P. O. Box 3000
La Plata, MD 20646
Family Support Services Coordinator: (301) 932-3426
Courthouse hours: Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30
Because the adversarial process can be destructive for families, family law cases are expedited in a manner designed to enable safety and support for all family members, and to minimize the trauma of litigation. The goal of the family service programs within the circuit courts is to provide an effective approach for the early resolution of family conflict. Because the courts sometimes function as "trauma centers," serving families in crisis, they are in a unique position to identify problems, and connect families who seek court intervention with much-needed services. Families are given every opportunity through participation in educational programs and alternative dispute resolution sessions to make ultimate parenting decisions for themselves. Masters for Domestic Relations and Judges are trained to understand child development, the needs of the individual within the family, and the importance of family issues.
Alternative Dispute Resolution is a fancy term which simply means - solving a conflict without going to trial before a judge. As you will hear many times during your case, it is always best for the parties in a case to try to resolve their differences themselves. To come before a judge, a virtual stranger, should be the last resort when all other efforts have failed. One form of alternative dispute resolution that empowers families is mediation.
When a case involves a dispute over custody or visitation, the court will order the parties to mediation. Mediation is the opportunity to work with a neutral professional to help the parents focus on the best needs of the child, and to then develop their own parenting plan for their children. The court order will direct the parties to promptly contact the assigned private mediator. The list of mediators includes attorneys and mental health professionals, all of whom have received special mediation training. The mediation fee is $100.00 per person, per two-hour session, paid directly to the mediator at the beginning of each session. The fee is payable unless the party or parties provide notice to the mediator, at least twenty-four (24) hours before a scheduled session, of the need to cancel or reschedule the session. The form of payment is at the discretion of the mediator, but cash or money order is recommended. If the parties state that they cannot afford the mediator's fee, they should be directed to the Family Support Services Director (301-932-3426) to request a fee waiver.
The court may also order a separate property mediation to help resolve complicated marital property issues. Referrals are made to a list of qualified mediators, all of whom are attorneys. Initially two sessions are ordered at the cost of $150 per hour. The parties can agree to more sessions if needed. Attorneys will often attend property mediation.
Note: It is helpful to attend a co-parenting class before initiating mediation. The purpose of the program is to help parents understand how children are affected by divorce and other family changes. The Seminar will introduce you to effective parenting strategies for parents who live separately or are divorced. In the seminar you will learn how to deal with the emotional, social, financial, and educational impact of separation and divorce, how to explain divorce to children, and how you can help your children through each developmental stage. Co-parenting classes are currently provided through a private organization in Waldorf, and cost $75.00 per parent.
REFERRAL AND ORDERS
In some custody disputes, a social work investigation is ordered. When this happens, a Court Order is issued for the Department of Social Services to conduct an extensive investigation of both parties, and provides a report and recommendations to the court.
The court may appoint a psychologist to conduct an evaluation of the parties and their children. Costs vary from several hundred dollars to well over one thousand, depending on the individual provider's fees and the extent and scope of the evaluation. Typically, the court orders that the parties divide these costs. The psychologist then provides a report to the court.
The court may order the parties to undergo a substance abuse assessment through the Mental Health Department. The parties will be required to complete a release of information form so that the assessment results can be shared with the Court.
There are times when it is necessary for the court to appoint counsel for a child or children in a family. Sometimes, this is solely for the purposes of disclosing information from a child's mental health professional to the court. Other times, the court may believe that a child's own interests need to be served by an attorney. Typically, the court orders the parents to divide the costs. Often, this attorney is referred to as a Guardian Ad Litem.
Sometimes, it is in the best interest of the children that visitation between family members occur under supervision. The Court Order will specify whether this visitation will occur at the Center for Children in Waldorf, or it will specify the details of visitation supervision by extended family members or other community support members. There is a small fee for the Center for Children supervised visitation program, and hours of visitation are arranged directly with the Center.
Depending on the issues in a particular case, a judge or master may order additional services to assist the court in determining what may be in your child's best interest.
Step 1: Ex Parte Order. A petition for a temporary 7 day protection order may be filed at the Charles County Courthouse. You may apply yourself, and there are no filing fees. Feel free to bring an advocate with you to the Ex Parte and Protective Order hearings for support. The Domestic Relations Coordinator or the Clerk at the Civil Desk will give you several forms to complete. These forms give the judge information about the abuser and the most recent incident of abuse as well as past incidents of abuse. If you do not want the abuser to know your whereabouts, you do not need to provide your address or telephone number.
You will see a judge the same day you file the petition. If the judge finds reasonable grounds to believe that there has been abuse, he/she will sign a temporary Ex Parte Order. The Ex Parte Order is effective the minute it is served on the abuser by a law enforcement officer. This copy of the Ex Parte Order tells the abuser the place and time of the second hearing, called a Protective Order hearing, which will be held within 7 days. If you are asking for financial support from the abuser, you need to complete a Financial Statement Form, and return it at the second hearing.
Step 2: Return to the court for the Protective Order hearing. Relief granted under the Protective Order can be up to 1 year. You must be present at the hearing. Both you and the Respondent have the opportunity to testify. You must tell your story again, this time in more detail. Bring with you any witnesses, photos, letters, notes, or medical reports that will help you prove that the Respondent injured or threatened you. The hearing is usually an informal one. Either party may choose to bring an attorney or you may choose to speak for yourself. The judge must find clear and convincing evidence that abuse has occurred.
After the hearing, if the judge decides you are entitled to more protections, he will issue a new Protective Order. This Protective Order is usually more detailed than the original Ex-Parte Order. At the Protective Order Hearing, you and the Respondent can decide to enter into a Consent Agreement. The Protective Order is valid until the date indicated in the order. In addition to the relief granted in the Ex Parte Order, the judge may also order: temporary visitation for the abuser with the minor children, financial support to you if you are married to, or have children with the abuser; use and possession of the car if you need it for work and/or care of the children and your name is on the title; and counseling.
Enforcement of Your Protective Order
Your Protective Order remains in effect until the date indicated on your Protective Order. Violation of the Protective Order is a crime. If the Respondent violates any part of the Order, notify the police immediately and also notify the court in writing, or file a contempt form that is available at the office of the Domestic Relations Coordinator, or Circuit Court Civil Clerk, or District Court Civil Clerk. The Police are mandated to arrest an abuser if he/she violates an order by re-abusing or contacting you, or entering your residence or workplace. You may also request to modify or rescind your Protective Order. Dismissal of either the Ex-Parte Order or rescinding of the Protective Order requires a request in writing and ruling by a judge.
For Child Support Information visit:
For more information about Maryland's
Court System visit:
It is always best to consult with an attorney about your case. If you are unable to afford an attorney, and choose to represent yourself, contact any of the following resources, or visit the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service Clinic in the Courthouse on Tuesday mornings from 9:00 to 12:00. These attorneys will not represent you, but they may advise and assist you with filing court forms to represent yourself. You may also call the following numbers for assistance:
- Family Law Hotline: 1-800-845-8550
- Legal Forms
(Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00-12:30, Thursday 9:00-4:00
- Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Services: 1-800-510-0050
- Charles County Bar Association: 301-609-9350
- Charles County Sheriff's Department Domestic Violence Unit: 301-932-3072
- Charles County Sheriff's Department: 301-932-2222/301-932-3072/301-870-3232
- Center for Abused Persons (CAP): 24-hour hotline: 301-645-3336/3337; 301-843-1110
- Angel's Watch Women's Shelter: 24-hour/7days: 301-274-0680
- Domestic Violence Coordinator 301-609-6223
- Civil Court Clerk 301-932-3215 District Court Clerk 301-932-3291