The Family Law staff review all domestic cases, except Howard County Department of Social Service child support cases. The office is not permitted to offer legal advice; however, we can answer any procedural or general questions regarding family law case procedure. Our primary goals are to ensure that cases are processed timely, efficiently and to order appropriate alternate dispute resolution services.
The Court is also committed to increasing and updating family services. Described below are our family services and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs. For more information about the Family Law Office, please call Lisa Mohink, Family Law Coordinator, at 410-313-2225.
Family Law Programs and Services
1. Scheduling Conferences: Most contested domestic cases are scheduled for a scheduling conference. The conferences are scheduled by the Family Law Office and conducted by the Family Law Coordinator. All postponements can be faxed directly to the Family Law Office at 410-313-2413 and re-set accordingly.
2. Domestic Facilitation: The Court operates a volunteer based facilitator program in an effort to assist parties to settle their case. The court may order parties to participate in facilitation, or parties may request the court to order such.
3. See the Family Law Assistance Program which provides free legal consultation on how to represent oneself and complete forms for family law matters.
4. Mediation in Child Custody Cases: Mediation is usually mandatory in contested custody and visitation cases, unless there have been allegations of domestic violence. Parents will be ordered to attend two, two-hour mediation sessions with a court approved and qualified mediator. The Family Law Office generates the order for mediation after the scheduling conference. Counsel does not have to attend custody/visitation mediation. Parties are responsible for the fee.
5. Property Mediation: Property mediation may also be ordered at the time of the scheduling conference. Parties must agree to participate in this type of mediation. Counsel does not have to attend mediation, although the mediator may request that they do so. Parties will be ordered to attend two, two-hour sessions with a court approved and qualified mediator. Parties are responsible for the fee.
6. Parenting Seminars: Parenting seminars are conducted by the National Family Resiliency Center (410-740-9553) in Columbia, Maryland. The seminars are to assist parent living apart to raise children. Parties are responsible for the fees.
7. Mediation/Parenting Seminar payments: The Court has a small fund for low-income litigants to assist with the fees of court ordered mediation and the parenting seminar. Additionally, some of our mediators and our provider for parenting seminars will either offer their service at no cost to eligible litigants or will offer a sliding scale payment plan. Litigants are required to submit a fee waiver form for either option to the Family Law Office. The request will be approved or denied by the Family Law Coordinator using the income guides from MVLS. Upon approval, the court will pay the entire cost of mediation and/or the parenting seminar OR refer the case and ask the provider to perform the service at a reduced rate or pro bono.
8. Child Custody Evaluation: When parents are not able to agree upon a parenting plan for their children and the case meets the criteria listed in the Differentiated Case Management Plan, the Court’s social worker is able to conduct a custody evaluation. The Court determines and orders the custody evaluation. Parties may make a verbal request at the scheduling conference or the Court may order an evaluation. Parties who have the financial ability may be required to secure a private evaluation. In most instances, the parties may need to choose between a custody evaluation and the appointment of an attorney for the minor children to avoid duplication of efforts. We have also added a new component to the evaluation, the Child’s Best Interest Assessment (CBIA). The assessment is similar to the evaluation, however instead of a formal report, the evaluator will present her findings verbally to parties, counsel and a mediator. Parties will then participate in a court ordered mediation.
9. Child Counsel: The Court may appoint a child counsel in contested domestic cases. See Maryland Rule 9-205.1 for a thorough description of all factors associated with the appointment of a child’s attorney. A copy of the rule and appendix can be found at www.courts.state.md.us in the 157th report. Parties are responsible for the fees.
10. Beginning in June 2007, the court has maintained a list of approved Parenting Coordinators. Parenting Coordinators for The Circuit Court For Howard County are mental health practitioners or attorneys with education, training, and experience in working with families of separation and divorce. Parent Coordination is a service designed to assist parents with child rearing and following the court order for custody and access. Parenting Coordination requires the consent of both parents before the Court will order participation. Parenting Coordination helps children by assisting parents resolve issues, communicate, and co-parent. Parties are responsible for fees. For more information about parenting coordination, please call Patricia Bright, LCSW-C, at the Court, 410-313-5959. The Court has available a Consent Order For The Appointment of a Parenting Coordinator.
For more general information regarding family law or to access any family law forms, please visit:
Maryland Judiciary (www.court.state.md.us)
Peoples Law Library (www.peopleslaw.org)
Howard County Department of Social Services (www.dhr.state.md.us/howard.htm)