In the latest Weekly Wright Report:
Family Law University: Where Judges Get Schooled
If you have ever had a family law matter, i.e. divorce, custody, adoption and the like, you know many of the answers to your questions to your lawyer will start with, “It depends”. While much of family law in Maryland is a creature of statute, it is amplified and refined by the body of case law developed over many years. Consequently, as all lawyers must, keeping up to date on both the new statutes and new case law is essential in giving up to date advice.
According to the statistics on the Maryland Judiciary website, in 2022 46.4% of the more than 160,000 cases filed in the Circuit Courts of Maryland were family law cases. In addition, the filings in juvenile cases, a subset of family law cases, were 4.1%. Together, they comprise just over fifty percent of filings in Maryland’s Circuit Courts. Domestic violence and protective order cases are included with civil cases, but are most often heard by the judges hearing family law cases. Given these statistics, the judiciary, as part of their educational component, annually prepares and presents “Family Law University.” Judges are required judges to attend at least once every five years.
Each year the judiciary updates the changes that have occurred, updates their syllabus of concepts to discuss, and for three days judges and magistrates from all over the state gather to hear from judges and family law practitioners about these updates to the law and how they affect the cases they hear and rule upon every day. A full day is devoted to custody, another day is devoted to divorce, alimony and child support, and the third day is devoted to marital property. On Day 1 there was a lecture regarding transgender issues, and on Day 2 Judge Albright from the Court of Special Appeals spoke at the lunch and learn about “What the Appellate Court is Looking For.”
I have been lucky enough to have been chosen to participate as part of the faculty for the past three years. This year, five of my law school classmates who are now judges were either participants or faculty. There are judges that were practicing family law practitioners with whom I have had cases or served on bar committees, and so this day is a reunion of sorts and a welcome change from the daily grind.
Each year judges cycle through the program and self-identify whether their skill set requires that they be placed in a beginner, intermediate, or advance group. For those judges that practiced in the family law area, an advanced group placement is likely. However, many judges come from criminal or civil law backgrounds and their knowledge of family law is limited to cursory updates at continuing education programs and what they learned in law school and for the bar exam. So many of the judges find this three day refresher and update very helpful.
This year as in years past, I was paired with a judge to moderate the advanced group for child support and alimony. Not only does this present an opportunity to go over hypothetical and multiple scenarios, it provides a terrific forum for discussion. It is these discussions that keep bringing me back when invited. It is interesting to hear how judges want to hear cases presented and how their locale informs their experiences. For example, a judge in Montgomery County often comes across cases with large incomes and assets, while a judge in a less affluent area is concerned about how the litigant before them will be able to pay their child support and still be able to afford their rent, pay their car payment, and put food on the table. That is not to say, this is not the case in all jurisdictions, but there are distinct differences among the cases the judges hear and their approach to their rulings. Not all approaches are the same, but they do not necessarily need to be as long as the rulings clearly articulate the reason for their decisions and apply the facts to the law.
As the formation of families have changed over the past twenty years, so have the laws. Even though the law may not be as current as the changes related to families, it is imperative that practitioners, magistrates, and judges alike stay up to date with the current law. Family Law University fills some of this need. Should you have a question regarding family law, you can contact me at email@example.com or 410.659.1389.