Valuation of Marital Assets

One question we are often posed with when negotiating marital settlement agreements when there is a division of assets to be determined is what date is to be used to value those assets – date of separation or date of divorce. The question is not a simple one to answer.

Md. Family Law Code Ann. §8-203 supports the idea of assets being designated as marital property up to the date the judgment of absolute divorce is executed. Additionally, a formula established by case law, the Bangs formula, uses a numerator that includes time that runs up until the date of divorce.

However, an equitable argument can be made, and usually is made, that after a parties’ separation, neither party is contributing to the assets of the other party and is therefore not adding any value to those assets, which supports the date of separation as the date used to value marital assets. Parties can be separated for several years prior to filing a divorce petition or their divorce litigation can continue for a protracted period of time. Many assets, including retirement and investment accounts, will continue to accrue value during the time period between a parties’ separation and judgment of absolute divorce, and a fair and equitable argument can be made that the valuation date for these assets should be the date of the parties’ separation.

Cynthia H. Clark and Associates LLC is an Annapolis-based family law firm serving clients throughout the state of Maryland. If you and your spouse are considering a divorce, please contact our firm to reserve a consultation time at our office.

Information about Consent for Potential Adoptive Parents in Annapolis

Many situations can present an opportunity to adopt a child in this ever changing world. The deaths of parents often result in an adoption by a family member, also known as a kinship adoption. Children given up by their biological parents, or who have been removed by the state and placed in the foster care system, may become part of another family when a kinship adoption is not suitable.

Adoptions may be open or closed. An open adoption allows the potential for contact between the biological parents and either the adoptive parents, or child, based on the parties’ agreement. A closed adoption will effectively cut all ties between the previous parents and the child’s new family to eliminate any confusion for the child, or interference that could hinder bonding of the new family unit.

Regardless of the type of adoption, the court will always consider what is in the child’s best interests, and has the authority to make changes accordingly.

The purpose of Maryland adoption laws is to ensure that the child’s best interest are served by being placed with a prospective parent who is fit for the responsibility. Some ways the laws attempt to do this include:

  • Trying to keep biological parents and children together, though that isn’t always possible.
  • Preventing parents from giving up their legal rights to their children without taking time to think it through.
  • Protecting prospective adoptive parents by providing them information about the child, and ensuring their relationship with that child will not be disrupted by the former parents.

Whatever the scenario that brought a great prospective parent and adoptive child together, there are times when the adoption process is halted.

Why an adoption may not go forward

If the biological parents’ rights have not previously been legally terminated by the state, or voluntarily by the parents themselves, written consents to relinquish those rights have to be obtained before an adoption can be granted.

Because consent to adopt a child may only be given after the child has been born, a pregnant mother who chooses a family to adopt her child has a right to change her mind and stop the adoption proceedings. Even if the biological parents have already consented after birth, they have a 30-day window of time to think about their decision, and may change their minds when confronted with the reality of losing a child.

If the prospective adoptee is a minor child, or cannot participate in the adoption process due to another disability, an attorney must be appointed to represent him or her. Failure to appoint an attorney typically delays the adoption process until the conditions are met. However, there is always the chance that the biological parents could regret their choice and withdraw consent in the interim.

The possibility also exists that a biological father, who has been absent from the child’s life, or did not know that he had a child until the adoption process began, suddenly comes forward. This can result in the father refusing to consent to the adoption, and possibly retaining custody, or may merely cause a delay until the proper written consent is obtained.

Another unforeseen problem with consent can arise in adoptions when the presumed biological father is found to be a mistake. The adoption cannot proceed without making attempts to locate the true biological father, which again, can result in either obtaining consent to adopt, or losing a child you already feel is part of your family.

Less often, an adoption falls through over a legal or administrative technicality. Errors in obtaining signed forms, or failing to follow proper procedure based on the type of adoption, can hold up the process. Adoption is stressful for prospective parents, who are nervous that they could be forced to walk away without a child to whom they already feel emotionally connected.

If you are seeking to adopt a child, unnecessary time spent waiting for finalization of an adoption has the ability to cause devastating consequences for everyone involved.

Minimize your risk of heartache by hiring an adoption lawyer who knows what you will be going through, and will take every available precaution to ensure the process goes smoothly. Consult with the understanding attorneys of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC to help you plan for the best, and prepare for the unexpected considerations of adoption. To speak with an Annapolis adoption attorney, we may be reached through our contact page, or by phone at 410-990-0090.

Helping a Friend or Loved One through Divorce

Divorce is an already paralyzing event for many men and women, and it comes with a flurry of emotions. Guilt, anger, jealousy, fear, and betrayal can be just the tip of the iceberg, depending on the circumstances under which the parties are splitting up.

Friends and loved ones may have a similar feeling of betrayal, and prompting them to “take sides” in the process. Many people believe this is what support looks like, but it can be more harmful than helpful in some situations. The key to being supportive is to help based on what the divorcing person actually needs, and not what you think he or she needs.                     

Avenues for emotional support

Divorce is often painful, and it helps to remember that people react differently to pain. This includes you, even if you are not one of the people getting divorced. You are entitled to be angry, upset, or hurt for yourself and on behalf of your loved one. However, displacing your feelings onto your friend – assuming that he or she feels the way you do – may not be what is best.

Instead, listen to your friend’s concerns, but do not reciprocate with negative discussion about his or her soon to be ex-spouse. This only helps to fuel negative feelings, and if children are in the house, it can cause damage to their relationship with the other parent.

Stay neutral and non-judgmental about anything your friend discloses to you about herself or himself, or his or her damaged relationship. Most people become self-critical or irrational in times of crisis, and may confide in you details that otherwise never would have come to light. It is best to remember that he or she is vulnerable right now, and that his or her feelings or responses can (and probably will) change in time.

Keep your friend on good social footing by getting him or her out of the house. At some point during separation, it is common for parties to go through some form of depression; isolating himself or herself is a sign that this is happening. It’s a normal emotion, but to prevent your friend from becoming more withdrawn, make sure to keep him or her active. If you live far away, keep in touch via email, text, or phone calls, so that he or she knows you are still present in his or her life.

If your friend has children, you can offer to be there physically for the exchange, if warranted. The presence of a third party can make an enormous difference in behavior during pickups and drop offs.

Taking the practical route

Part of separation and divorce means one of the parties will be moving out of the marital residence. The thought of packing all of your belongings, finding a moving company, and securing a new place to live can be overwhelming for anyone. This, along with everything else that comes with divorce, may cause your loved one to feel like he or she is drowning. Help your friend locate resources to make this transition easier. Try making a list of apartments that fit the criteria your friend would prefer, or help with a yard sale if the couple needs to sell the home and belongings. You could offer to babysit or pet sit on a weekend, so your friend can take care of errands or appointments.

If you see that your friend is struggling, suggest that he or she seek out a therapist who specializes in divorce. Talking through certain issues with friends is an immense help, but unless you are a licensed professional, you have a limited amount of assistance to offer. You could also be putting your own mental health at risk by trying to take on every problem that your friend is going through.

Domestic violence can change everything

If an abusive situation is at the root of the marriage breaking up, your friend might need to take safety measures such as filing a police report, or applying for a protective order. Your friend might need help planning to leave safely before doing either of these things.

Your first urge might be to offer your loved one a place to stay with you. The intention is based in love, but this may not be the best option: the other spouse may know where to find your friend, placing both of you in danger. Many victims become nervous and have a change of heart because they fear retaliation. Offer to go with your friend to the police department or the court, so he or she doesn’t feel alone. You could also research domestic violence shelter options that fit your friend’s needs, but let him or her choose where to go.

Finally, urge your friend to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney, rather than trying to take on the legal system on his or her own. Parties certainly have a right to represent themselves in court, but the value of having a professional who not only understands the nuances of the law, but knows how to maneuver through the procedural quagmires is invaluable to saving your friend’s sanity. Even minor mistakes being made can stall your friend’s case, or cost an equitable share of his or her marital estate. In the end, hiring a family law attorney is the most sensible choice to make.

When a marriage is no longer working, emotions run high and it becomes difficult to keep your best interests in mind. If you believe you are ready to seek the advice you need, let the seasoned professionals with Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC guide you through the difficulties of ending a marriage. Schedule a consultation with a divorce lawyer in our Annapolis office through our contact page, or call us at 410-990-0090.

Are Final Judgments Always Final in Maryland Divorces?

At the end of your divorce proceedings, the court will issue a divorce decree. It is the formal order (sometimes called the final judgments) that says your marriage is over. A divorce decree is issued in limited divorce cases and in absolute divorce cases.

However, just because the divorce decree is a legally binding document, that does not mean the decree cannot be altered later down the line should the need arise. Maryland allows for the modification of divorce decrees if there has been:

  1. A material change in circumstances. As an example, if you or your ex-spouse are subjected to a significant increase or decrease in salary, or if you or your ex-spouse becomes very ill, you can petition the court to modify your divorce decree.
  2. Verifiable fraud. An example would be if your spouse willfully and knowingly commits an act of fraud – such as lying about assets, or withholding key information that is important to the divorce proceedings – you can petition the court to modify your decree in light of the new information. Understand that this works both ways, so it is critically important that you be honest with your divorce lawyer and with the court when you file for divorce.
  3. Threats of violence and/or acts of violence. If your ex-spouse threatened you with some form of harm or retribution, you can petition for a modification. Acting under duress can invalidate a divorce decree.

Is modifying a divorce decree different from modifying a custody agreement?

Your child custody agreement is a part of your divorce decree, and is therefore always subject to modification when the need arises. Custody is always modifiable so long as the children are minors, and the modifiability is not dependent on the Judgment of Divorce being subject to modification.

Generally speaking, in an uncontested divorce, a couple will create a marital settlement agreement (also called a separation agreement, or a property settlement agreement). This document outlines how the couple wishes to proceed in matters of custody, support, alimony, and/or property division. If the couple can agree on some issues but not others, they can create a partial agreement; the court will render decisions on the rest.

When can’t a divorce decree be modified?

Child support and custody can always be subject to modification because the best interests of the child are the primary concern of the court. However, other aspects of your decree – such as alimony – may be protected from modification if there is a provision in the settlement that says it is not subject to modification, or if there is an express waiver included in the settlement.

Modifying any part of your divorce decree can be challenging, especially if your ex-spouse does not want to cooperate, or opposes the modification. Working with an experienced divorce attorney is in your best interest. At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we assist clients in need of post-divorce modifications to custody and support agreements, and alimony agreements.

Things change. When they do, you can rely on our Annapolis divorce attorneys to help you through the Final Judgments process. To schedule a consultation, please call Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC at 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.

The Role of the Guardian ad Litem, or Best Interest Attorney

What is the role of the guardian?

If you have children, you have disagreements over co-parenting, especially if you are headed for divorce. If you are already there, adding stepparents or paramours to the mix may lead to actions that affect your children. Many times these situations lead you to court, and to minimize the impact on your children that a high conflict divorce, or a battle over a custody plan may have, a Guardian ad Litem may become involved.

A Guardian ad Litem is an impartial attorney appointed by the court to protect the best interests of a child during custody actions. While many states still use the term “Guardian ad Litem,” in Maryland these advocates are now referred to as Best Interest Attorneys (“BIA”). A BIA may be appointed to your child after the court considers factors under Maryland law, including:

  • The request of one or both parties;
  • Existence of a high level of conflict;
  • Inappropriate adult influence or manipulation;
  • Past or current child abuse or neglect;
  • Past or current mental health problems of the child or party;
  • Special physical, educational, or mental health needs of the child that require investigation or advocacy;
  • Actual or threatened family violence;
  • Alcohol or other substance abuse;
  • Consideration of terminating or suspending parenting time or awarding custody or visitation to a non-parent; or
  • Relocation that substantially reduces the child’s time with a parent, sibling, or both.

The court determines the best interests of the child through weighing a series of factors that can vary based on the relief being sought. It is the job of the Best Interest Attorney to provide the court with information sufficient to make sound decisions as to placing your child in the best environment available. In this sense, the BIA acts as the eyes and ears of the court to ensure decisions made on your child’s behalf are truly in their best interests.

What does the Best Interest Attorney do, exactly?

Though issues related to your child may be discussed with you, the other party, and your attorneys, the BIA reports factual information and makes recommendations to the court after performing a comprehensive, independent investigation. Investigations involve conducting visits to each home in which your child lives, and interviewing your child, the parties, and other witnesses in the home or who have an influence on the child, or who simply possess information to assist the BIA in forming a picture of your child’s life. He or she may also review your child’s medical records and school records. Today, given the vast amount of electronic information available, BIA’s may also conduct criminal background checks or research social media accounts as part of their investigation.

This may seem invasive; however, the BIA’s job is to protect your child’s wellbeing, which requires gaining an accurate picture of them and what he or she may be exposed to on a daily basis.

Additionally, while your child’s wishes are considered, the BIA is not required to adhere to his or her preference when making recommendations, and the court may give deference to your child’s age when making a decision to serve their best interests.

BIA’s are paid but may serve pro bono. Barring any financial hardship, the court will generally require both parties to equally share in the expense beginning with payment of an initial retainer.

If you have a contentious situation involving child custody or visitation and need help, speak with the Annapolis family law attorneys of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC today. Our knowledgeable and caring attorneys are ready to guide you through any family court issue you are experiencing. Please contact the firm or call 410-990-0090 to arrange a consultation.

Determining Parenting Time for De Facto Parents

In 2016, Maryland began recognizing de facto parents by giving them legal standing in custody and visitation decisions. A de facto (“in fact”) parent is a person who plays a significant, parent-like role in a child’s life. A de facto parent has taken on parenting responsibilities for the child and has bonded with the child, and the child depends on his or her relationship with that person. As long as the de facto parent has an intact relationship with the child’s biological or adopted parent or parents, his or her place in the child’s life is secure. However, when the spouses divorce, the de facto parent might feel as if he or she is on shaky ground when it comes to custody and parenting time issues. This also applies to grandparents and other domestic partners as well.

By acknowledging the validity of a de facto parent’s role in the life of the child, Maryland now gives the de facto parent equal footing. De facto parents can share the same rights and responsibilities as biological, legal parents to make decisions about the care, custody, and best interests of the child. They no longer have to prove there are exceptional circumstances, or that the other parent is unfit.

The court decides custody and visitation based on the best interests of the child, regardless of whether you are a biological parent, an adoptive parent, or a de facto parent. If you and your co-parent create a parenting plan that addresses these issues, the courts will likely go along with it. If you cannot create a parenting plan together, then the courts will make the determination for you.

What if there are exceptional circumstances?

If there are exceptional circumstances involved, or if the legal parent could be deemed unfit, Maryland courts may consider the factors listed in McDermott v. Dougherty, 385 Md. 320 (2005) in their determination:

  1. The length of time the child has been away from the biological parent
  2. The age of the child when care was assumed by the third party
  3. The possible emotional effect on the child of a change of custody
  4. The period of time which elapsed before the parent sought to reclaim the child
  5. The nature and strength of the ties between the child and the third-party custodian
  6. The intensity and genuineness of the parent’s desire to have the child
  7. The stability and certainty as to the child’s future in the custody of the parent

Deciding child custody has always been a challenging task. Parents develop deep, strong bonds with their children, and being forced to live apart from them can inspire desperate actions. If you are being denied your rights to parenting time with your children, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney as soon as you can.

At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC we focus on protecting the best interests of your child. Our Annapolis child custody attorneys are here to represent you and your family in all matters of family law. You can reserve a consultation with a member of our team by calling 410.921.2422 or filling out our contact form.

5 Interesting Divorce Facts and Trends

Humans are complicated creatures. Two people can fall passionately in love and move heaven and earth to be together – yet when things go south, they become filled with a vengeful rage and will stop at nothing to get out of the marriage. Given the fascinating nature of the dynamics of human relationships, a lot of time and effort is spent studying marriage and divorce. The following are five interesting divorce facts and trends about divorce in America.

1. The divorce rate is falling

The belief that says 50% or more marriages end in divorce is not accurate. The overall divorce rate in the United States has been in steady decline. The average divorce rate for first marriages is between 42-45%. Maryland’s divorce rate is 10%, though USA TODAY describes Edgewater as our “divorce capital,” with an average divorce rate of 16.2%.

2. The bigger the wedding, the bigger the divorce.

A research study titled “A Diamond is Forever and Other Fairy Tales” analyzed the relationship between the cost of the wedding celebration and the length of the marriage in the United States. The researchers found an inverse relationship between spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony and how long the couple remained married, possibly because the financial stress of paying for elaborate ceremonies increases the odds of marital dissolution. If you want to give your marriage its best chance, perhaps a smaller wedding is the better idea.

3. Long commutes can increase the risk of divorce

If one spouse commutes more than 45 minutes each way to work, it can increase the likelihood of divorce, according to a research study “Til Work Do Us Part: The Social Fallacy of Long-distance Commuting.” Researchers found that rates of separation are higher among couples who have a long-distance commute.

4. “Gray divorce” rates are increasing

Gray divorce is the name given to the trend of people aged 54-64 getting divorced at increasing rates. The Wall Street Journal reports that “For 55- to 64-year-olds, [the divorce rate] climbed from 5 divorces per 1,000 marriages to 15 divorces per 1,000 marriages, and for those 65 and older, it rose from 1.8 to 5.”

These increased rates could be caused by how young the “Baby Boomers” were when they married. Another factor is that many people in this age group are on their second marriage, and second marriages have a greater risk for divorce. Ideas about the moral acceptability of divorce are changing also, which could play a role in the increase.

5. People cheat on their spouses

It turns out that adultery is still one of the most common factors in causing a divorce. Research done by the Institute for Family Studies states that 16% of all spouses (about 20% of all men, and 15% of all women) admitted to having sex with someone who was not their spouse. The averages increased as the populations got older: 16% of women aged 60-69, and 26% of men aged 70-79, admitted to cheating. Per their findings, “Among ever-married adults who have cheated on their spouses before, 40% are currently divorced or separated. By comparison, only 17% of adults who were faithful to their spouse are no longer married.”

If you have come to a place where you feel you have done all you can and it is time to end your marriage, you need an advocate who will represent you and your interests through the divorce process. At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we are here for you. Our Annapolis divorce attorneys have the experience, resources, and compassion to help you through the challenges of divorce. You can reserve a consultation by calling 410.921.2422 or filling out our contact form.

Emergency Child Custody in Maryland

There is nothing more terrifying to a parent than believing your child is in danger. When the cause of the danger is your co-parent, however, there are certain steps you can take to ensure your child’s protection and may require an emergency child custody hearing to resolve the situation.

If you believe that your child is facing an immediate health or safety risk, you can request an emergency custody hearing by filing an emergency petition for child custody. The hearing will take place quickly – sometimes within a few days of the request; sometimes within hours following the request – which allows the court to make a quick decision regarding the child’s safety.

Reasons to request an emergency custody hearing

There are several different reasons for filing a petition for an emergency child custody order, including (but not limited to):

  • Abuse or neglect by the other parent or a member of the other parent’s household
  • Threats of abuse or violence by the other parent or a member of the other parent’s household
  • Alcohol or drug use and/or abuse by the other parent or a member of the other parent’s household
  • To avert a parental kidnapping
  • A conviction of child sexual abuse charges by the other parent or a member of the other parent’s household
  • Abandonment of the child
  • Changes in the safety of the other parent’s accommodations (utilities being turned off, risk of eviction, etc.)

Evidence to support your emergency petition

If the court consents, you and the other parent will be required to attend a hearing. The party filing the petition must have evidence to support the allegations, including:

  • Police report or an arrest record for the other parent
  • Records from Child Protection Services
  • Medical records for the child
  • Court records from previous protection order hearings
  • Evidence of the other parent’s alcohol or drug abuse
  • Evidence of domestic violence against the child, such as photos or videos
  • Records of previous convictions for the other parent

Understand that Maryland’s laws protect parental rights, so unless the child is in immediate danger of harm, or of being removed from the state permanently, it can be a challenge to obtain emergency custody. This is why having evidence is a critical part of the process.

How long does an emergency child custody order last in Maryland?

An emergency child custody order is a temporary change, which allows the court to quickly modify the custody order to protect the child’s safety. Before you can file an emergency custody order, you must have an open custody case. Once the final custody order is made in the case, the emergency custody order will expire.

If you are considering an emergency child custody order, you are facing a difficult situation for your child and yourself. Having an experienced Annapolis child custody lawyer from Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC on your side can help you move through the process quickly and smoothly, ensuring the safety of your child. To learn more about our services, or to reserve a consultation at our Annapolis office, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.

5 Tips for Making a Good Impression in Maryland Divorce Court

5 Tips for Making a Good Impression in Maryland Divorce Court

At some point, you may have to make a court appearance during your divorce case. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have to sit in the witness chair and give testimony. Here are 5 tips for making a good impression in Maryland divorce court.

Clients are often nervous about this part of the divorce process, especially if it is the first time they have gone before a judge. If you want to make a positive impression on the judge, being prepared, dressing appropriately, and managing your emotions will go a long way towards helping you to have a successful divorce court appearance. Follow these five tips, along with the guidance and advice from your Annapolis divorce attorney, and you should feel confident and prepared to appear in court.

1. Consult with your Annapolis divorce attorney

When you must appear in court, your divorce lawyer will take the time to explain what is going to happen at the hearing, what is required of you, and what you can expect to happen. If you will be testifying, your attorney can help you prepare for the types of questions you might be asked.

One important note: if anything changes in the days before your appearance, make sure to update your attorney. This could mean bringing updated paperwork or documentation to your consultation, or simply calling the office. It is important that you and your divorce lawyer are on the same page at all times, so make sure to keep everyone abreast of any changes.

2. Prepare your talking points

Know what you are going to say and practice answering questions from your lawyer before you go to court. Be sure to review any paperwork you have, especially if there is a police report, so that your answers remain factually accurate.

3. Dress appropriately

An important part of making a good impression is being appropriately dressed, and a judge will take notice of how you present yourself. You want to come across as confident and dignified. A suit and tie for men, and business attire for women, will show that you understand the seriousness of what is happening.

4. Be respectful, but say as little as possible

Speak in a civil, respectful way to the judge and everyone else in the courtroom. Divorce is emotional, and we understand how easy it is to become overwhelmed. However, if you lose your temper, or begin behaving inappropriately, it will not help your case.

When asked a question, always respond with the truth. Listen carefully and answer the question that is being asked. Clients often have the urge to explain themselves further, but the best thing you can do is speak clearly and concisely. If you do not understand a question, or if you need time to compose yourself, ask for the question to be repeated.

5. Be aware of your reactions and body language

Even while you are sitting in court listening and observing, your body language and your reactions are being observed. Avoid looking cross, rolling your eyes or shaking your head in disgust or disagreement. You want the judge to see you remaining calm and poised, being respectful and speaking with confidence, despite how nervous or angry you might be feeling. When the hearing is over, you can go and vent your frustrations with your friends. For the moment, being prepared, having a plan for how you will respond to questions, and projecting a strong, confident demeanor will ensure that you make an excellent impression in a Maryland divorce hearing.

Feeling nervous or a bit overwhelmed about appearing in court is natural. Working with the right attorney can help assuage those fears, and prepare you for what is to come. The experienced Annapolis divorce lawyers at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC are here to be your advocate and work toward the best possible outcome for you. To schedule an initial consultation at our office in Annapolis, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.

Do You Qualify as a de facto Parent in Maryland?

Do You Qualify as a de facto Parent in Maryland?

How we define the word “family” is growing and evolving as the culture evolves and the laws shift to accommodate the way people are living their lives. A de facto (“in fact”) parent is someone who has developed an important relationship in the life of a child. It is a person who has cared for the child, and offered loving, caring support for the child and developed an emotional bond with the child. Non-biological parents who have invested time, love, and attention in the life of a child can now be granted legal rights and responsibility in the life of the child for which they have been caring.

By recognizing de facto parent status, Maryland law has offered non-biological parents and caretakers legal standing regarding child custody and visitation.

How de facto parenting is helping non-traditional families

In cases where the biological parents are no longer able to care for their children, de facto parenting status has helped other family members show they provide direct care. For example, our firm has experience representing grandparents whose adult children have died, or who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol; our clients’ grandchildren often live with them, and they are the primary caregivers.

Before, one option grandparents had was to legally adopt their grandchildren, a process they could not undertake if the parents did not lose, or give up, their parental rights. Other options included becoming the grandchildren’s legal guardians, or their custodians via parental consent. Now, because Maryland recognizes de facto parenting, we can use this concept to acknowledge the direct caregiving role that they have played in their grandchildren’s lives.

Grandparents and grandchildren are not the only beneficiaries, of course. De facto parenting status can also help adult children who care for younger siblings, as well as stepparents who are the primary caregivers of those children.

De facto parenthood and same-sex parents

When a same sex relationship between the biological parent and a non-biological parent comes to an end, the non-biological partner could lose access to the child. In the past, if the non-biological parent wanted to pursue custody and visitation, he or she would have to prove the unfitness of the biological parent or prove exceptional circumstances. Now that de facto parenting status has been recognized by law, if non-biological parents want to pursue custody and visitation, they have legal standing to do so.

The first step in pursuing custody and visitation is to be declared a de facto parent, which must be decided by the court. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin established the tests for this process (In re Custody of H.S.H.– K 533 N.W.2d 419 (1995)), which Maryland adopted. There are four elements which must be addressed:

  • “the biological or adoptive parent consented to, and fostered, the petitioner’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child;
  • the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household;
  • the petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation; and
  • the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.”

If your petition is approved, you would be on equal legal footing with the child’s biological parent regarding the care, custody and control of the child.

If you are in the process of ending a relationship with a partner, and you are concerned about being able to continue your relationship with the child, it is important that you work with an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can assert and protect your right to pursue custody and visitation. If you are a parent who is concerned because someone is trying to pursue de facto custody rights of your child, we can help you with that as well.

At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC we are here to advocate for the best interests of your child. Our family law attorneys protect you and your family in all matters of family law. To reserve a consultation at our office in Annapolis, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.