Gathering Evidence for Your Child Custody Case
Going through a divorce and establishing child custody requires a lot of preparation and paperwork. It can start to feel like a full-time job in itself, which is one of the many reasons why you should hire a child custody attorney near Owings Mills to do the heavy lifting for you. Your lawyer will guide you in collecting the evidence necessary to present a compelling argument in court.
If your child isn’t currently living with you, make an effort to contact your child frequently. Call or use video conferencing software to maintain your relationship with your child, and to help him or her cope with the significant changes of divorce. Each time you speak with your child, keep a record of the date, time, and duration. Make notes about whether the other parent attempted to discourage contact between you and your child. If your child is currently living with you, you can still keep a record of contact between your child and the other parent. If the other parent doesn’t have frequent contact, the judge might think that there isn’t much of a relationship between them. Alternatively, the judge might consider whether you are discouraging contact.
Family court judges frown upon contentious interactions between parents when a child is a witness. Never provoke an argument, and never contribute to one. Instead, keep a record of all the times your ex disparages you in front of your child, shows an unwillingness to co-parent, or shows signs of mental or emotional instability.
Judges like to see that both parents are encouraging the child to have a healthy relationship with the other parent. If your child currently lives with you, you should support a robust visitation schedule with the other parent. If you’ve moved out of the family home, make every effort to see your child regularly. Both parents should keep records of when the visitation occurred, how long it lasted, and whether the visiting parent was late for the pick-up or drop-off. Additionally, make notes about whether the child was returned to you hungry, unhappy, or injured—or with homework incomplete.
What Are the Custody and Visitation Rights for Stepparents After a Divorce?
Stepparents in general have an undeservedly bad reputation, despite the fact that many of them form strong emotional bonds with their stepchildren, and invest considerable time and effort taking care of them. When a stepparent and biological parent divorce, it’s usually thought that the stepparent has no parental rights. However, divorce law in Owings Mills has been slowly catching up to the modern reality of blended families. Since child custody laws are subject to change, stepparents are encouraged to visit an attorney for the latest information about their legal rights.
Whether the child will suffer harm without visitation with the stepparent
The extent of assistance and financial aid provided by the stepparent for the child’s rearing
The duration of the stepparent’s parental role with the child
The degree to which the stepparent has held an active, significant role in the child’s daily life
The strength of the relationship between the child and the stepparent
Award of Custody
Divorce law presumes that it’s in the child’s best interests for the biological parent to retain custody, rather than the stepparent. However, there are some occasional exceptions. If both of the biological parents are found unfit to raise the child, the stepparent may be awarded custody. Parental fitness is determined on a case-by-case basis, but may be considered when any of the following factors apply:
Child abuse or neglect
Severe psychiatric illness
Of course, if both of the biological parents have died around the time of the divorce, then the stepparent will also be more likely to secure custody.
Establishment of Visitation
Although it’s challenging for a stepparent to get custody, he or she may be more likely to receive visitation. Visitation may be awarded if it’s determined to be in the child’s best interests. The court will consider whether an ongoing relationship with the stepparent will enhance the child’s quality of life.
Paying Taxes on Alimony and Child Support
Divorce usually results in difficult financial situations, which your alimony lawyer in Owings Mills will help you sort through. You may also wish to consult an accountant when it’s time to file your tax return, instead of handling tax changes yourself. If you’re the parent with primary physical custody of the child, you’re entitled to receive child support. These payments do not have to be reported as income—you’ll receive them tax-free to defray the expenses of rearing your child. If you’re awarded alimony after the divorce , you will typically have to report these checks as income, and they’ll be subject to taxation.
You might find yourself making alimony and child support payments after the divorce. In this case, your tax situation will be similar to that of your ex’s, only in reverse. You cannot deduct child support on your taxes in order to reduce your tax liability. However, you can usually deduct alimony payments, provided those payments are made in cash, rather than property. Additionally, alimony payments must be court-ordered if they are deducted.
When Can a Custodial Parent Relocate?
Unless the other parent has been denied visitation rights because of domestic violence, it’s rarely an ideal situation for the custodial parent to move far away with the child. Children need ongoing, strong relationships with each parent for their healthy development and mental health. Before considering a long-distance move away from the noncustodial parent, custodial parents should speak with a child custody lawyer in Owings Mills. Noncustodial parents who have been advised of a possible relocation should also talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
Providing Notice of the Relocation
Custodial parents who wish to relocate must have their attorneys provide a written notice at least 90 days before the scheduled move. The notice must be filed with the family court, and delivered via certified mail, return receipt requested to the noncustodial parent. Under certain circumstances, it may be acceptable for the relocating parent to file the notice less than 90 days before moving, as long as the parent does so as quickly as possible and the move is necessary (i.e., for financial reasons).
Agreeing to the Relocation
Maryland child custody laws require relocating parents to provide notice regardless of whether the move will be within the state or across state lines. It’s possible that the noncustodial parent won’t object to the relocation if the distance isn’t considerable. If the noncustodial parent does agree to the relocation request, both parents can file their written agreement terms with the court.
Objecting to the Relocation
It’s common for noncustodial parents to object to long-distance relocations. They must do so within 20 days of receiving the notice. Their attorneys must file a petition that asks the court to block the relocation. Then, the court sets an expedited hearing date. It’s wise to have legal representation at this hearing.
Issuing a Court Ruling
During the hearing, the court will consider any available evidence, including testimony from both parents, before making a decision. Judges have broad discretion in deciding whether to allow relocations. The overriding concern is whether the move would be in the child’s best interests.
Do Grandparents Have a Right to See Children After a Divorce?
Under divorce law, it is presumed that, barring evidence to the contrary, it’s in a child’s best interests to have balanced and ongoing access to both parents. Even when this is accomplished, other relatives may sometimes get left out. Grandparents can be powerful role models and loving caregivers for children. Grandparents who have been refused time with their grandchildren do have the legal right to request visitation. This is a complex issue, however, and grandparents are more likely to have a favorable outcome for their case by working with a family law attorney serving the Owings Mills area.
Understanding Federal Rulings
Initially, Maryland divorce law simply stated that the court may choose to award reasonable visitation to grandparents if it’s in the child’s best interests. Family law judges have considerable discretion when determining if something is or isn’t in a child’s best interests. However, this law was affected by a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. The case, Troxel v. Granville, was resolved with the ruling that fit parents are ultimately responsible for making decisions in their children’s best interests, and that they could choose to deny visitation with grandparents.
Overriding Parental Objections
In 2002, the Maryland Court of Appeals handed down a ruling on the case of Shurupoff v. Vockroff. In its ruling, the court established two ways in which grandparents could successfully obtain visitation despite parental objections. The first is to prove parental unfitness. The second is by proving that exceptional circumstances apply. Grandparent rights were further supported by the decision in the 2007 case, Koshko v. Haining. In its ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that exceptional circumstances exist to override parental objections when the absence of grandparent visitation would be harmful to the child.
Seeking Visitation with Grandchildren
Both case law and statutory law are still evolving in Maryland regarding grandparent visitation rights. A family lawyer can evaluate the merits of seeking visitation on a case-by-case basis, considering any recent legal developments. The process of seeking visitation rights starts with the filing of a petition with the appropriate court.
Can a Child Request to Change a Custody Agreement?
The child custody laws applicable to Owings Mills, Maryland give the judge broad discretion in determining whether a child can voice his or her own preferences about the type of child custody arrangement. When establishing the original custody agreement , the judge will determine on a case-by-case basis if the child is mature enough to express his or her preferences. Judges will not consider poorly reasoned opinions, such as a child wanting to live with the mother because she has looser house rules. Greater weight is given to evidence of emotional attachment.
After the type of child custody has already been determined, either parent may later file for a modification due to substantial changes in circumstances. At this time, the child may again be able to voice an opinion. A child can only file the petition for him- or herself when he or she is at least 16. The teen must prove that a change in custody serves his or her best interests regarding emotional and physical well-being.
Exploring Reasons for Child Custody Agreement Modifications
Once a judge issues a ruling on the type of child custody arrangement, either parent must have a compelling reason to request a modification. A family lawyer serving Owings Mills may file a petition to request a modification if either parent has experienced a significant change in life circumstances. A substantial change doesn’t automatically compel a judge to order a modification, however. The change must be proven to be in the child’s best interests.
One reason to have a family lawyer file this petition is if the custodial parent intends to undertake a long-distance move away from the noncustodial parent. Maryland law requires the relocating parent to file a written notice with the court and the non-relocating parent at least 90 days before the scheduled move. It’s possible for the non-relocating parent to agree to the move, in which case the parents can submit the written agreement to the court. If the non-relocating parent doesn’t agree to it, he or she has 20 days to file an objection after receiving the notice. Attorneys can represent the parties at the hearing, during which the court will consider which arrangement would be in the child’s best interests. In these cases, the court is primarily concerned with maintaining stability in the children’s lives and facilitating ongoing relationships with both parents.
If you think your child is in imminent danger, don’t wait for a court order—call the local police department right away. In less urgent situations, talk to a family lawyer about requesting a modification in custody. The court may consider a modification if you can prove that the child is at risk of harm in the other household due to domestic violence, substance abuse, parental neglect, or severe mental health disorders.
Sometimes, one of the parents repeatedly violates the terms of the custody agreement. Perhaps the mother refuses to let the father have his rightful visitation or repeatedly disparages the father where the children can hear. Or perhaps the father repeatedly brings the kids back late from visits. Parental noncompliance should be documented each time it happens. The first step is generally for the parents to try to improve their communication. If this doesn’t work, one of the parents could petition the court to enforce the order. Child custody modifications may be considered when these options fail, or when the violations of the custody order are significant.
Parenting Agreements for Unmarried Parents
The end of a relationship can be difficult, regardless of whether the couple was married or not. This is especially true when the couple shares a child. Even though the couple won’t need to file for divorce, they’ll still need to consult a child custody lawyer in the Owings Mills area regarding custody, visitation, and support agreements. It is possible, though not always practical, for unmarried ex-partners to make parenting agreements without going to court.
Identify the custody and visitation issues that must be resolved.
There are many more issues that must be agreed upon other than the type of child custody you’ll have. Consider these questions regarding common child custody issues:
- Which parent will the child primarily live with?
- When will the other parent spend time with the child?
- Will there be overnight visitation?
- Who is responsible for picking up/dropping off the child?
- Will either parent be able to call the child at any time?
- With whom will the child spend holidays and school vacations?
- Will either parent be able to move out of the area?
- How will household rules remain consistent across houses?
- Who will make major decisions for the child’s upbringing?
A solid parenting agreement is one that is specific and easily understood. It’s best to make major decisions ahead of time, but both parents should know that a little flexibility is also important. For instance, a parenting agreement might not specify that visitation time might be canceled if the child has a stomach flu, but if the parents are reasonably flexible, they can adjust their plans to suit the child’s needs.
Agree about the child’s support.
A family lawyer can help you calculate a reasonable child support payment based on state guidelines. This may help prevent disputes about paying too much or not enough. In the support agreement, be sure to specify the amount, frequency of payment, and form of payment (check, cash, etc.).
Establish an avenue for change.
It’s normal for parenting and support agreements to change over time, whether or not a court established them. As the child grows older, his or her needs and preferences will change. It’s a good idea to have a written agreement with your ex to meet at least annually to discuss whether there are any new issues that must be resolved. Some problems may arise before your planned annual meeting. Consider setting guidelines for how you and your ex will manage disputes. A proactive mindset may help you avoid court in the future.
The Legal Definition of Spousal Desertion
Under divorce law in Maryland, spousal desertion is one of the grounds for a fault-based divorce . If you think you may have been legally deserted or you’re considering leaving the marital home, it is highly advisable to speak with a divorce lawyer in Owings Mills. Your family lawyer can determine whether your situation meets one of the two legal definitions of spousal desertion in Maryland. The state recognizes two types of desertion: actual desertion and constructive desertion.
Actual desertion occurs when one spouse leaves the marital home or when one spouse ejects the other spouse from the marital home. This means that it’s possible for you to commit spousal desertion even if you did not actually leave the home. Constructive desertion occurs when the mistreatment of one spouse by the other compels the mistreated spouse to leave the marital home. In this case, the spouse who mistreated the other would be considered the deserter. When spousal desertion is used as grounds for divorce, the court can take it into consideration when issuing rulings on property division and spousal support.
Troubleshooting Common Custody Problems
One of the most contentious aspects of divorce law is child custody. It’s common for parents to have trouble working together, long after a judge hands down a ruling on the type of child custody they will have. Since future conflicts are almost inevitable, it’s best to take a proactive approach. Parents can be proactive about handling child custody problems by becoming knowledgeable about child custody laws in Owings Mills, and by keeping the phone number for their family lawyers close at hand.
Denied visitation is one of the most common—and most serious—child custody issues. Custodial parents sometimes deny visitation if the other parent is late with child support or alimony. Perhaps less commonly, parents with visitation rights may decide to purposely withhold child support or alimony in an attempt to barter more visitation time with the child. Neither situation is legally allowed, nor is it healthy for the child. It’s important to remember that, legally speaking, child support and alimony are completely separate issues from custody and visitation. If the other parent has refused to transfer the child for your court-ordered visitation, you should document the problem, call your family law lawyer, and perhaps file a petition with the court requesting that your visitation rights be enforced.
Child Transfer Tardiness
For busy parents, running a few minutes late now and then is to be expected. But when a parent consistently runs late when he or she is supposed to pick up a child for visitation, this may have harmful psychological effects on the child. Sometimes, the best course of action for this problem is to simply chat with the other parent about the schedule. Avoid being argumentative or confrontational, but do point out the effect the tardiness has on the child. Perhaps the two of you could make a few simple scheduling changes to avoid this problem in the future.
Legal Custody Disagreement
Joint legal custody means that both parents have a say in the major decisions for a child’s upbringing, such as the child’s education, healthcare, and religion. It isn’t always easy for parents to come to a consensus on these issues, but it’s important to maintain civility in your conversations. Perhaps there’s an underlying reason why the other parent constantly challenges your suggestions. The other parent may feel that he or she doesn’t get enough time with the child, for instance. In this situation, professional mediation can help.
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