My practice focuses on families in transition, representing them through their legal challenges as they redefine and reshape their parenting responsibilities and financial support for their children. My services include advocating for parents, third party caregivers, and DeFacto parents in contested and uncontested legal matters, as well as for children when appointed to represent them as a Best Interest Attorney, Child Privilege Attorney, or Child Advocate Attorney.
Custody is the overarching legal term for the responsibilities parents have, by court order or agreement, for the care and parenting of their minor children. Custody or parenting responsibilities fall into two general categories:
- Parenting time or schedule (also known as physical or residential custody); and,
- Decision making (also known as legal custody) over important matters such as health, education, and religious upbringing.
The best interests of each child is the legal foundation for how parenting responsibilities are determined. There is no “one size fits all”. Especially when complex issues arise over:
- Parental fitness
- Abuse and safety
- A child’s or parent’s special needs
- Unmanaged mental and emotional health and personality disorders
- Obstructive parent behavior
- A child’s resistance and refusal of parenting time
- Intractable parent conflict
Child Support is a payment between parents as contribution to their children’s financial needs. There is a formula for calculating child support, which applies to certain income levels. When parents’ combined incomes are above that level, the calculation of child support can either be based upon the formula or the child(ren)’s expenses.
Both parents are legally obligated to contribute financially to a child’s support. This obligation continues until, in most cases, a child reaches the age of 18 years and has graduated high school or turns 19 years if not yet graduated. There is a legal presumption that child support is spent for the direct support of the child or children.
When calculated per the guidelines formula, child support is based upon the parents’ incomes (adjusted only for other child support or alimony paid) and the child(ren)’s cost for health insurance premium, extraordinary medical expenses, work-related childcare, school tuition (if applicable), and travel expenses incurred to exercise parenting time. If parents have shared physical custody, then the number of overnights are also included in the formula. The resulting figure is the presumed amount of child support to be paid.
When parents’ combined incomes are greater than the limits of the child support guidelines formula, then the Court uses it discretion to set the amount of child support. Discretion means a Judge or Magistrate deciding the appropriate amount of support, either based upon detailed financial statements of the parents and the children’s expenses or based upon extrapolated or extended child support guidelines.
The child support guidelines are presumptive when parents’ incomes fall within the guidelines’ limits. This means that the resulting support applies unless a parent can prove that a deviation (or award of a different amount of support; often less support) is appropriate. Deviation may be appropriate when, for example, a parent supports children from another relationship in the home; income varies from year to year; the children’s actual and reasonable expenses are less than the guidelines; or, the parents agree to the deviation.
The calculation of child support can be complicated when:
- Parents’ combined incomes are higher than the guidelines
- A parent’s income varies significantly from year or year
- A parent is self-employed and, so, responsible for paying him- or herself
- A parent’s income is difficult to track, for example cash
- A parent is unemployed or underemployed and may be voluntarily impoverished
- A child has significant expenses that change from year to year
- A parent supports multiple children from several relationships
Additionally, child support can be modified or adjusted whenever there is a material change in financial circumstances. These types of changes usually involve parents’ incomes or a child’s expenses included
My family-focused legal services include representing children in contested custody and parenting litigation when appointed by the court.
Maryland recognizes three types of attorneys who can be appointed to represent children who are the subject of contested custody litigation. All of these roles require that the attorney be appointed by court order to represent the child client.
Child Privilege Attorney
This is the narrowest role. A Child Privilege Attorney (“CPA”) is charged with determining whether the child’s privilege or confidentiality with a mental health professional (such as, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker/LCSW, licensed professional counselor, or other licensed mental health provider) should remain intact or be waived. In short, the CPA is a gatekeeper for the child client’s confidential therapeutic relationship.
Best Interest Attorney
The Best Interest Attorney (“BIA”) role includes the duties of a CPA, in addition to making an independent assessment of what is in the child’s best interest and advocating for that before the court. A BIA is required to make the child’s position part of the record, even if different from the position the BIA advocates regarding the child’s best interests. A BIA is the child’s attorney, advocating for the child’s best interests while giving the child a voice in the process and outcome.
Child Advocate Attorney
The Child Advocate Attorney (“CAA”) may include the duties of a CPA, in addition to acting as an independent attorney for the child client, owing the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation as are due an adult client. A CAA is appointed when the child is in need of a voice in court and the child demonstrates “considered judgment”. A CAA is the child client’s attorney, advocating in pursuit of the child client’s preferences and desired outcome.
This role is neutral, in the sense that as a child’s attorney I do not represent and cannot advise any parent or party in the litigation. Rather, my loyalty and obligations are to my child client.
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