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What Family Law Legislation To Expect In The 2015 Maryland General Assembly Session

February 2015

By: Ferrier R. Stillman

The days when the Maryland General Assembly seemed to avoid family law bills “like the plague” continue to be long gone. Just like in 2014, when there was an emphasis on domestic violence laws, the 2015 legislative session is already featuring some high-profile family law bills.

The most prominent is the legislation that Delegate (and the family law bar’s “go-to” legislator) Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County) is introducing to codify the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Child Custody Decision-Making. Her bill would make it easier for non-lawyers to find and understand Maryland law on how custody decisions are made and what factors are to be used by courts in making custody determinations. Currently, there are no statutory guidelines setting standards to be used by the courts in deciding custody and visitation issues.  Instead, guidelines can only be found in appellate court opinions that, for all practical purposes, are inaccessible to lay people.

Delegate Dumais’ bill (which has other co-sponsors) would require Maryland courts to use as the foundation for custody and access/visitation decisions the parents’ ability to ensure the children’s physical safety, support the children’s emotional stability, and promote the children’s intellectual growth and interpersonal skills. Additionally, the legislation would require judges to consider the parents’ abilities to meet children’s regular needs as to education, health care, socialization, culture, religion, and basic needs for food and shelter.

Another bill to be introduced this year is the joint custody presumption bill that is introduced perennially but has yet to pass. That legislation would require courts to start with the presumption that joint custody is in the children’s best interest. However, given its history of failing to pass, and that Delegate Dumais’ bill mirrors the Commission’s recommendations, the latter is far more likely to pass than the former.

Other family law bills are also going to be introduced this session.  They include proposed legislation which would: allocate $3 Million to pay for lawyers for indigent parents in custody cases in specified jurisdictions; prevent alleged rapists from obtaining custody of children conceived through sexual assault; eliminate the one year separation requirement for divorce if the parties enter into a separation agreement that resolves all custody and financial issues in their case; and require an abuser to return certain items to domestic violence victims, such as passports and other forms of identification.

If you have any questions or comments about the content of this article, or anything else about Maryland family law, please contact Ferrier Stillman via email or 410-752-9731.

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