Grandparent Rights in Divorce Cases: Understanding the Rights of Grandparents in Custody and Visitation Disputes

Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren: they provide love, support, and guidance. However, when a divorce occurs and custody and visitation disputes arise, grandparents may find themselves struggling to maintain their relationships with their grandchildren. In this article, we will explore the rights of grandparents in custody and visitation disputes and provide guidance on how to protect those rights.

maryland grandparents rights lawyer

Understanding Grandparent Visitation Rights

Grandparents do not have an automatic right to visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparents must petition the court for visitation rights. The court will consider a number of factors when determining whether or not to grant grandparent visitation, including:

  1. The nature and extent of the grandparent-grandchild relationship: The court will consider the quality and history of the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, as well as the role the grandparent has played in the child’s life.
  2. The parents’ wishes: The court will consider the wishes of the child’s parents regarding grandparent visitation. If both parents are opposed to grandparent visitation, it may be more difficult to obtain.
  3. The child’s best interests: The court will always consider the best interests of the child when making decisions about custody and visitation. If the court determines that grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests, it may be granted.

It’s important to note that grandparent visitation rights vary by state, and some states have stricter requirements for granting visitation rights than others.

Understanding Grandparent Custody Rights

In addition to visitation rights, grandparents may also have the right to seek custody of their grandchildren in certain circumstances. Grandparents can seek custody if:

  1. The parents are unfit: If both parents are deemed unfit, either due to neglect, abuse, or substance abuse issues, the court may award custody to the grandparents.
  2. The parents are deceased: If both parents have died, the grandparents may be awarded custody of the child.
  3. The child has lived with the grandparents for a significant period of time: If the child has been living with the grandparents for a significant period of time and has developed a strong attachment to them, the court may award custody to the grandparents upon considering the best interest of the child.

It’s important to note that seeking custody of a grandchild can be a difficult and emotional process, and it’s important to work with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the legal process.

Protecting Grandparent Rights

If you are a grandparent who is concerned about your rights in a custody or visitation dispute, there are several steps you can take to protect those rights:

  1. Stay involved: It’s important to maintain a relationship with your grandchildren, even if there is a dispute between the parents. Regular phone calls, visits, and letters can help strengthen your relationship with your grandchildren and show the court that you are committed to their well-being.
  2. Document your relationship: Keep a record of your visits, phone calls, and other interactions with your grandchildren. This documentation can be used to support your case in court.
  3. Seek legal advice: If you are concerned about your rights as a grandparent, it’s important to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer who can help you understand your options and protect your rights.
  4. Be supportive: It’s important to be supportive of your grandchildren and avoid taking sides in custody disputes. This can help ensure that your relationship with your grandchildren remains strong and can help support your case in court.

Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren, but they may find themselves struggling to maintain their relationships with their grandchildren during a divorce and custody dispute. By understanding grandparent visitation and custody rights and taking steps to protect those rights, grandparents can help ensure that their relationships with their grandchildren are preserved.

Remember, seeking visitation or custody rights as a grandparent can be a complex legal process. It’s important to work with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the process and advocate for your rights and interests. With the right guidance and support, you can protect your relationship with your grandchildren and ensure that they continue to receive the love, support, and guidance that you provide.

Child Custody Evaluations: What to Expect During a Custody Evaluation and How to Prepare for One

Child custody evaluations are a critical part of the divorce process. They can help determine the best interests of the child and ensure that custody arrangements are fair and appropriate. In this article, we will explore what you can expect during a custody evaluation and provide advice on how to prepare for one.

child custody lawyer

What to Expect During a Child Custody Evaluation

During a custody evaluation, a neutral third-party evaluator will gather information and make a recommendation to the court on the best custody arrangement for the child. The evaluator may use a variety of methods to gather information, including:

  1. Interviews: The evaluator may interview both parents, the child, and other individuals who are involved in the child’s life, such as teachers, doctors, and caregivers.
  2. Observations: The evaluator may observe the interactions between the child and each parent to assess the quality of the relationship and the parenting skills of each parent.
  3. Records review: The evaluator may review school records, medical records, and other relevant documents to gather additional information.

After gathering all the necessary information, the evaluator will make a recommendation to the court regarding the custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

How to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation

Preparing for a custody evaluation can be a daunting task, but there are several steps you can take to make the process go as smoothly as possible:

  1. Be cooperative: It’s important to be cooperative and respectful throughout the custody evaluation process. This will show the evaluator that you are willing to work with them and that you are committed to the best interests of the child.
  2. Be prepared: Make sure you are prepared for each meeting with the evaluator. Bring any relevant documents or information that you think will help your case.
  3. Be honest: It’s important, to be honest with the evaluator. Trying to hide information or misrepresenting the facts can harm your case and damage your credibility.
  4. Be respectful: Always be respectful and courteous to the evaluator, even if you disagree with their recommendations. Remember that they are there to help determine the best interests of the child.
  5. Work with a lawyer: It’s important to work with a lawyer who has experience with child custody evaluations. We can provide you with specific advice and guidance based on the details of your case.

Child custody evaluations are an important part of the divorce process, but they can be stressful and intimidating. By understanding what to expect during a custody evaluation and how to prepare for one, you can help ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Remember to be cooperative, prepared, honest, and respectful throughout the process and to work with an experienced lawyer who can provide you with guidance and support.

Difference between sole and joint custody

What is the difference between sole and joint custody?

sole and joint custody

Many have heard the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody”; however often times the meanings and implications of same are misunderstood. Joint custodial arrangements (physical and legal) are certainly more common than sole arrangements and are in most instances preferred by the Courts. In these arrangements, the parties share time with the children and have to consult with one another when making decisions regarding the children. However, a parent may be able to obtain sole custody dependent upon the particular details of their specific situation.

Sole custody means that one parent has exclusive legal and primary custody rights with respect to their minor child or children. The minor child or children primarily reside with the parent with sole physical custody, and that parent does not have to consult the other when making decisions for the children as they have sole legal custody.  A parent usually obtains sole legal and physical custody if the other parent is deemed to be unfit, which sometimes occurs in cases of drug or child abuse. Though a parent may have sole custody, this does not mean, and it is rarely the case, that the other parent does not have visitation rights with the minor child or children.

 Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC is an Annapolis-based family law firm serving clients throughout the state of Maryland. If you are experiencing custodial issues with your partner regarding your children, please contact our firm to reserve a consultation time at our office

Co-Parenting: The Transition from Spouses to Former Spouses


Co-Parenting is one of the biggest concerns parents have when going through a divorce and/or separation is how the transition will affect their children. Adjusting to a new schedule and routine is hard on children, and parents should strive to ease as much stress on their children as they can.

A key way of achieving this is to develop a strong and supportive co-parenting relationship with your former spouse. This may not always be easy at first; however, accomplishing same will greatly ease the transition to your new relationship for your children.

It is important to separate the emotions that led to your divorce from the new co-parenting relationship you are forming with your former spouse. Harboring resentments and dredging up past events/feelings will only serve to negatively effect your communication with your former spouse. Your children should be your top priority and holding onto the past does not help to foster a positive environment for them.

No relationship is perfect and certainly disagreements will develop between you and your former spouse despite your best efforts to avoid them. It is helpful to take a step back before engaging in the disagreement to determine if there is a way it can be resolved without further conflict. If the disagreement cannot be resolved, seek outside support to help aid in resolving the conflict. A helpful resource could be co-parenting classes.

Cynthia H. Clark & 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.

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.

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.

Second Parent, Stepparent and Adult Adoption – The Many Ways to Make a Family

annapolis child custody lawyer in maryland

Although our laws have, historically, been based on a married man and a woman playing the role of the father and mother of a child, our culture is changing, and our ideas of what makes a family are evolving. Sometimes, the laws catch up quickly; sometimes, they do not.

The good news is that Maryland offers a number of ways to grow and protect your family. We wanted to explore some of the different adoption options for parents, so you can make the best possible choices for your future.

Second parent adoption

Second-parent adoption allows a non-biological parent to have legal rights to a child. Even though marriage equality is the law of the land, and has been for years, LGBTQ couples still face potential problems – especially in other states which may try to circumvent the laws, or which do not accept de facto parenting. A second-parent adoption can protect everyone.

For example, if a same-sex couple has a child together, and the biological parent dies unexpectedly or the couple divorces, the non-biological parent may be denied his or her parental rights. The same is true if a person adopts a child and then gets married, and the spouse does not also adopt the child. Seeking a second parent adoption gives the non-biological parent the same rights and responsibilities regarding custody and visitation.

Stepparent adoption

A stepparent adoption is a way to formalize the parent-child relationship in a family where one parent has remarried. It offers many benefits for both the second spouse and the child; not only will you have equal legal rights when it comes to raising the child, but it may make inheritance easier for the child because it eliminates a potential contest during probate. It also allows your child to benefit from your insurance policies and Social Security. Another added benefit is that your entire family will share the same last name.

If the child’s other biological parent is still alive, you must have his or her consent to move forward with this type of adoption. This requires the other parent to give up his or her parental rights. Finally, if the child is older than 10, you may also need his or her permission to adopt.

Adult adoption

Adult adoption may not be as well-known, but it is legal in Maryland. It offers all of the same benefits that any adoption would – inheritance, name changes, solidifying family bonds – but it also allows the adult child to make important medical decisions on behalf of the parent, when necessary. Many times, adult adoption occurs in families where a foster child aged out of the system before he or she could be adopted, and in families where a stepparent could not legally adopt the child.

By adopting an adult child, you are taking on this responsibility for his or her care. This means you can set up trusts and powers of attorney, and create a path forward for your loved one. It also grants you the right to appoint a guardian for the adult child in the event of your death.

No matter what kind of adoption is best for you, you are going to need an adoption attorney to help guide you through the process. At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, our family law attorneys advocate for you and your family in all aspects of family law. To schedule an initial consultation at our office in Annapolis, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.

Parenting Plans and the Holidays

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The holiday season is upon us. For many, this means more time spent with family and friends. When you are divorced, however, and you co-parent your children, the holidays can add more stress than seems fair.

When you create a Parenting Plan, your holiday schedule is planned in that document. Perhaps your child will alternate holidays, or maybe you and your spouse agree to spend a specific day, like Thanksgiving, with your child together. If both parents agree, there is a lot of flexibility available for holidays, and under normal circumstances, whatever you decide will be approved by the judge (providing it is in the best interests of the children).

However, there may be exceptions to the rule that you did not consider, such as last-minute plans to go away, or the death of a family member, or a sudden illness, etc. You may also be dealing with a co-parent who feels he or she has been unfairly treated, or who simply refuses to abide by the Court Order.

Let’s look at some of these exceptions.

Making your case for flexibility

Changes in circumstances can happen quickly – and now you need to make a change for this particular holiday season. As the spouse making the request, it is important to be straightforward and honest. Along with your request to your ex-spouse, you should offer to make compromises elsewhere in your agreed-to schedule, such as allowing your children to stay with your ex for an extra day, or for more time during their next visit. Perhaps you can offer up “your” holiday in exchange for the extra time you want to spend for this holiday.

These types of exchanges should be written down, so that both you and your ex-spouse have a record of it. Even if you and your ex have always made allowances before, send an email to your ex with the proposed changes, and ask him or her to reply “I agree,” or “Okay,” or in some other way to show that both of you are onboard.

If you need a change in your schedule that is permanent, however, you should speak with your lawyer about your options for modifying the Order. Again, if you and your ex are in agreement about this permanent change, it should be a relatively smooth process.

Options when your ex-spouse refuses to follow the Parenting Plan

If your ex refuses to abide by the Court Order during the holidays, and all attempts to work it out on your own have failed, then you have a more complicated issue on your hands. There are a few things you can do to protect your rights to parent your children:

  • Have your lawyer send a letter to your ex. A letter from your attorney that informs the other parent he or she must obey the court-ordered custody arrangement or face legal penalties may be enough to change his or her behavior.
  • Ask for mediation services. If your ex is having a hard time sticking to the Parenting Plan, mediation may help you resolve those issues. The chances are good that you may still require a permanent modification to the Order, but you and your ex could reach a more amicable (and amenable) solution if you avoid jumping right into litigation.
  • Request changes to the custody arrangement. If your ex repeatedly violates the child custody order, it may be time to request modifications to the Parenting Plan. This does not have to be contentious, but it could be – and you should be prepared for that. Your lawyer can help you craft a strategy to move forward.
  • File a motion for contempt. Taking this action will force the other parent to appear in court and explain why he or she violated the child custody order. Penalties for determined violations can include sanctions or fines, or even a brief time behind bars in the case of delinquent child support.
  • Call the police. If you fear for the safety of your children, call the police. If your co-parent has kidnapped your children, call the police. This is not a catch-all answer to address any issues you have, of course, but in some cases it may prove necessary.

If you face child custody conflicts with your ex-spouse this holiday season, the Annapolis family law attorneys at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC are here to help you. We focus on representing you, and fighting for the best possible outcome in your case that leaves you and your loved ones with a fair and equitable arrangement. To request a consultation and our law office, call us today at 410.921.2422 or complete our contact form.

Can DNA Paternity Testing Be Done Without the Father’s Approval?

dna test without parental consent

Paternity testing is an issue that is naturally fraught with a lot of emotion. Proof of paternity answers an important question, which will have legal ramifications and a significant impact on the child’s life. However, getting the suspected father to submit to a DNA test can be difficult in some cases, and you might wonder if you actually need his permission at all.

The requirement of knowledge and consent in DNA testing

If you require legal DNA test results that will hold up in court, the person whose DNA is being tested must know about the test and give his consent for his genetic material to be tested. DNA testing facilities require signed consent forms from the person whose sample is being tested before they will conduct the test.

If the father is present, available and willing, he participates in the test and has the sample analyzed in a DNA testing lab. The lab would also require a sample from the child and the child’s mother. Once the results are in, if the DNA test proves paternity, the court will declare that the father is the legal father, his name will be added to the birth certificate, and the issues of child support and custody and visitation can be decided. DNA test results are about 99.9999% accurate when done correctly and using a sample that comes directly from the father.

If the suspected father does not agree to take the test of his own volition, the court can issue an “order of parentage” and compel the potential father to submit to DNA testing. If he refuses to take a court-ordered paternity test, he will face legal consequences such as being held in contempt of court, and he will be subject to fines and possible criminal charges.

Testing for paternity when the father is unable to be tested

If the father is no longer living or unreachable somehow, the child’s paternal grandparents’ DNA can be tested. The DNA samples from the DNA of full siblings of the alleged father, the child and the mother can also be used to determine if there is a match. Another option is to test the DNA of a known child of the possible father.

It is always best to get the father’s consent, and be honest when it comes to the issue of establishing paternity. A skilled Annapolis child custody attorney from Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC can help you work through the challenges of establishing paternity and deciding child custody and visitation issues.

At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we are here for you during the entire child custody process. You may reserve a consultation at our office in Annapolis by calling 410.921.2422 or filling out our contact form.