About a week ago, the Governor of New York posted a funny image encouraging residents to answer the phone if the state Contact Tracing office reaches out, presumably to inform them that they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID 19.
From the outset, I note that I am a huge fan of any attempt to infuse humor into important messaging concerning public health. But, as a family lawyer, I can’t help but think: But wait, you really should pick up the phone when your ex is calling you! These days, it is so rare that someone actually uses the telephone function of a cell phone, that one has to wonder whether there is an emergency if an ex is actually calling, as opposed to sending a text. In my own cases, I often advise clients or challenge them to pick up the phone to talk to their ex about the particular problem at hand. I realize that with attorneys involved, such advice may seem counterintuitive, but there is a long road ahead when minor children are involved and it is important to pave the way toward co-parenting, which requires, you guessed it, communication.
In fact, Maryland courts in custody cases consider the parents’ ability to communicate with one another as a factor in deciding custody issues, as well. Effective December 1, 2019, Maryland Rule 9-204.1 was enacted to provide guidelines for parties to develop a parenting plan to reflect the legal custody and physical custody arrangements that they believe are in the best interests of their child. By each party providing the Court with their respective views on how decisions are to be made for the child, as well as the amount of time the child should spend with each party, a court can see where the parties’ positions are aligned and where the parties’ positions differ.
In determining the physical and legal custody arrangements for a child, Maryland courts apply the best interest standard, which gives judges incredible discretion. Historically, judges have relied upon certain, non-exhaustive factors that were enunciated in two (2) landmark Maryland cases. But most recently, by way of Md. Rule 9-204.1, there is a new list of factors to assist parties and the Court to consider when thinking about what decision-making authority and parenting time arrangements are in the best interests of the child. Not surprisingly, the Rule provides that the parties should consider their relationship with each other, including: how well they communicate; whether they can co-parent without disrupting the child’s social and school life; and how they will resolve future disputes without the need for court intervention.
With this in mind, it is important to demonstrate a willingness to maintain open lines of communication with your ex without wreaking havoc on your child’s life or initiating litigation whenever you reach a difficult decision. In the years ahead, you will undoubtedly need to talk to your ex about a wide range of issues related to the child from long-range decisions about medical care, education, or religion, to short term decisions, such as changing the pick-up time for a particular access exchange. Suffice it to say, if you share a child with your ex and he/she is calling your cell phone, pick it up!
If you have any further question, our Family Law Team is here to help!
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