The new year brings with it new and updated Rules of Civil Procedure in Maryland’s child custody cases. Starting January 1, 2020, for cases filed on or after that date and “insofar as practicable” to all cases pending then, the new rules will apply. (How, practically, the new rules will apply to already filed custody cases remains to be seen.)
These posts summarize and discuss the Rules but are no substitute for reading the Rules themselves. I don’t pretend to know all the answers (or any, for that matter) about these Rules; rather, my discussion here is nothing more than my musings and reflection upon what is undeniably an important development for families experiencing parenting litigation and family law attorneys.
I use the terms “parties” and “parents” interchangeably here; so, when referring to “parents”, I also mean any non-parent litigants in cases involving custody and parenting of children.
Additionally, the forms referred to in Rules 9-204 & 9-204.1 (Parenting Plan Tool) and 9-204.2 (Joint Statement) have not, as of the date of these posts, been published by the Administrative Office of the Courts. I’ve not seen these forms and will comment on them in a future post if I have any insight or musings to offer.
Finally, due to the length of this piece, I’ve broken this into multiple, shorter pieces, each of which discusses a specific Rule in detail.
Where Are These Changes?
The changes appear in four (4) places:
- Existing Rule 9-204 regarding the parenting educational seminar in child custody cases;
- New Rule 9-204.1 defining important parenting terms and establishing a parenting plan tool and settlement process;
- New Rule 9-204.2 creating a mandatory Joint Statement regarding parenting to be filed in contested custody cases that do not settle; and,
- Existing Rule 9-205 regarding mediator’s role assisting with the preparation of the Joint Statement required in Rule 9-204.2.
What Changes? – Rule 9-205
Last but not least, updates to Rule 9-205(i) allow the court-appointed custody mediator to assist the parties with preparing the Joint Statement Regarding Parenting.
This is an especially interesting development because this author is unaware of any other part of the Maryland Rules that allows a court-appointed mediator to assist the parties with preparing a document to be used in contested litigation. Traditionally, a mediator’s drafting is limited to minutes of mediation sessions and/or drafting a settlement document under specific circumstances. And even then, Rule 9-205(h) and its Committee Note carefully detail the court-appointed mediator’s limitations and obligations when drafting settlement documents.
I wonder if we will see a like Committee Note regarding the Joint Statement Regarding Parenting. Or, could this eventually invite a loosening of restrictions on mediator drafting? Eventually allowing mediators to draft, for example, court documents for parties who have settled their cases and see uncontested divorces? This trend is developing in some states, which I discuss here.
These developments are welcome (and long overdue) updates to how we approach and think about parent-child relationships in litigation, our vocabulary around those relationships, and access to forms for parties navigating contested parenting litigation and resolving their parenting disputes. How these Rules and their anticipated (and yet unseen) forms unfold in practice remains to be seen. They are, certainly, an improvement upon what we have had until now – nothing.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.