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Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Family Law
Satisfied Customers: 102593
Experience:  Private practice with focus on family, criminal, PI, consumer protection, and business consultation.
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What constitutes child abandonment or neglect in Maryland?

Customer Question

What constitutes child abandonment or neglect in Maryland? My brother has a 6 year old daughter. She lives with him during the week and goes to see her mother in Pennsylvania most every weekend. He has not heard from his daughter's mother in over a week and she did not call him about taking her daughter last weekend. When he tried to call her Friday, she hung up on him several times as soon as he identified himself and he has not heard from her since then. The last he heard she had moved out of her house in Pennsylvania and he does not know where she is staying. Is there a certain amount of time of no contact that is considered abandonment or neglect? What are the legal steps that should be taken if my brother wants to pursue full custody?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Family Law
Expert:  Ely replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you. Please remember that there might be a delay between your follow up questions and my answers because I may be helping other clients or taking a break.
Does the mother have any history of criminality or drug abuse?
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
No, but she does have a history of bad decisions. She got married a couple years after my niece was born (she was never married to my brother) and moved to Alabama with her new husband. On two occasions she moved back up to Maryland, to her parents, in the middle of the night saying that her husband was hitting the kids (she had a boy and another girl with him). Both times she fled back to Maryland she ended up going back to Alabama with the kids, again in the middle of the night. They eventually moved back to Maryland as a family and her husband ended up in jail (where he has been for about four years now, and will be until Feb 2011 I believe) for child abuse and neglect. She actually testified on his behalf in the case! They are still married but she has recently told him she wants a divorce when he is released. She is already dating someone new and my brother thinks that's where she is staying now.
Expert:  Ely replied 6 years ago.
Child abandonment' or 'neglect' does not apply here because the child was not abandoned by itself but left in the care of ONE parent. Now, that does not mean that your brother cannot pursue custody, and possibly cut her custody/visitation down.

Your brother can pursue this WITH a divorce or by itself in a separation (called limited divorce).

The Court decides on custody based on the rule of thumb of "best interest of the child." This includes, but is not limited to, general stability of the parent, financial stability, indoctrination of the child in the current school and environment, household condition and living condition of the child, other persons living in the house, etc.
The courts generally do not like to split the custody 50/50 since this is hard on the child – imagine having to move every half a year.
One parent usually becomes the main caretaker (in many states this is called the managing custodian) and the other parent becomes the "weekend" parent (often called the posessory custodian) which is every Thursday, every other weekend, and alternating holidays. The minute points of the custody can either be decided by the parties or the Court, if the parties cannot come to an agreement.
Even if a parent does not get managing custody, they are almost guaranteed the posessory custody unless they have a drug problem, alcohol dependency, or an unsafe home environment. Abuse and or neglect of the child or previous children are an almost automatic bar for even posessory custody, although supervised visitation may be granted by the Court.
Here, she can have her visitation limited by Statute: §§ 5-313; 5-525.1(b)(1), which allows termination of parental rights for 'Abandonment or Extreme Parental Disinterest,' amongst other things:

If your brother can show that she is not a good parent, then her visitation shall be cut significantly (I am assuming that he'd be appointed the primary caretaker).

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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
My brother and his daughter's mother were never married. Do all the same custody rules apply? Also, what is managing custody vs possesory custody?
Expert:  Ely replied 6 years ago.
Hello and I apologize for the wait,

The SAME custody rules apply even if they were never married.

A managing custody is the MAIN PARENT who has the child all the time. A Posessory custody is that of a WEEKEND PARENT. In Maryland, it is simply called LEGAL CUSTODIAN (main) and WEEKEND CUSTODIAN informally (weekend parent).