We hear stories of people all the time who think that they can represent themselves in their custody case. More times than not they quickly become overwhelmed and realize that they probably should have hired an attorney. Since they do not possess all the necessary knowledge, mistakes are made. These mistakes can be very costly. Usually, it results in a lost case that has a profound and long-term negative impact in their life. Your family is a very important part of your life. You should never risk losing your case just because you thought you could handle the issues by yourself and tried to save yourself some money in the short-term. Because your family is precious, you would want to consult an experienced family law attorney.
A Court of Special Appeals case demonstrates this principle. Stanley was a father in a dispute with Alma, the mother of his children. Temporarily, the judge granted Alma sole legal and physical custody of the children. Stanley never made any arguments in front of the judge, did not submit any evidence, and even was not seated at the counsel table. Stanley did not state his name nor took an oath or in any way participated in the hearing except to dispute the court’s jurisdiction to deal with and resolve the matter.
It did not work for him. When contesting or challenging a court’s personal or subject matter jurisdiction, it generally requires comprehensive knowledge of Maryland statutes, Court of Special Appeals rulings, and Court of Appeals rulings that have significantly dealt with the jurisdiction topic. Also, one needs to argue credibly and convincingly how certain circumstances or topics prove that Maryland courts then have no personal or subject matter jurisdiction. Stanley’s appeals did not fare well. He claimed that the trial judge wrongly canceled or terminated his parental rights. In the opinion of the appeals court, the trial court did no such thing, because a temporary grant to Alma of their children’s legal and physical custody is not the same as a termination of parental rights.
If the court granted Alma sole legal and physical child custody and refused Stanley visitation rights, it does not follow that it also terminated Stanley’s parental rights once and for all. These are not similar legal concepts, and so, different standards must apply to them. Stanley made a mistake of not truly understanding the differences between these legal concepts, and he lost the case.
Procedural Missteps Can Put Your Case in Peril
Self-representation risks one’s capability and opportunity to abide by deadlines. In Maryland, the law and court rules provide for deadlines when bringing a lawsuit to filing appeals. Generally, one is given 30 days to appeal a final order by a trial court judge. Stanley failed to abide by this 30 day rule because he filed his appeal addressing issues on the judge’s April 2016 ruling several months after, when it was already too late to challenge any terms of the 2016 order.
Whether one is concerned about the right way to challenge a trial court’s jurisdiction or the right time to file an appeal, it requires a lot of knowledge of the law and the complex procedures. The good news is that these legal concepts and complex rules are an experienced family law attorney’s cup of tea. Give us a call at 301-889-8085 to see how we can help you with your Maryland custody case.