Does the circuit court have jurisdiction to resolve a custody dispute if the parents are living together, regardless of whether the parents are married? The answer is yes.
In Ricketts v. Ricketts, 393 Md. 479, 501 (2006), the Court of Appeals held that a court had such jurisdiction in a divorce action even if the parents were sharing the same household and even if the court declined to grant a divorce. In a recent Court of Special Appeals case, Holbrook v. Newell, the holding of Ricketts was extended to cases where the parents are unmarried.
While the court has the authority to make a custody determination even if the parties are still living together, it may not be in a party’s or a child’s best interest to make such a request. No two custody cases are the same and each case is determined by a subjective analysis of factors related to a child’s best interests. If you are contemplating a custody action, Hess Family law can provide advice based on your particular situation and goals.
Rarely, if ever, should joint legal custody be awarded if the parents cannot effectively communicate with each other concerning the best interest of the child, unless there is a strong potential for effective communication in the future. The Court of Appeals in 1986 in the case of Taylor v. Taylor determined that the capacity of parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child's welfare to clearly be the most important factor in the determination of whether an award of joint legal custody (and also relevant to shared physical custody) is appropriate.
Recently, in an unreported 2016 case, Santo v. Santo, the Court of Appeals affirmed a Circuit Court decision awarding joint legal custody to parents who could not effectively communicate. The Santo case is the rare case in which the Court determined that joint legal custody was in the best interest of the children even though the parents could not effectively communicate with one another. Joint custody was necessary so that both parents would remain informed and the children would have an opportunity to have a relationship with both parents. The Court also held that no one major factor, such as ability to communicate, is more important than any of the other factors that are considered by the Court when making an award of joint custody.
In order for joint custody to work when the parents were not able to effectively communicate to make shared decisions the Santo Court assigned final decision-making authority to each of the parents. In the event the parents were not able to reach shared decisions Mr. Santo was given final decision-making authority regarding education, religion and medical issues while Ms. Santo was given final decision-making authority regarding the children's therapist. In Santo, the Court of Appeals affirmed that trial courts in Maryland are authorized to use final decision-making provisions in joint custody determinations.
Up until now, Maryland law did not permit the non-biological, and non-adopotive "parent" (de facto parent) of a child to obtain custody or have visitation with the child when the family was broken apart by separation or divorce unless the de facto parent could prove that the biological or adoptive parent of the child was unfit.
In a landmark decision, the highest court in Maryland, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that de facto parents now have standing to contest custody or visitation and need not show parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances before a trial court can apply a best interests of the child analysis.
This decision overrules the Court’s previous decision in Janice M. v. Margaret K., decided approximately 8 years ago. The high court determined that its holding in Janice M. contravened the “universally accepted concept” that children “need good relationships with parental figures and they need them to be stable.”
While unanimous in their recognition of de facto parenthood, the Judges were split 4-3 on a specific four-factor test for courts to determine if an individual qualifies as a de facto parent. The factors require
- that the biological or adoptive parent “consented to, and fostered” the formation and establishment of the “parent-like relationship with the child;”
- that the de facto parent and child lived together in the same household;
- that the de facto parent “assumed obligations of parenthood,” such as the child’s care, education and development without expecting payment; and
- that the de facto parent was in the parental role for enough time to establish “with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature,” the high court said.
Source: The Daily Record, Steve Lash, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer July 8, 2016
For separated or divorced parents, summer scheduling can be quite stressful. Transitioning from school year schedules to summer schedules can be difficult for both parents and children. Following a few simple tips can ensure less conflict and a more enjoyable summer.
Plan Ahead: Review your parenting plan, separation agreement, and/or court order to determine what is outlined for the summer months. Do you need to notify your ex-spouse about vacation requests by a certain date? If so, make sure you do so, in writing. Will you have your children when you are working? If so, do you need to arrange camps and/or additional childcare? Are you planning to travel out of the country with your children? If so, are passports in order? Are parental consent forms needed? If your former spouse needs to provide permission for the children to travel out of the country, make sure you secure that in a timely manner. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Communication is Key: It is common courtesy to provide the non-traveling parent with an itinerary of your trip, even if your Agreement or Order does not provide for this. Will your children be able to communicate with their other parent while they are away? Make sure your ex-spouse has all necessary contact information. If your children will be away from their other parent for an extended time, schedule Face Time or Skype sessions, and send some pictures of the children to your ex-spouse. Provide your former spouse with information regarding camps and other activities you have enrolled your children in. Confirm that these activities do not interfere with the other parent’s scheduled time, and if they do, attempt to resolve the issues in advance. To lessen the stress, consider using email and a shared online calendar to keep track of summer schedules.
Avoid Competitions: Remember that regardless of your financial situation, your children just want to spend time with you. Just because your ex-spouse can afford a fancy beach vacation or a trip to Disney does not mean you have to do the same, especially if your finances do not support such a trip. There are many local activities that you can do with your children that will enable them to create memories to last a lifetime. Websites such as KidFriendlyDC.com (http://kidfriendlydc.com), our-kids.com (https://www.our-kids.com ), Fairfax Family Fun (http://www.fairfaxfamilyfun.com/calendar-of-events) and montgomerymag.com (http://www.montgomerymag.com ) provide tons of information on local activities happening through out the summer.
If you follow these tips you and your children should be able to enjoy a fun-filled, stress free summer. But if conflicts with your ex-spouse do arise, contact Hess Family Law to determine an appropriate course of action.
Although some believe that shared custody arrangements expose children to additional stress due to constantly moving from house to house, a Swedish study indicates that the potential stress from living in two homes is outweighed by the positive effects of close contact with both parents. Despite the hassles of living in two homes, most children in the survey stated that a close relationship with both their parents was most important.
The study, Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children? published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that kids fare better when they spend equal living time with both parents. The study compared children in joint physical custody arrangements, with those living only or mostly with one parent and those living in nuclear families. Based on a national survey of nearly 150,000 Swedish children aged 12 and 15 years, the study found that children who live equally with both parents after a parental separation suffered from less psychosomatic problems such as sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy than those living mostly or only with one parent. However, children in joint custody arrangements still reported more psychosomatic problems than those in non-separated or divorced nuclear families.
For more information on Child Custody, please click here.
Fall is in the air. Temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing and pumpkins are in abundance. For kids and many adults the best part of Fall is Halloween.
As a divorced or separated parent you may not get to be with your children on Halloween day or night. But that doens't mean you can't celebrate the holiday and the season. Now days there are so many events leading up to Halloween, and even afterward, that you can still celebrate and enjoy the festivities with your child. And, don't forget about fun at home seasonal activities.
In July 2013, Governor O’Malley authorized a commission to review the current Maryland child custody system and to make recommendations for reforms to provide better outcomes for children and their families. The Commission is comprised of attorneys and legal leaders in Maryland such as Judges, Delegates, Senators, and Psychologists.
Currently Maryland does not have a statute that lays out the factors to be considered when making child custody decisions. Instead, Judges must rely on case law. The Commission will analyze how custody decisions are being made and study how to make them more uniform and fair.
A new school year can be stressful for any family, but it can be especially stressful for a family when parents are newly separated or divorced. Questions may arise such as: Whom does the school call first if there is a problem? Who pays for school supplies? Do you need school supplies in both households? What activities will your child participate in? Some of the answers may be addressed by your Court Order or Agreement, but if you do not have one, or even if you do, there may not be clear answers.
Many experts agree that divorced or separated parents should be on the same page when it comes to their child’s school. The most important things parents should do are communicate, coordinate, and cooperate. For some this may be easy, but for others this can prove to be difficult, especially if your divorce was not amicable.
Practical Advice for Successful Co-Parenting
Dr. Edward Farber, a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia and Maryland, and a partner at the Reston Psychological Center, recently published a book titled “Raising the Kid you Love with the Ex you Hate.” Based on his years of experience, Dr. Farber’s book offers practical advice for successful co-parenting. This book will tell you the why's and the how's of:
Both parents together telling the children about the separation and/or divorce.
Determining the right time for you and your spouse to inform the children about your separation and divorce. Over the weekend and in the early afternoon is a good time so that there can be several conversations throughout the day. A conversation at bedtime is not a good idea unless you want your child to be up all night.
Knowing what to say, and not to say, to your child about separation and divorce.
The importance of being honest with your child.
The importance of providing concrete information about how the separation will affect the child's daily and weekly routine, but not providing too many specifics that may overwhelm the child.
The how and when of introducing your child to your new residence, which should be done slowly and in stages.
Coping with child support and other money issues.
Handling the holidays and special family occasions .
Choosing and adjusting to new schools .
The when and how of introducing your child to a potential new partner.
Co-parenting when an ex has a personality disorder, addiction problem, or is a bully.
- Raising a healthy child while co-parenting.
I highly recommend this book to clients who have children and are contemplating or in the process of a separation or divorce. And, despite the title, I recommend this book for all clients, not just those in a high conflict divorce and co-parenting situation.
Ground Rules for the Separated or Divorced and Dating: Introducing a New Partner to Your Children
Karla has been divorced for two years. She has been dating Ethan for eight months and wonders if she should introduce him to her three children. Are there any “rules” for dating with children?
Marina Sbrochi’s article Dating with Kids: 5 Ground Rules For Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids recommends that Karla wait at least six months before even thinking about introducing Ethan to her children. Why wait? Ms. Sbrochi suggests that it takes at least six months before you really begin to know someone. Karla’s children do not need to become attached to a man who may not remain in her life.
Karla believes her relationship with Ethan is serious. What ground rules should she follow when she introduces him to her three children?
1. No Expectations. What does this mean? Do not force the relationship. Have the meeting be casual and let everyone get to know each other.
2. Group Setting. Karla should introduce Ethan as a friend. She can plan a small get together with other people her children know so the meeting does not feel forced. Karla should plan at least five group meetings so the children can get to know Ethan in a relaxed atmosphere without any pressure. Karla and Ethan should refrain from showing affection. For now, he is just a friend.
3. Go Slowly. While Karla and Ethan have known each other for 8 months, the children have just met him. It is important for Karla to take her time and follow the cues of her children. Karla should talk to them if they seem unhappy or angry.
4. One Mom, One Dad. Karla’s children may worry that Ethan will replace their father. It is important that Karla reassure the children that they will only have one mom and one dad.
5. Rules for the New Family. Merging families can be complicated. Karla and Ethan need to discuss expectations, discipline, money, education, and any other issues that may affect them. If and when can Karla update her Facebook status to “in a relationship” and post pictures of herself and Ethan together as a couple? At Hess Family Law, we recommend that Karla use caution when posting information about her personal life on any social media sites. Even though Karla has been divorced for two years, custody issues can always be modified. While Karla and her ex-husband may have a good relationship, situations can change. If Karla believes that updating her status will not be a problem, she should certainly wait until her children have been introduced to Ethan and understand that he is more than just a friend.