Once a Judge has made a decision, there’s no coming back to alter it, not even if both parties agree
The doctrine of Res-Judicata (Latin: a matter already adjudged) dictates that litigants can’t resurrect a case after the judge has made a decision. This doctrine bars litigants in civil cases from bringing their cases over, and over again. It includes decisions in a divorce case as to the money, alimony and property decisions.
The notable exception to the doctrine of Res-Judicata in Washington County, and elsewhere in Maryland, is any decisions in custody, child support and child visitation cases.
The reasons that cases involving children are exceptions to the rule of Res-Judicata are twofold. First:
Children are not static like property or money. They’re living beings and they develop.
They have needs that change over time and under different circumstances. For example, if parents who previously lived close to one another in Hagerstown and Boonsboro, move a greater distance away from one another, it may preclude the frequent visitation they previously enjoyed
The mere passage of time may alter circumstances. Consider a case where from age 2yrs old through age 5yrs old parents in Williamsport and Maugansville exchanged their child every 3 days. When the child reached school age (Kindergarten) the parents being in different school districts precluded the previous schedule.
The second reason cases involving children are not subject to the constraints of Res-Judicata, is because children are too important to “close the book on them” after the case has closed
Imagine a.case where the parties were divorced in 2010. At the time of the divorce the mother lived in Keedysville and was granted custody because she was a stay at home mom. Fast forward 3 years to the present. Now mom is using drugs and working as an exotic dancer in Funkstown..
Nevertheless, the Maryland Family Law Courts in Hagerstown and elsewhere, don’t want people coming back over and over just to put on the same case. The solution to these competing interests between bring cases to closure but recognizing that the needs of children change has been resolved by the Maryland Courts as follows.
Once a custody, child support, or visitation case has been decided the court requires that a party seeking modification must demonstrate that there has been a “material change in circumstances” before the court can consider the merit of the requested modification.
This burden makes modification cases a trial within a trial, as one Judge in Hagerstown has described it. The movant (( One who makes a motion before a court. The applicant for a judicial rule or order. Generally, it is the job of the movant to convince a judge to rule)) has the burden to prove that circumstances relative to the child(ren) in question have changed in a material way. If he/she is unable to demonstrate such a change, the case is over before it even starts.
After the moving party has demonstrated that there has been a material change in circumstances then, and only then, will the court consider whether a change to the status quo is in the best interest of the child.
Timothy Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place
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