It's a common scenario: your ex-partner had the kids for the weekend and is late dropping them off. You drove to meet them, so you're frustrated, and this isn't the first time it's happened. You might find yourself wondering, does this qualify as not following the custody agreement? And if so, what can you do about it? We've put together a brief overview to get you started on answering that question, and any others that might arise.
When Should the Court Get Involved?
Most of your options with a Maryland child custody order hinge on whether or not a judge issued or approved your parenting plan— if they did, then it has the strength of a court order behind it. It's considered legally binding, and violations will be easier to prove and correct. Without a court order, the custody agreement can only be enforced if your child is in immediate danger (and if you think that's the case, call the child abduction unit at your county DA's office immediately).
If one parent violates the existing court ordered child custody agreement, the second parent has the right to turn to contempt proceedings in an attempt to force the other parent to follow the court order. In order to do this the court would have to determine whether the party willfully disregarded a lawful order. Which is why it is important to have an experienced attorney in your corner, like the attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC, who have years of experience dealing with Maryland Child Custody orders, and can help steer you in the right direction.
But even if a judge did issue the custody order, it's sometimes wiser to try negotiating with your co-parent first, and go to a judge only after you've hammered out a new agreement. Not only will it show the judge that you both are willing to compromise, they might be more likely to support your plan with a binding custody order if you've both determined it's going to work for you first.
It's important to remember that a judge will always be most interested in what's best for the kids— so if you've determined that changing the agreement isn't in the kids' best interests, but your co-parent isn't sticking to the letter of the original custody agreement, it might be time to get the judge involved and hire an experienced lawyer, like the attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC. Behavior that falls under serious violations of custody agreements includes, but isn't limited to:
Frequently missing visitation exchanges, including chronic lateness or earliness
Interfering with your visitation time
Not taking the kids to school or the doctor, or chronic lateness to these appointments
Not taking the kids to court-ordered counseling sessions
Using drugs or abusing alcohol in front of the kids, or using in any way that impairs their ability to be a present and responsible parent
How Can I Protect Myself and My Kids?
The best thing you can do, even if you're not sure yet whether you want to go back to court, is to keep clear and detailed records of all custody order violations. You can write them down on a calendar or in a journal, just make sure you include dates, times, and a concise explanation of the issues. Keep copies of emails or any other official documentation, note the dates and times of phone calls, and keep it all in one place for easy reference. Once you feel you've collected evidence of a pattern of custody violations, you can go to a judge for help.
If you don't already have a lawyer to help you present your case to the judge, now might be the time to think about getting one. When it comes to Maryland child custody orders, a judge will assume that the former agreement is in the child's best interests until someone offers evidence to the contrary, and the burden of proof is on the parent requesting a change to the court order. A skilled family law attorney, like the attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC, can help advise you on how best to present your case.
What Results Can I Expect?
Something to keep in mind is that, material change in circumstances is standard for modification of a custody order, and is another option you have. So, you should reach out to the attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC, to discuss the pros and cons of filing for contempt vs a modification of custody.
However, if the court determines contempt, they would order a purge condition for compliance going forward. This purge condition could be the “make up” time for lost visitation with a child or in extreme cases, could result in a modification of the current custody order. and can convince the judge to adjust your parenting plan.
If the violations of your Maryland child custody order are especially severe, you could go so far as to ask the judge to hold the other parent in contempt of court. This would mean that, separate from enforcing or changing the custody order, you are asking the judge to declare that your ex-partner violated the custody agreement on purpose. It requires your ex to explain the reasoning behind the violations, and prove that they shouldn't be held in contempt.
Purposefully disobeying a court order is a crime with consequences from fines to jail time, depending on the severity. This is another situation where having an attorney on your side is helpful, as they can help you think through whether pursuing contempt is the best choice for your children, and whether or not you have a case to support it.
Get Help with a Child Custody Order in Maryland from The Attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC
Whether you are searching for an experienced lawyer to assist with your divorce, negotiating child support in Maryland or other issues, The attorneys at Lebovitz Law, LLC can help. To learn more about how we can assist you, please contact us today.