Articles Posted in Visitation

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1. Well in advance of each holiday, refer to your existing Court Order, Separation Agreement, and/or Judgment of Absolute Divorce to determine what your Order and/or Agreement sets forth for each holiday.

2. Communicate to the other parent, (preferably in writing via e-mail or text), your interpretation of the existing Order and/or written Agreement. Specifically spell out who has the child(ren) on which day or part of the day, the times and where exchanges are to take place. Ask the parent to confirm that is their understanding.

3. If there is not an existing Order and/or written Agreement, again, well in advance of the holiday, contact the other parent (preferably in writing) and set forth your specific proposal and ask them for there thoughts and comments.

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With the holidays approaching many clients may be facing uncertainty or conflicts as to where their child(ren) will be spending the holiday. We always advise clients to plan holidays far in advance so a schedule can be arranged that is best for the child(ren). It is important to develop a schedule that is not too overwhelming for children, so they can enjoy the holiday without exchanges at inopportune times, such as midnight on Christmas Eve, or too many exchanges in one day. It is also important to remember not to make plans for your child(ren) on the holiday until you know what the schedule will be. Lastly, for your child’s sake, explain to them how the holiday schedule will go, do not seek their input or place a guilt trip on your child(ren) for not being with you for the holiday or a portion of the holiday, and be flexible and accommodating to making the holiday work for everyone. Everyone does include the other parent and his or her family.

If you are unable to reach a holiday arrangement with your child’s parent you may turn to what many practitioners refer to as “holiday court”. Most Circuit Courts throughout the State of Maryland implement a specific protocol for what is known as “holiday court,” or the process that takes place in order to resolve these holiday access disputes. We have collected information from the nearby Circuit Courts to find out how they will be handling this year’s holiday disputes.
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I recently tried a custody matter in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, in which I represented the father of the minor child. The father came to our office in January 2010, after he had arranged for his minor child to reside with him upon learning that the child’s mother was not properly caring for him. The minor child had resided with his mother for nine years, but she had recently changed residences, which our client had great concerns about. Prior to January 2010, our client, who resides in a neighboring state, was visiting with the child every other weekend, when the parties were on good terms. After our client made arrangements for his son to live with him, the mother filed a Complaint for an Emergency Hearing, which was scheduled for March 2010 at the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Due to a heavy docket we were sent to mediation and a hearing was not held. We were able to negotiate a temporary schedule which granted our client temporary sole physical and legal custody and allowed the mother visitation with the minor child.

The case was then set in for a final custody hearing, which was held in November 2010. At the final hearing, both parties were seeking sole legal and physical custody of the minor child. However, after evidence was presented regarding the parties respective living situations, stability, fitness, ability to maintain relationships for the minor child, and economic status, among other factors, the Judge awarded our client sole legal and physical custody of the minor child with visitation to the mother of the child. The factors that were considered are in line with those named in our October 23, 2009 blog, which details factors considered in custody disputes.
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There are two parts to custody in the State of Maryland, legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, religion and other matters of significant importance. Legal custody can be awarded solely to one parent or jointly to both parents (there are also variations on joint legal custody, such as having on parent as a tie breaker or a requirement to mediate when parents cannot reach a joint decision or assigning each parent sole legal decision making with respect to different issues, ie Mom makes the decisions on education and Dad makes the decisions on religion and the parents have joint legal custody on religious issues). Maryland courts have held that the strongest factor in determining whether to award joint legal custody is the ability of the parents to communicate with each other regarding the children.

Physical custody pertains to with whom the child resides. Physical custody can be awarded primarily to one parent or it can be shared between the parents. The Maryland case Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290, 508 A.2d 964 (1986), sets forth a list of several of the factors a Court will consider for the award of shared physical custody. These considerations include:

i. capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
ii. willingness of the parents to share custody;
iii. fitness of the parents;
iv. relationship established between the child and each parent;
v. preference of the child;
vi. potential disruption of the child’s social and school lives;
vii. geographic proximity of the parental homes;
viii. demands of parental employment;
ix. age and number of the children;
x. sincerity of both parents’ requests;
xi. financial status of the parties; and xii. benefit to the parents.
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The Baltimore Sun reported on July 7, 2010 that retired Prince George’s Circuit Judge Graydon S. McKee III ordered Gayle and Craig Meyers to split custody of their dog at their limited divorce proceeding . For more information on limited divorce see our March 19, 2010 blog. In accordance with Maryland law, pets are considered marital property and are to be divided as such. For more information on marital property in Maryland, see Maryland Code, Family Law 8-203 and see August 19, 2009 blog. Instead of ordering the couple to sell the dog and split the proceeds, the Judge ordered that the dog will alternate spending six months with each party. As reported, “it was very clear that both of them love this dog equally,” McKee said. “The only fair thing to do was to give each one an equal chance to share in the love of the dog.”
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Third party visitation cases have become increasing difficult cases to establish ordered child access. The standard has been and remains that in order for grandparents or other third parties to be awarded visitation with a grandchild/child they must show either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances. For more information regarding third party visitation see our August 11, 2009 blog post. Maryland’s second highest court recently filed an opinion in the case of Brandenburg v. LaBarre on June 2, 2010, which held that in order to prove exceptional circumstances in a third party visitation case, third parties must show that without visitation there will be significant harm to the children. I am of the opinion that prior to this decision, exceptional circumstances could be proven without proving actual/significant harm to the children.

This visitation case was originally heard in 2008 in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The LaBarres, the children’s grandparents, filed a Complaint for Visitation after they had a falling out with their son and daughter-in-law, the Brandeburg’s. The Brandenburgs have four young children and until February 2008 the LaBarres cared for the children often and spent a great amount of time with the children. After hearing testimony from both sides, including the LaBarre’s testimony that exceptional circumstances existed because the children had previously spent so much time with them, the Judge granted the LaBarres one overnight visit a month and one week in the summer with the children. The Judge noted that the LaBarres had shown no evidence that the children had been harmed by lack of contact with them, but that it was unreasonable for them to have to do so given they had no contact with the children for some time. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the Judge’s decision stating that the test for exceptional circumstances is whether or not the children are suffering significant harm because they are not allowed contact with the third party seeking visitation. In this case, because the parents were fit, they have the right to decide who can visit their children unless these exceptional circumstances are proven.
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The Maryland Daily Record reported on June 28, 2010 that 81% of divorce attorneys have used Facebook as a form of evidence. It is a growing phenomenon in the family law practice and it has occurred in our practice in divorce hearings, custody hearings, and protective order hearings. The statements on a spouse or parent’s Facebook page may be just enough, and appears to have been just enough, to push the Judge in one direction or another in a case. Most Judges may not be aware of the context of a picture or statement on Facebook and with blurry evidentiary rules regarding their admission a picture that is funny to you may appear disturbing to a Judge.

Many may question why a Facebook page would be relevant in a divorce, custody or protective order matter. As explained in our February 28, 2010 blog, a fault based divorce such as adultery requires proof of both the opportunity and disposition for the adulterous relationship to be proven. A Facebook page displaying pictures or words of affection may be the key to proving the disposition element needed for adultery. As explained in our October 23, 2009 blog, in custody proceedings a significant factor that is considered is parental fitness. A Facebook page displaying irresponsible habits of a parent may question the fitness of that parent in caring for their child. As explained in our August 16, 2009 blog, the alleged abuse that is needed to enter a protective order can consist of a threat of serious imminent bodily harm. Such a threat on a Facebook page may be enough for a Judge to enter a protective order.
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With the holidays approaching many parents in divided households may be facing uncertainty or conflicts as to where their child(ren) will be spending the holiday. The Maryland Court system in years past has implemented specific instructions for what is known as “holiday court,” or the process that takes place in order to resolve these holiday access disputes. We have collected information from a few of the surrounding venues to find out how they will be handling this year’s (2009) holiday disputes.

Baltimore County Circuit Court
Baltimore County Circuit Court will consider holiday visitation disputes from November 23, 2009-December 19, 2009, and all disputes shall be submitted to Judge Dugan, who will assign each matter to a particular Judge on a rotating basis. When the case is assigned to the Judge who will hear the holiday dispute, the party should contact the Judge’s chambers with the name and contact information for all parties involved, the details of any efforts to reach an agreement between the parties, what relief each party is requesting, and what each party is proposing the holiday access schedule be.

Baltimore City Circuit Court
Baltimore City Circuit Court is hearing holiday visitation issues on December 8, 2009 and December 17, 2009 in front of Master Kelly. All requests for a holiday visitation hearing should be filed with the clerk’s office with a copy sent to the Family Law Coordinator as well.

Harford County Circuit Court
Harford County Circuit Court will forward all pleadings involving holiday disputes to the Family Law Coordinator, who will set the dispute in for a hearing either before a Judge or Master.
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The Daily Record reports that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has decided to vacate the Baltimore County Circuit Court’s decision to allow Larissa S. to visit with her ex-partner Melissa B.’s eight year old son. The couple dated for seven years, before deciding to have a child in 2001, through the help of a friend. After the couple broke up in 2002, Melissa gave birth to a second child. Larissa never adopted either child, but visited with both boys from 2002-2005 until she was denied access, which triggered her to file for visitation rights.

The Baltimore County Circuit Court, namely Judge Daniels, after much back and forth with Maryland’s higher court, found that the third party exceptional circumstances standard was met in this case, and therefore, ordered that there should be visitation between Larissa and the eldest child. For more information regarding third party custody and the exceptional circumstances standard see the August 11, 2009 blog. The Court of Special Appeals found that the lower court erred in finding exceptional circumstances because the Judge improperly refused to hear evidence from Melissa about the potential effects that this visitation with Larissa could have on her eldest son. Such new evidence could include the time that Larissa has been absent from the child’s life, due to this ongoing litigation. The case will return to Baltimore County Circuit Court where a judge will have to listen to all evidence to determine whether exceptional circumstances exist to order visitation between Larissa and the child.


For more information, contact Monica Scherer, Esq. at 410-625-4740

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Many non-custodial parents (parents without primary physical custody) are left wondering what to do after being denied scheduled visitation with their child. As of July 1, 2009, those parents may not only have two, but three avenues to pursue.

The first and most frequent method of enforcing a Maryland visitation order that has been violated is through the court’s contempt powers. In accordance with Section 9-105 of the Family Law Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, if “the court determines that a party to a custody or visitation order has unjustifiably denied or interfered with visitation granted by a custody or visitation order, the court may, in addition to any other remedy available to the court and in a manner consistent with the best interests of the child, take any or all of the following actions: (1) order that the [missed] visitation be rescheduled; (2) modify the custody or visitation order to require additional terms or conditions designed to ensure future compliance with the order; and (3) assess costs or counsel fees against the party who has unjustifiably or interfered with visitation rights.” In practice, the non-custodial parent is often frustrated with the initial contempt process because the custodial parent more often than not receives a “slap on the wrist” from the Court. It is, however, a necessary step in order to build a case and to send a clear message to the custodial parent that the denial of visitation will not be tolerated. Ultimately, if the denial of child access continues, and subsequent Petitions for Contempt are filed and the allegations proven, the Courts, generally, take a more no-nonsense approach with the custodial parents and put more boundaries and restrictions upon the custodial parent to ensure compliance with the Court Order.

The second method of enforcing a visitation order is through a breach of contract action. If the custody or visitation order is memorialized as part of a settlement agreement, the parent may also bring a breach of contract action against the violating party. An experienced family law attorney will ensure that this second remedy is available to their client by incorporating, but not merging, any settlement agreement into the divorce Judgment or other Order of Court. In practice this avenue is often not explored.

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