A Child Custody Commission in Maryland has advocated for a new statute to be passed in Maryland, re-thinking how judges decide child custody cases. I recently moderated a statewide seminar for a global child custody organization, AFCC, for judges, attorneys, legislators and mental health professionals on the proposed statute.
This process and the resulting statute will inevitably affect how every child custody case is tried and resolved in Maryland, both before and after the statute is passed by the Maryland Legislature.
Read the below recommendations from the Commission. It will get you thinking about your own child custody or visitation proceeding by educating you what judges are thinking about in the realm of child custody.
Here are the Commission’s ten main recommendation:
1.There is a need for a custody decision-making statute providing a clear, consistent, predictable, gender-neutral process guiding custody determinations for litigants, lawyers, and judges, focusing on factors that affect a child’s long-term adjustment, including significant regular contact with each parent, parenting quality, a child’s developmental needs, the quality (conflict or not) of the relationship between the parents or parent figures, the parents’ psychological adjustment, and a child’s need to maintain significant relationships.
2. There should be No Presumed Schedule of Parenting Time.
3. The need for increased and enhanced Judicial Training, in areas including explicit and implicit bias, child developmental needs, cultural competency, disability issues, domestic violence, alternative dispute resolution methods (mediation, collaborative law and neutral facilitation), and predictable attorney’s fees.
4. The use of Non-Discriminatory and Gender Neutral Terms in statutes, rules, court forms, and instructions whenever possible, in compliance with federal law, including the amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
5. The need for additional Alternative Dispute Resolution processes, incorporated into court case management systems, providing uniform opportunities state-wide for services including mediation, facilitation and collaborative law.
6. The need for a rule creating a state-wide process for Expedited and Emergency Hearings, with defined criteria and uniform implementation.
7. A requirement that parties submit a Parenting Plan as part of the custody determinations pretrial process.
8. The need for further exploration of a Maryland Family Court consolidating the court-related family law judiciary and related services, recognizing this will require further study and a detailed plan.
9. The need for the establishment of a Civil Right to Counsel for parents in custody cases.
10. The need for clear statewide policies regarding coordination and propriety of court-ordered services, especially regarding Mediation in Domestic Violence Cases and Mediation Following Child Custody Evaluation Reports, including when, if ever, mediation is appropriate in domestic violence cases, and precluding a case custody evaluator from functioning as the case mediator or facilitator.
What is your take-away from these recommendations? I can tell you mine. Mental health issues are going to have a stronger focus in the future than they have had in the past when it comes to deciding child custody.
Stay tuned for more blogs on this topic, including a preview to the new proposed statute, which is great reading, because you can read exactly how the judges are supposed to view child custody once the statute is passed. And if I know judges the way I think I do, many of them may begin incorporating the new factors even before the statute is passed, because it gives them a great set of factors to review and analyze.