Child custody, visitation, and support are inter-related issues that arise within a typical divorce or separation proceeding. Courts are authorized to make determinations concerning legal and physical custody, the allotment of visitation time, and the amount of monthly child support (if any). In making these decisions, a court’s first and foremost priority is what scenario is in the best interests of the children. Every divorce case involving children presents a unique set of facts. For this reason, courts will determine the best interests of a child on a case-by-case basis. If you are considering a divorce, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can work to ensure that your family’s rights are protected.
A recent case in Pennsylvania (A.S. v. I.S.) is a good example of the complicated and unique nature of child custody and support cases. The Supreme Court in that State was asked to decide whether a stepparent may be obligated to pay child support for his former spouse’s biological children when he aggressively litigated for shared legal and physical custody of those children. In this case, I.S. gave birth to twins in 1998 in Serbia. She married A.S. in the United States seven years later. They separated in 2009 and agreed to share physical custody for a period of time. In 2010, A.S. (the stepfather) brought an action for divorce and filed a complaint for custody (upon learning that I.S. was planning to move to California with the children).
Interestingly enough, the court ordered I.S. to share physical and legal custody with the stepfather. At this point, I.S. filed a complaint seeking child support. The court denied the biological mother’s request, based on the notion that a stepparent is not obligated to pay support for his or her stepchildren. I.S. appealed the court’s denial of child support. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the child support complaint and ruled that a child support order was appropriate under the circumstances of this particular case.
The court pointed out that the stepfather aggressively litigated for shared custody of the children and was successful in doing so. Moreover, he even filed an action to prevent his former spouse from relocating with the kids. The court, however, acknowledged the limits of its ruling, noting that they “are not creating a new class of stepparent obligors…”
Once the stepfather was awarded custody rights, the logical next step was to require him to pay child support. It would seem unfair to afford him full parental (custodial) rights without also making him financially responsible for the children. Since this case arose in a separate jurisdiction, the court’s ruling does not have a precedential effect on child custody and support cases brought in Maryland state courts. But it is important to keep in mind that third parties, such as a stepparent (or grandparent), may be able to seek visitation rights and even custody in Maryland. Once again, the court will make a determination based upon the best interests of the children.
Clearly, if you are facing the breakup of your marriage, there are many significant legal issues to sort through with the help of an experienced divorce lawyer. Anthony A. Fatemi is a seasoned family law attorney with extensive experience representing parties 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.
Related Blog Posts: