For some grandparents, their relationship with their grandchildren may involve weekly Sunday visits or perhaps longer get-togethers over holidays and vacations. For others, though, their relationship may place them in a situation in which they need to assume legal custody of a grandchild. If you find yourself in that circumstance, it is important to recognize that there are certain legal procedural “hoops” you must pass through and you must make sure that you get it all right in order to get the outcome your family needs. To make sure your case has everything that the court is looking for in order to award you custody, retain the services of a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.
Here’s one example from Baltimore: J.M. and H.M. were the maternal grandparents of a girl named Mary. The couple’s daughter, R.E., was the mother. A man, J.R., who believed he was the father at the time of Mary’s birth in 2009, signed an affidavit of parentage. The girl’s birth certificate named J.R. as the father. The grandparents, however, came to believe that another man, M.S., was the biological father of the girl, as R.E. had allegedly told M.S. that he was the father. R.E. never married either man.
All of these details came to matter a great deal when Mary’s mother died at the young of 41 in the summer of 2015. With Mary’s single mother now deceased, the maternal grandparents went to court to seek third-party custody of the girl. The legal action named both J.R. and M.S. (A subsequent DNA test revealed that M.S., not J.R., was the girl’s biological father.)
By December 2017, an agreement was worked out. The court approved this agreement by entering a “Custody Consent Order.” The order gave the grandparents sole legal and primary physical custody of Mary. The court specified the visitation that J.R. would have and granted M.S. visitation “as agreed upon with the” grandparents.
After the court entered the order, the grandparents were unhappy with the outcome as it related to J.R., so they appealed. The appeals court, however, never even addressed the merits of grandparents’ arguments. The appeals court, in denying the appeal, explained that the grandparents’ decision to agree to a consent order took away their right to appeal. Maryland law is very clear that, generally speaking, “there is no right to appeal from a consent order.” This follows logically from the fact that appeals exist to provide to relief to those “aggrieved” by a trial court’s judgment. A party, however, cannot possible be aggrieved by a judgment to which he/she/they agreed voluntarily and knowingly.
There is an exception to this rule that exists in cases where a party was coerced into agreeing to the consent order, which is what the grandparents’ asserted in this circumstance. The events leading up to this consent order did not amount to coercion. The grandparents had received an unfavorable ruling relative to J.R. back in August 2017. An unfavorable ruling by a judge that leaves a party with several options, none of which that party particularly likes, may constitute many things, but it does not meet the definition of coercion in Maryland law.
Before you agree to the terms to be placed in a consent order, it is very important to be certain about what you’re doing, because there may be no going back. For the advice you need, contact experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi for representation in your case. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
A New Court of Appeals Ruling Clarifies When Grandparents and Other Third Parties Can Seek Custody in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 12, 2017
Assessing Child Custody and Child Support in a Grandparent Custody Action in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 22, 2016