Almost any divorce is a stressful event, especially if children are involved. You, as a spouse and a parent, work hard to achieve an outcome in your case that you believe is workable for you and your family. But what do you do when you discover in the weeks and months after the judgment was entered that your ex-spouse is not cooperating with you and does not intend to do what the judge ordered? That’s just one of many reasons why you need a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney beside you every step of the way. Your skilled counsel can help you achieve a divorce resolution that is fair and functional and then, if necessary, help you fight in the aftermath of the divorce to obtain the proper enforcement of what the judge ordered.
One example of a couple that did not achieve resolution after the entry of the divorce judgment was the case of Z.M. and M.M. The pair married in the summer of 2014. One month later, they welcomed a daughter. 13 months after that, the wife filed for divorce. The mother received primary physical custody of the child, but the court gave both parents joint legal custody.
The court gave the mother tie-breaking authority. Maryland law allows judges to award one parent the authority to make a final decision in the event that the parents are hopelessly deadlocked in terms of resolving an important decision-making issue regarding the child. The law also allows the courts to put conditions on the exercise of that tie-breaking authority. In Z.M. and M.M.’s case, the court demanded that the mother only use her tie-breaker power after she had made a good faith effort to inform the father and engage in a decision-making dialogue with him (except in emergency cases).
Sometimes, unfortunately, one parent may not follow a court’s order, even if the judge’s instructions were very plain. When that happens, you may need to go back to court again. Z.M. filed a motion, asserting that the mother was not in compliance with the court’s order regarding custody and decision-making. Among other evidence, he pointed to an email where the mother said that “I have sole custody and I make the decision. Now, I’m done talking… Try again next week and follow court order or a visit will not take place.”
There were several problems with this. The mother did not have sole custody; the parents shared joint custody with the mother possessing tie-breaking authority. Additionally, the court only authorized her to use her tie-breaking authority after she engaged in a “reasonable discussion.” The court concluded that the mother’s actions were more unilateral dictates and less reasonable discussion. As the judge stated, the mother’s approach amounted to “I’m calling the shots so we’re not even talking.”
That evidence, including the e-mail correspondence, was very important. Any time you are seeking a modification of a custody order, you must have proof of a change of circumstances and the trial court must find that a change has taken place. In this case, the father’s evidence was sufficient to show that the mother was not following the instructions that the court laid out and that this clear proof of ineffective communication was sufficient to meet the law’s requirement for a change in circumstances. Based on that, the father got a modification of the custody arrangement.
For the knowledgeable advice and skillful advocacy you need to provide a beneficial outcome for you and your family, contact experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Custody Evaluations and Their Impact on Maryland Child Custody Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 15, 2018
How a Mother’s Failure to Participate in a Custody Hearing in Maryland Impaired Her Later Efforts to Secure a Custody Modification, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2017