The Perils of Trying to Handle Your Maryland Family Law Court Case as a Self-Represented Party

When you are faced with a family law dispute and the potential need to go to court to contest an issue like child custody and visitation, it may be tempting to try to handle your case, or your appeal, on your own. This choice is often ill-fated. Experienced Maryland child custody attorneys understand many things that may not be in the “knowledge base” of even a knowledgeable lay person. This includes not only the law but also the details of court procedural rules, in addition to the types of arguments and presentations that are most likely to persuade judges and juries. The case of a self-represented mother, whose appeal document relied heavily upon relatively broad and imprecise constitutional claims, provides just such an example.

The Court of Special Appeals’ involvement in this dispute followed a long-running and sometimes messy custody battle. The child was born in June 2015. Within just a few months, the parents’ relationship had deteriorated, and the mother had opened a custody case in California. The court concluded that Maryland was the child’s legal “home state.” The court in Maryland entered an order on custody and visitation. In May 2016, the father attempted to discuss a visitation handoff of the child, but the mother did not return his calls. Eventually, with the mother still unreachable, the court modified custody to give the father sole custody and issued a child abduction warrant for the mother. Three months later, in September, authorities tracked down the mother and child, who were in Seattle.

After this incident, the mother filed multiple requests for visitation. The trial court rejected them, refusing to give the mother any kind of visitation until she underwent a psychological evaluation.

The mother appealed, proceeding without an attorney. The shortcomings of her self-represented appeal were somewhat evident. The mother attempted to argue that denying a 15-month-old child access to his mother, who had previously functioned as the child’s primary caregiver, constituted a violation of the child’s constitutional rights as an “infringement on the child’s 14th Amendment rights as a person.” She also argued that giving the father sole custody amounted to placing the child in “a dangerous situation with an unconscionable individual who has no insight or responsibility into his pattern of acts of abuse” and thereby constituted a “violation of the child’s 14th Amendment right to live life free of abuse.”

A visitation order that gives one parent no visitation of any kind is rare. There are various ways to attack such an order in the courts. Generally, the approaches that provide the parent seeking a change with the best chance of success are ones that argue that the order violates the Maryland statutes governing custody and visitation or else runs contrary to established visitation caselaw precedent from the Court of Special Appeals or the Court of Appeals. Courts are generally very reluctant to rule in favor of appealing parties based upon constitutional claims, especially relatively non-specific ones asserting 14th Amendment violations. (The 14th Amendment guarantees every citizen equal protection under the laws; it does not guarantee every parent visitation with her child.)

If you are faced with a challenging custody and visitation case, don’t go it alone. Call experienced Maryland family law counsel instead. Your diligent attorney can potentially spot issues that even a knowledgeable lay person might miss. Skilled Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping parents with custody and visitation issues 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:

Previous Litigation in Puerto Rico Stops Mom from Seeking Visitation Modification Order from Maryland Court, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 30, 2017

Civil Contempt Punishments and Your Maryland Custody and Visitation Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 14, 2016

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