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What Family Law Legislation To Expect In The 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session

By: Ferrier R. Stillman and Marissa K. Lilja

This year already looks to be another important year for family law in the Maryland General Assembly.  At the forefront of possible legislation this year are important issues involving child custody and divorce. The trend to address these issues has continued over the past few years, and the 2016 legislative session, which began January 13, 2016, is already promising new bills for high-profile issues. One of the biggest changes enacted last year was the addition of “Mutual Consent” as a ground for divorce.  Although it was introduced in 2015 as a way for all couples to avoid the one-year waiting period to file for divorce, when it was passed, it only applied to couples without minor children. Under the current law, couples with minor children can enter into an agreement resolving all financial, property, and custody issues related to the divorce; but, unfortunately, they cannot get a “Mutual Consent” divorce.  Hopefully that will change in this legislative session, as Senator Robert Zirkin is looking to further expand this law to couples with minor children, as originally intended.  Divorce by mutual consent would be especially beneficial for couples with minor children, as it allows for less litigation and, hopefully, less stress for a family. 

Other legislation stems from bills that were proposed last year, but did not pass.  Specifically, there is a push to recognize de facto parenthood status in Maryland, which was the subject of a recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals case in Conover v. Conover.  That case practically invited the legislature to create parental rights for individuals who are not biological or adoptive parents of children, but who, nevertheless, had a significant parental role in the child’s life. The legislature failed to pass last year; perhaps this year will be different.

Once again, there is proposed legislation requiring a presumption of joint custody in divorce cases. The goal of the bill is to keep both parents involved in their children’s lives after divorce; but, fortunately so far, the legislature has not yet taken this leap to mandate that joint legal and shared physical custody is automatically and necessarily in the children’s best interest.  Unfortunately, not all parents are fit for custody.  Also, being reintroduced this year is a bill to codify Maryland case law based on recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Child Custody Decision-Making, which would make it easier for non-lawyers to find and understand the factors used in custody determinations.

Ferrier R. Stillman and Marissa K. Lilja of the Family Law Department represent clients in a variety of domestic matters.  If you would like additional information on any of the pending legislation or any other family law issue, please contact Ms. Stillman or Ms. Lilja.

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