Articles Posted in Family Law

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There is no procedural bar prohibiting a third-party from seeking to intervene in a custody dispute between parents because Maryland Rule 2-214 allows any person to intervene in an action "when the person's claim or defense has a question of law or fact in common with the action." Because a third-party may not obtain custody of a child over the child's biological parents unless the third-party can demonstrate that the parents are either unfit or that exceptional circumstances exist that may be detrimental to the child, the third-party seeking to intervene in a custody action must make a prima facie showing that the parents are either unfit or that exceptional circumstances exist in their pleading. In this case, the Court of Appeals held that the circuit court did not err in allowing the grandparents to intervene in the custody action between petitioner and father because the grandparents alleged sufficient facts in their motion to make a prima facie showing that petitioner and father were unfit and that exceptional circumstances may have existed in this case; the hearing judge abused his discretion in finding that petitioner was an unfit parent; the circuit court erred in applying the Hoffman factor test to the facts in this case; and because the circuit court abused its discretion in granting custody of the child to the grandparents, the circuit court also erred in ordering petitioner to pay child support to the grandparents. View "Burak v. Burak" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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At issue in this case was whether an agreement entered into during the course of the parties’ marriage made manifest by three deeds by which title was transferred to Wife by Husband was sufficient to exclude those properties from consideration as marital property under Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law 8-201(e). The trial court concluded that the postnuptial agreement was not a “valid agreement” under the requirements of section 8-201(e). Before the court of special appeals, Wife argued that the circuit court judge had erred in classifying the property as marital property because there was a “valid agreement” under section 8-201(e) excluding the two pieces of real property from marital property. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The Court of Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) under section 8-201(e), a valid postnuptial agreement does not require language that reclassifies property as nonmarital in order to exclude that property from marital property in divorce; (2) there was a valid postnuptial agreement to exclude one property as the nonmarital property of Wife; and (3) with respect to the second property, the trial judge, on remand, must consider whether there was a valid agreement to exclude the property as nonmarital under section 8-201(e)(2). View "McGeehan v. McGeehan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In the divorce proceeding of Husband and Wife, Husband argued that the marital portion of his Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) pension should be reduced in order to reflect an offset for the amount of Social Security benefits he would have been entitled to had he not participated in the CSRS. The circuit court rejected Husband’s argument and ordered the retirement plans to be divided so that each party would receive fifty percent of the marital share of the other party’s retirement plan. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the circuit court, holding (1) when dividing marital assets in a divorce proceeding, a trial court is preempted by federal law from dividing hypothetical Social Security benefits by way of an offset; but (2) a court may take into consideration the parties’ anticipated Social Security benefits as a relevant factor under Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law 8-2015(b) in adjusting the equities and rights of the parties in marital property. Remanded. View "Jackson v. Sollie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Father and Mother, the parents of two minor children, were divorced in 2011 pursuant to a decree that granted them joint legal custody. In 2014, Father filed a motion to modify custody, seeking sole custody of his sons. The circuit court denied the motion and refused to order joint custody in light of Taylor v. Taylor. In Taylor, the Supreme Court held that the most important factor for a court to consider before awarding joint custody is the ability of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting a child’s welfare. Father appealed, arguing that that the award of joint custody was an abuse of discretion where he and Mother could not communicate or reach shared decisions for their sons. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a court may grant joint legal custody to parents who cannot effectively communicate regarding matters pertaining to their children, and, in doing so, the court has the legal authority to include tie-breaking provisions in the joint legal custody award; and (2) the circuit court in this case did not abuse its discretion in ordering joint legal custody with tie-breaking provisions. View "Santo v. Santo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Brittany Conover conceived a child through artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. She and Michelle Conover gave birth to a son, Jaxon, and married when Jaxon was about six months old. The next year, the lesbian couple separated. Brittany later sought a divorce, stating that there were no children shared by the couple from the marriage. Michelle requested visitation rights but did not request custody. The circuit court concluded that Michelle did not have standing to contest custody or visitation. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the doctrine of de facto parenthood is a viable means to establish standing to contest custody or visitation. Thus, the Court overruled its previous decision in Janice M. v. Margaret K. Remanded to the circuit court for a determination of whether Michelle should be considered a de facto parent. View "Conover v. Conover" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Husband refused to have his vasectomy reversed, but accompanied his wife to a fertility center. She delivered a child through in vitro fertilization (IVF)2 using donated sperm. Husband was later found to be the father of the child; was determined to have voluntarily impoverished himself with respect to child support; and had injunctive relief entered against him based on harassment. The Maryland Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the “plain meaning” of the term “artificial insemination in the Estates and Trusts Article, Md. Code 1-206(b), can be interpreted to include a case of “in vitro” fertilization from a donated egg and donated sperm, as a result of which Petitioner has been declared a “parent” of the child and thereby liable for child support, even though the child has no genetic connection to either of the parties. The term broadly encompasses any methodology wherein human reproduction is achieved by artificial means. The court also held that the “plain meaning” of Md. Code Ann. 1-203(a)(2) can be interpreted to sustain a permanent injunction against Petitioner on the basis of “harassment.” The court upheld the finding of voluntarily impoverished. View "Sieglein v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Following the birth of twin boys in 2009, Petitioner executed an affidavit of parentage attesting that he was the boys’ father. In 2011, the Wicomico County Bureau of Support Enforcement alleged that Petitioner was responsible for support. In response, Petitioner denied parentage of the children and requested a paternity test, alleging that his signature on the affidavit had been obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. The circuit court judge ordered Petitioner to pay child support and denied the request for a paternity test. Two years later, Petitioner against requested a paternity test. The circuit court judge denied the request, concluding that Petitioner had no absolute right to blood or genetic testing and, even if he did, he waived his right by failing to appeal the trial judge’s decision in 2011. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Petitioner was not entitled to a paternity test to contest the parentage he established after execution of his affidavit of parentage. View "Davis v. Wicomico County Bureau" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Dustin R., who was born in 1992, has lived in a foster home since 1995. Guardianship was granted to the Department of Social Services. Dustin is medically fragile and has special needs. In 2010, Dustin began to seek the provision of services for himself after age twenty-one. In 2013, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) consented to co-commitment. The parties, however, continued to debate Dustin’s request that services continue after his twenty-first birthday after the guardianship terminates. The juvenile court ordered DHMH to continue to provide services to Dustin after the age of twenty-one. DHMH appealed. The Court of Special Appeals dismissed the appeal, concluding that the juvenile court’s order was not a final, appealable order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the juvenile court’s order is appealable as an interlocutory order granting an injunction; (2) the juvenile court had jurisdiction and statutory authority to order DHMH to enter into a plan to obtain “life-sustaining services” for Dustin to continue after he reached age twenty-one; and (3) the juvenile court did not violate the separation of powers in the instant case. View "In re Adoption/Guardianship of Dustin R." on Justia Law

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Ex-Wife and Husband entered into a property settlement agreement that included an allocation of future benefits from the retirement plan sponsored by Husband’s employer. The agreement implied that Husband’s retirement plan was regulated by ERISA, although Husband’s plan was exempt from that law, and incorrectly contemplated that the divorce judgment itself would effect the division of the retirement plan benefits. Husband later remarried and designated his new wife (Wife) as his beneficiary under the retirement plan. After Husband died, Ex-Wife filed a complaint alleging that Wife had been unjustly enriched in receiving Husband’s entire pension and death benefits. The circuit court issued an order establishing a constructive trust in favor of Ex-Wife with respect to a portion of the benefits already paid to Wife and ordered the retirement plan to allocate future benefits between Wife and Ex-Wife in a similar manner. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a posthumous order directing the retirement plan to allocate a portion of the Husband’s death benefit to Ex-Wife and in imposing a constructive trust on a portion of those benefits already received by Wife. View "Robinette v. Hunsecker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Victoria was declared a child in need of assistance after her father, George, would not allow her return to the home he shared with his wife, Kieran, and their two children, Lance and Evan. Victoria later sought visitation with Lance and Evan. An assigned master recommended supervised visitation. George and Kieran filed joint exceptions to recommendation in light of Koshko v. Haining because Victoria did not meet her burden of showing prima facie evidence of exceptional circumstances demonstrating detriment to the children absent visitation from Victoria. The circuit court then denied the exceptions and ordered supervised visitation. The court of special appeals reversed, holding that Victoria had not proven exceptional circumstances within the analytical framework established by Koshko. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of special appeals, holding (1) the master and circuit court relied on the incorrect applicable standard in determining whether exceptional circumstances existed to order visitation; and (2) therefore, the order should be reversed and remanded for consideration of whether jurisdiction actually existed to order sibling visitation and, if so, whether a deleterious effect on Lance and Evan could be proven. View "In re Victoria C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law