Adrian Gottshall '11 and Marc Borbely '08 of NLSP Successfully Challenge Child Custody Case
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Posted by: Max Rodriguez
At some point in mid-2011, the mother began asking Client for more child support money.Since Client was unable to increase his monthly payments at that time, the mother began withholding visitation.Shortly thereafter, Client filed a pro se complaint for custody.He expected to gain justice through the court system and hoped to obtain a permanent custody order that memorialized the prior custody arrangement between the parties.
Adrian Gottshall ’11, a Staff Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP), successfully challenged a child custody decision issued by the D.C. Superior Court. NLSP Staff Attorney Marc Borbely '08 co-wrote the successful appellate brief. Through this appeal, NLSP has helped to preserve the rights of pro se litigants in child custody cases.
From the NLSP: "The facts are as follows:Prior to the Court's involvement, Client enjoyed an informal custody and support arrangement with the mother of his young daughter.For a number of years, the parties had successfully co-parented their daughter by sharing physical custody during alternating weeks.As part of their informal arrangement, Client made regular and consistent child support payments to his daughter's mother in the amount of $200/month.
Adrian Gottshall '11
Client came to NLSP seeking assistance when, after appearing pro se before the trial court for an Initial Scheduling Hearing/Status Conference, his visitation with his daughter was drastically reduced.
At the Initial Hearing, the trial court informed the parties that it intended to move forward with trial on that same date.Understandably, the pro se parties failed to object and, twenty-one minutes later--with no explanation--the trial court announced its custody decision.
Unfortunately, Client was only awarded visitation rights on alternating weekends--and on one weekday evening per week.
NLSP appealed this decision in the DC Court of Appeals based upon four primary arguments:
(1)The trial court did not sufficiently explain how it determined what custody arrangement would be in [Child's] best interest;
(2)There was insufficient evidence in the record for the trial court to determine what custody arrangement would be in [Child's] best interest;
(3)The trial court erred in finding that Client "had been keeping [Child] half the time" only "for the past 90 days until a disagreement [a]rose."
(4)The trial court erred by holding the trial on the day of the initial hearing, without prior notice, without providing a reason, and without first explaining the consequences of the proposed scheduling change.
Upon review, the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's award of custody and remanded for further action consistent with its order.In its Per Curiam Order, the Court stated, in part, the following:
Our review of the record confirms that the trial court failed to articulate any reasons for its custody decision in this case and we cannot readily discern the basis for the trial court's award based on the factual findings that were made.It appears that the trial court unexpectedly found some free time and, sua sponte, converted a case status date into a trial date without any advance notice to the parties who were both appearing pro se.The trial court apparently thought that [Client] was merely seeking a court order granting him visitation rights with his daughter and that [Mother] was seeking to have the trial court set an appropriate child support award amount.As it turns out, the trial court's assumption about the relationship of the parties to the child and the relief [Client] was seeking were both incorrect and the "trial proceeding" that the parties were provided was sorely lacking in due process, both procedurally and substantively."
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