For many children, the only parents they’ll ever know are the grandparents who raise them. While these grandparents go about doing the everyday job of raising their grandchildren – changing diapers, preparing meals, and making sure the television is on the Cartoon Network – in the eyes of the law they have no legal authority. The State of Maryland, however, has endowed its courts with the power to take a child away from its parents and commit his or her custody to a third person if it’s in child’s best interest.
There is a long-standing rebuttable presumption that natural parents should have custody of their child over third parties, such as grandparents, in custody cases. When a third party attempts to gain custody of a biological parent’s child, the parent’s fundamental constitutional right to their child’s care, custody, and control is the legal standard that must be overcome. In order to overcome this constitutional presumption in favor of the biological parents, sufficient evidence must be presented that shows that the natural parents are unfit, or that exceptional circumstances exist such that maintaining parental control would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. Once the court is satisfied that both of the natural parents are unfit, or that exceptional circumstances exist to warrant a change in custody, it will then determine the best interests of the child. In many cases, the best interests of the child is to remain in the loving care of the grandparents, or other third person, who have been meeting the child’s day-to- day needs.
On Friday, June 3, 2016, I was able help one exceptional family overcome the constitutional presumption of parentage and establish a more secure future for a little girl being raised by the people who love her. In this instance it was the grandparents of a three-and- a-half year-old little girl, named Chloe, who were seeking custody of their granddaughter. Sadly, the natural parents, both struggling with drug addiction, had abandoned Chloe to the care of her paternal grandparents. While she flourished in their loving environment, my clients worried that the natural parents would swoop in take Chloe into their world of drugs, homelessness, and neglect. Had the biological parents chosen to take Chloe, my clients would have been powerless to stop them. Now, Chloe is home to stay.
– Joshua T. Ortega
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