In a 2020 case, the Court of Special Appeals modified the child custody order because the father refused to take the child to planned extracurricular activities. The child, a teenager, engaged in several sport and social extracurricular activities. The mother took her to those activities, but the child was forced to skip those activities the weekends the father had custody. The Court found this inflexible and unacceptable and issued an order modifying custody.
Of note, as this was a modification of custody issue, the Court had to first find that there was a material change in circumstances. The basis for the material change of circumstances was that the child was older than she was when the initial custody order was entered, and that she was engaged in more activities as a teenager than she was when the custody order was initially entered. The Court accepted this argument and had no difficulty in finding that there was a material change in circumstances. Specifically, the Court stated, “[w]e conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the court to find that Father’s unwillingness to work with Mother to resolve frequently occurring logistical problems regarding [the child’s] scheduled events constitutes a material change in circumstances.”
Having found a material change in circumstances exists, the Court turned to the issue of the best interest of the child in modifying the visitation schedule. The Court held that while the standard is the “best interest” of the child, the best interest is not a factor alone. Rather, there are designated factors that make up this standard. Those factors include, among other things,
- the fitness of the persons seeking custody,
- the adaptability of the prospective custodian to the task,
- the age, sex and health of the child,
- the physical, spiritual and moral well-being of the child,
- the environment and surroundings in which the child will be reared,
- the influences likely to be exerted on the child, and,
- if he or she is old enough to make a rational choice, the preference of the child
In this case the focus was on the lack of flexibility of the father and the child’s desire to participate in extra-curricular activities.
The Court was adamant that the child be permitted to participate uninterrupted in extra-curricular activities. Indeed, the Court stated the child’s desire to participate in such activities “should be given a significant amount of weight.” The Court also stated that as the child wanted to participate in such activities, “the court would not allow anything to prevent that.” This obviously included the father’s inflexibility.
What made matters worse was that the father engaged in two activities that the Court made specific not of. The father utilized what the court considered “emotional blackmail” to get the child to forego activities by telling the child that the child did not love the father because she was not “committing” to him on weekends, and other such language to that effect. The Court found such actions “wholly inappropriate.” The Court also found that the father also exhibited racism with regards to the child’s stepfather. These activities certainly did not endear the father to the Court.
The end result of this case is that the custody order was modified to order the father to take the child to activities. In addition, custody was given to the mother in circumstances where the father could not or would not take the child to those activities.