Archive | Child Visitation

Custody and Visitation Over the Christmas Holidays

Custody and Visitation Over the Christmas Holidays

The Carroll County Family Law Court and other Maryland Courts have signaled a major change in the thinking around Christmas and holiday visitation. First, one needs to know where the philosophy has been to know where it is going.

In the past the standard thinking of custody and visitation has been to alternate holidays between parents. That is nothing new and I don’t think anything new is on the horizon there. Yet some Westminster Judges and Family Law Masters have called a formerly “sacred cow” into question.

Alternating holidays translated into the alternation of Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Halloween. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas enter the end of the years’ holiday picture. Alternate them? Treat them like the other holidays?

Well, in years past 90% plus parents and judges agreed the following is appropriate: Christmas is treated as “Christmas A” and “Christmas B.” The thinking is that parents place the premium on when the child(ren) wake up Christmas morning over all other Christmas and Thanksgiving times.

Thus it has been protocol that a parent gets Thanksgiving Day, then the other parent gets December 24th (Christmas Eve) in the afternoon until December 25th (Christmas Day) around noon through December 26th. This schedule rotates such that both parents get part of Christmas day but the one who did not get Thanksgiving gets the coveted Christmas wake up.

Sure some people make it easy and one parent always prefers Christmas Even for whatever reason. Also, some parents live so far apart the split Christmas is not feasible so something else gets set up. When that works… it’s a beautiful thing. Everybody wins, but traditionally everybody wants some time on December 25th every year. The solution has historically been the Christmas A-B split I mentioned above.

Yet, recently some judges have deemed it hectic or even dangerous to have kids driving around on Christmas Day. One Westminster Judge commented that it detracted from the kids’ Christmas; opening presents, then getting torn away from the toys to travel around.

This “don’t split Christmas Day” is thinking is something I DO NOT AGREE WITH. Yet I must confess thinking, as a child, after getting a bunch of new presents it was a bummer to pack up and go see other relatives. Yet, I think it is different when you know a whole new pile is waiting at your destination?

So, be aware a growing trend in Family Law is that one parent gets Christmas and one just does not? Forewarned is forearmed. As always, the best idea is to work it out without court or before court and just tell the judge or family law master what you agreed on before he even makes a decision.

Tim Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place

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Mental Health Professionals in Maryland Custody and Visitation Cases

Up until 1983, parents everywhere we’re taking their children to see psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals.  When parents took their children to see those professionals, they expected to know what, if any, problems the children were suffering and what, if any, steps those professionals were taking to address the problems.

Some of those parents have no doubt, been through a divorce. Other such parents were in the midst of a divorce or custody case. Many, many are intact families as well.  Yet in each case or circumstances the parents took their children to professionals expecting results and expected to know details of their child’s state of mind.

The parents want to talk to those professionals about what is on the child’s mind, what the child was saying, what they should say to the child, and what solutions were being proposed etc.  Sometimes, that information would be helpful to judges in deciding custody cases and visitation issues.  Then all that changed in 1983.

Adults know that when they meet with a psychiatrist or other mental health care professional, they are entitled to privilege. This privilege is sometimes referred to in the alternative as the “doctor patient” privilege or “doctor patient confidentiality.”   It is codified in the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Chapter 9.

While it has long been the case that adults enjoy that privilege, the Maryland courts in 1983 determined that children have the same privilege and that neither, nor even both, of the parents may decide to waive or invoke that privilege.  In 1983 Maryland’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided the case of NAGLE v. HOOKS  296 Md. 123, 460 A.2d 49 (1983)

That ruling has subsequently caused significant problems for divorcing and single parents who are subject to custody cases and custody orders.  The court in Nagle v. Hooks, held “(W)hen a minor is too young to personally exercise the privilege of nondisclosure, the court must appoint a guardian to act, guided by what is in the best interest of the child (and) the parents, jointly or severally, may neither agree nor refuse to waive the privilege on the child’s behalf.”

The way it works is as follows:

One or both parents identify a problem or potential problem with the child. They take the child to see a specialist or other professional . If the parents want to know anything specific about the problems or a therapeutic resolution of those problems they are not permitted to have direct contact with the therapist.

Before that therapist can share his/her findings or opinion on the child’s welfare, the court must first appoint an attorney to act as a sort of guardian and decide whether waiver of the privilege is in the child’s best interest.  As often as not, the best interest attorney won’t permit that testimony.

Now, I am not a mental health care professional, nor do I know specifically about their guidelines.  Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that when a parent or parents with an intact family take their child to a therapist they are able to freely discuss any problems the child has and set out strategies to cope with those problems.

It’s sadly idiomatic that the children from fractured family are almost universally recognized to be at greater risk promotional problems.

Yet access to information which might be in their best interest is conducted “by committee” and sometimes won’t be divulged or disclosed at all.  In such cases, the parents cannot have unfiltered contact with the therapist.

This can create and perpetuate an atmosphere of dysfunction.  A result that can have tragic consequences.  This problem is even more profound when you consider that the children most often at risk for problems are the ones from fractured households embroiled in legal proceedings.

Politicians on all sides have lamented that “child rearing is the job of parents and not of society”  This makes it difficult to reconcile a situation where the parents can BOTH be usurped by a court appointed lawyer as a matter of law.

Tim Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place


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Visitation Dispute Resolution in Maryland Custody Cases

Child Custody and Visitation Alternative Dispute Resolution

When opening a custody visitation, child support or other case you will need to submit a “Domestic Case Information Report” along with your complaint, financial statement and  other documents.  The Domestic Case Information Report can be obtained at any clerks office of the court or on the Maryland Administrative Office of The Courts’ website at the following link.

After you file your forms, you will soon learn that The Maryland Administrative Office of the courts is now requiring all domestic cases undergo mediation or “alternative dispute resolution” unless abuse of a child or a party has been alleged.    That’s why the civil case information sheet addresses mediation and “Alternative Dispute Resolution.”

The first section of the form is about alternative dispute resolution. Namely, it asks if your case is appropriate for

  1. Mediation
  2. Arbitration
  3. a settlement conference
  4. Neutral Evaluation.


Now to start with, custody cases are ALMOST NEVER appropriate for arbitration.   I don’t’ even know why arbitration is on the form as described.  I have seen it, but it really is generally not the right tool for the job.

Arbitration can sometimes be helpful is to resolve something limited and black or white not so much the complete dispute between the parties.  For example, narrowly defined issues like: what parent gets Christmas in a particular year? or should a parent be permitted to take a child on an out of state vacation over the objection of another?  Those may be good issues for arbitration.

Arbitrators are a judge whom you hire to make a (usually binding) decision on the people involved.  They are not to be confused with mediators who help people craft a mutual decision between themselves.

In contrast, custody and visitation cases ARE almost universally appropriate for mediation or settlement conferences and sometimes for neutral valuation (as may be necessary).


Mediation is when the parents meet with a qualified family law lawyer or other professional who can try to bridge gaps in their respective positions.  This can be accomplished by the mediator explaining the benefits of co-parenting and by pointing out the pitfalls of various parenting positions.

As to Mediation, “just do it” as they say.  I cannot count the number of people over the years who have protested mediation, attempted to get it waived, or have simply resisted it for reasons unknown to me.  Don’t try to fight mediation process, it doesn’t work.

That is not to say that you won’t reach a mediation.   You may, or you may not,  but fighting the mediation process is like quicksand.  The more you fight it, the more it hurts, and the more deep in trouble you will find yourself.

If you have a custody case, visitation case, modification case or virtually any domestic case in Maryland you’re going to be ordered to participate in mediation. Get used to it. There are three theories on the rise of mediation I ascribe in varying degrees to all of them

First, is  the theory that Mediation is good for the kids.  You will have a lifetime of challenges as a parent, single or divorced.  If you can work through them and demonstrate respect, if not affection, for one another the children will have more self respect and become better people, more successful students etc.

Second, If you get a trial, it will last hours and culminates in your asking for a stranger to make decisions.  That stranger, a judge, could not possibly appreciate and accommodate every nuance of your respective childrens lives and needs.

Third, Childhood is a living, dynamic and evolving process requiring the parents to react and adjust to changing needs of the child, their households,their physical, mental and emotional development.  Court is static, after the fact, and inflexible.  Progress takes months (if you are lucky) and even then it is often too little, too late.

In sum, anything that you can agree upon is a good thing for your kids.

Neutral evaluation

Evaluation in my experience is not so much a means of alternative dispute resolution, as it is a means to the end of alternative dispute resolution.

Evaluation in the custody and visitation usually means a “custody evaluation.”  That is where a third party who is usually an expert in child development evaluates the competing parents and households.

Evaluation can be  through an evaluator employed by the court system, an appointee selected by court order or by private selection.  While it can be discounted, expect it to cost several thousand dollars. More often than not the evaluator does not :”declare a winner.”  So, don’t go into the expense with that expectation.

The Evaluator identifies problems and poses solutions regarding how the parents react to one another and to the child. Typical issues may include: scheduling issues for school and extracurricular activities, medical issues and therapy, homework and other challenges.

The evaluator will advise the parents of her findings when she/he is has completed the investigation.  This will often guide the parents toward settlement and that is why I say it is a means to the end of a dispute resolution.  If the parents don’t reach a resolution, the evaluator will submit the report to the judge for consideration in the final decision.


Tim Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place


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Custody and Visitation Exchanges and Neutral Locations

Child Visitation Exchanges in Frederick MD

Where Do You Drop Off The Kids For Visitation, Your Home or Theirs?

Neutral Locations: The relationships between some parents make exchanges emotionally turbulent so the location of the exchange and other changes may smooth out the problem.

Frederick Maryland custody attorneys usually address and include the location for exchanges of the children as well as the times for those exchanges. In most cases the parents do the exchanges at their homes or residence.

Almost as frequently, parents exchange the child(ren) at a geographic halfway point or at some other predetermined location.

Personally, I am a big believer in the collecting party doing transport. That means a parent comes to the other parent and collects the child wherever that may be.

Such an arrangement creates a buffer for the tardy types because the child is just doing what they normally do at the respective parents house when or if the collecting parent is running late.

Following the tardy theme, the parent from whom the child(ren) is being collected is very unlikely to be late because they are already home when the collecting parent arrives.

Sometimes in custody and divorce cases a location other than the residence of the respective parents is chosen for exchanges of the child(ren). The reasons for this, as well as the chosen locations range from the outrageous to the sublime. While many parties select such places for safety reasons (described below) most of the time such locations are chosen as a mere courtesy, or simply as a halfway point so that the parties each bear half the trouble and expense of exchanges.

When exchange points are chosen as a matter of convenience anyplace will do but frequently child friendly locations like fast food playgrounds are best. These low profile exchange points can also give one the ability to prove he/she was at the correct place at the correct time by having video or even a receipt for a Coke? This can be helpful where the parent(s) lament being “stood up” for visitation or being victims of serial and extreme tardiness.

I know of a case where the father lived in Woodsboro and the mother lived in Thurmont.  Both of the residences were in an “armed camp” kind of situation.  Mother lived on a farm at the end of a long driveway with all her family.  Father lived in a cul de sac  with his family occupying the other homes in the cul de sac.

There were no real safety concerns but it was an awkward arrangement.  The selected that the father would pick up the children at the Cozy Restaurant in Thurmont and the Mother would pick the children back up at a diner in Woodsboro.

Child Custody Lawyers in Frederick Maryland


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Avoid Unhappy Holidays

Custody in Frederick Maryland

2 Components that the Court Recognizes

They are

  1. Physical custody

  2. Legal custody.

Legal custody is:

an obligation/privilege to determine issues surrounding a child’s religious, educational and non emergency medical care.

Legal custody does not have to be with one or the other parent, it is usually shared by a child’s parents.

In contrast, physical custody is a more tangible concept.  Many words and euphemism surround physical custody with the respective parents such as:

  • visitation
  •  access
  • shared custody
  • residential custody, etc.

At the end of the day, all these terms are simply a question of “who has the child(ren) and when”. With that in mind, let us shed some light on the who, where and when of holidays.

This article discusses the “who, where and when” of holidays for kids from single and divorced families. For purposes of discussion, holidays in chronological order are

  1. New Year’s
  2. Easter
  3. Memorial Day
  4. 4th of July
  5. Labor Day
  6. Halloween
  7. Thanksgiving
  8. Christmas.

Please note that I included Halloween. Please include Halloween in your discussions about holidays. If you merely “alternate holidays” you may be disappointed to find no banks open or post offices are closed on Halloween. Make sure it is an acknowledged “holiday”.

Sharing  Holidays

In a previous article, we discussed vacation and summertime access. With Fall and a return to school, this is a good time to discuss holiday access. The concept of single parents sharing/dividing holidays with the child(ren) is often the focus of heated and expensive legal debate. It should not be.

The Family Court works under a presumption that holidays should be shared, usually by alternating who has the child(ren) during school breaks and holidays. Let’s deal with the easy holiday first. Father’s Day is with Father and Mother’s Day is with Mother. If that is not a rule you can live by, you need to re-evaluate your thinking.

Believe it or not, Christmas is the second easiest holiday to deal with once you get the rules down.

With Christmas, there is a growing trend for the parents to alternate “Christmas A” and “Christmas B.”
This concept is structured under the idea that the predominant Christmas ritual with children is on Christmas morning.

In such a case, the first parent has the child(ren) on December 24th at noon until December 25th at noon (Christmas A). The second parent has the child(ren) on December 25th at noon until December 26th at noon.(Christmas B).  In some fortunate cases one parent prefers to have Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day. Following that, the parents usually split the balance of the Winter/Christmas break with school aged children.
With respect to Thanksgiving, it usually is best working as an offset to Easter. These holidays both involve a few days off of school for school aged children and they are approximately six months apart. For example, one person would get Easter in an odd numbered year and the other person would get Thanksgiving in odd numbered years.

In even numbered years the roles reverse. Based on that, Easter and Thanksgiving are usually swapped each year. In a similar way Halloween and Memorial Day are swapped unless parents make an agreement to the contrary.

The summer holidays are usually treated as a fall-where-they-fall proposition. That is because summer access with each respective parent tends to be taken in bigger blocks than during the school year.

For example, some parents choose to alternate week by week throughout the summer. Others give the primary or school year parent the first and last weeks of the summer and alternate the rest.

Religious Holidays And Family Traditions

Jewish holidays and other religious holidays sometimes coincide with the Christian equivalent seasonal holidays for example, Passover versus Easter and Hanukka versus Christmas. Furthermore, school districts are attempting to meld administrative holidays.

If the parents are of a divergent religion from one another, it is absolutely necessary to put the respective holidays in any agreement. Just because your Jewish or Christian partner did not celebrate religious holidays does not mean his family won’t. Consider also, that the emotional tumult surrounding divorce and single parenthood can make people of any faith move closer to their respective roots.

Lastly, if you have special family traditions such an annual reunions, don’t trust that your ex will believe they are as important as when you were together. It is very rare for parents to lament that their holiday access schedule is too specific so always spell it out.


Child Custody Lawyers in Frederick Maryland


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Child Visitation in Frederick Maryland

There are a number of visitation and custody of child options available to children and parents who have been legally separated. Let The Custody Place help you evaluate and choose from among the numerous alternatives recognized by our court system.

Whether separated for reasons of abuse or merely because of divorce – whatever the reason for separation, in most cases, there is still a way to for parent and child to see each other and spend time together.

The Most Common Forms Of Visitation and Visitation Arrangements Include:

  • Supervised visitation – The parent and child are accompanied by a court-appointed observer to guard against any physical and / or verbal abuse
  • Supervised exchange – The child is brought to a place where the parents can exchange custody without the parents having to see each other
  • Evaluation-based visitation – The parent and child interaction is observed discreetly ( such as, through a 2-way mirror ) to evaluate the nature of the parent / child relationship and any risk of abuse


Other Custody Place Services Include:

  • Highly experienced litigation capabilities – Sliding scale fees, discounts and payment plans available. Credit cards accepted
  • Mediation expertise – Choose your mediator well. Don’t let the court appoint just anyone! We respect your child’s wishes while keeping their best interests at the forefront.

Resources that include experienced professionals to identify and evaluate child abuse, and get the proof you need to stop it in its tracks.

We have been serving Washington, Montgomery and Frederick counties for more than 16 years, including Urbana, Gaithersburg, Boonsboro, Walkersville, Thurmont, and Rockville.


CALL US NOW AT 301-865-1101

The Custody Place



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