#FamilyFriday: Family Support Services

Families often wonder what resources are out there to help them in the midst of a family related litigation case.  There are numerous services available that can be requested by either party involved in the litigation and ordered by the Court.

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By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

Families often wonder what resources are out there to help them in the midst of a family related litigation case.  There are numerous services available that can be requested by either party involved in the litigation and ordered by the Court.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses some of those services.

  1. Mediation. The Court often orders the parties to complete mediation early on in litigation.  This tool is especially helpful in limiting the issues at hand and encouraging families to settle their disputes.  As discussed in earlier #FamilyFriday articles, it is often recommended that families seek mediation services before filing suit.
  2. Custody Investigations/Evaluations. Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a custody evaluation can be ordered.  A trained third party professional, will be required to conduct an interview of each party, an interview of the child(ren) (if the child has the capacity to be interviewed), a review of relevant records pertaining to the child, and an observation of the child with each party.  At the conclusion of the review, the evaluator will be required to report their factual findings of the needs of the child, the capacity of each party to meet those needs, and the evaluator’s recommendation as to custody and visitation.
  3. Mental Health Evaluations: Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a party may be ordered to receive an evaluation by a mental health professional and in some cases psychological testing.  If one or both parties allege that a party suffers from a mental health issue which may impact the children, custody, and/or visitation, the party should motion the Court for the evaluation.  The Court will weigh the party’s allegations and decide whether to grant the motion and make such Order
  4. Substance Abuse Assessments: Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a party may be ordered to undergo drug testing and/or assessment.  Depending on the outcome or the basis for the screening, the Court may then require random screenings and/or treatment related to the abuse.  This will also play a role in the Court’s determination of custody and/or visitation.
  5. Specific Issue Evaluation: Again, upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, the Court may Order an evaluation based upon a specific issue related to one or both parties that affects the safety, health and/or welfare of a child.  The Court will analyze the specific issue and Order the evaluation by a professional with expertise related to that specific issue.

To discuss your case and about services that may be available to you, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation!

#FamilyFriday: Nesting Agreements

It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!

Children and finances are two driving factors in a divorce.  How will your children handle the idea of their parents separating and how will your bank accounts suffer?  Finding a separate living space, especially one that can accommodate your children, during your divorce is difficult.  It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses an alternative approach called Nesting Agreements.

While parents are divorcing and sorting their finances, one alternative approach is to develop a nesting agreement.  Nesting agreements allow the children to always remain in their home while the parents take turns residing there.  For example, perhaps parent 1 resides in the home Monday from school pick up through Thursday school drop off and parent 2 resides in the home from Thursday school pick up through Monday school drop off.

During this nesting time, the parties can agree to maintain a joint account that each contribute to for paying household bills.  Perhaps the parents can stay at a family member’s home during the time they are not with the children or get a small 1-bedroom apartment in the interim.  It allows couples to work through the nitty gritty of their divorce while keeping stability for their children.

An important consideration is how well you and the other parent can communicate and co-parent.  At times, the feelings or circumstances involving the divorce don’t allow for that to happen effectively.  In those situations, a nesting agreement would not be beneficial.

If you’d like to consider a nesting agreement or some other alternative approach to separation and sharing custody, contact ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to learn more!

#FamilyFriday: De Facto Parent – Grandparents & Custody

A de facto parent is someone a court will treat as a parent based on the person’s relationship with a child. 

Before 2016, it was nearly impossible for a Grandparent to obtain custody of a grandchild.  This was because the burden to obtain custody was high and required the grandparent to establish that the biological parent was unfit or that exceptional circumstances existed.  Fortunately, after the case of Conover v. Conover, Maryland adopted the de facto parent status. In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC defines the de facto parent status and how that enables grandparents to seek custody of their grandchildren.

In many families, grandparents are the primary caretakers and providers for a grandchild.  Not only do they provide food, shelter, clothing, but they also may provide emotional and financial support, tucking their grandchildren to bed, staying up with them while their sick, making sure they brush their teeth, etc.  Without custody, however, grandparents can’t enroll their grandkids in school, sign medical forms to consent to necessary surgeries, etc. without the consent of the parents.  In these cases, grandparents often seek to gain physical and legal custody of their grandchildren.  Now, because of de facto parent status in Maryland, grandparents can and do obtain custody!

A de facto parent is someone a court will treat as a parent based on the person’s relationship with a child.  The court uses four factors to make that determination:

  1. The legal parent consented to and fostered the relationship between the de facto parent and the child;
  2. The de facto parent has lived with the child;
  3. The de facto parent performs parental functions for the child to a significant degree; AND
  4. A parent-child bond has been forged.

If you or someone you know needs to obtain custody of their grandchildren, have them contact ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 to schedule their free 30 minute consultation!

#FamilyFriday: Co-Parenting Resources

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder. 

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC want to help parents by identifying various resources available to help them Co-Parent.

Some parents find difficulty in communicating with one another.  At times the communication is simple and other times, it is rather difficult.  Nonetheless, both must parent their children.  Removing face-to-face conversation is sometimes the best place to start when trying to co-parent effectively.  The below programs and apps provide various resources for the separated and divorced parents.

  1. Our Family Wizard

Our Family Wizard is an online program which provides a platform for communication.  The parents can “email” back and forth, add items to a joint calendar, and, most importantly, if their dispute needs to be taken to Court, the correspondence can be tracked by the Court.  This also serves as a means to encourage parents to speak with each other in a respectful manner and keep it about the children.  There is an annual cost of approximately $100.00 per parent.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS and Android.

  1. 2Houses

Similar to Our Family Wizard, this program offers a mutual calendar, financial tab, and photo album tab.  It does not allow for direct communication but there is a journal function which allows parents to make notes.  The financial tab is particularly helpful as it outlines each parents expenses and each parent can upload what expenses they have paid on behalf of the child.  There is no cost to this program.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS.

  1. Kidganizer

Like the former two programs, this is also a means for both parents to keep information related to their children in one central location.  It does not permit the parents a platform for direct communication such as Our Family Wizard, but there is an alert system to alert each parent regarding important events like doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $1.99.

  1. Custody Junction

Custody Junction provides a Scheduling Center which allows parents to schedule their visitation/events/vacations, etc. up to 2 years in advance.  It also has a Tracking Center which allows parents to track when events were created, edited, amended, what the expenses were, who was present at each event, etc.  It gets rid of the “he said, she said” regarding who, what, where, and when.  Similar to 2Houses, it also has a Reporting Center which provides for accumulated expenses as well as reporting about child support payments, denied or forfeited parenting time, etc.  This program is only web-based and costs $47.00 per parent for a 1 year subscription.

  1. Appclose

AppClose is a combination of the above 4 programs.  It has a joint calendar, a messenger option like texting, an expense forum that acts like Venmo by requesting reimbursement from the other parent as well as the ability to track expenses, the ability to create a parenting schedule, set important reminders, and keep track of family information such as immunizations, date of births, etc.  Much like Facebook, it also has a NewsFeed function which displays all communications, events, etc. at a glance.   This is a free app only program available for iOS and Android.

  1. SKEDi

This program is a family calendar of sorts.  It syncs your calendars so that each parent and/or child knows everyone’s schedule.  It also has the capability of being shared with caregivers and babysitters if necessary.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $9.99.

If you are in need of co-parenting assistance, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 for your free 30-minute consultation!

#FamilyFriday – My Kids Don’t Want to Follow the Visitation Schedule

Children are not involved in the process of establishing custody, visitation, and support.  So, what happens when they don’t like the outcome?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group discuss what a parent’s role is when their children refuse to go to visitation.

The parents have filed suit, went to mediation, attended trial, or settled their issues as they relate to child custody, visitation, and support.  As a result, the parents have a visitation and holiday schedule, established modes of communication, and settled on child support.  The parents are satisfied or as best as they can be in the situation.  Anything missing?  The children.  Children are not involved in the process of establishing custody, visitation, and support.  So, what happens when they don’t like the outcome?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group discuss what a parent’s role is when their children refuse to go to visitation.

When determining custody, the Court’s are provided with many factors to consider when making their decision.  One of those factors is – what do the children want?  However, Judges are hesitant to permit a child to come to Court.  On the rare occasion and generally when the child is mature enough to handle the situation, Judges will speak with the child in chambers without the presence of his or her parents.  Even in those situations where the child does have an opportunity to express their desires, Judges may ultimately make a determination as to visitation that does not coincide with the child’s preferences.  Or, in less litigious circumstances, parents will settle their disagreements and make a visitation schedule that is best for themselves and what they believe is in the best interest of their children.  Again, the children may not agree.

When I get the call from a parent stating that their children don’t want to go attend visitation, it often goes like this:

Parent:  “My child refuses to see their parent during the scheduled time, what do I do?”

Answer: “Until your child is 18, it is not up to your children.  You, as their parent, must make sure that they adhere to the visitation schedule.”

Parent: “But, s/he is 17 and literally refuses.  How am I physically supposed to make them?”

And, that is the problem.  No, it is not expected that you physically force your children out the door but it is expected that you encourage them to attend, not create a barrier for them to attend, and, most importantly, not applaud your child’s refusal to attend.  Be sure to discuss the issue with the other parent and discuss possible resolutions.  Be sure to keep the lines of communication open between your child and the other parent so that the child communicates his/her desires to both of you equally.

If you find yourself and children in this situation, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC and ask what options you may have available.  Perhaps it is time to modify the current arrangement or explore other options.  Call us today for a FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION at (410) 919-1790.

Family Law Changes in 2017

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to discuss some recent changes in Maryland Law including the admissibility of Domestic Violence Orders in divorce cases and getting back your maiden name!

Welcome back to #FamilyFriday!  In the last several weeks ERA Law Group, LLC moved to its new location at 20 Ridgely Avenue, Suite 204, Annapolis, Maryland.  We are excited to welcome you to our new office!

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to discuss some recent changes in Maryland Law including the admissibility of Domestic Violence Orders in divorce cases and getting back your maiden name!

Prior to October 1, 2017, Courts could not use the fact that there was a Domestic Violence Order, such as a Protective Order, as a ground for granting a divorce or for considering custody.  This meant that victims of domestic violence could not admit as evidence a Domestic Violence Order s/he had obtained.  Even if s/he did speak of a prior Domestic Violence Order, the Court was obligated to disregard this information when making its decision. As of October 1, 2017, this statute has been repealed and Courts are now permitted to consider and parties may admit into evidence Domestic Violence Orders.

Previously when a party filed for absolute divorce and wished to return to their maiden name, they were required to make such a request in the initial pleading.  If the party failed to do so, they would then have to file a separate pleading requesting a name change.  What should have been a seemingly quick and easy process turned into a burdensome time consuming mess.  Not anymore!  As of October 1, 2017, a former spouse now has eighteen (18) months after the final decree of absolute divorce to return to their maiden name.

If you or someone you know needs help navigating their divorce, tell them to call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#FamilyFriday – Filing Exceptions

What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?

As previously discussed in an earlier #FamilyFriday article, the Court, upon request, will schedule a Pendente Lite (PL) hearing while the parties wait for their final hearing.  What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss the process for filing Exceptions.

As a reminder, Pendente Lite is a Latin term that translates to “awaiting/pending the litigation.”  Maryland Courts use a Pendente Lite hearing as an opportunity to create a temporary order related to child support, custody, visitation, spousal support, and/or use and possession of the marital home while the parties await the final hearing on the merits.  If you don’t have an arrangement, aren’t seeing your child, aren’t receiving child support, etc., you will want to be sure a Pendente Lite hearing is scheduled as soon as possible.

In most counties this hearing takes place before a Magistrate.  A Magistrate takes the place of a Judge but don’t issue Orders.  They issue Proposed Orders.  At the PL hearing, the Magistrate will hear the case presented by both parties as to why there should or should not be temporary relief and, if so, how much is fair and reasonable.  The Magistrate then states their finding and submits a Proposed Order.  After 10 days, the Proposed Order is sent to a Circuit Court Judge for a signature effectively making the Proposed Order an Order.

Why the 10 days?  At the conclusion of the PL hearing, both parties have 10 days to file “Exceptions.”  Exceptions are written reason(s) why the Magistrate’s Proposed Order should not be signed by the Judge.  For example, perhaps the Magistrate decided to award more child support than the paying party believes is fair.  The paying party would have 10 days to file Exceptions detailing why the Magistrate’s ruling should not be adopted by the Judge.

The Exceptions process is very similar to an appeal and should not be taken lightly.  There are many requirements involving the timing of the filing, the contents of the Exceptions, the timing for requesting a Transcript, the hearing, etc.  By failing to file timely exceptions or abiding by the statute, you could lose your ability to challenge the Proposed Order.

If you disagree with the Proposed Order for Temporary Relief, call ERA Law Group, LLC ASAP at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you get the relief you need!