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 in addition to this brief Overview.
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.
Rule 9-204 allows a Court, in contested custody cases, to order the parties to attend an educational seminar. The update to Rule 9-204 revises existing language to refer to teaching parties in the seminar about how to use the Maryland Parenting Plan Tool (defined in Rule 9-204.1) and how to develop a parenting plan (defined in Rule 9-204.1). While largely a terminology change, I anticipate changes in the Courts’ educational seminars (which vary across all the counties) to acquaint parents with the Parenting Plan Tool.
Broadly speaking, Rule 9-204.1 does several distinct and important things:
- Defines commonly used terms in custody cases (Decision-Making Authority/Legal Custody; Parenting Plan; Parenting Time/Physical Custody);
- Requires Courts to inform parties of and direct parties to the Parenting Plan Tool;
- Articulates best interest factors regarding decision-making authority and parenting time; and,
- Requires parties who do not settle to submit a Joint Statement regarding parenting per Rule 9-204.2.
New Rule 9-204.2 establishes a new court form for contested custody cases and a process for its preparation, filing, consideration by the Court, as well as consequences if the form is not filed with the Court.
The Joint Statement Form
Rule 9-204.2 introduces the Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time (which I will refer to here as Joint Statement Regarding Parenting for ease). The Judiciary is responsible for creating and publishing a standardized form (Rule 9-204.2(b)), which has yet to be published as of this writing.
The Joint Statement Process
A Joint Statement Regarding Parenting is required only when parties do not reach a comprehensive Parenting Plan (Rule 9-204.2(a)). Rule 9-204.2(c) sets out a series of deadlines for exchanging and filing the Joint Statement Regarding Parenting, with either the settlement conference or trial as the triggering dates.
If a party willfully fails to cooperate with the Joint Statement Regarding Parenting process, then the court may enter “any appropriate order in regard to the noncompliance” (Rule 9-204.2(e)).
Court’s Review & Consideration
Rule 9-204.2(d) requires the Judge or Magistrate handling the trial to consider the entire Joint Statement and instructs that the Court “may consider” the best interest factors listed in Rule 9-204.1(c).
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.
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.