Recently, a group of six fathers sued five family law judges from a nearby state in a federal U.S. District Court because, the fathers say, they were unjustly denied custody of their children. Maryland fathers facing similar child custody issues may want to follow the progress of this case for reference to their own situations. This group of fathers assert that they should have been given full hearings to address accusations against them that they were incompetent parents and/or domestic abusers. Instead, they assert that their hearings were delayed for months and even years, all in the name of the best interest of the child and effectively denying the fathers their due process rights. They say this compromised their abilities to argue before the court that the accusations were not true and thus led to their being denied custody based upon unsubstantiated accusations.
These fathers claim that their constitutional rights were violated. The attorney who represents the six fathers says that their rights were taken away by the application of the so-called best interest of the child standard. It is asserted that the standard is loosely translated by some judges to provide for the the placement of a child where the judge thinks the child will be the most happy and stable. However, according to the fathers' lawyer, this standard should not be used unless there is convincing evidence that the child would be in danger if left with the parent in question.
The judges named as defendants in the lawsuit range across the state of New Jersey in four separate counties. It remains to be seen how the legal claims will be resolved. Nevertheless, these issues could have a significant impact on how the federal courts and individual states, including Maryland, handle these types of cases.
If an individual feels that he or she has been denied child custody for an unsubstantiated reason, such as is claimed to have been the case here, that parent may benefit from consulting with a family law attorney experienced in handling child custody proceedings. Some issues can be resolved by negotiation between the parties or alternative dispute resolution options like mediation, though not every situation warrants that approach. While each case is unique, professional assistance may help a parent achieve a child custody decision that is truly in the best interest of the child.
Source: nj.com, "Fathers claim N.J. family court judges violated their constitutional rights", Brent Johnson, Feb. 5, 2015