Maryland Child Custody
Child Custody Lawyer
Jack I Hyatt
Attorney at Law

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Aggressive
Child Custody Attorney
410 - 486 - 1800

An experienced, aggressive, no nonsense, custody lawyer, who fully understands the Maryland court system and detailed court procedures, often makes the entire difference between winning and losing your child custody case and avoiding the common mistakes. Our mission is to maximize your rights and options for custody, visitation and child support. We welcome difficult and challenging cases. We feel equally comfortable representing mothers or fathers in every Maryland county. We can provide a second opinion if your existing case is not proceeding in a proper direction. Each case is different and past records are no assurance that the Lawyer will reach a favorable result in any future case.

Client Comments

"Thanks for taking over my case and bringing my case to a prompt conclusion and getting everything I wanted. The biggest mistake I made was to file papers on my own because all I did was to waste my time going back and forth to court and nothing ever happended until I retained your office. I was not aware that the court clerks were not lawyers and could not provide legal advice after I filed the initial papers."~~S.W.

"Your representation was outstanding throughout a hard fought contested custody case and getting sole legal and sole physical custody of my daughter, having visitation supervised and getting the mother to pay child support. If anyone needs a father’s rights lawyer you’re the lawyer they should call.~~" A.L.

"You delivered exactly what I wanted, getting my children back from another state, sole custody, having visitation supervised and child support."~~L.I.

I appreciate your efforts in completing my difficult case resulting in me getting sole custody, having all visitation completely supervised and full child support. If anyone needs assistance in a child custody case, you are the lawyer they need to call." ~~S.M.

" I was thrilled to learn from reading the court's opinion that your representation resulted in my getting primary custody after a hard contested trial against the mother. If anyone needs a father's rights lawyer, you are the lawyer they need to call.""~~B.C.

"My expectations were exceeded when I heard I was awarded primary legal and primary physical custody of my child all visitation was supervised. All of your answers to my questions were directly on target. Many thanks.""~~ K.K.

Although I had my doubts about grandparent's or third party's rights for custody, your representation was excellent in having the court award me sole custody of my grandson. Thanks again." J.C.

" Thank you again for your aggressive and persistent representation in a hard fought custody battle that resulted in getting my children back." ~~D.M.

"Thanks for being there in my time of need and for your aggressive and persistent representation. Your representation was outstanding throughout the case" ~~L.M.

"Your aggressive and relentless representation was outstanding in defending and knocking out the complaint for custody filed against me so we did not even have to go to court. Thanks" ~~M.H.

" Thanks for filing an extremely forceful contempt action which resulted in the entire child support arrearage being promptly paid in full.~~M.Q.

"I was skeptical about father's rights until you were able to get sole legal and physical custody awarded to me after a contested trial. Your strategy was brilliant throughout the case."~~C.J.

" Thank you for taking over my case and promptly resolving the difficult issues my two prior lawyers were not able to help me with. Your aggressive representation and clear answers to my questions were excellent throughout the case." ~~P.O.

"The documents you drafted and filed with the court seemed so forceful and intimidating they seemed to be like a knockout punch resulting in our obtaining a judgment by default. Many thanks for a job extrememely well done." ~~S.T.

"I am glad I selected you to defend my protective order case as your answers to my questions were directly on target, you advised me not to settle and after a hard fought trial you got the case thrown out of court." ~~M.O.

"Thank you for the conscientious way you represented me in my custody case and dealing with the unusual issues that came up throughout my case.   As the result of your tireless and persistent representation, you were able to get my two sons back for me in a case that seemed to be a constant uphill battle.   Your representation was excellent and you are truly an outstanding dedicated lawyer.   I do not believe anyone will find better representation in a custody case than from your office." ~~H.S.

"Your representation was excellent in obtaining sole custody of both children, having all visitation supervised and getting child suport in my Anne Arundel County custody case. Thanks.~~K.C. "I wanted to express my thanks for the concern you have shown in representing me with an emergency petition for modification of the existing custody order.   It is not often an attorney will devote Saturday and Sunday hours to be sure all documents are promptly filed and serviced to meet last minute time conditions.   I felt comfortable as your answers to my questions were much more understandable than answers from my last attorney, and you seemed more knowledgeable about custody and family law issues. " ~~D.J.

"Your strategy and representation in getting full custody of our granddaughter was outstanding since taking over the case from our prior lawyer. I wish I would have found you first." ~~D.B.

"Thank you for taking over my Harford County custody case. Your representation resulted i exactly what I hoped for."~~N.C.

"Many thanks for a job well done and accepting my divorce case as your tough, persistent and hard nosed representation resulted in protecting my pension." ~~M.M.

"I am glad I selected you to defend my protective order case as your answers to my questions were directly on target, you advised me not to settle and after a hard fought trial you got the case thrown out of court." ~~M.O.

Thanks for getting my child support reduced."~~L.M.

For the past 36 years Jack I. Hyatt has concentrated in:

  • Child Custody
  • Child Support
  • Visitation
  • Protective Orders www.protectiveorder.org
  • Ex-Parte Orders
  • Modification of Existing Court Orders
  • Enforcement of Existing Court Orders
  • Relocation From State to State Custody Issues
  • Grandparent Issues - Third Party Custody
  • Domestic Violence www.domesticviolence-help.com
  • Battered Spouse and Abuse
  • Paternity Proceedings
  • Divorce
  • Alimony
  • Adoption


Once we understand the total relationship between the child or children and the mother, the child or children and the father, or third party, the relationship between the mother and father, all financial issues and all custody issues, we will fully explain all of your options pursuant to Maryland Law and the very best way to proceed in your case.

It is essential that all relevant facts be fully disclosed as the correct answer to a legal question can be totally different depending upon the exact facts in each case.   We will undertake an intensive initial screening process, perform a comprehensive analysis of all factors in your case to insure your case will not launched in an incorrect direction, avoid common pitfalls and to insure your best opportunity to accomplish all objectives prior to filing any documents with the court.

Frequently, specific knowledge of specific child custody court decisions and Maryland State statutes makes the entire difference between wining and losing.

Filing documents with a court is meaningless without incorporating the specific legal authorities into the documents prior to filing. Busy trial judges who hear many different types of child custody cases may not be as knowledgeable as a dedicated child custody lawyer who can bring specific knowledge to a case which can make all of the difference between wining and losing.

As a former Assistant State's Attorney, he has gained experience in prosecuting over 20,000 cases for the State of Maryland and has a detailed understanding of all Maryland court procedures. His extensive, training and experience will fully maximize your rights and potential to win your child custody case. Mr. Hyatt's practice is in, and he is fully licensed to practice in, all Maryland counties and Baltimore city.

We will conduct a detailed examination of all facts in your child custody case including, the relationship between all parties, how the conflict arose, who caused the conflict, what laws were broken, what witnesses are available, what evidence is available, the credibility of all parties, what resources are available to best help you and we will pinpoint the very best course of action to win your child custody case.

If your child custody case is not being aggressively pursued, we will render a second opinion. Once your case is accepted, all legitimate issues will be aggressively and vigorously pursued, without compromise. You will be kept informed of the progress of all aspects of your child custody case. He accepts referrals from attorneys who do not feel comfortable aggressively or vigorously pursuing custody, support or family law issues.

Our office represents numerous parties around the country who do not reside in Maryland. If you reside outside Maryland, or more than twenty miles from our office, you can begin your case be mail. Whether you begin your child custody case by scheduling an office appointment, or by mail, what will be done, every sequence, every procedure and the end result will be identical.

In the event you elect to retain our firm, and we elect to accept your case, we will provide you with a dedicated prompt package that will assist you to systemically organize and detail the problems you are facing and the objectives you are seeking. Upon our review, we will detail each of your options, explain the very best way to proceed and draft the most effective court documents to provide you with the very best opportunity to achieve all of your objectives.

If you are looking for a knowledgeable, experienced and aggressive custody attorney you have just found that attorney.

410 - 486 - 1800

JACK I. HYATT
Maryland Custody Lawyer
Attorney Credentials:
Former Assistant State's Attorney
Admitted To Practice Before:
The U.S. Supreme Court
All Maryland Courts
Federal District Court
Member:
Maryland State Bar Association 
Baltimore City Bar Association 
Baltimore County Bar Association 
University of Baltimore 
A.A. B.S. J.D. 
Honorable Discharge U.S. Army

410 - 486 - 1800     24/7

Types of Custody

The difference between legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and joint custody:

Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.

If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won't get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you -- which may harm the children. What's more, if you're represented by an attorney, it's sure to be expensive.

If you think you have circumstances that make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won't communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for a change in custody so that you have sole legal custody. But, in many states, you will have to overcome a presumption that joint legal custody is preferable.

Physical Custody

Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody to both parents when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have sole physical custody, with visitation to the other parent. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.

Sole Custody

How can I keep custody of my daughter when her father has a criminal record?

One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. In most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role a divorced father plays in his children's lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody , the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In that situation, the parents would make joint decisions about the child's upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights.

Courts generally won't hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit -- for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect.

It's understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse. But it's best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may simply allow supervised visitation, while still ordering joint legal custody.

Joint Custody

Parents who don't live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:

joint legal custody

joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent),

or

joint legal and physical custody.

It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, but not necessarily the other way around.

When parents share joint custody, usually they work out a schedule according to their work requirements and housing arrangements and the children's needs. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent's house or apartment. Other joint physical custody arrangements include:

alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other.

Joint custody has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents. And it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent. There are, of course, disadvantages:

Children must be shuttled around.

Parental noncooperation or ill will can have seriously negative effects on children. Maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.

If you do have a joint custody arrangement, maintain detailed and organized financial records of your expenses. Keep receipts for groceries, school and after-school activities, clothing, and medical care. At some point your ex may claim she or he has spent more money on the kids than you have, and a judge will appreciate your

Bird's Nest Custody

Bird's nest custody is a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, spending their out time in separate housing of their own.

The terms "sole custody" and "joint custody" are somewhat generic.

They represent categories of custody, but custody itself is best understood as a continuum, as unique as the parents who divorce.

Imagine a continuum with parents who are completely cooperative at one end and a single parent raising children alone, with no involvement on the part of the other parent, at its other end. At the cooperative extreme, parents may live next door to each other and the children may go back and forth interchangeably. At the other, the non-custodial parent may have died or disappeared. While the former example is more usual than the latter, your family probably falls somewhere in between

Types of Custody

In general, legal custody refers to whether one or both of the parents make legal decisions regarding the child - such as educational, medical or religious choices. A court can give parents joint legal custody, in which case they make such decisions together, or give one parent sole legal custody, in which case that parent makes decisions alone, although the other still has a right to be kept fully informed. Physical custody refers to the child's living arrangements. A court can give both parents physical custody, in which event they share parenting time on an approximately equal basis, or it can give one parent primary physical custody and the other more limited parenting time.

It is possible for a court to award joint legal and joint physical custody to the parents. However, a court can also award joint legal custody, but give one parent primary physical custody. On rare occasions (such as when one parent is mentally impaired but otherwise a positive influence), a court may even award sole legal custody to one parent, with a shared physical custody arrangement.

Factors to Consider

What's best for your children depends on many factors.

You and your spouse would be good candidates for joint legal custody if: Both of you are good parents;

Each of you trusts the other to be a good parent;

Each of you has the maturity to set aside the personal differences that gave rise to the divorce because your primary focus is on doing what's best for your children;

and There is no history within your relationship of domestic violence or other control issues that would make joint decision-making difficult or impossible. The very worst place for children to be is at the center of ongoing conflict between their parents.

Parents Working Together

Regardless of whether or not joint custody is appropriate for your case, please understand that parents can and should attempt to work together in most cases, even when one parent has sole custody. There are unusual situations in which the other parent is so harmful that your duty, as a good parent, is to protect your children from him or her. Fortunately, this is rare. In the vast majority of cases, children of divorce will do best when both parents take a positive and active role, and each encourages an ongoing, meaningful relationship with the other.

The Importance of Consulting an Attorney

There are many ways in which custody issues impact divorce.

To explore the various types of custody in adequate detail and evaluate which may be best for your children, consult with a competent domestic relations attorney.

Please keep in mind that custody should be done right the first time. If you enter into a custody agreement that is inappropriate, or if the court is presented with inadequate information upon which to enter orders, the impact on your children can be negative. Even so, once custody orders are entered, they can be extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to modify.

This is true regardless of whether those orders were the result of negotiated settlement or litigation.

You could end up in court (or back in court if the case was initially decided by a judge) attempting to re-litigate issues you thought were settled. Worse yet, you might be unable to convince the court to change custody and visitation orders that harm your children.

Therefore, it is essential to focus from the outset on obtaining custody orders that best serve their needs.

Children are Priceless

Attorneys are expensive but children are priceless.

Even if you and your spouse are in agreement about custody and visitation, I recommend you consult with a competent domestic relations attorney before making any important decisions.

Temporary Custody

"De facto" (means "in fact") custody refers to who actually has custody of the child at this time. This can be different from "court ordered custody". In order to formalize custody before you begin litigation, you will need to file for temporary custody. Temporary custody will be based on the "best interests" of the child standard. It is not an "initial" award of custody. Instead it is temporary custody while you wait for the court to hold a hearing.

Sole Custody

- Custody is made up of: legal custody and physical custody. A person with legal custody has the right to make long range plans and decisions for the education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significance concerning the child's welfare. A person with physical custody has the child living primarily with them and they have the right to make decisions as to the child's everyday needs. Sole Custody is when both legal and physical custody are given to one parent. The child has only one primary residence.

Split Custody

- Split custody is easiest to describe in a situation where there are two children and each parent obtains full physical custody over one child. Some of the considerations that may bring about this result are age of the children and child preference.

Joint Custody

- Joint Custody is actually broken down into three categories: Joint Legal, Shared Physical, and Combination.

Joint Legal custody is where the parents share care and control of the upbringing of the child, but the child has only one primary residence.

In Shared Physical Custody the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of their time with the other parent.

Additionally, you can make your own special joint custody agreement that is any combination of Shared Physical and Joint Legal Custody. One example of this is when there is one residence for the child and the parents live with the child there on a rotating basis.

The court looks very closely at Joint Custody agreements. The most important factor to Joint Legal Custody to Shared Physical Custody is the ability of the parents to talk about and reach joint decisions that affect the child's welfare. If you are constantly fighting over what religion or what school, the court may strike down your agreement.

Other factors include:

willingness to share custody; fitness;

child's relationships with parents;

child's preference;

ability to stabilize child's school and social life;

closeness to parent's homes (primarily a factor during the school year) ;

employment considerations (e.g. long hours, extensive travel, etc.);

age and number of children;

financial status;

benefit to parent.

Additionally, the sincerity of the parties involved is important. The court will want to make sure that joint custody isn't being traded for concessions on other points. Another consideration is whether the grant of joint custody will affect any assistance programs.

Currently, Welfare and Medical Assistance are affected based on the award of Joint Legal Custody. Be sure to check with your contact at any social service agencies before entering into an agreement or you may be jeopardizing your benefits. This list is not meant to be complete and the court will hear anything that they believe to be relevant.

Child Custody Concerns in Maryland

Whether handling a stipulated stepparent adoption or an emotionally-charged child custody dispute, the family law attorneys at Stearns-Montgomery & Associates provide all of our clients with caring and supportive legal advocacy along with experienced legal representation and results.

Our firm is a smaller law firm by choice: we know our clients by name and personally manage every aspect of their case, providing outstanding representative in a cost-effective manner. When deciding issues regarding child custody, courts in Georgia will consider many factors including:

Best interests of the child

Suitability of each parent as custodian Psychological, emotional, and developmental needs of the child Ability of the parents to communicate Prior and continuing care that the parents have given the child Wishes of the child Safety of the child

Custodial agreements of the parents

History of domestic abuse

We zealously represent the best interests of mothers, fathers, grandparents and other interested parties in custody controversies without putting children in the middle of the dispute. We are committed to providing the most effective level of service to each of our valued clients in a caring and compassionate manner. We handle child custody issues including:

Adoption and stepparent adoptions

Jack I. Hyatt is a Premier Lawyer for Felonies, Misdemeanors, DUI, Driving on Suspended or Revoked License, Speeding, Radar and MVA hearings and practices in every Maryland county. As a past Assistant State's Attorney, he has gained experience in over 20,000 cases, thoroughly knows all crminal defense procedures, understands police mistakes, and is able provide you with the very best possible defense in your case.

What are some common terms?

Legal Custody - the parent with legal custody can make all decisions regarding the health, welfare and education of the child.

Physical Custody - determines which parent has the actual, physical right to be with the child.

Sole Legal Custody - when one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent makes all decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child (and the other parent has no input on these decisions)

Sole Physical Custody - when one parent is given sole physical custody, the child remains with him/her and the other parent is excluded from having physical custody of the child (typically when the other parent has abused or neglected the child)

Joint Legal Custody - both parents participate in reaching decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child.

Joint Physical Custody - both parents have the ability to be with the child, typically joint physical custody is coupled with a parenting plan to determine who will be with the child at what particular time.

Shared Custody - both parents equally share the legal and physical custody of the child. Typically found only where both parents are able to resolve their personal differences and keep them in check for the sake of raising the child in a caring, nurturing environment.

What is the difference between custodial parent and non-custodial parent?

The custodial parent is the term that is used for the parent that has primary physical custody of a child. Typically the child resides with the custodial parent.

The term non-custodial parent is used for the parent that has the child for a lesser amount of time. Typically the child does not reside with the non-custodial parent except during the time that the non-custodial parent exercises his/her visitation right with the child.

Typically, the child is either with the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent but not both. This arrangement comes as a result of the separation of the parents and both parents maintaining separate residences. The child resides with the custodial parent most of the time and the non-custodial parent spends time with the child during periods of child visitation. This way, both parents get to spend time with the child despite having separate residences.

What is child visitation and a ‘parenting plan’?

Custody and visitation are considered at the same time since the factors and circumstances taken into consideration by the court in making these determinations are essentially the same.

The term "child visitation" refers to the time when the non-custodial parent has the right to be with the child. The custodial parent's right to be with the child is often subject to the non-custodial parent's right to visit with the child.

The term "parenting plan" refers to the agreement between the parents or the court order which defines provisions for custody and visitation. It determines whether one or both parents has the ability to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child. The parenting plan also defines when the child is to be with the non-custodial parent.

What are some common arrangements for child visitation?

Child visitation, often pursuant to a parenting plan, can take a variety of forms or schedules. Some common arrangements include some of the following provisions:

(1) Alternate weekend visitation with the non-custodial parent, including "three-day holidays"

(2) Mid-week visitation with the non-custodial parent

(3) Sharing of the child during periods of school recess -winter, spring and summer

(4) New Year's Eve, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with one parent or the other in alternate years (click here for a useful article on holiday visitations)

(5) Mother's Day with Mother, Father's Day with Father

(6) Alternate years on the child's birthday

(7) Open telephone contact by the parent who does not have actual physical custody of the child

(9) Exchange of a few days of visitation here and there as mutually agreed without the need for a change or modification of the court order

What factors go into determining custody and visitation?

The primary consideration is, "What is in the best interest of the child?" The focus is from the viewpoint of the child as opposed to the wants and desires of one parent or the other.

Some states have established a general rule that it is in the best interest of a child to have continuing and frequent contact with both parents and the parent who is most supportive of this concept becomes the custodial parent. If one parent attempts to undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent, this factor could be considered in providing custody or additional visitation to the other parent. In California, the impact of a proposed move on a noncustodial parent’s relationship with his children may be considered a relevant factor in determining what is in the best interests of the child.

The best interest of a child is determined on a case-by-case basis upon consideration of all relevant facts concerning the circumstances of both parents.

Do the wishes of a child have any influence in custody decisions?

Some states (NOT ALL) allow children of sufficient maturity to have an impact upon the determination of custody and visitation by considering their desire to reside with one parent or the other. Judges will listen closely to the child's stated preference and his or her reasons. The child does not have the final say and it will be the judge's decision just how much consideration is to be given to the child's wishes, depending on age, maturity, and the quality of the reasons. The overriding question will always be: what is in the child's best interest?

What if the child's best interest does not coincide with the parents' personal desires?

It may be in the best interest of the child to remain in the home with people he has lived his entire life rather than be uprooted after the loss of his mother and transferred to someone he does not know.

If the natural father challenges the issue and desires custody the court will have a difficult decision to make. If he agrees to the change of custody, the court should most likely grant it. The situation is similar to a step-parent adoption where the state tends to be more lenient in the examination it makes before it grants the change of custody. In this case the natural parent in the household will have passed away; however the child has been living in the home with the stepparent and, if thriving, the court may grant it.

What if both parents agree on child custody and visitation?

This is the ideal situation. Absent extenuating circumstances (such as abuse or neglect), the parenting plan agreed upon by both parents becomes the parenting plan. If the issue of child custody and visitation is not raised in a court action, the agreements worked out between the parents is left undisturbed. The agreement does not have to be reduced to a writing signed by both parents but a written, signed parenting plan is preferable for future reference. In addition, a written, signed parenting plan can typically be entered as a Stipulation between the parties and then issued as a court order for future enforcement purposes.

What if the parents disagree on child custody and visitation?

Most states require both parents who are unable to reach an agreement on the issues of custody and visitation to participate in a mediation session to work out such a plan. In the mediation session, both parents meet with a third-party, typically an experienced attorney or social worker, to discuss relevant factors in an effort to reach an agreement. Many contested issues of custody and visitation can be resolved in a mediation session and this session typically results in an agreement which then can be presented as a Stipulation for issuance as a court order.

Should mediation of custody and visitation disputes fail, the parents can then pursue litigation of unresolved issues. A court hearing will be conducted and evidence presented. Often expert witnesses, such as psychologists and licensed social workers, will be called to present evidence for consideration by the court. After the court has received such evidence, it is then in a position to make an order regarding custody and visitation.

Custody and visitation disputes can be very difficult and expensive to resolve. An agreement by both parents is the preferred course of action since a joint parental decision is more likely to be followed than if an outsider makes a decision for them.

Can expert witnesses be used in custody battles?

Because of their lack of familiarity and formal training in the field, often times judges will put much stock in the testimony and written recommendations of experts in custody disputes. Experts in the field of child psychiatry or psychology or mental health will perform custody evaluations of the family with written conclusions and recommendations to the court based on their observations. The evaluations will cover the activities of each parent, the home life, parenting skills, relationships to the child, and the child’s feelings and preferences. One of two possible outcomes will occur: the recommendation of the professional will be accepted by all parties (judges, lawyers, parents) or everyone goes off to court to let the judge make the decision.

Does religion enter into the determination of child custody?

No -- theoretically. Whether one parent practices a religion or not is normally not a factor in deciding custody, unless there is evidence of potential or present harm to the child, such as if the parent engages in unusual "cult" activities or has an unorthodox lifestyle that might likely put the child in danger or be detrimental to the best interest of the child.

Does an extramarital affair have an impact on custody?

It could, depending on the facts of the case. Generally-speaking, a discrete affair will normally not be a consideration in determining custody. It will become a significant (possibly negative) factor if the relationship represents a threat, has harmful sexual overtones, or puts the child in embarrassing situations.

If there is a live-in situation, the judge will evaluate, among other relevant circumstances, the relationship between the child and the other live-in partner and any evidence of present or potential harm from the situation in determining whether this should be a factor to consider.

Can custody rights be modified?

Absolutely. You can go back to court to change a custody order if there is a substantial change of circumstance that has a significant, adverse effect on the child (such as visitation problems, erratic behavior, relocation and impact on child-parent relationship, change in employment, residence, or marital status). Because we live in a highly mobile society, it is strongly recommended that you periodically evaluate the parenting plan. The courts recognize that many factors (such as, children’s age, relationship with both parents, the parents’ relationship, the wishes of the children

Types of Child Custody

Physical Custody

Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody to both parents when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.

Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have sole physical custody, with visitation to the other parent.

Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.

If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won't get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you -- which may harm the children. What's more, if you're represented by an attorney, it's sure to be expensive.

If you think you have circumstances that make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won't communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for sole legal custody. But, in many states, joint legal custody is preferable, so you will have to convince a family court judge that it is not in the best interests of your child.

Sole Custody

One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. Courts generally won't hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit -- for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect.

However, in most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role a divorced father plays in his children's lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody, the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In that situation, the parents would make joint decisions about the child's upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights.

It's understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse. But it's best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may simply allow supervised visitation, while still ordering joint legal custody.

Joint Custody

Parents who don't live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:

joint legal custody

joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent), or joint legal and physical custody.

It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, but not necessarily the other way around.

Joint Custody Arrangements

When parents share joint custody, usually they work out a schedule according to their work requirements and housing arrangements and the children's needs. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent's house or apartment. Other joint physical custody arrangements include:

alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or

spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other.

There is even a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, spending their out time in separate housing of their own. This is called "bird's nest custody."

Pros and Cons of Joint Custody

Joint custody has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents. And it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent.

There are, of course, disadvantages:

Children must be shuttled around.

Parental noncooperation or ill will can have seriously negative effects on children.

Maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.

If you do have a joint custody arrangement, maintain detailed and organized financial records of your expenses. Keep receipts for groceries, school and after-school activities, clothing, and medical care. At some point your ex may claim she or he has spent more money on the kids than you have, and a judge will appreciate your detailed records.

Helpful Terms to Know

Default Judgment - Judgment entered against a individual who fails to respond to the civil complaint or petition.

Public Defender - Court-appointed lawyer for defendants who are declared indigent.

Punitive Damages – Damages awarded over and above compensatory damages to punish a defendant for wanton, malicious, willful, reckless, oppressive, or fraudulent conduct. Punitive damages are imposed to compensate the Plaintiff for mental anguish, degradation, shame, or other aggravations beyond actual damages.

Quash - To void or vacate a summons, subpoena, etc.

Direct Evidence – Testimony by witnesses who heard words spoken or saw acts done.

Direct Examination - First questioning of witnesses by the party calling.

Directed Verdict -. A specific verdict demanded by a judge.

Disbarment - Form of discipline of a lawyer resulting in the loss of that lawyer’s right to practice law.

Pretermitted Child - A child born after a will is executed, who is not provided for by a will.

Decision - Judgment reached or given by a court of law.

Declaratory Judgment - Judgment of the court explaining the existing law expressing the opinion of the court as to the rights of the parties, but without awarding relief or provide enforcement.

Decree - Order of the court. A final decree is one that fully disposes of the litigation, while an interlocutory decree is a preliminary order that often disposes of only part of a lawsuit.

Defamation – Injury to a person’s reputation. Libel is written defamation, while slander is spoken.

Default - Failure to respond to a lawsuit within the specified time.

Pretrial Conference - meeting between the judge and the lawyers involved in a lawsuit to narrow the issues in the suit, agree on what will be presented at the trial, and explore the possibility of settling the case without a trial.

Pretrial Intervention - Programs to aid certain qualifying criminal defendants by diverting them from prosecution and enrolling them in rehabilitative programs. Upon successful completion of the required program s , the criminal case is dismissed. Pretrial intervention is most often used in substance abuse and domestic violence where the crime charged is the defendant’s first offense.

Pretrial Release - Release of a prisoner by sheriff’s personnel after arrest and before any court appearance, but with a court appearance date.

Discharge of bond - court order to release a bond.

Disclaim - To refuse a bequest made in a will, maryland custody lawyer, maryland custody attorney,.

Discovery – Investigation and gathering of information by opposing parties prior to going to trial. Discovery might include: depositions, interrogatories, production of documents or things, permission to enter land or other property, physical and mental examinations, and requests for admission.

Dissent – appellate court opinion presenting the minority view and outlining the disagreement of one or more judges with the decision of the majority.

Diversion - process of removing some minor offenses from the full judicial process, on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make restitution for damages.

Docket – Calendar of cases to be heard by a court or a log containing brief entries of court proceedings.

Docket Call - Proceeding in which a judge assigns trial dates or takes pleas.

Docket Number –Numerical designation assigned to each case by the court.

Domicile - Place where a person has his or her permanent legal home.

Double Jeopardy – Second trial for the same crime, forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Due Process of Law - right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process. Due process includes such constitutional requirements as assistance of counsel, adequate notice of legal proceedings, opportunity to be heard by the judge, and the defendants’ rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury and to confront and secure witnesses.

Elements of a Crime - Specific factors that define a crime and which the State may prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.

Eminent Domain - Power of the government to take private property for public use through condemnation.

En Banc – The complete set of judges of a court..

Endorsed - Stamped with the date and time of filing with the court.

Enjoining - Order by the court telling a person to desist from performing a specific act.

Entrapment - defense to criminal charges alleging that agents of the government induced a person to commit a crime he she otherwise would not have committed.

Entry of Judgment or Order - The filing of a written, dated and signed judgment or order.

Discretion - Power of a judge to act according to the dictates of his own conscience and judgment, unconstrained by a judgment or conscience of others.

Dismissal –Disposition of a case without a trial, maryland custody lawyer, maryland custody attorney,..

Dismissal with prejudice – In criminal law, the prohibition against double jeopardy means that the defendant may not be charged with the specific crime again. Dismissal with prejudice occurs when the court has not pursued action within the six-month time limit. In civil cases, the complainant is prevented from bringing the same claim or cause of action against the same defendant.

Dismissal without prejudice – a dismissal without prejudice means that the person may be charged with the specific crime again. In civil cases, dismissal without prejudice means the plaintiff is entitled to bring the same claim or cause of action again.

Disposition - The final settlement of a case.

Equal Protection of the Law - guarantee in the U.S. Constitution that the law treat all persons equally. Equal Protection requires that courts be open to all persons on the same conditions, with similar rules of evidence; that persons be subject to no restrictions in the acquisition of property, the enjoyment of personal liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that persons are liable to no other or greater burdens than those are laid upon others; and that no different or greater punishment is enforced against them for violations of the laws.

Equity -. Separate body of law to provide a remedy for every injury developed in England.. The aim this system is to find a way to achieve a lawful result when legal procedure is inadequate. Restraining orders and injunctions are equitable remedies.

Escheat - Process by which a deceased person’s property reverts to the state if no heir can be found.

Escrow - Money is held by a neutral third individual until all conditions of an agreement are met.

Estate - Personal property car, household items, and other tangible items, real property and intangible property owned in the individual name of a person at the time of the person’s death. .

Estate Tax - tax on the privilege of transferring property to others after a person’s death. In addition to federal estate taxes, many states have their own estate taxes.

Estoppel - Person’s own action precluding later laims to the contrary.

Et al. – And others.

Et Seq. - And the following.

Evidence - Testimony received by the court at any stage of court proceedings.

Examination – Questioning of a witness under oath.

Exceptions – Reservation of the right to appeal a judge’s ruling upon a motion or objection.

Exclusionary Rule - Rule preventing illegally obtained evidence from being used in any trial.

Promissory Estoppel –Principle allowing the court to enforce a promise even though a valid contract was not formed. Promissory estoppel applies when a person reasonably acted in reliance on that promise. Promissory Estoppel allows the court to compensate recipient for his or her expenditures and or to avoid the unjust enrichment of the other individual.

Property Bond - Bond secured by mortgage or real property, maryland custody lawyer, maryland custody attorney,..

Pro Se - On one’s own behalf. Pro-se usually refers to a individual representing himself or herself in a court action, instead of being represented by an lawyer.

Prosecutor - Trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility to decide who and when to prosecute.

Proximate Cause - Act that caused an event to occur. A person generally is liable only if an injury was proximately caused by his or her actions or by his or her failure to act when he she had a duty to act.

Execute - Complete legal requirements that make a will valid.

Executor - Personal representative who administers an estate.

Exempt Property – Property protected by law from seizure by creditors.

Exhibits –Document or item which is formally introduced in court and which, when accepted, is made part of the case file.

Exigent Circumstances – need for immediate action that, forexample, would justify a warrantless search to avoid the destruction of evidence.

Exonerate - vindicate.

Ex Parte - On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party. A request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding, inasmuch as the person subject to the search is not notified of the proceeding and is not notified of the hearing.

Ex Parte Communication – Communication between a judge and one party when the absent individual did not have notice.

Ex Parte Proceeding - Legal procedure in which only party is present. An ex part proceeding differs from an adversary proceeding, and is only available in limited circumstances, such as a hearing for a temporary restraining order.

Principal - Person primarily liable.

Privilege - Right held by a person or class beyond the course of law, such as the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

Probable Cause –Evidence required before a person or property may be searched or seized by law enforcement and before a search or arrest warrant may be issued.

Probable Cause to Arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge and of which the officers had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that the suspect has committed or is committing a crime.

Probable Cause to search exists when the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge and of which the officers had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in the location identified.

Probate - The court-supervised process by which a will is determined to be the will-maker’s final statement regarding how the will maker wants his her property distributed. It also confirms the appointment of the personal representative of the estate.

Ex Post Facto - After the fact. The Constitution prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws. These are laws that permit conviction and punishment for an act that was lawful at the time it was performed.

Express Warranty - affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer that is relied upon by the buyer in agreeing to the contract.

Expungement - Official and formal erasure of a record or partial contents of a record, maryland custody lawyer, maryland custody attorney,.

Extenuating Circumstances - Circumstances that render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.

Extradition - Surrender by one state to another of a person accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within territorial jurisdiction of the other, with the other state which is competent to try him her, demanding his her surrender.

Extrinsic - Foreign, from outside sources.

Family Allowance - small amount of money set aside from the estate of the deceased. Its purpose is to provide for the surviving family members during the administration of the estate.

Felony – crime that allows a defendant to be imprisoned for more than one year upon being found guilty.

Real Property – Buildings, land, and other improvements affixed to the land.

Reasonable Belief -Facts and circumstances within an arresting officer's knowledge, and of which he had reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to justify a person of average caution in believing that a crime has been or is being committed.

Reasonable Doubt - Such a doubt as would cause a careful person to hesitate before acting in matters of importance to himself or herself.

Defendant - Person being sued or charged with a crime.

Deferred Sentence –Sentence postponed to a future time.

Deficiency Judgment – Judgment for a creditor for an amount equal to the difference between the amount owed by the debtor and the amount collected from sale of the collateral.

Demand for Discovery - Demand by the defense lawyer to the prosecutor to furnish material information in a case.

Demanding State - State seeking return of a fugitive.

De Novo - Anew. new trial of a case

Deposition - Oral statement made in front of an officer authorized by law to administer oaths.

Descent and Distribution Statutes - State laws prescribing the distribution of estate property of a person who dies without a will.

Designee - Person appointed who sets conditions of release for a defendant arrested at a time when the judge is not available.

Fiduciary - person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence to another and having a duty to act primarily for the other’s benefit: i.e., a guardian, trustee or executor. .

File - To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court court administrator to enter into the files or records of a case.

Filed in Open Court - Court documents entered into the file in court during legal proceedings.

Final Order – order that ends the lawsuit between the parties, resolves the merits of the case, and leaves nothing to be done but enforcement.

Finding - Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory agency on issues of fact. Also, a conclusion by a jury regarding a fact.

First Appearance - The initial appearance of an arrested person before a judge to determine whether or not there is probable cause for his her arrest. Generally, the person comes before a judge within hours of the arrest. Also called initial appearance.

Foundation - Preliminary questions to a witness to establish admissibility of evidence; i.e., laying a foundation for admissibility.

Fraud - Intentional deception to deprive another person of property or to injure that person in any way.

Fruit of the Crime - Property acquired by means and in consequence of the commission of a crime, and sometimes constituting the subject matter of the crime.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree – Evidence obtained through an illegal search or interrogation.

Points or Point Information - Penalty points imposed by the Motor Vehicles Division after conviction of a traffic offense.

Polling the Jury - The act, after a jury verdict has been announced, of asking jurors individually whether they agree with the verdict.

Pour-Over Will - will that leaves some or all estate assets to a trust established before the will-maker’s death.

Prejudice - Unfair harm to one individual.

Power of Lawyer – Formal authorization of a person to act in the interests of another who is incapable of managing his or her own affairs or property.

Preliminary Injunction - Court order requiring action or forbidding action until a decision can be made whether to issue a permanent injunction. It differs from a temporary restraining order.

Pre-Sentence Investigation - background investigation of the defendant by the Department of Corrections, returnable to the sentencing judge on or before a certain date.

Fugitive - Person who flees from one jurisdiction to another to avoid prosecution.

Garnishment - legal proceeding in which a debtor’s money, which is in the possession of another called the garnishee , is applied to the debts of the debtor, such as when an employer garnishes a debtor’s wages.

General Damages - Compensation for the loss directly and necessarily incurred by a breach of contract.

General Jurisdiction - Refers to courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.

Good Faith – Honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person. This term is applied to many kinds of transactions.

Good Time - reduction in sentenced time in prison as a reward for good behavior. It usually is one-third to one-half off the maximum sentence.

Grand Jury - jury of inquiry convened to determine whether evidence against a defendant justifies issuing an indictment; comprised of not more than 8 and not less than 5 persons, with at least concurring before an indictment may be returned.

Grantor or Settlor - person who sets up a trust. Also known as trustor.

Guardian - person appointed by will or by law to assume responsibility for incompetent adults or minor children. If one parent dies, the children’s guardian will usually be the other parent. If both die, it usually will be a close relative.

Guardianship - Legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, housing, health care, and other necessities of a person deemed incapable of providing these necessities for himself herself. A guardian also may be given responsibility for the person’s financial affairs, and thus perform additionally as a conservator. See also Conservatorship.

Habeas Corpus - Writ directing the appearance of a person before the court to determine whether he she is being detained unlawfully.

Harmless Error - error committed during a trial that was corrected or was not serious enough to affect the outcome of the trial and therefore was not sufficiently harmful prejudicial to require that the judgment be reversed on appeal.

Plea - Defendant’s answer to the charge - guilty, not guilty, nolo contendere or Alford plea. In a criminal proceeding, the defendant’s declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty. The defendant’s answer to the charges made in the indictment or information.

Plea Agreement - agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant, presented for the court's approval, regarding the sentence the defendant should serve upon a plea of guilty, an Alford plea, or a no contest plea. Typically, the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some form of leniency. For example, the defendant may plead to lesser charges so that the penalties are diminished. Or, the defendant may plead to some, but not all of the charges so that others are dropped. The agreement may include sentencing recommendations. Such bargains are not binding on the court.

Plea Bargaining or Plea Negotiating - The process through which an accused person and a prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of a case. The Court is not privy to the actual negotiations, but is presented with a plea agreement for its approval or rejection.

Pleadings - written statements of fact and law filed by the parties to a lawsuit.

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