Patricia McCarthy, Esq.

A Passion for Justice and the Experience To Win

What is Family Law?

“Domestic” or “Family” law often includes the following:

Family law relates to issues arising out of the family unit.  The courts offer a distinct set of rules that should be used when dealing with issues concerning family. Such cases include divorce, child custody or child support, domestic violence, foster care and juvenile justice.

For instance, there are two kinds of divorces under Maryland family law:  Absolute Divorce and Limited Divorce.  There must be grounds if a couple wishes to divorce including no-fault separation, adultery, desertion, physical cruelty.  Limited divorce is for couples who do not meet the qualifications of absolute divorce. When a married couple decides that they want to get a divorce, family law will require them to have lawyers represent both parties. They will then be required to decide how the property they own will be divided. The lawyers also go through any previously signed contracts, like a pre-nup.  A new ground for divorce effective on October 1, 2015 is the ground of mutual consent which applies to couples who have no minor children and have an executed Settlement Agreement.  The mutual consent ground allows couples to obtain a divorce quicker than the other grounds for divorce.

In the case of child custody, the court has authority order legal and physical custody which can be either joint or sole custody.  The court usually decides which parent is best suited to take care of the child based on the best interest of the child/children and is directed by several factors to consider including the fitness of the parents, agreements between the parents, the potential of maintaining natural family relations, preference of the child, the age, health and sex of the child, residences of the parents, prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of the child by the parent.  If third parties believe that neither of the parents are fit and proper to have custody of the children, they have a right to petition the court;  however, exceptional circumstances must be proven before a judge will award a third party custody over a parent. The right of a fit and proper parent to make decisions relative to their children is protected by the United States Constitution.

Visitation by a non-custodial parent is also under the authority of the court.  Visitation orders can include non-specific reasonable and liberal visitation, specific visitation or supervised visitation depending on circumstances.

Child support is based on statutory mandate child support guidelines generally based on the parties’ gross income, health insurance costs, work-related day care costs and uninsured medical expenses.

Relative to domestic violence, statutes protect the victim from abuse and, depending on the status of the parties, either a protective order or peace order is issued.

Juvenile law involves cases of misconduct by children under the age of 18.