Notes from Annapolis: The Commission on Child Custody Decision Making

For those of us who follow changes in Maryland’s family law, December 2014 is an important month. On December 1, the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making released its final report to the General Assembly. As suggested by its name, the Commission took a comprehensive look at the topic of child custody in our state. Born of repetitive introduction of clashing bills on the topic of child custody, the Commission came into being following the passage of legislation by the General Assembly, effective in July 2013. The members of the Commission included individuals who have expertise or particular interest in this topic, and the members of the Commission represented a variety of perspectives and constituencies. To accomplish its mission, the Commission divided into six distinct committees, met over 90 times, and identified issues raised at five public hearings. The December 1 report marks the fulfillment of the Commission’s responsibility to study the child custody decision-making process and to report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly. The Commission’s entire report of over 300 pages can be found on-line. While all of the findings and recommendations contained in the Commission’s report are too numerous to be listed here, the influence of the report prepared by this Commission may be significant. Previous reports by Commissions on domestic relations law–particularly with respect to alimony and marital property– have set the stage for major statutory initiatives in family law. An initiative on the topic of child custody in Annapolis in the coming year is likely. Included in the Commission’s report is a proposed draft custody statute. The proposed draft custody statute neatly...

Notes from Annapolis: A New Day in the New Year

As we all know, in the month of November, Marylanders went to the polls and elected a new governor, new members of the General Assembly, new local government officials, and a new Congressional delegation. While the faces representing Marylanders in the federal system have remained the same, in January 2015 there will be significant changes in the composition of the officials in state government. While Democrats still dominate the Maryland General Assembly, the Republican Party has made major gains. Aside from the victory of Governor-elect Larry Hogan, there is a huge turn-over in the membership of the House of Delegates and the Senate with more Republicans who have been elected to the General Assembly than in previous years. At present, the Democratic leadership team in the General Assembly (under the aegis of Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch) is organizing to fill slots in the various committees of the General Assembly. As of the date of this edition of the Lifson Law E-Newsletter, the first round of chairs of certain standing Senate Committees was announced. The new chairs for the 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly include the following people: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County, Judicial Proceedings; Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County, Executive Nominations and Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics; Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Howard and Baltimore Counties, Budget and Taxation; Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore City, Education, Health and Environmental Affairs; and Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County, Rules. So far, only Del. Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore City has been officially chosen to be the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. In addition to the...

Notes from Annapolis

Soon, the people will speak! For those of us who follow politics, this month and next marks the time when the citizens again get to send a message to Annapolis, along with our local county jurisdictions as well as Washington, by voting for the men and women who will represent us in the executive and legislative branches of government in Maryland, in some of our local county boards and government agencies, and in Congress in Washington, DC. Marylanders will also be voting on two amendments to the Maryland Constitution. Fortunately for us in Maryland, this year we are not experiencing some of the confusion associated with new voter ID laws in other states that have been the subject of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings. So while our voting procedures in Maryland remain pretty much the same, it is worth remembering that this year, voting will be different for many of us because of changes in legislative districts. Redistricting occurs regularly in the wake of the census that is required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution and reflects changes in the population. Many Marylanders will be situated in a new federal or Maryland legislative district with new boundaries from the previous 10 years. Many of us will be considering candidates for office that are not familiar to us. With the amount of information circulating about voting procedures (including information about polling places and early voting or absentee voting before Election Day) and various candidates for office, it can be daunting to get trustworthy information to make an informed decision. Of course, we have the world wide web, local newspapers,...

Notes from Annapolis

October 1 marks the date when most of the laws passed by the General Assembly during the spring session go into effect. A number of bills of importance to families will become effective on October 1. In the realm of domestic violence, the most important change in the law relates to the standard of proof required to obtain a final protective order. As of October 1, petitioners are required to prove abuse only by a preponderance of the evidence and not by the significantly higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. This adjustment may make it easier for judges to grant petitioners relief from abuse, particularly in situations when the petitioner is required to prove that abuse has placed a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm. A parent who is in arrears greater than $150 in child support payments and who gambles may be surprised to learn that as of October 1, the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency can intercept a prize won at a video lottery facility. The prize will be applied to pay the child support owed. And while this list is by no means exhaustive (Governor O’Malley signed approximately 200 bills that amend our Code following the adjournment of the 2014 session of the General Assembly), we will see a major change in Maryland’s treatment of possession of marijuana. Maryland will join 17 other states to “decriminalize” marijuana. Under current law, the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is a fine up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both. The new law...