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

  1. that the biological or adoptive parent “consented to, and fostered” the formation and establishment of the “parent-like relationship with the child;”
  2. that the de facto parent and child lived together in the same household;
  3. that the de facto parent “assumed obligations of parenthood,” such as the child’s care, education and development without expecting payment; and
  4. 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

Published in Custody

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.   

Published in Custody

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.


Published in Custody
Monday, 01 October 2012 02:29

Keeping in Touch with Your Children

Separation and Divorce:  Keeping in Touch with Your Children

For many, the thought of not seeing their children on a daily basis can be difficult, but when you divorce, it is inevitable that your children will spend time with your former spouse whether you have shared custody, sole custody, or visitation.  Veronique De Miguel posted an article on Mamiverse.com with some suggestions for keeping in touch with your children when they are with your former spouse.  Here are some of Ms. De Miguel’s suggestions, as well as some of my own:

  • Call your children on a regular basis (unless you are restricted by Agreement or Court Order).   When you call remember these rules:
      • Keep it brief and positive;
      • Do not call at improper hours;
      • Do not use your children as messengers;
      • Do not be upset or discouraged if your child chooses not to speak with you on the telephone.  Some children don’t enjoy talking on the telephone or don’t want to be interrupted when they are engaged in something else.  However, it is still beneficial for them to hear that you called and wanted to speak to them.  Sometimes it is your effort that is most important.
  • Send letters, greeting cards or post cards.  Even in today’s world of instant messaging, kids still love to receive mail.  Again, keep your letter brief and positive.   If you want, enclose a picture or a small inexpensive trinket in the mail, such as a stick of bubble gum, a pencil, or other small item that your child might enjoy. 
  • Use Skype, I-chat, or any other VOIP technology.
  • Email or text if your child is old enough and has their own account.  Remember, anything you write or send will likely be read by your former spouse.  Also, make sure you don’t “over do it” by texting or emailing too often. You don't want to be perceived as pestering and you don’t want to turn your child away from you rather than bringing your child closer to you.   When communicating with your child, be reassuring, positive and open.
  • Have a special “coming home” tradition.  Establish a tradition for you and your children to enjoy when they return to you after being with their other parent for several days or more.  It can be as simple as going out for a special treat, reading a favorite book together, or playing a game, or it can be more complex such as a special dinner that includes a menu of favorite foods, or to which each family member invites a friend   It is beneficial for your child to have something to look forward to, in addition to seeing you, especially if they might be sad they are leaving the other parent. 
  • Be Generous.  Let your children know you love them, but do not expect anything in return.  Children often feel that they are betraying the other parent if they show too much emotion or talk to long with the other parent.  Also, children don’t always have the same desire to share as adults do, they need to keep some things “their own” and private.   Let your children know you are there for them.
To read the full text of  Ms. De Miguel’s article click here. 




Published in Visitation
Monday, 17 June 2013 16:39

Summer Vacation Tips

Summer Vacation Tips for Separated or Divorced Parents

Summer vacation is about to begin in Montgomery County, Maryland which means school time schedules are about to change.   How does summer  effect separated or divorced families?  For many, summer vacation means added stress in trying to modify schedules to adjust to camp, vacations, and less structure. 

Here are some tips to make adjusting to a summer schedule easier for you and your children:

  • If you have a Parenting Plan, review it.  Does anything need to bemodified?  Make sure vacations and camp schedules do not conflict with parenting times, and if they do, try to work out a compromise in advance.  Do you need additional child care?  If so, make sure you and your former spouse have discussed options and made arrangements.
  • Try to maintain some consistency.  While rules may be more relaxed in the summer, it is helpful for children to have similar rules in both households.  Discuss expectations with your spouse or former spouse to try and maintain comparable rules in both homes. 
  • If you are planning to travel with your children, make sure you are prepared.   Review your Agreement to make sure there are no restrictions on traveling with your children.   Do you need to provide your former spouse with details about your trip?  Even if your Agreement or Order does not provide for this, it is common courtesy to provide the non-traveling parent with an itinerary of the trip.  Will your children be able to communicate with their other parent while they are away?  Make sure their other parent has all necessary contact information.  If passports are needed, make sure they are in order and the other parent has provided permission for the children to travel out of the country, if necessary.  
  • Have a realistic financial budget.   Now that you are separated or divorced your financial situation may not allow you to take a big summer vacation.   Even if the other parent can still afford a fancy trip, it does not mean you have to do the same.  There are many local activities that you and your children can enjoy.  Instead of a week long stay at the beach, you can go for a long weekend.   Plan a day trip to an amusement park or plan to try several different parks during the summer.   Take advantage of the museums, monuments, and other free or nearly free, activities DC has to offer.  Check Groupon or Living Social for fun summer deals on activities for you and your children.  With a little planning you and your children can have a terrific summer without spending a fortune.

If you follow these tips your summer should be less stressful and more enjoyable.   If you find that you and your spouse are having difficulty agreeing on summer plans, Hess Family Law is happy to assist you in resolving your dispute.  


Published in Visitation

Mailing Address

Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq
Hess Family Law
451 Hungerford Dr,
Suite 119-307
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq
Hess Family Law
344 Maple Ave West,
Suite 355
Vienna, Virginia 22180

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