#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: What is the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard?

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live and what schedule the children will have with the other parent. To make this determination, the Court uses the “Best Interests of the Child” standard.

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live, or custody, and what schedule the children will have with the other parent, or visitation.  Some families can settle this among themselves while others require Court intervention.  Often parents assume the Court will award custody to the mother however, that’s not necessarily the case.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC explains the “Best Interests of the Child” standard used by the Court in determining custody.

Put simply, the Best Interests of the Child standard simply means that the Court looks at certain factors to determine what is in the best interest of the children involved in the family situation.  Even when parents have an agreement, the Court still must make a finding that the agreement is in the best interest of the child.  Often parents become disgruntled because they believe they are in the best position to decide what is in the best interest of their children.  Unfortunately, family litigation often results in both parents with opposing opinions about what is in the best interest of their children and the Court must step in to make its determination.

The Court may consider a number of factors in its analysis.  Most commonly the Court focuses on the following factors:

  1. Primary Care Giver – Who is the person who takes care of the child? Who handles the child’s day-to-day activities?
  2. Fitness – What are the psychological and physical capacities of the parties seeking custody? Was there evidence of abuse – physical, emotional, or otherwise?
  3. Character and Reputation
  4. Agreements – Is there a custody agreement already in place?
  5. Ability to Maintain Family Relationships – Who will be best able to help the child keep family relationships, including relationships with the other parent’s family?
  6. Child Preference– Does the child have a preference?  Some courts will interview the children  outside of the presence of their parents.  The older the children involved the more weight is given to their preference.
  7. Material Opportunity – Which parent has the financial resources to give the child more things?
  8. Age, Health and Gender of Child
  9. Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation – How close do the parents live to each other, extended family, school, etc?
  10. Length of Separation– How long has the parent been separated from the child?
  11. Any Prior Abandonment or Surrender of Custody – Is there a history of one parent walking out and leaving the other parent to cope with the child and the home?
  12. Religious Views – These will be important in the court’s decision only if you can show that religious views affect the physical or emotional well-being of the child. There is no consideration made for non-religious families.
  13. Disability – A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability affects the best interest of the child.

In addition to the above factors, the Court may also consider: Willingness to share custody; Fitness of parents; Child’s relationships with each parent; Ability to stabilize child’s school and social life; Employment considerations (e.g. long hours, extensive travel, etc.); Age and number of children; Financial status; Benefit to parent; Sincerity of parent’s request for custody.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation!  Ask about our legal services including: mediation, marital separation agreements, and parenting plans!

#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 – What Changes in Maryland Family Law Can We Expect to See in 2018?

The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to bring to your attention some possible changes in Maryland Family Law!  The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

Divorce – Mutual Consent

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, divorce by mutual consent allows spouses to divorce within one (1) year of their separation and is available only to those married couples that have settled all marital issues and do not have any children in common.  Now, for the third time, there is an attempt to allow spouses with minor children in common to obtain a divorce by mutual consent.

Child Support – Driver’s License Suspension

Parents who fail to pay child support could potentially suffer serious consequences such as having their license suspended.  In this session there is an attempt to exempt individuals from having their license suspended if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Child Support – Income

When determining child support, it is only the actual gross income of the parents that are considered.  Even if one of the parent’s is re-married their spouse’s income is not factored into the child support equation.  In this session there is an attempt to allow a Court to consider a parent’s spouse’s income when determining that parent’s child support obligation.  Additionally, under the same considerations, the Court may order payment of attorney fees in proportion of each parties’ adjusted actual incomes.

Visitation and Child Custody – Terms

Currently the term used for describing the time awarded to the non-custodial parent is “visitation.”  Additionally, the term used to describe decision making authority is “child custody.”  In this session there is an attempt to replace the word “visitation” with “parenting time” and the term “child custody” with “legal decision making.”

If you have a family law related issue or question, call the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC today 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: Grounds for Divorce

There are a number of ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.

There are a number of ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss the ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.

There are two types of grounds for divorce:  grounds based on a fault and no fault.  Grounds based on fault may permit a party to obtain an absolute divorce within 12-months and could serve as a factor considered by the Court in determining alimony or a marital award.  There are two no-fault grounds for divorce.  The most common is a 12-month separation which means that the parties have lived separate and apart without resuming cohabitation for at least a period of 12-months.  The second no-fault ground is a divorce by mutual consent which requires the parties not have children and resolve all their property issues.

If you believe your spouse is responsible for the divorce, you may want to consider some grounds based on fault.

  • Adultery:  your spouse has cheated on you.
  • Desertion: your spouse has left the marital home (called “actual desertion”) or you were justified in leaving the marital home (called “constructive desertion”), the desertion is deliberate and final, and 12-months have passed.
  • If your spouse was convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, has been sentenced to serve at least three (3) years or an indeterminate sentence, and has served at least 12 months of that sentence.
  • Insanity: If your spouse has been confined to a mental institution or hospital for at least 3 years prior to filing for divorce and at least 2 physicians testify at trial that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery.
  • Cruelty of treatment involves either physical or verbal abuse where the spouses conduct endangers the life or health of their spouse or minor child(ren) which makes living together unsafe.
  • Excessively vicious conduct involves a pattern of serious domestic violence or some other severe physical or emotional action.

If you are separated and need assistance, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!