Winning Your Maryland Appellate Case, Even if the Trial Court Made an Error in Your Favor

As a parent in a custody case, there are several hurdles you have to clear. Obviously, the first one is achieving success in the trial court. Once you’ve done that, though, you may still have some hurdles ahead of you. The other parent may decide to appeal the ruling. If you find yourself in the role of the “Appellee” (which means that you were successful in the trial court and are asking the appeals court to affirm what the trial judge ordered) it is important to understand that there can be multiple ways to get the outcome you need, which is a ruling of “Affirmed.” To get the representation you need to get that positive result, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

As an example of how this legal process can play out, there’s the case of K.M. and C.D. The two were the parents of two children, a son and a daughter, the younger of whom was born in December 2010. In 2013, the father, who had never been married to the mother, filed for custody. The mother appeared in the case and counterclaimed for custody.

One of the issues in this couple’s case was the mother’s alleged lack of stability, including a history of mental health problems and substance abuse. In her arguments, the mother asserted that she was in treatment for anxiety and depression, that she had begun refraining from drinking, that she had acquired a proper home for overnight visits and that she’d been gainfully employed for more than 12 months.

As part of this case, the mother presented a note from her counselor, which the trial judge allowed into evidence. The judge allowed it in despite the father’s objection on the basis that the letter was hearsay and therefore not admissible as evidence. The trial judge entered a ruling in favor of the mother, and the father appealed. The father argued that the trial judge wrongfully allowed the counselor’s note into evidence and that error required a reversal and a new hearing.

If you are in the position of the mother in this scenario, you can (and should) argue that the contested evidence was properly admitted. However, it is also important to argue to the appellate judges that, even if the contested was improperly admitted, that the error was harmless. You see, the other side has to convince the appeals court that the decision was both erroneous and had a tangible harmful impact on the outcome of the case.

This mother won in the appeals court because, even though the note actually was inadmissible hearsay, the error did not alter the outcome in terms of the trial judge’s decision. The information in the note mostly just repeated other evidence brought in through the mother’s own testimony. The father had no proof that the trial judge relied solely on the note and not on the mother’s (properly admitted) testimony, so the error was harmless and the mother was entitled to the benefit of the trial judge’s ruling.

Just because the mother lost the “battle” regarding whether or not the note was inadmissible hearsay, that didn’t mean she lost the larger “war” of her appellate case. In other words, there can be more than one way to get to a successful result.
To make sure you have the reliable representation you need, talk to skilled Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping Maryland parents for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Your Legal Options in Maryland If Your Child’s Other Parent Refuses to Cooperate as Part of Your Joint Custody Arrangement, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2018

Custody Evaluations and Their Impact on Maryland Child Custody Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 15, 2018

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