Perhaps no other issue in family law more important than child custody — especially if your fundamental right to a meaningful relationship with your children is being threatened. Even if it isn’t being threatened, the circumstances of a divorce or separation will make you worry about what will happen.
We know you want to protect the best interest of the child. Our child custody lawyers can help you obtain that goal.
But you have more control over the outcome than you think.
Child Custody Lawyers in Baltimore, Maryland
We have represented people in Maryland since 1992. That’s more than 20 years. In those 20 years, we’ve seen all types of child custody matters, from cases in which one parent is demanding sole custody to cases in which a parent wants to move the children out of state.
Call us for a free consultation. Just dial 443.701.4322 or contact us online.
Types of Child Custody Actions Filed in Baltimore, Maryland
When representing our clients in Baltimore, Maryland, in cases involving the custody of a child, we are experienced in the following types of cases:
- Post-Divorce Modifications of Child Custody;
- Relocation & Moving Away after the Divorce;
- Paternity Actions;
- Adoption Proceedings;
- Fathers’ Rights;
- Grandparent Rights;
- Stepparent Adoption; and
- Unmarried Couples.
Our child custody lawyers know how to fight these cases to win. We say “win” because, in fact, there is a way to win child custody in Maryland — but winning child custody usually means each side gets something they want. In child custody, both parents are going to need to be able to work together, long after the divorce is finalized, to care for their children.
We can help you protect your child while helping resolve the case that works in the best interest of the child.
Parenting Plans under Maryland Law
A parenting plan is an agreement you make with your spouse or partner about how you plan to co-parent your children after divorce or separation. A parenting plan governs specific parenting responsibilities, including when and where you’ll handle visitation, who takes the child to the doctor and dentist, and what school the child will attend.
The parenting plan is one of the most important documents in any divorce or separation. It can mean the difference between co-parenting that works and co-parenting that doesn’t. It can help both of you focus on the best interests of your child – which isn’t always easy when you’re getting divorced.
Any parenting plan is only as good as you work to make it. The same goes for your spouse or partner. If you work together and reach a pre-court settlement, chances are that it will work for you both (and your child), and the judge can simply sign off on it. In those cases, the parenting plan often proves to work well for many years after the divorce.
If, however, there is significant conflict during your divorce, and you cannot agree with your spouse about major issues, the power to craft a parenting plan is in the judge’s hands. A lawyer can help advocate your side and work to persuade the judge, but the parenting plan may not work in the long run for you, your ex-spouse, or your child. In those cases, you may end up back in court to modify the parenting plan.
Joint Custody in Maryland
Under joint legal custody, both parents have an equal voice in making the long range decisions that significantly affect a child’s life. The most important factor in deciding whether to award joint legal custody is the capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare.
In evaluating the parents’ capacity to communicate, the best evidence’ a court should look for is the past conduct or the track record of the parties. Rarely, if ever, is a joint legal custody award permissible, absent such conduct and then only when it is possible to make a finding of a strong potential for such conduct in the future.
The Maryland UCCJEA
The Maryland UCCJEA instructs us to decide child custody cases in the child’s best interest and with an eye toward disincentivizing the unlawful movement of children across state borders. See 9 U.L.A. § 101 cmt. To reach this goal, the Act imposes limits on the courts’ traditional subject matter jurisdiction to issue orders affecting a resident-parent’s custody rights. See, e .g., FL §§ 9.5–201, 9.5–203, 9.5–207, 9.5–208; see also Harris v. Melnick, 314 Md. 539, 548 (1989) (quoting Brigitte M. Bodenheimer, Interstate Custody: Initial Jurisdiction and Continuing Jurisdiction Under the UCCJA, 14 Fam. L.Q. 203, 213–14 (1981) (“[C]oncurrent jurisdiction in several states to modify an existing custody judgment was a major cause of parental resort to kidnapping to gain a more favorable judgment in a new forum.”)).
The Maryland UCCJEA’s key jurisdictional provisions are enumerated in FL §§ 9.5–201–9.5–204. These provisions control when a state confronted with a custody action may:
- exercise initial jurisdiction under FL § 9.5–201;
- exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under FL § 9.5–202;
- jurisdiction to modify an existing custody order under FL § 9.5–203; and
- temporary emergency jurisdiction, FL § 9.5–204.
The Maryland UCCJEA’s jurisdictional rules restrict a state’s subject matter jurisdiction even more severely when, as here, another state has previously issued a custody order. The Act prohibits concurrent jurisdiction between two states to limit the occurrence of different states creating competing custody awards. Melnick, 314 Md. at 550.
The Melnick Court concluded:
“The rule is clear and simple. There can be no concurrent jurisdiction and no jurisdictional conflict between two states.”). Additionally, the Maryland UCCJEA discourages states from exercising jurisdiction when they are not the most convenient forum, FL § 9.5–207; or, when a parent has engaged in “unjustifiable conduct.” FL § 9.5–208. Just as the authority to make an initial custody determination is exclusive to a single state, only a single state may possess authority to modify an existing custody determination.
See Melnick, 314 Md. at 551–52.
History of the Maryland UCCJEA
In 2004, Maryland adopted the Maryland UCCJEA to govern child custody actions. The Maryland UCCJEA took effect on October 1, 2004, by virtue of § 2 of Ch. 502 of the Acts of 2004 and replaced an earlier statute, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (“UCCJA”), which had been the controlling law in Maryland from 1975 through 2004.
The Courts in Maryland have long-recognized that the legislature adopted the Maryland UCCJEA’s predecessor, the Maryland Uniform Custody Jurisdiction Act (“UCCJA”), to ‘deter abductions and other unilateral removals of children undertaken to obtain custody awards. See FL § 9–202(5)).
The Prefatory Note to the U.C.C.J.A. reflects a “growing public concern over the fact that thousands of children are shifted from state to state and from one family to another each year while their parents or other persons battle over their custody in courts of various states. Snatching children has become all too commonplace in our mobile society. Possession of the child has historically given one an enormous tactical advantage.” Malik v. Malik, 99 Md.App. 521, 530 (1994) (quoting John F. Fader, II & Richard P. Gilbert, Maryland Family Law 167 (1990)).
The court noted in In re Kaela C., 394 Md. 432, 453 (2006), that the UCCJA was promulgated to address the rampant kidnapping of children by parents looking to relitigate custody determinations in a more favorable forum, a tactic known as ‘seize and run.’ The ‘home state’ provision,” in particular:
was introduced to provide protection for a parent who remains in the home state after the other parent has taken the child away. In enacting [this] provision, the drafters of the act were attempting to mitigate the advantage enjoyed by the party who has physical possession of the child.
Jeff Atkinson, Modern Child Custody Practice § 3.12, 192 (1986).
The Commissioners’ Note to the [UCCJA] § 3 states: “The main objective [of the six month home state window] is to protect a parent who has been left by his spouse taking the child along[.]” *8 Malik, 99 Md.App. at 529.
The Courts in Maryland have characterized a parent’s taking of a child as “reprehensible conduct.” Malik, 99 Md.App. at 532–33. With this in mind, the Court of Appeals has cautioned Maryland courts to avoid perversely incentivizing parents to use unlawful means to secure custody:
“The resolution of cases must not provide incentives for those likely to take the law into their own hands. Thus, those who obtain custody of children unlawfully, … must be deterred. Society may not reward, except at its peril, the lawless because the passage of time has made correction inexpedient.”
In re Adoption No. 10087 in Circuit Court for Montgomery Cnty., 324 Md. 394, 410–11 (1991).
In Malik, the court recognized: “It is difficult to quarrel with the proposition that ‘[t]he effect of assuming jurisdiction to determine child custody after there has been a wrongful taking or detention may be the encouragement of child snatching.’ “ 99 Md.App. at 531 (citations and quotations omitted). Even worse, if a parent flees and behaves surreptitiously, the more likely they are to achieve the six-month threshold.
Then in 1997, the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (“NCCUSL”) promulgated the model UCCJEA (“Model UCCJEA” or “Model Act”) “to revise the UCCJA in order to coincide with federal enactments[, such as the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act,] and to resolve the consequent thirty years of conflicting case law caused by states’ various enactments of the UCCJA.” Friedetzky v. Hsia, 223 Md.App. 723, 734 (2015).
The Model Act perpetuates the UCCJA’s objectives of deterring parents from removing their children from a jurisdiction without consent. See, e.g., Cabrera, slip op. at 32 (quoting Model Act, § 101 cmt., 9 U.L.A. Part 1A, at 657 (1997) (hereinafter “9 U.L.A.”) (“A chief function of the [Model UCCJEA] is to ‘deter abductions of children.’ ”)).
The NCCUSL’s comments to the Model UCCJEA suggest that courts interpret the Model Act “according to its purposes, which are to:”
(1) Avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict with the courts of other States and in matters of child custody which have in the past resulted in the shifting of children from State to State with harmful effects on their well-being;
(2) Promote cooperation with the courts of other States to the end that a custody decree is rendered in that State which can best decide the case in the interest of the child;
(3) Discourage the use of the interstate system for continuing controversies over child custody;
(4) Deter abductions of children;
(5) Avoid litigation of custody decisions of other States in this State;
(6) Facilitate the enforcement of custody decrees of other States.
9 U.L.A. § 101 cmt. (1997) (emphasis added).
Finding Child Custody Lawyers in Baltimore, Maryland
Sometimes, there simply is no way to work together toward an amicable solution. That’s what court is for. The judge will make the decision for you. And, in some cases, that’s exactly what is needed. If that’s the case, we will stand up for you and argue your case in front of the judge.
In many other cases, however, we can help you create a child custody agreement that works for both sides. In the end, what works for both sides will continue to work in the long term.
Child custody. It’s one of the toughest things you’ll face in any divorce or separation. But you can help control the outcome by hiring our child custody lawyers. Feel free to pick up the phone and call 443-709-9999 or contact us online to get started.