Articles Posted in Child Custody

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I have a handful of clients in this exact situation and all of them are finding it increasingly difficult to share space in a home they no longer want to share with the other. In addition to grudgingly sharing the space, they are attempting to do so while one or both are working from home or while one is working and the other is laid off, while attempting to assist their children with distance/remote learning, and while juggling the household tasks of cooking cleaning, paying bills, etc. Needless to say emotions are on the rise. In a few of the cases I have been able to work out agreed upon designated areas (specific rooms) for each party to conduct their working from home duties, along with times for the use of those spaces, scheduling days and/or subjects each parent is responsible for assisting the children with their education, and how to handle the payment of expenses. While not a permanent solution, ‘rules’ to follow hopefully give the parents and children some consistency to reduce the tension in household.

If you find yourself in a situation such as this some considerations to develop a plan for your home environment during the COVID-19 confinement are:

What are each parents work-related commitments, days and times?

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Many parents have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the closure of non-essential businesses and the government recommendation to stay at home, some parents are not able to find work. A court-ordered obligation to pay child support does not automatically stop because of a job loss, even if that job loss if through no fault of your own.

If you have lost your job and are unable to pay child support, we encourage you to communicate with your co-parent as soon as possible. Perhaps a written agreement or consent order can be worked out between the two of you to stay the child support payments until you are back to work. In Maryland, child support can be modified in certain circumstances, but with the courts only hearing certain types of emergency matters at the present time, a hearing on the modification will take longer than usual. However, it may still be worth filing with the court for a modification to attempt to protect yourself from the accumulation of child support arrearages while unemployed. In the meantime, the Maryland Judiciary has directed that you must continue to pay child support as ordered. The Maryland Judiciary has suggested that if you have questions or need help, whether you pay or receive child support, to call the Department of Human Services Call Center 1-800-322-6347. Maryland Courts Coronavirus Information

If you are experiencing a problem in paying or receiving child support during these challenging times, we encourage you to reach out to an experienced family attorney for guidance and assistance.

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We understand that parents are facing challenging times in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. When one parent is an essential employee, it is especially concerning for co-parents when children transition from one parent’s home to the other for court-ordered parenting time. National news stories are filled with children and parents greeting each other through glass doors and windows. Those front-line, essential-employee parents recognize that in-person contact with their children during this COVID-19 pandemic is not in the best interest of the health and safety of their children.  New Battle for those on Coronavirus Front Lines: Child Custody .  Closer to home, the White House has now officially designated the Baltimore / Washington, D.C. area as an emerging COVID-19 hotspot. Baltimore/Washington DC Emerging Hot Spot.

If you co-parent with a front-line or essential employee in Maryland, we encourage you to communicate as co-parents to come to a physical custody and access arrangement in the best interest of the health and safety of your children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maryland Judiciary has provided direction that if co-parents cannot agree, they must follow the terms of the court Order.

If you need help navigating the conversation, we encourage you to reach out to an experienced family attorney.

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Another unfortunate consequence of COVID-19 is the postponement of the pendente lite hearings, settlement conferences and merit trials which were actually scheduled on the court docket months ago, but are not going forward as planned due to the court closures. Thus far, my experience has been that the courts are working hard to get the postponed cases reset as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I have already had several client matters get reset only to be postponed and reset yet again as a result of the Administrative Order to extend the court closures. As a litigant, this can be extremely frustrating especially when the access to/custody of your children and finances remain uncertain.

Mediation remains an option to consider bringing temporary or complete closure to your family law matter. Mediation has the capability of being conducted via video conferencing with a trained mediator or retired Judge which will ensure all parties, counsel and the mediator remain in compliance with CDC recommendations and Governor Hogan’s Orders while we all weather this crisis. The upside to successful mediation is you have some or complete closure now versus months from now when your matter is finally set back in to be heard by the Court. Mediation does not work in every case, but given these uncertain and challenging times, it may be worth considering as an option.

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The short answer is yes, if your situation meets the statutory requirements for a protective order, peace order or extreme risk protective order, you may still obtain an interim order of protection. Pursuant to the Maryland Court of Appeals Chef Judge Administrative Order issued March 25, 2020, all petitions for new protective orders, peace orders, and extreme risk protective orders are to be handled by the District Court Commissioners’ office in the County/City where you would normally file. If granted by the Commissioner, the Interim Order will remain in place until further action is taken by the Court. As of now (April 7, 2020), the temporary hearings are being set for May 4 and 5, 2020 which may be subject to change, if the Administrative Order is modified.

If you are in need of protection and are seeking a protective order, peace order or extreme risk protective order, you should call the District Court Commissioner in your county or City first to obtain instructions on where to go.

If you need legal assistance, you should contact an attorney with experience in representing clients with Protective Orders, Peace Orders, and Extreme Risk Protective Orders.

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Oftentimes, parents with the best intentions disagree on how to manage the health, safety, and medical issues of their children. Throw in a pandemic and navigating custody and access becomes even more of a challenge with COVID-19 CDC recommendations and government-imposed restrictions. As a practitioner, this is a first, and we are all seeking some guidance from the judiciary to help us support and advise our clients on these issues. The Maryland Judiciary has put out the following statement on matters concerning children and families.

With schools closed and courthouses restricting operations to reduce exposure to COVID-19, custodians who live apart might be confused about changing family situations and their court orders. This statement is intended to clarify concerns you may have regarding these matters.

Custody and Parenting Time:

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Jackson remains precedent in “above the guidelines” cases.

Jackson v. Proctor, 145 Md. App. 76 (2002).

The Court of Special appeals reviewed, once again, an above-the-guidelines case involving a professional football player in Jackson. The appellant, Mr. Jackson, earned an average salary of $710,000 per year, exclusive of bonuses, throughout his three year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The appellee earned a miniscule annual income that was around $16,000 per year, while she was earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Penn State University.  The parties’ combined monthly income exceeded $55,000 per month, constituting an above-the-guidelines, discretionary child support determination under Md. Family Law Code Ann. § 12-204(d).

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Freeman remains precedent in “above-the-guidelines” cases.

Smith v. Freeman, 149 Md. App. 1 (2002).

In Smith, the Court of Special Appeals addressed another above-the-guidelines case.  This case differs from the aforementioned cases as the parties were never married.  Antonio Freeman, the appellee was a professional football player earning annual salaries over $1,000,000 per year.  At all points relevant to this matter, the appellant was unemployed and attending school.  When the parties initially entered into an agreement regarding child support, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $1.2 million.  At that time, Mr. Freeman was making a combined monthly child support payment of $4,016.66, which included the $3,500 child support payment the parties agreed upon and a monthly payment of $516.66 for the child’s tuition.  Two years later, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $3.2 million.  Following this rise in salary, the appellant, Ms. Smith, requested a modification of the child support obligation arguing a material change in circumstances.

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A Custody Evaluator is appointed by a Court pursuant to Maryland Rule 9-205.3.  Pursuant to the Maryland Rule there are mandatory elements of a Custody Evaluation as set forth in 9-205.3(f)(1) and optional elements as set forth in 9-205.3(f)(2).  Mandatory elements, subject to any protective order of the court, a custody evaluation shall include: (A) a review of the relevant court records pertaining to the litigation; (B) an interview with each party; (C) an interview of the child, unless the custody evaluator determines and explains that by reason of age, disability, or lack of maturity, the child lacks capacity to be interviewed; (D) a review of any relevant educational, medical, and legal records pertaining to the child; (E) if feasible, observations of the child with each party, whenever possible in that party’s household; (F) factual findings about the needs of the child and the capacity of each party to meet the child’s needs; and (G) a custody and visitation recommendation based upon an analysis of the facts found or, if such a recommendation cannot be made, an explanation of why. Optional elements include, subject to subsection (f)(3) of this Rule, at the discretion of the custody evaluator, a custody evaluation also may include: (A) contact with collateral sources of information; (B) a review of additional records; (C) employment verification; (D) an interview with any other individual residing in the household; (E) a mental health evaluation; (F) consultation with other experts to develop information that is beyond the scope of the evaluator’s practice or area of expertise; and (G) an investigation into any other relevant information about the child’s needs. Maryland Rule 9-205.3(f)(1)(G) specifically provides the custody evaluator is to provide “a custody and visitation recommendation based upon an analysis of the facts found or, if such a recommendations cannot be made, an explanation of why”.


For more information on Maryland divorce and child custody matters contact an experienced divorce attorney.

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Baltimore will soon be the home to a supervised visitation center according to CBS Baltimore’s report on November 27, 2012. The Safe Havens center will allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence or child abuse to have parent-child contact in the presence of a third-party supervisor. The opening of the Center is critical as many courts in the area have recently had to close their supervised visitation centers due to lack of funding. The center may be useful to Judges in awarding visitation with a minor child under a protective order to an alleged abuser. As we have previously explained when entering a protective order, a Judge has the authority to establish temporary visitation with a minor child of the alleged abuser and a person eligible for relief on a basis which gives primary consideration to the welfare of the minor child and the safety of any other person eligible for relief.
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