Unique Service Problems in Hagerstown Custody Cases

A Father whose spouse had left the marital home and relocated (temporary or otherwise) into Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He had filed divorce papers on his own and had been biding his time for weeks, which seemed like an eternity.

The unendurable waiting game of the Hagerstown and Maryland Circuit Court process is lamented by 100 percent of my clients.  If you had the benefit of seeing how slow other jurisdictions can be, you might actually be impressed, but that will probably not console you.

Hiring a lawyer in Hagerstown or otherwise, won’t automatically “Speed up” this arduous process. That being said, every job goes faster when it is done by a professional.

In this Father’s case, he shaved a month off the waiting game just by speaking with me.  Here is how:

The serving of a lawsuit or complaint initiates the timelines of the default and/or the trial process.  In any Washington County Circuit Court civil lawsuit, the initiating party known as a complainant or plaintiff files a complaint or claim.

The “complaint” is a document signed under oath that indicates the responding party or defendant owes the money and why.  After that complaint is filed with the court it is then served upon the defendant.

If he/she fails to respond within a defined period of time the plaintiff “wins” by what is called a default.  

The timelines for the defendant to reply to this complaint are driven in large part upon not just when, but also where the defendant is served.  By “where” I do not mean at home versus at work, I mean what state or country.

You see, in a Circuit Court case the defendant has 30 days to respond if he/she is served in this state.  If the defendant is served outside of the state of maryland he/she has sixty days to file a response or answer to the complain.  If the defendant is served in another country he/she has ninety days to respond.  These rules, or timelines are described in Maryland Rule 2-321.  http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/mdcode/

This difference in the timelines can be uniquely significant in Hagerstown, Washington county, and other parts of western Maryland known as the “panhandle.”

In Hancock (which is in Washington County and subject to the Hagerstown court)  less than 2 miles  divides Maryland from West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  At other points, this region can bring as many as four states in close proximity to the jurisdiction of Maryland’s family courts.

Think of it, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, not to mention the District of Columbia. Thus, a case can present itself such as a husband and wife (or an unmarried couple) living in Hagerstown.

They separate and the wife  (or mother) takes the couple’s child and enrolls him/her in school in Pennsylvania.  The father in such a situation would find himself understandably, impatient to present his case (or claim) to a judge as soon as possible.

Given the foregoing example, if the father serves the mother with his custody papers in Maryland versus in Pennsylvania, he can shave a month off of the process.  A one month period of time under those circumstances seems like an eternity.

Bear in mind that the Hagerstown court (absent emergency circumstances and specialized pleadings/motions) won’t even set a hearing date until the defendant’s time to respond has expired, let alone make a decision which would be dispositive.

Furthermore, each month/week/day that goes by weakens his case and brings father one step closer to her claiming…. “it’s the status quo”…”maybe I should not have moved, but they are fine now, why put them through the move back?”

Thus, you can see that even this little issue of where she gets the papers can be a game changer. If this seemingly inconsequential issue in a case can have such extreme implications costing weeks or months unnecessarily, imagine mistakes in more substantive regards?

This is a HIGHLY simplified example and does not address the glaring implications of interstate jurisdiction in a custody, visitation or child support case. My point is that, in any domestic case, details can make all the difference in the world.   All facets of a case require consideration, including something so small as service of the paperwork.  Any of these facets are not mere details but can eventually be the very crux of winning or losing custody of your children.

This is a cautionary tale, with the lesson to consult a lawyer who regularly practices in Hagerstown.   Maybe consulting even more than one can be valuable?  If you can’t afford a full private counsel, Hagerstown has a legal clinic with a free lawyer who can help with these details.
Consider this; your family law lawyer in Hagerstown, and his staff, lose lots of sleep worrying that all the details in your case are covered.  Why not make sure you are covered and let him lose sleep?  I bet as you are reading this you could use a few winks;)

Tim Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place




The Custody Place

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