Losing Custody

In the recent CINA (Children In Need of Assistance) case of In re Joy D., the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that a parent can permanently lose their right to regain custody if they persistently fail to take the necessary steps in working towards reunification with their child. In the Joy D. case, the mother had a history of abusing and neglecting her child. She also suffered from severe psychological problems. Nonetheless, her refusal to cooperate with social services in their treatment and reunification efforts ultimately led to her permanently losing all custody rights.

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Gay Marriage

Maryland has enacted a law legalizing gay marriage; however, the law does not take effect until next year and a referendum is expected. If the referendum occurs polling shows a 50/50 split among voters on this issue. Stay tuned.

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Non Existent Attorney’s Fees Must be Considered in Custody Case

In Davis v. Petito the trial court awarded attorney’s fees to a father who it found had been falsely and baselessly accused of sexual abuse by the child’s mother. The Court of Appeals reversed the case indicating that the trial court had to consider attorney’s fees incurred (but neither owed or paid by mother) to the Sexual Assault Legal Institute (SALI) which represented the mother free of charge. In other words, the mother got a free lawyer to facilitate the bringing of baseless sexual abuse charges and the father, who had to pay his lawyer, could not get awarded his fees unless fees – that the mother did not ever have to pay were considered.

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Top Ten Things That Should Not be Done in a Custody Dispute

1. Discuss your custody case with your children or ask them to pick sides
Most of the time children want their parents to get along. They are frightened when it is clear that a separation and/or divorce are imminent. When a child is curious about the case it is often because the child sees the opportunity to seek concessions from one parent in exchange for the child’s cooperation. Often these concessions are ones that a child would normally be unable to obtain. Clearly trading off “favors” in this way is bad for a child’s development and is an unacceptable way to try to gain an advantage in a custody case.

2. Deny the other parent access (visitation) with a child
Only in the infrequent case, such as the case where a child is being physically abused, or the child’s basic needs (food or shelter) are not being provided, should one parent prevent the other parent from seeing their child. It is very common for one parent to deny the other parent access when a parent does not get any child support or sufficient child support. Denial of visitation rights under these circumstances is completely improper. If you are considering a complete denial of access, you should discuss this with an attorney as soon as possible.

3. Leave the area where your child resides
Custody cases disrupt children’s lives. Thus, courts deciding custody cases want to maintain as much stability as possible in the lives of children. Courts almost always try to maintain the status quo. In other words, moving a child out of their school or out of their state is almost always a mistake. Do not attempt such a move without first consulting an attorney.

4. Stop paying child support as retaliation against a co-parent’s behavior
Your child has financial needs. Thus, even if you have been improperly denied the opportunity to see your child by the other parent you need to pay court-ordered support. Instead of discontinuing support, you should seek a court order that will establish or enforce your rights to see your child. If you feel a co-parent is
mismanaging the money you pay them, you may not have the right to control the purse strings even if you feel that you can do a much better job. Discuss your concerns with an attorney. If you believe that the other parent’s conduct is unjustifiably costing you money you do not determine whether you may deduct this money from child support. A court makes this determination.

5. Decide to hire an attorney solely because he or she will be a “pit bull “or “go to war” against your co-parent.
Remember Pit Bulls were bred to fight to the death. Pit Bull lawyers will advise a client to turn down a reasonable resolution and instead spend precious resources on a court battle. Often the only person who benefits when a Pit Bull is hired is the Pit Bull who gets paid handsomely for the services required to “go to war.” The persons most hurt by this type of combat are very often the co-parent’s children.

6. Refuse to communicate with your co-parent.
The best resolutions in custody disputes involve recognition by both parties that they need to continue to communicate to further their child’s best interest. Remember, your co-parent will always be your co-parent. Thus in almost every custody case, you will have to continue to interact with the (former) family members after the case is over. You should do everything you can to encourage communication with family members you are in a dispute with. There are options besides contentious litigation such as mediation or family counseling. You should seek an attorney who knows and encourages these options.

7. Sacrifice the best interest of children in return for financial concessions.
Sadly, the singular goal of many parents is to reduce the amount that they have to pay in a custody dispute. Often a parent will abandon their rights to visitation or to participate in making decisions about a child’s upbringing in return for a reduction in child support. It hurts children when parents abandon the right to be involved in their lives.

8. Fail to Hire an Attorney.
While mediation can successfully narrow differences in a custody dispute, the goal of a mediator is to resolve a dispute. A mediator does not focus on helping an individual parent achieve his or her goals. At a minimum you should consult with an attorney prior to attending custody mediation and have an attorney review a proposed mediation agreement. Trying to represent yourself in a custody case makes about as much sense as attempting to perform surgery on yourself.

9. Fail to Plan and Document.
If you intend to propose a change to the court, such as a change in a child’s residence or a school, or if you believe you need to incorporate an expense (daycare, medical dental etc.) in a request for reimbursement from the other parent, carefully look into all your options and document the particular expense and why you believe such a change or expense is in the best interest of your child. If you are involved in a heated dispute with the co-parent, contemporaneously document discussions, thoughts and events in a diary. Preserve letters, financial records, e-mails and texts. All of your preserved records may be used as evidence in a later court hearing. Courts often will not accept one parties’ version of a dispute if that version is based solely on memory.

10. Fail to properly take care of a child.
The truth of the matter is that no parent has ever perfectly raised their child. However, in custody disputes, a parent’s conduct is put under a microscope. Any
error’s importance is magnified. While it may be impossible to be perfect, make sure you do the simple things. Make sure your child goes to school. Help him or her with homework. Make sure he or she has a proper diet. Do not leave him or her alone, etc.

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