One of the most important issues that arise when a couple decides to divorce is how to restructure parenting their children. Instead of a family home with shared responsibilities, divorce presents a new frontier, and the transition is not an easy one. In Maryland, divorces are governed by Family Law and court regulations, which now include a number of steps intended to help parents identify all the many issues and deal with the change. Montgomery County goes a step further with mandated activities to help parents learn the ropes of the new normal.
The Judge Has a Say
Whether we like it or not, issues like divorce and custody are governed by law, and in Maryland, the Circuit Courts are charged with deciding custody and support of children. In instances where the parents are able to resolve these questions together, the court will still review the agreement, and it must approve before it can become legally binding. Under the “best interests of the child” standard, the Court will evaluate and decide arrangements looking at a number of factors as they impact the child’s life, including considerations like the child’s age, the circumstances of the parents, and the existence of other siblings.
New Maryland Court Rules
The Maryland Courts passed some new rules that came into effect in January 2020. Any parents seeking to establish or modify a custody arrangement for their children have to complete a 9-page form that covers many if not most of the critical issues that co-parenting brings up when a couple are not together. Topics like health, education, religion, holidays, travel and transportation are raised in the form, which, along with the instructions, gives some basic guidance on how to address them. However, the designation of roles and responsibilities in the form is left in the hands of the parents. Needless to say, the form and the related rules and instructions account for an inability to agree, but they still require the parties to go through the effort.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Lends a Hand
In an effort to help families successfully transition into a new co-parenting situation, the Montgomery County Circuit Court Family Division Services hosts mandatory classes for parties seeking a child custody order. Under the P.E.A.C.E. (Parent Education and Custody Effectiveness) program parents learn new skills and insights about parenting and custody. These two, 3-hour classes cover a range of topics designed to help parents understand the logistical and emotional issues that come up when parenting arrangements change due to a separation or divorce. The classes are offered free of charge and have numerous times, which makes it possible to attend without the other parent present.
Having recently gone through my own divorce, I finally had an opportunity to attend these classes myself. I was thoroughly impressed with the entire presentation by the excellent and effective Family Division Services professionals. I cannot imagine a better way to help parents, who are going through one of the most difficult times of their lives, start to look at their struggles against their soon-to-be-ex from their children’s point of view. Your custody fight is most likely affecting your children more than you thought.
When trying to address a major change in the family, having support from trained professionals can help. In addition to your family law attorney who will be able to advise about legal aspects of custody arrangements, mental health providers, parenting experts and other professionals are available to advise and ease the transition. Whether the change is amicable or acrimonious, getting professional counsel about an entirely new parenting landscape can make an enormous difference in the success of your new way of parenting your children. If you aren’t sure who to work with, you can start by asking your family law attorney for some referrals to seasoned experts.
Divorce or separation of a parenting unit causes intense turbulence in the lives of your children. Successfully navigating these changes to establish a new way of parenting takes planning, work and a commitment to fostering a positive environment. In order to make the new arrangement legal, parents need to follow the requirements of Maryland Family law, as well as state and local court rules and regulations. If you and your family are going through a transition, contact me for a consultation about your options.