Monetary Damage Awarded for Serious Interference with Parental Rights

As a Maryland custody lawyer, a recent jury verdict has led me to evaluate what the future might bring in cases involving serious visitation disputes.

On July 1, 2009, a Montgomery County jury awarded non custodial father a judgment in the amount of $27,000 against custodial mother for interference with his visitation rights. At issue was mother’s sending son to the couple’s native Bulgaria two summers in row, interfering with the Indianapolis residing father’s visitation rights.

The issue is whether the allegations and evidence support the conclusion that interference was serious enough to meet the legal standard.

This case appears be headed to the Appeals Courts. Among other issues is the trial judge’s decision not to allow the jury to hear evidence that father owed $17,000 in child support arrearages. That struck me as a ruling that definitely deserves a second look.

This lawsuit follows on the heels of a 2008 opinion, Khalifa vs. Shannon, in which the Court of Appeals ruled that a cause of action existed for serious interference with a parent’s right to both custody and visitation. In that case, a wealthy Egyptian family had conspired to abduct the couple’s two sons. The father who had custody of the older son and visitation rights with the infant had not seen them in six years.

A jury award of $3 Million in compensatory and punitive damages against wife and mother-in-law was upheld.

In Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties there are growing number of residents with roots overseas. As a result, situations similar to the two cases cited above may occur. However, we have seen many issues of interference arise in the absence of a foreign connection. The threshold issue is whether the allegations and ultimately the evidence support the conclusion that interference was sufficiently serious to meet the legal standard. If that test is met, claims for damages may add a new dimension to already complex custody and visitation disputes.