In Maryland, grandparents, a non-biologically related adult (third party) or non-adopted adult has an extremely uphill battle to guarantee any access to a minor child they may have a relationship with if the parent prohibits them. Even if prohibiting the relationship is not in the best interest of the child. If you are prohibited from seeing a minor child that you have a relationship with (grandchild, nephew, niece, godchild, or if you are in a same-sex marriage with children), there are 3 ways you can seek a court intervention:
Guardianship is a type of custody. Often, guardianship is obtained by a grandparent or third party for health and/or educational purposes. This is less intrusive than custody.
For example, guardianship is necessary in order to obtain medical treatment for a child. A medical provider may make exceptions in emergencies or for particular clients, but generally medical treatment will require a child’s parent or court appointed guardian to sign. Often, a third party will need to bring a parent to the doctor’s office to obtain treatment for the child if guardianship has not been granted.
It is important to not that in the 2014 Court of Special Appeals decision In re Guardianship of Zealand and Sophia W. 220 Md.App. 66 (2014), Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, and Montgomery County all declared that guardianships may only proceed if the parent’s rights have been terminated. This requires the involvement the of the local Department of Social Services.
However, no matter what county in Maryland you live in, depending on what the situation is with the natural or adopted parents/legal guardians, you can obtain informal kinship by executing two affidavits. One for school and one for medical. These documents are carbon copies so you will need to go into your local Department of Social Services to obtain an official copy. Read more about Kinship Care from the Maryland Dept. of Human Resources.
Obtaining Custody of a child means that you become their de-facto parent and are responsible for the child’s welfare and well-being.
Third Party Custody is difficult to obtain.
Grandparent visitation rights are explained in the Maryland Annotated Code, Family Law Article § 9-102. The Statute reads as follows:
An Equity Court may:
- consider a Petition for reasonable visitation of a grandchild by a grandparent; and
- grant visitation rights to grandparent if the court finds it to be in the best interest of the child,
Generally, the court will honor the wishes of the custodial parent and presume that any schedule for visitation presented by the parent is in the best interest of the child. In 2007, the Court of Appeals affirmed that parents have a fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children and that grandparents may only be awarded visitation if they show that the parents are unfit or exceptional circumstances exist. “To preserve fundamental parental liberty interests, we now apply a gloss to the Maryland Grandparent Visitation Statute requiring a threshold showing of either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances indicating that the lack of grandparental visitation has a significant deleterious effect upon the children who are the subject of the petition.” Koshko v. Haining, 398 Md. 404, 441 (2007). This same standard applies if the person is seeking custody of the child.
Summary of Third Party Rights:
At the end of the day, right or wrong, without the consent of the biological or adoptive parent, a person who is not the biological parent or adoptive parent has an uphill battle to foster a relationship with a minor child. This is true even if the biological parents or adoptive parents do not participate in the court proceedings and the third party does not have evidence to prove that the biological or adoptive parent is either unfit or exceptional circumstances arise. And if there is an emergency hearing without proof of immediate danger to the minor child, you need to prepare yourself for a long and draining (both emotionally and financially) process.
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