Annapolis Child Custody Lawyer

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Child Custody Attorney in Annapolis

Your children are your life. You want the best for them, and you would give anything to protect them and make them happy. A divorce or separation can cause stress for the children as a result of decreased stability and increased distance between the children and one or both of the parents. A divorce or separation can also cause stress for the parties as a result of uncertainty as to how the children will be raised or an inability to see the children.

A couple who has a child and who are separating often want to have a court order that states who has custody. Child custody is the right of one or both parties to have a child in his or her care. It is also the right to make important decisions for the child. An order for custody serves to provide a stable environment for children to grow and thrive. Custody orders are enforceable by the police. The parties may seek custody as part of a divorce process or they may seek custody separately. Whenever the court grants custody, it will usually order child support as well. Child custody is usually awarded at the end of a custody case as a result of a trial or an agreement between the parties.

There are several forms of custody in Maryland. They are:

  • Physical custody
  • Visitation
  • Legal custody
  • Pendente lite custody
  • Emergency custody

Do not try to represent yourself.

Someone who attempts to represent himself or herself without an attorney in a custody case is taking a huge risk. That party will likely make a less persuasive case and receive a less favorable custody decision than otherwise. After the process is completed, an unrepresented party will likely wonder if a better outcome could have been obtained with an attorney. He or she may later hire an attorney and spend years and substantial attorney fees attempting to modify custody. Incredible suffering by both parties and the children will often result.

Having an experienced attorney from the start is extremely important. Only an attorney has the necessary understanding of the law and the court process. An attorney will guide you through the process, advocate for you and your children, and make a forceful case for you at trial if necessary. When the process ends, you likely will have peace of mind and a much better outcome.

Hire a skilled and aggressive attorney.

Patrick is not like other custody attorneys. Patrick has a boutique legal practice in which he provides high quality service to a small number of clients. His practice is small, and that is how he likes it. He is the only attorney in his office. Having a small practice allows Patrick to provide a highly personalized service in which he gets to know each client and delivers representation that is tailored to achieve that client’s unique goals. He has spent the last 14 years handling child custody cases. He has represented his clients in all stages of their cases, including settlement, trial, and appeal. He is aggressive while also being careful to avoid wasteful efforts and strategies that usually serve only to increase the client’s legal fees. Patrick directs his efforts in a focused and intelligent way on things that are most important to the client and that are calculated to bring results. He invites his clients to participate meaningfully in setting the case direction, he is friendly, and he is responsive.

Jurisdiction

In order for a Maryland court to issue a court order regarding custody of a child, the court must have jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in custody matters can be complicated, but, in general, the court has jurisdiction if the child has lived in Maryland for at least 6 months.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is simply that form of custody that pertains to where the child lives. Commonly one party receives primary physical custody and the other receives visitation. In this situation, the child lives most of the time with one party and spends a lesser amount of time with the other. Alternatively, both parties may share joint physical custody. In this situation, the child spends a substantial amount of time living with both parties. No clear definition exists that distinguishes primary and joint physical custody. The most important factor for either party to consider is not whether the particular arrangement is called primary or joint custody, but whether the schedule is practical and in the child’s best interests.

Visitation

Visitation is a form of physical custody. Visitation is simply physical custody for a short period of time. An order for visitation is enforceable by the police in the same way that an order for custody is. Visitation serves to give children a chance to maintain a strong relationship with both parties. Courts are very willing to grant visitation because the law presumes that children should have a strong relationship with both parties, even after a divorce or separation. A common visitation schedule is alternating weekends from Friday evening to Sunday evening, however, many other visitation schedules are possible depending on the circumstances. Parties commonly receive visitation on holidays and vacations as well.

Supervised or Unsupervised Visitation

Most visitation is unsupervised. However, in rare cases, the court may order that visitation be supervised if it finds that the visiting party is an unhealthy influence on the child or may harm the child. During supervised visitation, someone watches the visitation to make sure that nothing inappropriate occurs. If something inappropriate occurs, the supervisor may terminate the visit. Supervised visitation is sometimes difficult to arrange because of the need to find a suitable supervisor.

Legal Custody

Legal custody pertains to the right to make significant decisions affecting the education, health, and welfare of a child. Examples of significant decisions include the decision for the child to follow a particular religion, the decision to send the child to private or public school, and the decision for the child to undergo serious medical treatment. Such significant decisions are not the small decisions that must be made every day such as what a child eats or wears to school. Courts consider small decisions to be the responsibility of the party who has the child at the time.

The court can order legal custody in two ways. It can grant to one party sole legal custody, meaning that such party can make significant decisions without any input from the other. Or it can grant to both parties joint legal custody, meaning that they must make such decisions together. Joint legal custody requires that the parties communicate amicably regarding the child. If the parties cannot communicate amicably, the court will likely consider that joint legal custody is impossible. Sometimes the court may order joint legal custody but may give one party tie-break authority, which that party can use if they are unable to reach an agreement.

Pendente lite custody or visitation

Often a party has an immediate need for custody or visitation and cannot wait until the end of a year-long custody case in order to get it. In that situation, the party can ask the court to order pendente lite, or temporary, custody or visitation. “Pendente lite” is a Latin term that means “pending litigation”. Pendente lite custody or visitation covers only the period of time in which the custody case is pending. If a party makes such a request, the court will schedule a short pendente lite custody or visitation hearing in which it will receive limited evidence on such issue.

Emergency custody

Emergency custody is similar to pendente lite custody in the sense that it is temporary. Emergency custody is unique, however, in the sense that the court will hold a hearing on it within a few days of the request and often in the absence of the other party. In order to seek emergency custody, a party must simultaneously seek a modification of custody or an initial order of custody. If granted, the emergency custody order will cover only the short period of time in which the custody case is pending. In order to succeed in a petition for emergency custody, the party making the request must give the other party proper notice of the time and location of the hearing, and that party must show the court that the child is in physical danger or in danger of mental harm while in the care of the other party. Situations in which a court will grant emergency custody are rare.

Best interests of the child

In custody matters, the court must decide custody according to one standard—the best interests of the child. As much as the court may sympathize with a party’s desire to have custody, the court cannot decide custody based solely on that party’s desire. The court must look to the best interests of the child. The court determines the best interests of the child by considering numerous factors. Some of these factors are:

  • Fitness of the parents
  • Relationship established between the child and parents
  • Preference of the child
  • Potential disruption of the child’s social and school life
  • Geographic proximity of the parents’ homes
  • Demands of the parents’ employment
  • Age and number of children
  • Sincerity of the parent’s requests
  • Financial status of the parents
  • Benefit to the parents of receiving custody

Preference for mother?

Many people believe that custody law favors mothers, however, this belief is not true. Although some judges may have a bias, Maryland law is clear that no preference exists for granting custody to either mothers or fathers. The law considers both mothers and father to be equally capable of raising children and being good parents. Both parents have equal standing under the law to seek custody.

Modification

When the court establishes custody, it intends that such custody will be permanent for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, even after custody has been established, custody can be modified under the right circumstances. In order to modify custody, the party seeking to modify custody must prove two things:

  • A substantial change in circumstances since the last custody order.
  • The child’s best interests are served by changing custody.

Situations in which the court may find a substantial change in circumstances are endless. Some examples are:

  • A party moves a long distance away from the other party.
  • A party’s employment schedule changes.
  • A party loses the ability to financially provide for the child.
  • A party becomes too ill to care for the child.
  • A party starts to abuse the child.
  • A party is convicted of a serious crime.
  • A party alienates the child from the other party.
  • A party severely neglects the child’s medical, emotional, or educational needs.
  • A party recovers from a previous period of alcoholism or drug addiction.
  • A party gains a more suitable home for the child.

Modification of custody is usually more difficult than initially establishing custody because the standard that the court must use is more difficult to meet. This higher standard for modifying custody is one reason why it is so important for a party to make sure that he or she does it right the first time by making a strong case when custody is being initially established.

Custody agreements

Parties often try to reach a written agreement regarding custody instead of allowing the court to decide it. Doing so has numerous advantages. It allows the parties to avoid the risk that the court will order custody or visitation in a way that the parties do not want. It also allows the parties to save the time and expense associated with litigating their custody dispute all the way to trial. The court has the authority to disregard a written agreement on custody or visitation if it finds that the agreement is not in the child’s best interests, nevertheless, the court routinely enforces such agreements. An attorney can be extremely valuable in the negotiation and drafting of such an agreement.

Discovery

In any case involving child custody, both parties have the right to conduct discovery. Discovery is the process of compelling the other party to provide information that may help one’s case. Discovery can occur in several different ways, including with interrogatories, requests for documents, and depositions. Discovery can also include obtaining documents from outside sources like financial institutions, schools, and daycare centers. Discovery can sometimes uncover information that the other party is trying to hide. In cases involving child custody, discovery is extremely important because a lot of detailed information is required in order to make a persuasive case to the court.

Contempt of court

When the court orders child custody and one party fails to follow it, then, in order to enforce the custody order, the other party may file a petition for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a finding that a party was court ordered to do something and failed to do it. When the court orders that a party is in contempt for failing to pay child custody, it will continue to hold them in contempt until they “purge” the contempt. In addition to requiring that the person purge the contempt, the court may also impose other penalties. Such penalties may include providing make-up time with the child and paying the other party’s attorney fees.

Attorney Fees

In any custody case, multiple opportunities exist for either party to request that the court order the other party to pay some or all of that party’s attorney fees. Often a party has an immediate need for attorney fees and cannot wait until the end of a long case in order to receive it. In this case the party may request pendente lite attorney fees. Or the party may choose to make the request at the end of the case. In either situation, the court will decide whether it is fair to grant such request based on multiple factors. The main factors include:

  • Whether the requesting party had a good-faith basis for pursuing his or her case.
  • Whether the requesting party needs assistance paying for his or her attorney.
  • Whether the other party has the ability to pay.

Custody cases are complicated.

Custody cases are complicated. An infinite number of things exist to consider in even a moderately complicated child custody case. Making a persuasive case in most custody matters requires an enormous amount of work and organization. An experienced attorney is usually necessary in order to make such a case.

Contact Patrick Crawford today.

Regardless of how complex your custody case is, Patrick is ready and eager to provide you with aggressive and personalized representation. Our experienced Annapolis Child Custody Lawyer will discuss your goals with you and work tirelessly to secure a bright future for you and your children.

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