Del. Kathleen Dumais may have been an invited guest of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday, but that didn’t stop her from leaping to the defense of her fellow family-law practitioners when a hearing on custody decision-making factors veered off onto the topic of litigation costs in custody cases.
A rift was evident early on, according to The Daily Record’s Steve Lash: Dumais, D-Montgomery, outlined the findings of the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making and told the panel that she would introduce legislation to codify the common-law standard that puts the best interest of children first.
But Senators C. Anthony Muse and Victor R. Ramirez, both Prince George’s County Democrats said they would instead seek to codify a presumption in favor of shared custody, viewing it as a matter of equal rights for fathers.
Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, then voiced concern with the expense of child custody proceedings, saying his constituents have told him they have had to dip into savings accounts to pay their attorneys and that “It doesn’t take long for a bill to hit six digits,” Lash reported (subscription required).
Divorced parents are wondering, “What happened to my money and what happened to my kid’s college account?” Brochin added.
Dumais responded that greater use of mediation, arbitration and collaborative resolution would reduce much of the expense of litigation.
But she also defended herself and other family-law practitioners against what she called “spurious” accusations that they deliberately file motions and drag out litigation to increase their fees.
“Most of the lawyers and certainly me are not in this to make money,” said Dumais, of Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger in Rockville. “I’m in this to help people. I practice in this area because I make a difference.”