When you have to go to court in a divorce or child-related case, there are countless reasons why it pays to have quality legal representation from a skilled Maryland family law attorney. One of these comes up when something happens that causes you to question, “Can the judge really do that?”
If you have no counsel, you may be inclined simply to accept it, because the judge is the judge after all, and (you assume) can mostly do what he/she wants, right? On the other hand, an experienced attorney knows there are limits to a judge’s power in making his/her orders, knows when the judge has overstepped and knows what to do when that takes place.
Here’s an example of how it can happen. A recent case heard by the Court of Special Appeals pitted a father against a mother on the issue of child custody. The parents had engaged in “nearly continuous litigation” for almost a decade. After a five-day trial in 2018, the trial judge hearing the parents’ case ordered the parents to complete two mediation sessions before either could file any future motions for modification of custody.
As a parent, you might not immediately recognize this restriction as something outside the bounds of what a trial judge can do, but this father’s legal team did. In an appeal, the father contested that part of the ruling as outside the authority the law grants to a trial judge.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed that the father’s argument was correct. The appeals court noted that there was no provision within Maryland’s court rules that allows a trial judge to mandate mediation as a precondition of filing a motion for modification. The judge is free to impose such requirements before taking action – for example, the court could postpone hearing the motion until mediation had occurred. The court could not, however, use mediation as a hurdle to filing.
The impact of child custody modification motions on child support
Part of the reason the trial judge wasn’t allowed to establish this requirement was because it could unfairly harm a parent. For example, when a parent seeks retroactive modification of child support, Maryland law says that this retroactive application can only go as far back as the date of the filing of the motion for modification. So, if some special, additional hurdle erected by your trial judge exists, then fulfilling that obligation costs you valuable weeks and perhaps months in which the right to a retroactive modification of child support is forever lost.
The mediation requirement could also unfairly harm a parent who is hospitalized or incarcerated, the court pointed out in a footnote.
Judges, just like the rest of us, aren’t perfect. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they do things that are outside the bounds of their authority and that are potentially harmful to your case. When it comes to spotting those oversteps, and then knowing what to do about them, it is vital to have knowledgeable legal counsel. For that kind of skillful representation, rely on the diligent Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. To learn more about how we can assist you with your child custody case, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.