Child Custody Enforcement Bel Air MD
The Family Law Offices of James Gahring Gault provide competent family law services for a variety of family law matters, including divorce, child custody, child custody enforcement, child support, and a host of others issues. Attorney Gault’s clientele comes from Bel Air, Forest Hill, Fallston, Abingdon, and across all of Harford County, MD.
Of primary concern in today’s world is that of jurisdiction for a child custody order, child custody enforcement, and modification of a child custody order. Each and every day, across the United States as well as across Bel Air and Harford County MD, there are folks seeking competent legal counsel to assist in matters of child custody enforcement or child custody modification. Anyone who has endured the hardship of child custody matters knows that these issues are profound and competent legal counsel must be obtained.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
Adopted by Maryland in 2004, the UCCJEA was established to provide systematic and harmonized approaches to urgent family law issues regarding child custody and visitation in a world where parties increasingly live in different states and nations. Specifically, the UCCJEA establishes general procedures for child custody proceedings and specifies bases for jurisdiction over custody matters.
The UCCJEA contains a limited immunity provision which authorizes a nonresident to appear in court regarding an interstate custody issue without submitting to the jurisdiction of the court in other matters. However, said immunity does not extend to requests for affirmative relief in child custody proceedings since a request for affirmative relief invokes the jurisdiction of the court.
To make an initial custody determination under the UCCJEA, a Circuit Court has jurisdiction over a custody action if Maryland is the minor child’s home state when the proceedings start: a home state requires the minor child to reside in Maryland for at least six months.
A parent can seek enforcement of a child custody order by filing a contempt petition with the Circuit Court – this is usually accomplished by hiring a family law attorney. Judicial contempt powers are available as the court will not hesitate to enforce its own custody orders in the face of a party’s noncompliance.
Modification of Child Custody Orders
Once a child custody order is entered, it can be modified only through a 2-step process: (i) a parent must prove that there has been a “material change in circumstance”, and (ii) if a material change in circumstances has been established, then and only then will the Circuit Court proceed to consider the best interests of the child as if the court were performing an initial custody determination.
The burden is on the moving party to show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the previous custody order and that it is not in the best interest of the child for custody to be changed.
A “material change of circumstances” is defined as a ‘change in circumstances that affects the welfare of the child.’ A change in conditions must have occurred which affects the welfare of the child and not the parent. Whether the request is to change custody in general or to change only the custody schedule, such a “material change of circumstances” must be shown in either case.
Therefore, whenever a parent wishes to make a contested change in the custody or visitation (even if it involves an arguably minor issue), he or she is required to establish that there has been a “material change in circumstances.” This requirement is intended to preserve stability for the child and to prevent relitigation of the same issues.
A litigious or disappointed parent must not be permitted to relitigate questions of custody endlessly upon the same facts, hoping to find a judge sympathetic to his or her claim. While custody Orders are never final in Maryland, any reconsideration of a custody Order should emphasize changes in circumstances which have occurred subsequent to the last court hearing. Where it is clear that the party seeking modification of a custody order is offering nothing new, and is simply attempting to relitigate the earlier determination, the effort will fail on that ground alone.
The stability provided by the continuation of a successful relationship with a parent who has had day-to-day contact generally outweighs any alleged advantage which might accrue upon a custodial change.
However, moving residences often in a brief period of time may nullify the presumed advantages of stability and continuity.
A mental health deterioration of a parent may constitute a material change in circumstances that could adversely affect the child.
The increased age of the child is not sufficient evidence of a material change in circumstances.
Counsel Fees incurred to obtain Child Custody
The Circuit Court may award a reimbursement of costs and counsel fees incurred by a parent who successfully pursued or defended a child custody matter. To do so, the court must examine each parent’s financial status and needs. Also, the court will consider whether there was ‘substantial justification’ for bringing, maintaining, or defending the matter. If the court finds there was no ‘substantial justification’ for a party to bring or defend the child custody proceeding, and absent any ‘good cause’ to the contrary, it is authorized to award costs and counsel fees to the other party.