#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.

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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 – 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!

#FamilyFriday – I’m Getting Divorced: What Happens in Court?

A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide? 

A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to give an overview of what it will actually look like in a courtroom the day of your hearing.

First, it’s important to point out that no matter what sort of courtroom you’re in, some things don’t change and all parties should remember.  For example, make sure to look presentable and put together.  Remember that the Judge can see everything and will notice if you’re laughing, rolling your eyes, or make any other facial or physical gesture.  And, most importantly, be honest.

Second, getting divorced is emotional.  It often involves children, hurt feelings, betrayal, loss of love, etc.  Stay calm and be prepared to be emotionally challenged.  This is part of the process and it is to be expected.  Your attorney will be there to help protect you and make your voice heard.

Third, many times last minute settlement discussions occur.  Often this happens just minutes before your hearing.  Don’t feel pressured to take a settlement.  Listen to what is being offered, considered what you want and how far off the offer is from your wants, and speak/listen to your attorney.  If you are the one suggesting a settlement, the same considerations apply.  Make sure you can separate your feelings and emotions from the case in a way that lets you see the potential settlement in the most rational and logical situation.  If you do not want to settle, say so.  Make your attorney aware so that s/he knows to deny any potential offering and move straight to trial.

The process is the same regardless of the county, Judge, or attorney.  If you are the Plaintiff – that is the person who filed the case – you will present your case first.  This will begin with an opening statement, calling witnesses, calling you, and presenting evidence.  Your testimony is arguably the most important piece of your case.  It is your voice, your basis for filing, your argument, and proving why what you want should be granted.  To do so, your attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to further support your testimony.  Presumably these witnesses are people who will show you as a great parent, good spouse, kind person etc.  Some witnesses may also be daycare providers, employers, etc.  Other times, you may call a witness to prove something.  For example, you may want to subpoena your spouses’ lover to prove s/he has cheated.

Your spouse’s attorney will then have an opportunity to ask you and your witnesses questions.  This process is called Cross Examination.  Your attorney will object to some questions asked and/or evidence presented.  If you hear your attorney object, stop talking.  The Judge will need to rule on whether or not to allow you (or your witness) to answer the question.  Be calm and be honest.  You may feel pressured, put on the spot, nervous, etc. and that’s okay.  Remember you have an attorney and s/he is there to protect you.

After you’ve presented your case, the Defendant will be given an opportunity to present their case.  They will be able to and will likely do the same things you did – the Defendant will testify, his/her witnesses and present evidence.  Your attorney will then have an opportunity to Cross Examine the Defendant and his/her witnesses.

When the Defendant concludes their case, both attorneys will have an opportunity to present closing arguments.  These arguments are spoken to the Judge and tend to recap what happened at trial, highlight important testimony or pieces of evidence in support of their case, and ask the Judge to do grant their client’s wishes.

Once the Judge has heard both sides and collected the evidence that has been presented, s/he will likely go back into their chambers to review and make a decision.  If the case is long, has many documents, many witnesses, etc. the Judge may state that they will make their decision in writing and dismiss the parties to wait on receiving that decision.  If the Judge does make the decision that day, s/he will return to the courtroom and state their decision for both parties to hear.

For questions and to talk about your case, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask to schedule your FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!

 

 

#FamilyFriday – Adultery

Statistics range from 25% to 75% where at least one partner has admitted to committing adultery at some point during their marriage.  Perhaps this makes sense given the 40% to 50% divorce rate in America.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to talk to you about adultery.  Not surprisingly, it is difficult to obtain the rate of adultery in marriages today.  Statistics range from 25% to 75% where at least one partner has admitted to committing adultery at some point during their marriage.  Perhaps this makes sense given the 40% to 50% divorce rate in America.

As discussed in previous blog posts, there are many ways to obtain a divorce.  If there are children and/or unresolved property issues, you must wait at least twelve months to receive your Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  There are a few exceptions to this general rule.  One of these exceptions is if a spouse has committed adultery.  Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and another person that is not their spouse.  Maryland Courts have indicated that any sexual activity can be adulterous even if it does not include intercourse.  This takes into consideration same-sex couples and others who may be engaging in nefarious and inappropriate conduct but stopping at intercourse.

Proving adultery can be problematic.  Sometimes spouses suspect that their partner has been unfaithful but can’t prove it.  In these circumstances, it may be difficult to obtain your divorce within twelve months.  When you do have proof whether it be text messages, catching your spouse, receiving contact from the “other” person, etc., that can be your way to divorce within a year.  In some instances, the adulterous spouse even admits to the adultery.

In the case when adultery is proven or the alleged unfaithful spouse’s actions are highly suspected of adultery, the Court may take this into consideration when making a marital award.  Perhaps they’ll find that the unfaithful spouse deserves less of a marital share than what the Court would have otherwise awarded the spouse.  Perhaps the Court may order the unfaithful spouse pay more alimony or rehabilitative alimony considering their actions.

If you know or believe your spouse has cheated on you, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.  We are here to advocate for you!

#FamilyFriday – Military Retirement Pay, Disability Benefits, and Divorce.

Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorney’s at ERA Law Group, LLC are discussing the recent change in how Court’s treat a service member’s waiver of retirement pay for disability benefits and the effects it may have on the former spouse.  A service member’s retirement pay is considered marital property.  Depending on the length of the marriage and the Court’s Order, a percentage of the marital portion of the retirement pay is reserved for the former spouse upon the service member’s retirement.  Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

In Maryland, upon entering a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, couples negotiate what, if any, percentage of the service member’s retirement pay will be awarded to the former spouse. If a service member applies for and receives disability benefits, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) automatically reduces the member’s retirement pension on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  This automatic waiver prevents members from double dipping and receiving both retirement pay and disability benefits.  In practice, in exchange for the disability benefits, a member’s retirement pay is decreased which also results in a decrease for the former spouse.  Put simply, the former spouse will receive a smaller piece of the pie than what was originally contemplated.

Until recently, Maryland and many other states, treated the award of the service member’s retirement pay as a contractual arrangement.  This permitted the former spouse to retain their agreed upon portion of the service member’s retirement pay if and when a service member obtained disability benefits or increased benefits after the divorce which resulted in a waiver of their retirement pay.  The Court interpreted the waiver as a dilution of the former spouse’s share.  Finding this arrangement unfair, Maryland Courts continued to enforce the award in the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  In other words, the service member was still required to pay the difference.

A recent Supreme Court decision, Howell v. Howell, has changed the way Maryland and other states have treated such circumstances.  Now – regardless of what the award was – a former spouse is only entitled to receive a portion of the retirement pay even if that retirement pay is now significantly smaller.  The Supreme Court suggested that state courts consider the unreliability of the former spouse’s portion of retirement pay when making a marital award and, if applicable, compensate the spouse elsewhere.  For example, perhaps this would increase alimony or a lump sum award.

If you are a military spouse, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to ensure your rights and benefits are protected!

#FamilyFriday – Fast Track to Divorce

Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help you get divorced and quick.  Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  Prior to 2015, if you wanted a divorce you had to wait at least one year.  The theory behind the wait period was to encourage partners to reconcile and hopefully avoid divorce.  Fortunately the law has caught up with reality and in many cases, when you know you know.

A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.  Determining whether you have minor children is easy but settling property can sometimes be difficult depending on the duration of the marriage and the property accrued.  You and your spouse want to discuss and settle issues related to any joint bank accounts, cars, real property, debt, retirement, and alimony before filing for divorce.  Hiring an attorney to draft the settlement agreement to ensure it contains all necessary contract language and covers all potential property disputes is important to make sure you truly have settled all property issues.  Additionally, sometimes parties think they’re on the same page only to learn that they’re not.  Discussing these issues initially allows for a smooth settlement and a true divorce by mutual consent.

Once you have your agreement signed you can then file for the divorce.  Your spouse can come with you and immediately file their answer which avoids waiting for the summons and having to formally serve the Defendant.  When filing for the divorce you must include a copy of your agreement so the Court is satisfied that there are no unresolved property issues.  After you’ve filed, the Court will set an uncontested hearing for about ten (10) minutes.  Some counties take longer than others but a good estimation of the time it would take to get divorced is three (3) months.

The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee services to draft and finalize your  agreement and handle your uncontested divorces.  Call us today!

#FamilyFriday – Contempt

The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. 

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC are addressing individuals who have fallen victim to an ex-spouse or parent who refuses to abide by the Court’s Order.  You’ve gotten divorced or filed suit for custody and support, the Judge made their determination and you received a Court Order outlining that decision.  What happens when one person decides not to listen?

Contempt is when one party decides to act in contradiction of the Court or Court Order.  The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  That intentional decision to ignore or act inconsistently with a Court Order is important because it qualifies the contempt as willful.  Being in willful contempt of a Court Order can have serious ramifications.  The contempt-ing party may be subject to a fine, attorney fees, and in serious cases, jail.

The contempt-ing party also creates various consequences for the other party.  For example, say a provision of the Order requires Parent A to pay one half of private school tuition to the school directly and Parent A refuses to pay.  If Parent A refuses to pay their share of the child’s private tuition than Parent B may have to come out-of-pocket for the balance and, if they can’t, their child may not be able to return the following year.  These and similar situations wreak havoc – financially and emotionally – for the party who correctly abides by the Court Order.

If you are being forced to endure the consequences of someone who has decided not to adhere to your Court Order, call your advocates at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (443) 906-3566!