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Administrative Policies for Family Law Cases

Circuit Court for Baltimore County

This notice is intended to address administrative policies for Family Division cases in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

Postponements and Modifications of Scheduling Orders

Overview 

It is the policy of this Court to resolve family law disputes without unnecessary delay or undue waste of the time and other resources of the Court, the litigants, and other case participants. Although it may be necessary or appropriate to postpone a hearing or court event, such requests should be based upon a showing of good cause, and should be done well in advance of any scheduled court deadline or event. Requests for postponement are particularly disfavored on the day of a hearing or trial. The Court also views with disfavor any request for postponement or for modification of a scheduling order that delays the resolution of the matter beyond twelve months from the date of filing, which is the case time standard that applies to domestic proceedings other than complaints for limited divorce.

Form of Request

The date of a Scheduling Conference, a Show Cause or motions hearing, or a mediation may be reset by conference call between the parties and the Court. If the party requesting the change is unable to arrange a conference call with all necessary parties or counsel, or obtain agreement on a new proposed date, the request must then be made in writing and directed to the Civil Assignment Clerk to process. All such requests must be made no later than seven days prior to the scheduled event. Conference calls to reschedule a Scheduling Conference shall be directed to the DCM office at 410-887-2509; for Show Cause or motions hearings shall be directed to Civil Assignment at 410-887-2660; and for Mediation shall be directed to the Family Services Office at 410-887-6570.

All other requests for modification of a scheduling order or for postponement of a settlement conference, hearing or trial shall be in writing. If all parties consent to the modification or postponement, the request can be in letter format. If the request is opposed, or if the party making the request is unable, despite reasonable effort, to ascertain the position of another party or counsel, the request should be made by motion. All requests must set forth the basis for the modification or postponement, the position of other parties or their counsel, and provide suggested new scheduling dates. If a contested request is made less than three weeks before a scheduled hearing or trial, it should be accompanied by an appropriate motion to shorten time.

“Good Cause” Requirement

The following are examples that are usually considered “good cause” for postponement:

  • Trial date conflict: The first set case takes precedence
  • Serious illness of, or death in the family of, a party, counsel, or necessary witness
  • Vacation(s) scheduled prior to any assigned trial or hearing date: Requests for postponement must be made within 10 calendar days of notification of the scheduled event
  • Counsel is in trial in another matter that carries over to cause a conflict with the Baltimore County date
  • A party did not receive notice of the hearing or trial, through no fault of the party or their counsel
  • Facts or circumstances arising or becoming apparent too late in the proceedings to be corrected in advance of the hearing, and which, in the view of the Court, would likely cause undue hardship or a possible miscarriage of justice if the hearing or trial proceeded as scheduled.

The following are generally not “good cause” for postponement:

  • Vacations(s) scheduled after establishing a trial or motion date
  • Consent of counsel without compelling reason or a substantive basis
  • The matter has not previously been postponed
  • Any matter known or which should have been known when the trial date became firm
  • New counsel has entered an appearance or a party wishes to change counsel
  • Discovery is incomplete or was just provided
  • A party wishes to conduct further investigation
  • A party or counsel is unprepared to try to case for reasons including, but not limited to, the party’s failure to cooperate with or maintain necessary contact with counsel.

Rulings on Requests to Modify Scheduling Orders or to Postpone

Advance requests to postpone hearings scheduled before a Family Magistrate will be referred to Family Magistrate Richard Gilbert for ruling. Any party or attorney seeking review of the decision by Family Magistrate Gilbert may request reconsideration in writing, which will be referred to the Family Division Coordinating Judge for final review.

Requests to postpone hearings before a Family Magistrate that are made on the day of trial are referred to the Family Division Coordinating Judge for ruling. Parties or their counsel should report to the assigned courtroom and advise the Family Magistrate of the postponement request. The Family Magistrate will then notify the Family Division Coordinating Judge and refer the parties and counsel to the appropriate courtroom for a hearing on the postponement request.

Requests for postponement or modification of scheduled dates in cases that are specially assigned shall be referred to the assigned judge. New dates will be set on the assigned judge’s calendar and confirmed with the Assignment Office, regardless of whether the re-set date is during a period when the assigned judge is in a Family Division rotation.

Advance requests for all other scheduling changes shall be referred to the Family Division Coordinating Judge for ruling. Requests filed within 10 days of a hearing or trial are processed through the Central Assignment office. All other requests are processed through the Civil Assignment office.  

Requests for postponement made on the date of a hearing or trial shall be heard on the record before the assigned judge. Postponements on the date of trial are strongly disfavored, and should only be granted upon a compelling showing of good cause or other special circumstance. If a case is postponed, parties and counsel shall be directed to the Civil Assignment office to select an agreed re-set date.

If the Family Division Coordinating Judge is not available, postponement and scheduling requests shall be referred to the Administrative Judge.

Administrative Postponements

While the Court seeks to reach all cases on the assigned grail date, that objective cannot always be met. However on the assigned trial date, the case is often in the optimal posture to settle or to narrow contested issues. Therefore, if the case cannot be assigned for hearing on the morning it is set for trial, counsel and clients will be required to appear for a follow up settlement conference before a settlement court judge, a retired judge or a judge in the family law rotation. If the case can be resolved, in whole or in part, the settlement will be placed on the record. If the case cannot be resolved and a judge or magistrate becomes available that day, the case will be assigned to proceed. If the case is not fully resolved and cannot be reached on the assigned trial date, an agreed date will be reset for the merits hearing. Whenever possible, cases that have been administratively postponed will be given priority on the follow-up hearing date.

Settlement Conference Policies

Matters Referred 

All contested divorce, custody and visitation matters, including those before the Court on a request for modification, will be scheduled for a conference in Settlement Court. The date of the Conference will be set at the Scheduling Conference or when the initial Scheduling Order is issued.

Postponement or Cancellation of Settlement Conferences

Any request to postpone or reschedule a settlement conference must be made in writing in accordance with the Family Division Postponement Policy. Requests made within 10 days of the scheduled conference are strongly discouraged. If a case settles in advance of the settlement conference, parties or their council must notify the Settlement Office at 410-887-2920 so the matter is removed from the settlement schedule.

Attendance at Settlement Conference

Unless requested in writing and approved in advance of the settlement conference, parties and counsel must appear in person. If parties or counsel anticipate that divorce testimony will be placed on the record, a corroborating witness should also be present. 

Required Documentation

In all cases with contested issues involving marital property, counsel and unrepresented parties are required to prepare and exchange initial drafts of a Maryland Rule 9-207 Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property in advance of the settlement conference. Although a finalized Joint Statement is not required at the Settlement Conference, the initial drafts must be provided to the settlement judge for use in the Settlement Conference. 

In all cases with contested child support issues, counsel and unrepresented parties are also required to prepare and exchange proposed Child Support Guidelines in advance of the settlement conference. The draft guidelines must be provided to the settlement judge for use in the Settlement Conference.

Procedure for Scheduling Merits Hearing

Upon arrival in Settlement Court, parties and counsel will set a tentative agreed date for a merits hearing before meeting with a settlement judge. If the case is not resolved in Settlement Court, that trial date will be finalized, and can only be postponed by the Family Division Coordinating Judge. Any follow-up Settlement Conference must be set prior to that date.

Ex Parte and Emergency Hearing Policies

Overview

Requests for ex parte relief and requests for an emergency hearing should be filed as separate matters, as they are processed and decided under a different mechanism. Both are forms of extraordinary relief and should, therefore, be employed only in matters where a risk or threat of serious harm or injury exists.

Ex Parte Requests

Requests for ex parte relief are directed to the chambers judge for ruling on the day they are filed. The preferred practice is for counsel to fax an advance copy to the chambers judge and arrange a time through that chambers to advise the opposing party or their counsel when the matter will be heard by the judge. The original request for ex parte relief must be filed with the Civil Department in the Clerk’s Office before the matter is heard by the chambers judge.

 Most judges pre-screen ex parte filings to determine whether any chambers hearing will be granted.  Ex parte requests may be denied without any chambers hearing if the request does not sufficiently state a claim that may warrant ex parte relief or if proper notice is not given to the opposing side. Maryland Rule 15-504 requires that any ex parte request be accompanied by certification of notice, or alternatively, of specified efforts commensurate with the circumstances to attempt to provide notice to the opposing side or their counsel.

Emergency Hearing Requests

Requests for an emergency hearing are directed to the Family Division Coordinating Judge. If the request is granted, the matter will be set in for hearing within 10 days, provided the case is at issue. The original must be filed with the Civil Department in the Clerk’s Office. The Civil Department will docket the request and give the request to Central Assignment. The matter is then referred to Central Assignment and decided by the Family Division Coordinating Judge. If the case is specially assigned, it will be referred to that judge for a ruling. If an emergency hearing is granted, Central Assignment will contact the attorneys to schedule the hearing. 

Requests to Strike Appearance of Counsel

Absent a showing of some compelling circumstance, a Motion to Strike Appearance of Counsel will not be granted within a 14-day period before an assigned settlement conference or hearing date unless accompanied by the entry of appearance of another attorney. Similarly, a Motion to Strike Appearance of Counsel will ordinarily not be granted during a period when counsel is responsible to submit a draft Order to the Court based upon a prior hearing or ruling. Counsel are reminded that, pursuant to Rule 2-132(b) the Court may deny the motion if withdrawal of the appearance would cause unduly delay, prejudice or injustice.”

Requests for Waiver of Family Services Fees

Any request to waive a family service fee must be made in writing and accompanied by a current Financial Affidavit of the party making the request. Requests for waiver shall be filed with the Civil Division in the Clerk’s Office, directed to Richard Abbott for review, and ruled upon by the Administrative Judge.

Requests to Rescind Orders for Family Division Services

If Family Division Services, such as a Child Access Evaluation, Home Study or Investigation, are ordered through the Family Support Services Office (FSSO) and a party fails to comply with the Order, either by not contacting or responding to the FSSO or by failing to appear at scheduled appointments, the FSSO staff will first attempt to contact all parties or their attorneys to try and resolve the issue. If this attempt fails, the Family Law Administrator will prepare an Order to Rescind Court Ordered Family Support Service, indicate the reason why the Service is being rescinded, and present the Order to the Family Division Coordinating Judge. If the Order is signed, any pending Child Access Evaluation Conference will also be vacated.

Notification of Pending Out-of-State Custody Cases

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) requires parties and attorneys to provide notice to the Court whenever there is a related child custody case pending in another state.  If a party is aware that an action has been filed or is pending in another state, the party or their counsel must notify the Family Law Administrator in writing and provide the name of the state and court where the action is pending, and, if known, the court’s phone number and the name of the judge or other court official handling the matter. The Family Law Administrator will contact the out-of-state court, confirm that a custody issue is pending in the other court, and assign the jurisdictional aspect of the Baltimore County case to one of the Circuit Court judges designated to rule on these jurisdictional issues. These assignments are done on a rotating basis. The assigned judge will arrange a conference call with the out-of-state judge and conduct proceedings appropriate to determine which court will retain jurisdiction to determine the custody issues in accordance with the UCCJEA.

Requests to Advance Hearing Dates for Settled Cases

If a case has been settled in advance of an assigned trial or settlement conference date and parties wish to advance the date to finalize the matter, they may contact Civil Assignment at 410-887-2660. The matter will be promptly set for hearing before a Family Magistrate or in settlement court, Criminal Misdemeanor Case Processing.

Expedited School Enrollment Hearings

During the months of June, July and August, the Circuit Court will have a Family Division Judge available to review contested school enrollment issues on an expedited basis. The school enrollment issue must be raised in an appropriate pleading or petition in order to be considered. Ordinarily, the matter will be considered on an expedited basis on in cases where the Defendant(s) have been served and the case is already at issue.

The party-attorney seeking expedited relief must provide reasonable notice to the opposing side that the party-attorney will be presenting a Petition for Expedited Hearing regarding the school enrollment issue. The original of the Petition must be filed with the Clerk’s Office, with a copy delivered to the chambers of the judge assigned on a weekly basis to consider Expedited School Enrollment hearing requests. In order to assist the judge reviewing the Petition, it is recommended that the Petition include information concerning:

  1. whether there is an existing Order covering custody and schooling
  2. the child’s enrollment history, and the proposed change
  3. the grounds for expedited hearing on the issue

The assigned judge may attempt to resolve the dispute Petition through consultation with counsel, refer the matter to the Office of Family Mediation, refer it to a Settlement Court Judge, have the case scheduled for a hearing on an expedited basis, or determine that an expedited hearing is not warranted. If the judge determines that an expedited hearing is necessary, then a hearing will be scheduled within seven days.

Honorable Kathleen Gallogly Cox, Circuit and County Administrative Judge
Honorable Ruth A. Jakubowski, Family Division Coordinating Judge

 
Revised July 20, 2016         

 

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