By its very nature, divorce divides a couple. Throughout the proceedings, spouses are expected to address and resolve many emotionally charged issues, such as child custody, visitation, division of property, spousal support, and many other significant matters. While many divorce cases are fraught with contentious conduct on behalf of one or both spouses, there are ways to approach a case with an eye toward moving the process along efficiently and amicably, while protecting one’s interests. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney, whose primary purpose is to resolve your divorce case as smoothly as possible, while aggressively protecting your interests.
In a recent case, described by the court as “particularly acrimonious,” the father attempted to modify an existing child custody order and objected to the “best interest attorney” or “BIA” whom the court appointed to represent his children in the proceeding. Here, the parties first separated and then ultimately divorced in February 2012. The divorce judgment incorporated prior written agreements, including a “parenting agreement” that granted the mother sole legal and primary physical custody of the children. The father was granted visitation rights. With respect to the children and their interaction with one another, the court pointed out that before and immediately after the divorce neither party behaved “admirably.” The husband claimed that the wife obstructed his visitation rights.
In July 2012, the husband sought a modification of the custody order, requesting sole custody of the children. He also began to withhold his alimony and child support payments and instead to apply them to the mortgage payments on the family residence. The wife sought to hold him in contempt for redirecting the payments and further asked the court to appoint a BIA to represent their children. The state of Maryland provides guidelines for court-appointed lawyers who represent children in child custody matters. Ultimately, the BIA recommended that the father’s custody petition be dismissed. The father sought to disqualify the children’s BIA and then changed his custody request, asking instead for sole legal custody while his wife retains physical custody.
At the end of the hearing on custody, the master issued a report emphatically rejecting the father’s request, pointing out that it would not be in the best interests of the children if the non-custodial parent had the legal power to control and direct the custodial parent’s choices. In the end, the master recommended that the custody arrangement remain undisturbed. The circuit court adopted the master’s recommendations. The father appealed, arguing (among other things) that the trial court erred by not exercising proper independent judgment in denying his exceptions to the master’s findings and recommendations. He claimed that the court accepted the master’s recommendations without scrutiny. The court of appeals disagreed, pointing out it was clear, by virtue of the lengthy transcript, that the circuit court undertook a thorough review of the father’s exceptions. The court held that there was no abuse of discretion, since the lower court exercised independent judgment in reviewing the record and reaching its conclusions.
Child custody disputes are some of the most contentious in family law cases. Both parents typically want to spend as much time as possible with their children, after a divorce. This case illustrates the difficulties that can arise when the parents cannot agree on what is in the best interests of their children. In any child custody matter, it is supremely helpful to reach out to an experienced family law attorney who can advocate for your rights. Anthony A. Fatemi is an experienced family law attorney representing parties in child custody matters throughout the state of Maryland. For help with your family law needs, you are encouraged to contact us at (301) 519-2801, or to submit our online contact form.
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