How a Mother’s Failure to Participate in a Custody Hearing in Maryland Impaired Her Later Efforts to Secure a Custody Modification

Within the opinions of appellate courts made publicly available, there is a lot that can be learned, and not just by lawyers. One recent custody case decided by the Court of Special Appeals is such an example. The court’s opinion and the case’s outcome remind anyone of a couple of important truths when it comes to family law litigation:  one, that it is much easier to achieve success initially than it is to overturn an unfavorable ruling later, and, two, that it is always best to make every effort to participate in the litigation process at every step along the way. An experienced Maryland child custody attorney can help walk you through your rights and the means through which you can protect them throughout litigation.

The case was a prolonged and contentious one regarding the son of April and Andre. In late 2013, the father filed an action in Annapolis, seeking custody of the boy. At the time, according to the father, both he and the mother had been residents of Maryland for more than one year, and, to the best of his belief, the son lived with the mother. Along the way, though, April’s mother filed an action in Birmingham, Alabama, asking for custody or guardianship over the boy.

Eventually, the case came before the court in Maryland for a final hearing in late 2014. The mother did not attend. The court awarded the father sole custody. Three months later, he was back in court, seeking a contempt order because, despite the court’s 2014 custody order, the mother refused to turn over the child. The father expressed his belief that the mother or the maternal grandmother was hiding the boy.

As the case progressed, the father had to appear in court and defeat the mother’s attempt to have the Maryland courts relinquish the case on the basis that she lived in Alabama and the father lived in New York (a claim that he denied). As part of that hearing, the mother argued that, since the boy had always lived with her, he should remain with her. The judge pointed out that part of the reason the child had always lived with her is because she had been refusing to comply with court orders for two years.

The trial judge also explained that the legally disadvantageous position in which the mother found herself was largely one she created for herself by virtue of her failing to participate in the Maryland court case. Had the mother actively participated in the Maryland litigation, she might have obtained a far more favorable result. However, once you, as a parent, lose a final hearing on custody, it becomes much more difficult to succeed because the law requires, not only that you have proof to justify the court ordering the custody arrangement that you prefer, but also that you have evidence that a “material change in circumstances” has taken place.

Without that latter proof, the court cannot revisit or make any changes to the existing custody order. The trial judge in April’s case declared that the “case should have been litigated and you should have appeared in Maryland years ago. If you had, you may have been given full custody. But as it stands today, he has custody, [and] you have not advanced a material change of circumstance sufficient for the Court to do anything.”

As a footnote to this family’s difficulties, the father made a trip to Alabama in March 2017 to search for the son. At that time, according to Birmingham police, the mother shot the father, inflicting non-life-threatening injuries, reported. The boy remained missing, and the FBI became involved. No matter how upsetting a court order might be, resorting to violence and absconding with children is never the right move. This mother’s actions could possibly result in her facing jail time and, once the boy is returned to the father, might also potentially impair her ability to have the sort of visitation she’d like. None of that, clearly, would be in the best interest of the child.

It’s best to make your best argument in court. Skilled Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping parents with their child custody 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:

The Perils of Trying to Handle Your Maryland Family Law Court Case as a Self-Represented Party, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 1, 2017

Obtaining a Continuance in Your Maryland Child Custody Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 29, 2017


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