In a perfect world, there would be no need for court litigation to resolve child custody disputes. In the real world, however, family dynamics are often complicated, and multiple family members may think that they should be the one to care for a child. Sometimes, those claims for custody or visitation may come from non-parents. Generally, though, as a parent, the law gives you certain rights regarding your child, as long as there is no legal finding that you’re unfit. Experienced Maryland child custody counsel can help you protect your family and your rights, and defeat any challenges to your parental fitness.
One such complicated family situation involved a custody and visitation dispute between a child’s father and her great-grandmother. The case was a difficult example of the complicated events that can unfold when a primary caregiver parent passes away unexpectedly. Shakeera was a mother of five children who, along with her children, lived with her grandmother in North Carolina. Shortly after giving birth to the fifth child, Shakeera died suddenly. Tavahn, the father of the eldest four children, traveled from Maryland to North Carolina to attend Shakeera’s funeral and to take the children back to Maryland with him. He had a court order giving him custody of three of the children. Shakeera’s grandmother, Loretta, resisted, but eventually, with the help of law enforcement, Tavahn was able to take custody of the three children named in the order. The fourth child, J.S., was not mentioned in the court order, so the police didn’t allow the father to take that child from Loretta’s home.
Tavahn came back to Maryland and promptly asked a Baltimore judge to issue a custody order for J.S. Loretta contested the father’s request, arguing to the judge that she should have custody of J.S. or, at a minimum, court-ordered visitation with the child. The court gave the father custody. The great-grandmother received neither custody nor visitation.
The great-grandmother appealed, but she again lost. One of the important things to take away from this decision is that the father won largely because of the law’s preference not to interfere with the rights of parents without some special circumstances. The Due Process Clause gives parents the right “to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” Maryland law has long been clear that, in a custody or visitation dispute between a parent and a non-parent, the law will presume that the child’s best interests are served by giving full custody to the parent.
The only way to overcome that presumption is to prove that the parent is unfit or that other special circumstances exist. Maryland courts have laid out a list of six factors for assessing parental fitness. These factors did not indicate that Tavahn was unfit in this case. Maryland has another list, this one including seven factors, for determining if special circumstances exist. The court in Loretta’s case also concluded that there were no special circumstances to warrant taking custody of J.S. away from the father.
In other words, there was no basis for denying the father full custody or interfering with his rights to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of all four of his children.
If you are involved in a custody dispute, it is important to take strong action to protect your family. Experienced Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping parents and others with custody and other family law cases for many years. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
A New Court of Appeals Ruling Clarifies When Grandparents and Other Third Parties Can Seek Custody in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 12, 2017
Assessing Child Custody and Child Support in a Grandparent Custody Action in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 22, 2016