Modification of Court Orders in Maryland
Courts in Maryland recognize that, throughout life, circumstances change for people and their children. For that reason, there are certain issues, whether decided by agreement between the parties or by Court decision between two litigants, which are always modifiable upon a material change in circumstances.
This is obviously limited to areas that are modifiable, most notably child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony.
Modification of Child Custody and Visitation
Custody and visitation issues are never permanently settled (until the children are grown). As children grow, parties remarry, and priorities change, a modification of custody and visitation may be required.
Maryland law allows for modification of a custody or visitation order when (1) there has been a material change of circumstances and (2) it is in the best interest of the children to modify custody or visitation. The change of circumstances must have taken place after the entry of the last order in the case—it cannot be based on testimony or evidence that pre-dates the entry of the last order.
The change of circumstances may be either positive or negative. A positive change could be a parent’s remarriage or getting a new job with either a higher salary or more flexible work schedule. A negative change could be a child developing behavioral problems, one parent struggling with substance addiction, or a criminal conviction of a parent. As stated above, one parent’s denial of court-ordered visitation may also be a material change of circumstances allowing for a modification of custody.
If the court determines that there has been a material change of circumstances, it will then proceed to examine the best interests of the children by applying the various factors listed under Maryland law. These are the same factors that were considered at the initial custody hearing, and include the age of the children; the health, needs, and relationship that each child has with each of their parents; and for any child of sufficient age, the child’s preference as to custody.
Modification of Child Support
Likewise, child support is also modifiable when there has been a material change in circumstances. Generally, this involves a financial change (for example a new job or promotion, or even a loss of employment), but can also involve other changes (for example, a child reaching the age of majority).
It is often a good idea for the parties to exchange their financial information with each other to have a general idea about any changes in income or ability to pay child support. They will usually have to trade this information in the court and litigation process anyway, so doing it beforehand can save some time and money for everyone involved.
Another reason for exchanging financial information is that child support, more often than not, is set using the presumptive amount generated by the Maryland child support guidelines. There are times when courts can and do deviate, but in most cases the calculation of a new support amount will follow the guidelines. As a result, parties in modification cases should strongly consider coming to an agreement, with the assistance of their counsel, as to a new child support amount.
It is important to note that, where a court has ordered child support, a verbal agreement as to a modification of support has no legal effect. Only a new court order can legally modify a court-ordered child support obligation. Payors of child support who forget this can find themselves facing very large arrearages down the road.
Modification of Alimony
In Maryland, alimony may be awarded as part of the court’s divorce decree. The court has the power to award alimony for either a set length of time or with no set end date—in other words, support could theoretically last forever. A court can only decide an alimony case based on the facts at the time the case is heard. What is deemed a fair result (as far as the judge is concerned) may become unfair to one party as time goes on. To account for this possibility, Maryland law allows spousal support to be modified after it is awarded—if one party presents a good enough reason for a modification.
Contact a Wayside Legal Family Law Attorney
Wayside Legal LLC is an award-winning law firm located in North Bethesda, Maryland, with years of experience handling modification proceedings throughout Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. If you are facing a situation where you need to modify a court order, contact a Wayside Legal attorney today for a consultation to discuss your specific case.