In child support cases, the supporting parent’s income is often one the most essential pieces of evidence in determining how much support he or she should pay. Sometimes, though, that parent may engage in actions to try to dodge paying child support. One of these actions is voluntary impoverishment. As a recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision reminds us, when the recipient parent gives the court proof of voluntary impoverishment, and the supporting parent does nothing to rebut that proof, it is proper for the trial court to impute additional income to the supporting parent and calculate child support based upon that higher figure.
In many child custody disputes, the facts related to a parent’s behavior can be complicated. Each parents has his or her reasons for acting in a manner that the parent thinks is best for the child. As you go to court in your home state seeking assistance, it is important to keep in mind that, just because one parent may have failed to follow a court order in the past does not necessarily mean that the law will not favor that parent. This was the result in one recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals case, which ruled in favor of a mother who had unilaterally taken the couple’s child and relocated out of the country. The mother won because Maryland was not the child’s “home state,” and Maryland courts lacked jurisdiction over the dispute.
A recent case of grandparent custody offers some useful information regarding how that process can work. In an opinion issued this month by the Court of Special Appeals, that court upheld a trial judge’s giving custody of a child to his paternal grandparents over either parent because, even though the law has a presumption in favor of parental custody, that can be overcome when the parents are unfit, and exceptional circumstances exist. The appeals court also upheld the child support order, concluding that the child support guidelines applied regardless of whether the custodian was a parent or a third party.
In any court case, including family law matters, it is important to follow the orders handed down by the judge. If orders are not followed, it is also important to understand the consequences that can flow from noncompliance, such as contempt of court. In a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the court upheld a trial court’s decision finding a husband in contempt, ordering him to pay $12,000 to purge the contempt and threatening the man with jail if he didn’t pay the $12,000 within 60 days. The appeals court acknowledged that a party cannot go to jail for failing to pay an amount he lacked the financial ability to pay, but the man’s appeal of the threat of jail in this case was premature.
In a case arising from a somewhat unusual marital settlement agreement, the Court of Special Appeals recently threw out a summary judgment order in favor of a husband who had persuaded the trial court that he had substantially complied with his financial obligations spelled out in that agreement. However, since the wife had presented enough evidence to raise a potentially triable case regarding whether a check she received from her husband was a payment under the agreement or a gift, the trial court should not have granted a summary judgment in favor of the husband.
Trials and court hearings, in some ways, can be like sporting competitions. Both litigation and sports have their own sets of rules. Some of these rules may seem excessively technical and unnecessary, but they are the rules, and you overlook them at your peril. For example, the rules of civil cases say that generally, if you want the judge to order a particular outcome, you must expressly ask for it in your court pleading documents (meaning your complaint if you are the petitioner or your answer or counter-complaint if you are the respondent). In the case of one Maryland husband, his failure to follow this rule cost him the opportunity to obtain his part of the marital portion of his wife’s retirement benefits, according to a Court of Special Appeals decision.
Sometimes, family law can present challenging factual issues for the courts. In deciding custody and visitation matters regarding three young children recently, the courts were handed evidence of two parents who had numerous flaws and weaknesses as caregivers. The maternal grandparents, however, offered a degree of stability that the parents’ homes had each allegedly lacked previously. Nevertheless, and despite the grandparents’ close involvement with the children in the past, they were not entitled to any court-ordered visitation, according to a recent Court of Special Appeals decision. The ruling is very instructive on the issue of grandparent visitation rights. If the parents are fit (as the trial court found both parents in this case to be), they have a fundamental constitutional right to control whom their children visit, including the grandparents.
When it comes to family law, especially as it relates to children, one of the things for which the courts strive is stability. To achieve that end, the law makes it very difficult to modify a child support obligation once a court order is in place. This is done to ensure the stability and ongoing proper support of that child. However, when a supporting parent does experience a major change, such as a dramatic reduction in income, the law does create a path to obtaining a reduction. That’s what happened in a recent Court of Special Appeals ruling, in which the court upheld a trial judge’s decision to reduce a father’s support amount in the wake of his job loss and massive decline in income.
For some families, one of the greatest challenges is achieving a successful and workable arrangement regarding child custody and visitation. For some parents, an unfavorable ruling in their visitation case may create a temptation to ignore parts of the court’s orders. While both parents should always strive to work cooperatively for the good of their child and obey orders issued by the courts, it is nevertheless important to know what a trial judge can and cannot do if one parent violates an order. In a case that originated in Montgomery County, a mother found herself in contempt for violating a visitation order. A recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals threw out the punishment against the mother because the contempt order did not give the mother an avenue through she could immediately “purge” the contempt charge and avoid the sanction of lost visitation time with the child.
For many people, the loss of a job and subsequent unemployment can be a stressful time. This can become even more so if your ex-spouse is seeking to make you pay child support commensurate with an income that you don’t make. In one recent case, an out-of-work science professor made the ill-advised decision to represent himself in court, leading to a trial court decision that imputed an income of $95,000 to the unemployed man and a Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling upholding the lower court’s judgment.