce in Maryland, the trial court erred in assuming that jurisdiction could be conferred by consent (the history of prior Maryland litigation).

The Maryland court set forth the rule for temporary emergency jurisdiction: it is appropriate if the child is in Maryland and has been abandoned or must be protected because he or she is threatened with mistreatment or abuse. The appellate court ruled that “abuse” means actual injury or a probable threat to the child’s welfare and “mistreatment” means neglect.

The appellate court reasoned that the trial court had decided it possessed emergency jurisdiction because of the uncertainty of the mother’s situation, but uncertainty was neither actual injury nor neglect. The mother’s criminal case was not even scheduled for trial yet. The daughter had the support of her grandparents and had limited experience with living with the father in Maryland.

The court agreed with the mother that the charges described by the father could not be construed as abuse or neglect. It vacated the judgment, and sent the case back to the trial court to consider and confer with the Florida court whether it could and should have jurisdiction.

If you are dealing with difficult family law matters like the one described above, the well being of your children may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland family law, including matters of divorce, prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, property distribution, custody arrangements, alimony, and domestic violence.

More Blogs:

Same Sex Marriage in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 4, 2013

Maryland Court Affirms Constitutionality of Rules Regarding Natural Parent’s Objections, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2013

Case Summary: Sole Legal Physical Custody Awarded to Dad, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 21, 2013



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