#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: 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!

#FamilyFriday – Split Households & the Holiday Season

It’s difficult for families to decide how to split holidays when they separate.  Neither parent or family want to experience their holidays without their children.  So, what do you do? 

It’s difficult for families to decide how to split holidays when they separate.  Neither parent or family want to experience their holidays without their children.  So, what do you do?  What are your options?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss various options for developing a fair and reasonable access schedule.

First, as previously discussed in a #FamilyFriday article, Parenting Plans are a great tool to discuss and resolve these issues before the stress and onset of the holiday season.  As a reminder, Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future.  Attorneys and mediators can help you create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  For example, perhaps both parents are adamant about wanting to spend Christmas with their children.  The fact of the matter is that the children can only wake up once on Christmas morning and how to decide who will experience that can raise a lot of emotion.  One way to resolve this is to alternate years so that one parent has the full Christmas holiday on even years and the other during odd years.  Another way to resolve this is one parent has the children Christmas Eve through Christmas morning and the other has the children from mid-Christmas morning for the remainder of the day.  These types of arrangements are best to be discussed outside of the courtroom as they can involve a lot of detail and negotiating.

Second, talk with the other parent and see if maybe certain holidays are more important to them than they are you.  Creating a schedule or agreement that allows for each parent to have or enjoy the days that are important to them in exchange for those that are important to you can settle future disputes.  For example, perhaps it’s your family tradition to go “big” for Thanksgiving but less so for Christmas.  Maybe you can agree that you’ll have the children for Thanksgiving and the other parent on Christmas.

Third, though uncommon, if you and the other parent are able to co-parent and share some or all holidays that could resolve any disagreement about who should have the children and when.  This can be difficult depending on the relationship between you and the other parent.

Fourth, alternating holidays so that, for example, the parent who does not have the children on Thanksgiving will have them for Christmas or the parent who does not have the children Memorial Day Weekend will have them Labor Day Weekend.

Regardless of the arrangement, always place agreements in writing.  This allows both parents to be held accountable for upholding the arrangement and preventing an issue in the future.  Try and deal with these potential and likely issues before they become bigger issues.

If you need assistance or would like to explore Mediation or Parenting Plans, contact ERA Law Group, LLC attorney Valerie E. Anias, Esq. at (410) 919-1790 and ask about the FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION.

#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!