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.
Peters & Clark, P.A. 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
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.
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.
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.
In light of today’s continually changing legal landscape, we thought it would be a good time to re-visit the concept of second parent adoption. Briefly, second parent adoption is when one partner legally adopts his or her partner’s child, to secure legal and equal rights as a parent.
The importance of handling your second parent adoption in Maryland
Things can be even more difficult for LGBTQ couples who are unmarried (because there is no presumption of parentage for the non-biological parent), or for couples who get together after a child has been born. There has been a rash of news stories about other states which discriminate against gay couples who wish to adopt, too. A Reuters report from 2018 states that “Nine states have laws allowing state-funded, religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay people based on religious beliefs. Republican-governed Kansas and Oklahoma passed such laws this year. Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia all have similar laws.”
There is no reason to believe that a state which would deny an adoption to a gay couple would not also find a way to block a second-parent adoption. This is why handling your second parent adoption in Maryland is so important. Not only is it protected by our laws, but it can safeguard your and your child’s rights if you ever decide to move. An adoption is a judicial order – not a presumption – and must be followed by law.
Who can benefit from an Annapolis second parent adoption?
As you know, there’s no one way to make a family. Second parent adoptions can be advantageous for special situations like:
One partner completed an adoption on his or her own, and the other partner is ready to legalize his or her parental relationship with the adopted child.
A same-sex couple who could not jointly adopt in the past wants to now protect the non-adopting partner’s legal rights to their child.
An LGBTQ couple has a child through assisted reproductive technology and only one partner is considered the legal parent of the child.
No matter what your family situation, it’s important you consider all possible legal repercussions. Today, there are so many ways to become a happy family. What’s most important is that you protect your parental rights and the rights of your child. If you’re unsure about what type of adoption might be most appropriate for you and your family, talk to an experienced Annapolis family law attorney for guidance.
The family law attorneys at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC are experienced in all aspects of adoption. Our goal is to ensure and protect the rights of you and your children. To reserve a consultation at our office in Annapolis, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.
In a groundbreaking move, Maryland has become one of two states that now allow immigrant parents to appoint guardians for their children in the event they are deported. As enforcement against undocumented immigrants increases and parents become separated from their children, either extended family members take over their care, or – more tragically – children fall into the cracks of the system.
As of November 2018, there were approximately 14,000 children in government custody without their parents. Lawmakers in two states, Maryland and New York, have expanded their guardianship laws to help ease this problem and put emergency guardianship legislation into place.
What is standby guardianship?
Guardianship, in general, allows parents to designate a person who can legally make important decisions about their child, in the event that the parents die or become incapacitated. In Maryland, it can take many months to complete the documentation, and some guardians must be supervised by the court even after the appointment has been made.
Standby guardianship differs in that the parents retain legal authority of their children. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, expands on the differences:
“The [standby] guardianship may go into effect during the parent’s lifetime and may continue after the parent’s death.
The parent retains much control over the guardianship. He or she may determine when it can begin (although it may commence automatically if the parent becomes seriously ill or mentally incapacitated) and can withdraw the authority if the arrangement does not work to the parent’s satisfaction.
The parent shares decision-making responsibility with the guardian. During the parent’s lifetime, the guardian is expected to be in the background, embrace responsibility when needed, and step back when the parent is feeling capable.”
What Maryland’s new court rules propose to do
As of January 1, 2019, new court rules went into effect in Maryland regarding guardianship. Most of these changes deal with hearings, but they also added “’adverse immigration action’ as a new basis for establishing standby guardianship of a minor.” This means that undocumented parents can prevent their children from becoming wards of the state. It also means that caseworkers, officials, or family members will not be scrambling to find the children new homes on short notice.
Another added benefit is that the parent or guardian won’t have to file the forms with the courts for up to six months; until then, they only need to show the filled-out paperwork to any authorities, like ICE officials or school administrators, who request it.
“Right now, there are so many unknowns for Dreamers, DACA recipients, people with TPS,” said Carlo Sanchez, a son of El Salvadoran immigrants who co-sponsored the bill in Maryland. “We have a responsibility to talk about what happens when those people go away.”
You can find standby child guardianship forms for Maryland here.
The family law attorneys of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC handle complex guardianship matters for clients throughout the state. For a consultation at our Annapolis office, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.
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.
After a divorce when children are involved, the issue of parental relocation can be quite complex. Sometimes it may seem like a difficult puzzle to solve, but, there is good news: it is possible to put together a parenting plan, or modify an existing one, that can allow one parent to relocate but still meet their parental responsibilities.
Shared parenting is workable even when parents live far apart—although it does work best with older children. However, parental relocation is not something anyone should go into without a lot of thought about how it could affect your children and the effect it could have on their relationship with you and their other parent.
Co-parenting over distance
Psychology Today discusses the impact of co-parenting on children when one parent relocates more than an hour away. It’s probably not surprising that research shows that children tend to do better if their parents stay in the same general area (less than an hour away). However, the article also offers some great tips on how to better co-parent over a distance.
In a study entitled “Relocation of children after divorce and children’s best interests: new evidence and legal considerations,” Braver et al studied 500 college students who grew up with divorced parents. The researchers divided the students into two groups—one where neither parent moved more than one hour away from the family home, and one where one parent did. They measured the children’s emotional and psychological adjustment, health, and other factors.
The results? Children with a parent who moved more than an hour away were found to be “disadvantaged,” with poor scores on measures like hostility, feelings about their parents’ divorce, life satisfaction, and physical health.
Psychology Today also points to another study, “Developmental issues in relocation cases involving young children: when, whether, and how?” that hypothesizes that the stress of relocation disrupts psychologically important aspects of the parent-child relationship, which can adversely affect children. And, young children are particularly susceptible to these disruptions and may suffer the most, with long-term effects.
How Annapolis parents can ease the transition
The authors of the latter study, Kelly and Lamb, offer some advice and guidelines for relocation that can help your child maintain stable relationships with both parents:
Consider waiting to relocate until your child is around or older than three years old. At that age, his or her cognitive and verbal skills are more developed to better maintain long-distance relationships.
As your children get older, their developmental needs will change, and those should always be your and your ex-spouse’s priority, even if that means changing schedules or modifying custody agreements.
Include consistent and regular use of phone calls, email, and video chat during the times when the child is separated from the other parent. However, remember that these types of communication should never take the place of in-person contact.
Co-parenting over distance requires much thought, creativity, and flexibility. If you find yourself in these circumstances, it may be wise to enter into mediation or modify your formal parenting plan with your child custody attorney.
A note about military families
If you are being relocated due to military service, and it affects your current custody arrangement, you may need an attorney to speak to a judge on your behalf. You may need this especially if you haven’t been given the required 90 days’ notice family court requires prior to your relocation orders. A judge can waive that requirement for you if needed.
The main priority in any discussion about relocating should be your child. Even though an hour or two may seem manageable to you, to your child it could seem insurmountable. However, with flexibility and prioritization, your child can emerge emotionally intact and confident.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC we believe in the best interests of your child. Our family law attorneys advocate for you and for them 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.
Many clients, when they come in, are concerned about alimony; whether they will receive it or whether they’ll have to pay it. We have two kinds of alimony in Maryland. The first is transitional alimony, which is paid for a specific length of time, and the purpose of it is to allow one of the spouses to gain additional training so that they can be self-supporting. An example would be, when someone wants to be an accountant but requires two more years of college. In that situation we would be looking at that two-year period of time, perhaps, in order to obtain transitional alimony.
The second is indefinite alimony. In order to be awarded indefinite alimony a court would have to find that, even after a spouse has done everything she or he can to become self-supporting, there will still be an unconscionable disparity in the standard of living of the parties. In determining whether it would be unconscionable, the court has to take into account a number of factors, probably the most important of which is the length of the marriage.
If you would like us to help you decide whether there’s a likelihood that you will receive or pay alimony, we would be happy to have you come in, so we can go over the facts of your marriage with you, and help you make a decision about that.
You can reach the Annapolis divorce lawyers at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC by calling 410.921.2422, or filling out our contact form to reserve a consultation at our office. We proudly serve clients throughout Maryland.
Divorce is never easy, and many people feel great regret, sadness and anger when their marriages end. However, there are some unexpected upsides to getting a divorce, and acknowledging them is healthy. If you were unhappy in your marriage, if you felt trapped, if you were betrayed or unappreciated – once the divorce is over, you may be pleasantly surprised at what is in store for you.
So what are the unexpected “perks” of divorce? Here are a few:
More “Me” time. Now that the arguing, negotiating and the court dates are in the past, you will have plenty of time to focus on re-discovering what makes you happy. If you have children, you may miss them in the beginning when they spend time with their other parent, but soon you will realize the opportunity to focus more time on the things you love to do, and to find new projects and hobbies that inspire you.
Financial autonomy. Learning how to live on a single income might be challenging at first, but soon you will find pleasure in being able to make financial decisions without consulting with anyone else. Was your partner the one who handled the finances in your marriage? Use this opportunity to take a personal finance class and increase your knowledge about how to handle your money and plan for a solid financial future for yourself.
The chance to reinvent yourself. If you were unhappy or unfulfilled in your marriage, your newfound freedom will give you the chance to decide who you want to be and start living your new life.
Improved health. While some research studies have shown that married people live longer, that applies to people who are happily married. The stress of living in conflict in a relationship doomed for failure creates tremendous stress which can wreck your health. Once you have stepped away from the stress of a bad marriage, you can start pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
The chance to start dating again. You may feel intimidated about getting back out into the dating pool especially if you have been married for a long time, but if you give it a chance, you can start having fun again meeting new people, forming friendships and developing a vibrant social life.
A clear understanding of what you want and do not want in a future mate. The struggles that you went through getting out of a bad marriage will now serve to enlighten you on what you want in a future mate if you plan to marry again.
Happier children. It is not the divorce that will make the children happier, but the end of the conflict. Now, they can settle in to their “new normal” and adjust to life with two parents who are happier and more fulfilled living apart.
You may not begin to be able to appreciate these perks immediately while the pain of the breakup is still fresh. As the passing of time does its healing work, you will be better able to appreciate the sweet things in life. A study published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, “From Tribulations to Appreciation,” wanted to know if there was any truth to the old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The researchers set out to discover whether experiencing adversity enhances a person’s ability to appreciate life’s small pleasures. They found after surveying 15,000 adults who had suffered adverse events such as divorce or the loss of a loved one that people who were still struggling were less able to savor positive events. Those who had dealt with adversity in the past seemed to have experienced a higher capacity for savoring the pleasures of life.
Hopefully, this bit of positive news will give you some hope if you are considering divorce, or if you are in the midst of it now. Life really does get better, and the difficult and often painful process of divorce may help you appreciate the good times that will come your way.
Working with a skilled Annapolis divorce attorney can help you feel more empowered as you move through the divorce process. If you are considering divorce, an experienced lawyer from Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC can help. Please call us at 410.921.2422 to schedule a consultation, or complete our contact form. We proudly represent families throughout Maryland.
It is the responsibility of both parents to support a child financially. When one parent fails to pay his or her share of the costs, it often falls to the other parent to make up the difference. Fortunately, the state of Maryland has established a host of options for enforcing child support orders. The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration (CSEA) has the task of enforcing state and federal child support enforcement laws.
During the divorce proceeding, or when paternity has been established for unmarried couples, the court orders child support payments based on the Maryland child support guidelines. When the obligor (the parent who owes child support to the other parent) fails to pay child support as ordered by the court, there are a number of tools in place to enforce those payments. Some of the more common include:
Intercepting federal income tax refunds
Wage garnishment, and withholding child support payments from unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation claims
Report parents who owe child support to new employers, and to the motor vehicles division for driver’s license suspension
Suspension of professional licenses
Contempt of court
Administrative liens on real estate or other personal property and seizure of assets
Obtaining an administrative property lien for unpaid child support
The custodial parent who is owed back child support can work with their skilled Maryland divorce attorney to file a lien on the obligor’s real estate. Per MD Fam L Code § 10-140 (2016), “Unpaid child support, due under an order requiring payments through a support enforcement agency, constitutes a lien in favor of the obligee on all real and personal property of the obligor… A child support lien established under subsection (a) of this section arises on the date of notice that the support is due and continues to the date on which the child support lien is:
released by the Administration because the child support lien is:
released by the court.”
Caring for and providing for your child on your own can be challenging and frustrating when your child’s other parent has the resources but chooses not to pay the support they owe their child. Do not allow your frustration to ruin your enjoyment of the time you have with your child. An experienced family law attorney can help you move through the proper channels to recover the back-child support that is owed to you.
If you are a parent who is owed back child support, your Maryland family law attorney from the law firm of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC is here to help you with a host of child support enforcement options. Our Annapolis family law team is here to protect your child’s and your interests, and offer legal advice about your support case. We invite you to call 410.921.2422, or to contact us to schedule a consultation today.