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Burak v. Burak

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 29, 2017

MARK BURAK, et al.

          Argued: June 2, 2017

         Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 112675-FL

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.


          Hotten, J.

          We consider whether the Circuit Court for Montgomery County properly determined that the grandparents of a minor child may intervene in a custody action between the child's parents and whether the circuit court abused its discretion in concluding that the mother was unfit and that "exceptional circumstances" existed in the present case that were sufficient to overcome the constitutional presumption favoring parental custody and authorized the circuit court to grant custody of the child to the grandparents pursuant to the "best interests of the child" standard. We also consider whether the circuit court properly excluded consideration of the grandparents' financial resources in determining child support and whether the amount of child support the circuit court required the mother to contribute to the care of the child was correct.

         Natasha Burak ("Petitioner") and Mark Burak ("Father") were married in October 2006, and had a child ("the Child") two years later. From early 2009 until December 2012, Petitioner, Father, and another woman - "M" - engaged in a polyamorous relationship and illicit drug use. The parties scheduled their activities on a calendar kept by Petitioner and, prior to engaging in any illicit activity, the parties would take the Child to his paternal grandparents' house. In 2011, Petitioner and Father purchased a marital home in Silver Spring, Maryland with funds provided by Father's parents - Gary and Martha Burak ("the Grandparents") - and sometime in 2012, M moved into the basement of the marital home.

         Beginning in September 2012 and continuing until February 2013, the triad attended couples counseling because Petitioner no longer wanted to engage in sexual relations with M and she wanted M to leave the marital home. In December 2012, the sexual relationship between Petitioner and M ended, but the two continued to have a non-sexual relationship that included cooking together and sleeping in the same bed. On May 31, 2013, in response to two violent incidents that occurred earlier in May 2013, Petitioner filed for and received a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") against Father. Father subsequently moved out of the marital home and Petitioner filed a complaint for absolute divorce on July 11, 2013.

         On January 14, 2014, a pendente lite consent agreement reached by the parties was placed on the record. Pursuant to the agreement, Petitioner was granted custody of the Child, but Father retained visitation rights that were supervised by the Grandparents. Petitioner and Father were also required to undergo random drug testing and attend therapy. Father passed all his subsequent drug tests, but Petitioner tested positive for marijuana in one of the tests. On February 20, 2014, the custody evaluator issued her report, recommending that Petitioner have custody of the Child with Father continuing to have a right to visitation, both parties receive a mental health evaluation and a psychiatric consultation, and both parties continue to be subject to random drug testing.

         On April 24, 2014, the Grandparents filed a motion to intervene in the custody action between Petitioner and Father, seeking custody of the Child in light of Petitioner and Father's illicit drug use and given the strong role that the Grandparents had played in the Child's life since birth. Petitioner opposed the Grandparents' intervention, but the circuit court granted the Grandparents' motion on July 25, 2014. Also in July 2014, Petitioner's biological daughter's adoptive family ("the Ks")[1] moved into the marital home with Petitioner and the Child.

          Beginning in May 2014, at the end of the Child's kindergarten year, the Child began exhibiting negative and disruptive behavior in class. The bad behavior continued through the summer and into the start of the Child's first grade year, when the Child began to leave class without permission and exhibit bouts of anger. On September 4, 2014, the Child kicked the assistant school principal and threatened to blow up the school. The school contacted Petitioner and provided a referral to the Montgomery County Crisis Center ("Crisis Center").[2] The Child was subsequently allowed to return to school after the referral was completed.

         Between September 15 and September 19, 2014, the circuit court held a custody hearing. Thereafter, the circuit court issued an oral ruling, finding that both Petitioner and Father were unfit parents and that exceptional circumstances existed in the case. The circuit court granted physical and legal custody of the Child to the Grandparents at the conclusion of the hearing but held that both Petitioner and Father retained the right to visitation. The circuit court entered an interim order on September 30, 2014 that granted physical and legal custody of the Child to the Grandparents, required Father to pay $500 per month in child support to the Grandparents, and stated a hearing would be set before a magistrate to determine Petitioner's child support obligations. On December 31, 2014, the Grandparents filed a Motion for Child Support in the circuit court. After a hearing on March 11, 2015, the magistrate issued recommendations for child support on March 24, 2015. The magistrate determined that the Grandparents were under "no legal obligation" to contribute to the Child's care, and recommended that Petitioner pay $1, 467 per month due to her adjusted gross income and due to the "extraordinary medical expenses" that were claimed by the Grandparents for the Child's psychiatric and psychotherapeutic care. The magistrate also recommended that the interim order be modified to require Father pay $629 per month based on his unemployment benefits and due to the Child's "extraordinary medical expenses." On May 26, 2015 the circuit court entered an order granting the Grandparents' motion and ordered Petitioner to pay $1, 467 per month in child support and increased Father's child support obligation from $500 to $629 per month. On June 19, 2015, Petitioner appealed the circuit court's decisions to the Court of Special Appeals. On December 7, 2016, in a reported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals held, inter alia, that (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it granted the Grandparents' motion for permissive intervention, (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it found that exceptional circumstances existed in the case at bar; and (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in awarding child support to the Grandparents. See Burak v. Burak, et al., 231 Md.App. 242, 150 A.3d 360 (2016).

         For the reasons that follow, we shall reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


         I. Custody Proceedings

         On October 7, 2006, Petitioner and Father were married. In June, 2008, their child was born. In late 2008, Petitioner and Father met M in their apartment complex and the triad developed a friendship. Soon thereafter, Petitioner and Father approached M about beginning a consensual polyamorous relationship with them, which commenced in early 2009.[3] At the time the polyamorous relationship began, Petitioner informed M that she had dissociative identity disorder ("DID")[4] and that, in addition to her main identity, she also exhibited three alternate personalities named Morgan, Adrianna, and Lisa.[5]Additionally, evidence was presented at the custody hearing indicating that, as part of the parties' couples counseling, see infra, Petitioner wrote a needs and wants list that reflected her needs and wants as well as those of Morgan and Adrianna. Petitioner testified that Father coerced her into writing Adrianna's portion of the needs and wants list by "threaten[ing] to take certain things away, " including taking away the Child. Petitioner also acknowledged the existence of emails she wrote in 2006 that referred to Morgan, but stated that Morgan was a nickname she had been given to her by friends and that she used the name in role-playing activities she engaged in with Father. Another email from 2008 that was allegedly sent by Petitioner referenced that Adrianna was "refusing to come out[.]" Petitioner testified she was not sure whether she wrote that email or not because Father had access to the email account that the email was sent from.

         In addition to the sexual relationship between Petitioner, Father, and M, the three also used drugs together, including marijuana, mushrooms, ecstasy, and cocaine. The three would schedule their drug use and sexual relations to allow Petitioner and Father to coordinate childcare with the Grandparents in the Grandparents' home. Testimony from the custody hearing reflects that the drug use and sexual relations would occur "[a]nywhere from every other weekend to once a month, to sometimes it would be a few months." Petitioner also maintained a calendar that recorded the parties' drug and sexual relations schedules.

         On June 11, 2011, with money given to them by the Grandparents, Petitioner and Father purchased a five-bedroom home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Sometime in 2012, M moved into the marital home with Petitioner, Father, and the Child, and the parties continued their polyamorous relationship and drug use.[6] The parties also divided up chores, M would sometimes babysit the Child while Petitioner and Father worked, and the parties rotated cooking dinner.

         Father testified that the marital relationship became increasingly strained during 2012, and that he and Petitioner engaged in verbal altercations that involved name-calling and screaming. Between September 2012 and February 2013, [7] Petitioner, Father, and M participated in couple's counseling.[8] In December 2012, the sexual relationship between Petitioner and M ended, [9] but the couple continued having a relationship that included cooking, cuddling, watching television together, and sleeping in the same bed. Father and M continued to have a sexual relationship.

         On May 24, 2013, Father, Petitioner and M went to King's Dominion. Near the end of the day, an argument ensued between Petitioner and Father that involved screaming, and devolved into violent actions taken by both parties.[10] On May 30, 2013, the parties got into another fight, and Petitioner testified that:

[W]hen we went to go take [the Child] to daycare and go to work, since we working together at the time, he, we were bickering most of the morning, and then when we got into the car, on the way to daycare, he threatened to kill me twice in front of my son. And then when I dropped [the Child] off, that's when the concern was raised by my son in regard to the arguments.

         * * * Father conceded that the two got into an "ugly and vicious[]" argument that morning, but testified that "[i]t was no different from 10, 000 other fights we'd had before[]" and he stated that he never threatened to kill Petitioner. On the same day, in response to these two incidents, Petitioner filed for and received a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") against Father in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. On June 6, 2013, the circuit court issued a Final Protective Order that found by clear and convincing evidence that Father had assaulted Petitioner and ordered that Father not contact Petitioner or the Child for one year, but also authorized supervised visitation at the Grandparents' house.[11] Father was also ordered to vacate the marital home, which he subsequently did. M remained in the house with Petitioner and the Child until the end of June 2013.

          On July 11, 2013, Petitioner filed a Complaint for Absolute Divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. On August 27, 2013, Father filed an Answer to Petitioner's Complaint for Absolute Divorce and a Counter-Complaint for Limited Divorce, or, in the Alternative, Absolute Divorce, Custody, Child Support, Monetary Award, Attorneys Fees and Other Relief. Petitioner filed an Answer to Father's Counter-Complaint and sought an emergency pendente lite hearing seeking temporary alimony, counsel fees and other relief.

         On January 14, 2014, a pendente lite consent agreement reached by the parties was placed on the record. [12] The agreement stated that: (1) Petitioner would maintain physical custody of the Child; (2) Father was entitled to visitation with the Child on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school until 8 p.m., with the Child to be picked up by the Grandparents; (3) the Child would alternate weekends between Father and Petitioner from Saturday at 9:30 a.m. to Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with transportation to be provided by the Grandparents; (4) Father and Petitioner were required to submit to random drug testing organized by the Child's Best Interest Attorney ("BIA"), the testing must be completed within 24 hours, and the results had to be provided to the BIA; (5) Father and Petitioner were required to continue with therapy and the parties agreed to attend therapy at least twice a month; (6) the Child would continue participating in the Safe Start program;[13] (7) Father would continue to pay $500 per month in child support to Petitioner; and (8) attorney's fees would be deferred until the divorce merits hearing. On January 14, 2014, the BIA required both Petitioner and Father to submit to a drug test. Father tested negative for all drugs, but Petitioner tested positive for marijuana. Petitioner tested negative for all drugs on each subsequent drug test, including a test she took on January 24, 2014 - 10 days after her positive test.

         On February 20, 2014, the Custody Evaluator issued her report, recommending that: (1) both parties receive a mental health evaluation with a psychiatric consultation regarding medication; (2) both parties receive a substance abuse assessment, including the possibility of random drug testing as part of that assessment; (3) Petitioner have primary residential custody of the Child because she expressed a desire to have custody, she was in therapy, and because she had accommodations for him; (4) Petitioner have sole legal custody of the Child; and (5) Father continue to have visitation with the Child, supervised by the Grandparents. At the custody hearing, the Custody Evaluator acknowledged that Petitioner told her that she had not used any drugs since the parties separated, but noted that Petitioner subsequently tested positive for marijuana on her January 14, 2014, drug test. The Custody Evaluator also acknowledged that Petitioner had not disclosed to her that she had been abused as a child. The Custody Evaluator stated that in her report she was concerned about Petitioner's evasive and defensive responses to her questions, and that Petitioner lied to the Evaluator. The Custody Evaluator also expressed concern that at the time she conducted her report that she did not see additional signs of attachment between the Child and either parent.

         On April 24, 2014, the Grandparents filed a Motion for Permissive Intervention in the custody dispute between Petitioner and Father, and attached a copy of their proposed Complaint for Custody with the circuit court. The Motion stated that "[the Grandparents] have been an important and regular presence in [the Child's life.]" In their proposed Complaint for Custody, the Grandparents further alleged:

6. Although [the Child] has "resided" with his parents, and now pursuant to this Court's Pendente Lite Order entered February 28, 2014, with [Petitioner], the Co-Intervenors have acted in loco parentis for [the Child] since his birth in 2008.
7. Since [the Child's] birth, there have been significant periods of time when [the Grandparents] have cared for [the Child] on a daily basis. At other times, they have had [the Child] in their care for as many as five overnights per week.
8. [The Grandparents] have been active participants in [the Child's] preschool and elementary school activities, and have participated in parent-teacher conferences for [the Child].
9. In addition to extensive hands-on care for [the Child], [the Grandparents] have frequently paid for [the Child's] work-related child care and other activities.
10. [The Grandparents] have also been actively involved in [the Child's] preschool and school activities. Likewise, [the Child's] Grandparents have been actively involved in arranging play dates and other activities for [the Child].
11. [The Child's] Grandmother has often been responsible for taking [the Child] to the doctor and other medical appointments, and is knowledgeable about [the Child's] health.
12. For the majority of [the Child's] life, up until the entry of the Protective Order, the [Grandparents] cared for [the Child] in order to accommodate the needs and whims of [Petitioner] and [Father].
13. Over time, the [Grandparents] became aware that [the Child's] parents were abusing drugs while [the Child] was in their care. This fact led to an even greater level of involvement by the [Grandparents] in order to protect and shield [the Child] from his Parent's behavior.
14. During the ongoing litigation, a custody evaluation was performed by the Office of the Court's Custody Evaluator. As part of that evaluation, the parties were questioned about their past and ongoing drug use. [Petitioner] reported to the custody evaluator that she was not using any type of controlled dangerous substances, as indicated by the Custody Evaluator during her oral report to the Family Division Master on February 20, 2014 (Docket Entry 98). Both parents were required to submit to drug testing during [t]he course of the evaluation. [Petitioner's] test was positive for marijuana use, contradicting the representation that she was no longer using drugs.
15. [Petitioner] also repeated[ly] states that her drug use was at the behest of [Father], implying that on her own, and left to her own devices, she would not engage in recreational or other illicit consumption of controlled dangerous substances. The positive drug test during the evaluation, when [Petitioner] was no longer under the influence and control of [Father] diminishes the credibility of [Petitioner's] statement regarding her recreational drug use.
16. [The Grandparents'] concerns regarding the Parents' fitness to have custody of [the Child] is echoed by this Court's sua sponte decision to order a psychiatric evaluation of [Father] and [Petitioner] (Docket Entry 115).
17. [The Grandparents] are in good health and are physically and emotionally capable of caring for [the Child] on a full time basis.
18. Extraordinary circumstances exist in this matter that warrant placing [the Child] in the residential and legal custody of his paternal Grandparents.
19. [The Child's] best interests will be advanced by placing him in the care and custody of his paternal Grandparents.
* * *

          The Grandparents' Complaint requested the circuit court award primary residential and legal custody to them. On May 21, 2014, [14] Petitioner filed a Motion to Strike Grandparents' Motion for Permissive Intervention alleging that the Grandparents had no legal or factual basis for seeking to intervene in the custody action and that the Grandparents' motion contained substantial factual errors that did not accurately reflect the Grandparents role in the Child's life since Petitioner and Father separated. On June 10, 2014, Father filed an Opposition to Petitioner's Motion to Strike Grandparents' Motion for Permissive Intervention. On July 25, 2014, the circuit court denied Petitioner's motion and granted the Grandparents' Motion for Permissive Intervention. The circuit court designated the Grandparents as intervening counter-plaintiffs to the custody action. On July 28, 2014, the Grandparents filed the Complaint for Custody that had been attached to their motion for permissive intervention. On August 4, 2014, Father filed his Answer to the Grandparents' Complaint for Custody and on August 18, 2014, Petitioner filed her Answer to the Grandparents' Complaint.

         In July 2014, Petitioner's biological daughter and the Ks moved into the marital home with Petitioner and the Child. The Ks also brought several dogs and between fifteen and twenty-five guinea pigs.[15] Petitioner and Father both acknowledged that the Child had a close relationship with Petitioner's biological daughter, but Father expressed concern regarding the closeness of the Child to the Ks, whom the Child was not related to.[16]

         On July 14, 2014, pursuant to the pendente lite agreement, the BIA requested Petitioner take a random drug test, but Petitioner did not comply. The BIA also requested that Petitioner take another random drug test on August 25, 2014, which Petitioner took on August 26, 2014. The BIA testified, however, that Petitioner never signed a release to have her drug test results sent directly to the BIA. Instead, the drug test results were sent to Petitioner, who then gave them to the BIA.

         On September 4, 2014, Petitioner filed an Emergency Motion to Postpone/Continue Custody Trial Scheduled for September 15, Motion for Order Permitting Discovery, and Motion to Expedite based on the intervention of the Grandparents in the custody action. On September 9, 2014, the Grandparents filed a Response in Opposition to Petitioner's Emergency Motion to Postpone/Continue Custody Trial arguing that Petitioner had actual knowledge of the Grandparents' allegations since April 24, 2014 and, despite the Grandparents' offering themselves to be deposed, Petitioner's counsel failed to schedule any depositions. On September 10, 2014, Father and the BIA both filed Oppositions to Petitioner's Emergency Motion to Postpone/Continue Custody Trial, and on September 11, 2014, Petitioner filed a Reply to the Grandparents' Opposition. The circuit court denied Petitioner's Emergency Motion to Postpone/Continue Custody Trial and Motion for Order Permitting Discovery on September 12, 2014.

         Also on September 4, 2014, - the same day that Petitioner filed her Emergency Motion to Postpone/Continue Custody Trial - an incident involving the Child occurred at his school. Prior to the incident, the Child had been increasingly disruptive during school. The Child's school principal testified that beginning around May 2014, when the Child was in kindergarten, he refused to leave the kindergarten classroom with the other students to attend "specials[]"[17] on several occasions and would walk around the room, push desks, become angry and his behavior began to escalate. To address these behavioral concerns, the school had the Child run errands when the other children left for specials and then he would meet them in the specials classroom. Additionally, over the summer, the Child was enrolled in a summer-long camp that had been paid for by Petitioner, but Petitioner testified that the Child had to be pulled out of camp early due to behavioral problems he was experiencing, in combination with him wanting to spend more time with the Ks' children.

         Upon returning to school in late August, the Child's behavior continued to escalate and he began to leave class, run around the building, and show signs of anger.[18] On the afternoon of September 4, 2014, the Child's behavior escalated to the point where he kicked the assistant principal and he told the guidance counselor that he was so angry he wanted to blow up the school, and he was going to make it bad for everybody at the school. In response, the school determined that because the Child was showing such anger, was not able to de-escalate, and made a threat against the school that a referral to the Crisis Center was the appropriate course of action.

         The school called Petitioner and asked her to come to the school to discuss the Child's behavior. Because the incident occurred on a Thursday near dismissal time, and because Father had court-ordered visitation with the Child on Thursday evenings at the Grandparents house, both Petitioner and the Grandmother arrived at the school around the same time. The principal met with Petitioner alone, at her request, and they discussed how the Child's behavior had escalated throughout the day culminating in his becoming violent and issuing a threat against the school. The principal explained that the guidance counselor had a Crisis Center referral for the Child, and the principal encouraged[19] Petitioner to take the Child to the Crisis Center. The principal also told Petitioner that she needed to have the Crisis Center complete the referral form and return the form to the school. After meeting with the principal, Petitioner met with the guidance counselor and received the Crisis Center referral. The guidance counselor explained to Petitioner that the school prefers the student to go as quickly as possible to the Crisis Center after they are dismissed from school.[20] Petitioner did not take the Child to the Crisis Center and, instead, allowed the Grandmother to take the Child with her for visitation. Petitioner did not tell the Grandmother about the Child's behavior or the Crisis Center referral she had just received. Later that afternoon, Father learned of the Crisis Center referral from his attorney and called the Grandparents to determine whether the Child had been taken in for an assessment. The Grandmother did not know about the referral, but upon learning about it, she took the Child to the Crisis Center where she met Father and the Crisis Center evaluated the Child.[21] Neither the Grandmother nor Father informed Petitioner that they had taken the Child to be evaluated at the Crisis Center and they did not provide Petitioner with the completed referral form. While the Child was at the Crisis Center, Petitioner attended the Child's back-to-school night, which the Grandfather also attended.

         Petitioner testified that the Child did not return to school on Friday, September 5 because she had been referred to Children's Hospital from the Crisis Center, [22] and they had not been "released from Children's Hospital until 2:30 a.m. in the morning and the attending pediatrician and the attending psychologist suggested that [the Child] should be able to sleep in and have a day of rest at home."[23] A Crisis Center employee refuted some of Petitioner's testimony by stating that the Child had only been brought to the Crisis Center once and it was the Child's Grandmother who brought him in, with Father joining them shortly thereafter. The record indicates that Petitioner did take the Child to Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. the night of September 4, 2014 and that they arrived at the hospital by 9:15 p.m. Petitioner stated that the Child was asked questions upon arriving at the hospital and then they met with a psychiatrist, a pediatrician and a social worker. The record also indicates that Petitioner testified that the Child returned to school on Monday, September 8 and was present from the beginning of school until before lunch, but left due to an issue with his health.[24] The attendance records provided by the school indicated, however, that the Child did not return to school until Tuesday, September 9.

         The custody hearing in the present case was held from September 15 to September 19, 2014 and the circuit court issued its ruling orally on September 19. Petitioner's witnesses included Petitioner, the Custody Evaluator, Petitioner's therapist, the Child's school principal, and the school guidance counselor. Father and the Grandparents' witnesses included Father; both Grandparents; M; the psychologist who worked with Petitioner, Father, and M in couple's therapy; the Crisis Center employee who completed the Child's assessment; the Grandparents' neighbor; and a member of the same church the Grandparents attended.

         In addition to the facts discussed, supra, testimony from the custody hearing revealed that the Grandparents were heavily involved in the Child's life. Prior to the separation, the Child spent a substantial amount of time at the Grandparents' house, including several times a week and occasional weekends based on the drug and sexual relations schedule organized by Petitioner, Father, and M. After the separation, the Child continued to see the Grandparents regularly. The Child also had his own room at the Grandparents' house where he kept his toys and books purchased for him by the Grandparents.

         The Grandmother noted in her testimony that she and the Grandfather were the caretakers for the Grandfather's bedridden father and for the first eighteen and a half years of their marriage they drove to New Jersey every third weekend to help the Grandfather's mother care for the Grandfather's father. The Grandmother also stated they cared for the Grandfather's mother in their own home while simultaneously caring for the Child, and that the Grandfather's mother suffered from a litany of ailments, including Alzheimer's, lymphoma, neuropathy, cataracts, and deafness.

         Over the years, the Grandparents also involved the Child in a variety of activities, including enrolling him in swimming lessons, arranging for the Child to attend Little Gym, [25] and taking him to church on Sundays. The Grandparents also took the Child on day trips to Brookside Gardens and the county fair, and Petitioner allowed the Child to go on several vacations with them, including, most recently, to the Outer Banks in the summer of 2014. The record also reflects that although the Grandparents had previously taken the Child to see family in Mississippi during the Child's spring break in 2013, Petitioner refused to allow the Child to go to Mississippi with them during his spring break in 2014. The Grandparents would also participate in the Child's doctor's appointments, at times attending with Father and Petitioner, and sometimes taking the Child to the doctor's appointments alone.

         When the Child was two years old, the Grandparents also gifted the Child with tuition for one year at the Silver Spring Day School ("SSDS"), [26] and provided daycare during the afternoons while Petitioner and Father were at work. After the Child's first year at SSDS, Petitioner found and enrolled the Child in a different program through the Montgomery County Childcare Association ("MCCA"), with financial contributions made by the Grandparents. During that next year, the Child split time between SSDS and MCCA, spending three days a week at MCCA and two days a week at SSDS. The Grandparents volunteered their time approximately once a month as teaching assistants at SSDS while the Child was enrolled there, and when the Child began attending MCCA, the Grandparents continued to volunteer their time, reading and reciting poetry to the children.[27]

          The record from the custody hearing also reflected that Petitioner was a responsive parent and actively sought to address the Child's escalating behavior.[28] The Child's school principal testified that beginning the second week of school, Petitioner asked questions regarding the Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") process as a way to address the Child's escalating behavior because she felt the Child needed more one-on-one or individualized attention. Additionally, at the time of the custody hearing, the school was evaluating how best to help the Child manage his behavior, and had implemented a behavior contract to begin collecting data on the Child's conduct.[29] In addition to the evaluative process, Petitioner also requested that the Child be enrolled in the Linkages to Learning program.[30] The principal also testified that Petitioner attended almost every school function, she was very responsive when the school contacted her regarding the Child and would come to the school when requested "[a]t the drop of a hat."[31] Petitioner's therapist also testified that approximately fifty percent of Petitioner's treatment involved answering Petitioner's questions about parenting, and that Petitioner sought her advice and referrals for a qualified therapist to help the Child.[32] The record also indicates that Petitioner paid for the Child's before and after care at MCCA, totaling $405 per month, and when the Safe Start program ended she sought to re-enroll the Child in the program because she felt it was beneficial to the Child.

         In their testimony, the Grandparents both acknowledged that Petitioner was involved in the Child's care. The Grandfather noted that although he had discussed getting back-to-school items for the Child with Petitioner, she had "pretty much taken care of most of those items." The Grandmother testified that when the Child's previous part-time caretaker retired, Petitioner identified another part-time caretaker that the Child stayed with two days a week. The Grandmother also acknowledged that Petitioner organized all the Child's doctor's appointments and then coordinated the dates with the Grandparents. The Grandmother also noted that although she and the Grandfather hosted several of the Child's birthdays, the parties were planned with Petitioner's and Father's input and Petitioner and Father hosted, planned, paid, and prepared the Child's fourth birthday party at the marital home.[33]

         The record also indicates that Petitioner was gainfully employed and worked a flex schedule, but her hours were mostly Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. Petitioner acknowledged that the Child gets off school at 3 p.m. and that when he is in her care he goes to before- and after-care until she is able to pick him up. Petitioner testified that she typically dropped the Child off in the morning between 7:45 and 8 a.m and would pick him up anywhere between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on days that he was in her care. Petitioner noted that on Tuesdays and Thursdays the Grandparents pick the Child up from school at 3:30 p.m. for court-ordered visitation and they drop him off at Petitioner's home at 8 p.m.[34]Petitioner testified that after the Child's behavior on September 4th, she had been making it a priority for her to take the Child to school when school starts and pick him up when school lets out so that he did not have to attend before- or after-care. Petitioner stated she was able to adjust her schedule due to work-from-home opportunities, but that she did not know whether she would maintain that schedule, she stated it would depend on the Child's needs.

         At the conclusion of the custody hearing, the circuit court issued an oral ruling. The hearing judge found that Father was an unfit parent and concluded that: (1) Father's commitment to remain drug free was not clear; (2) the Child could be exposed to the polyamorous and sadomasochistic activities that Father continued to engage in; and (3) the Child would continue to be exposed to violent fights between Father and Petitioner.

         The hearing judge also found Petitioner was an unfit parent and that extraordinary circumstances existed sufficient to rule that the Grandparents should receive both physical and legal custody of the Child. In finding that Petitioner was an unfit parent, the hearing judge concluded:

With respect to [Petitioner], she lied throughout this case. Now, you can make an argument, was it [Petitioner] lying or was it Morgan or was it him - I don't know. But it was certainly the woman on the stand and it was certainly the woman that had all these other incidents before. And she lied about drug usage and testing. She said she was forced to have sex with [M]. That's been disproved. She lied about her different identities. That's been disproved. She's been caught in all these lies. She lied about taking her son to school on September 8th. And these are so many things that she'd have to - if she was intelligent enough - think well, I'm going to get caught on those. I either took the child to school on September 8th or I didn't. And then she said, well, I took him there for part time.
And somebody that continuously lies under oath and lies to the [BIA] and doesn't do all the things that the [BIA] wants her to do - once she's under the microscope, you'd say, wow, how could she ever be trusted at a later date? And she's under oath when she's saying these things. She was forced to take these drugs - I don't find that at all. I find she clearly took the drugs voluntarily. In fact, her husband was sending her some research on some of these drugs. It seems like that was one of their big hobbies, finding new drugs and new ways to trip or get high or hallucinate - all against the law, by the way. All detrimental to the marriage, not to even mention what it does to raising a child.
And whether or not she has [DID] or not, I don't know. But I agree with [Father's attorney] that if she has it, it's a big problem. If she doesn't have it, it's a big problem. Because she's acting as if she does. And she's impersonating several different people.
And one that was never rebutted - that Morgan might hurt the child. She talked about visions of Morgan cutting the baby out of her stomach. And then we hear these things that haven't been rebutted with respect to that she couldn't see her son naked or in the shower, which is about as natural as possible for a mom with a little guy, bathing him - even before they're even ready for showers. Weird, odd, bizarre, troubling - yes, all of the above.
And you throw in this other family living in her home? How thoughtful of that is her son when she's got also her own natural daughter and adoptive mother there as well and then the little boy, [the Child], is calling both of them his sisters. And then you've got the other two living in there. And then you throw in all the animals. It's about as chaotic as possible. And I know full well why [Petitioner] didn't want the [BIA], to see the inside of that house. She probably would have got sick if she had walked in there. And that's where you're raising a child and two girls and a little boy?
And there again, you would think - all right, here I am a mom or a dad. I've got the court watching me. I've got the [BIA] - I want to do everything I possibly can to at least fool people, even if I'm not sincere. But she did just the opposite. It was business as usual with her. In fact, she made it worse. Her selfishness was then passed on to [the Child] even more when he couldn't take the trip to Mississippi with his grandparents. And the grandparents - she had no axe to grind with them.
And the incident on September 4 - well, there's a total manifestation of how much trouble this guy is in. Because it's not typical. He's in major, major trouble when you're threatening to blow up a school and punch a vice principal at the age of six in the stomach? That's unheard of. Those are the kids that we send here to the Finan Center to give them intense examination when they're in the juvenile delinquent system. These are kids that probably have little chance of making it, because they don't have a family to go back to for the most part.
And yes, on that day any mother worth her salt would tell first of all the grandparents and do everything she could to address the problem. My son did what? We've got to address this right now. But hand him off to the grandmother and not say anything? That's just bizarre. What kind of love does she have for her son? What kind of interest does she have for the son? It's like my shift's over, somebody else worry about it. I'll punch out. I'm at the factory. I didn't finish what I was supposed to do today, but the next worker can take over. Grandma can go take over. That's the attitude she displayed.
Then you add - and I don't believe her also that she's changed the work schedule that she has, because I don't believe anything else she said. So that child is dropped off at 7:45 to 8:00 every morning and picked up 5:30 to 6:00. If it is truly from 8:00 to 6:00, that's ten hours a day for a kid that's in major crisis. I would like to think a parent would quit their job if they had to, to deal with that problem with a child. It's no different than if that child was in the hospital with two broken arms, two broken legs, or in a coma. You have to make adjustments.
I don't see any tendency on either one of them - but we're talking about the mother - to make the adjustment that that child needs. That child is in the mental emergency room or should be right now. And that's the way she should be addressing it. And most mothers would try to move heaven and hell to help their child, to do everything they possibly could. But not say anything? Now, I assume she went to Children's [Hospital]. I don't know whether she went out to the county for that or not. But in any event, I don't think there was significant follow[-u]p. And anything she did do in the way of getting some counseling or looking into anything else - I think she was getting good instruction from her attorney, but obviously not following other things. I think if left to her, she wouldn't do anything. Just drop him off at school, he runs around in school, he flips over wastepaper baskets, so what?
And another thing - she makes excuses for everything. Everybody - it was somebody else's fault for everything in her testimony. Never took the blame for anything. And I heard from the grandparents all the things that I would expect to hear from mom. I didn't hear how she said, you know, I just love to put him to bed at night. I like to tuck him in. I like to read him a story. We take little walks together. I like to go through colors with him and numbers with him. He loves to wear this particular sweatshirt. You didn't hear any of that. I didn't see any really love or total attachment. I mean, this is her flesh and blood, her own son. Most mothers would give up their lives for their children in a tragedy. A child fell into a river, they'd dive in. I think in this case, I don't know what she'd do. She might leisurely walk over and make a call. I don't know. But what I've seen from the time this child was born, she's not even acting in the way a babysitter would act. Because if she were the babysitter and she went to school on the fourth and the teacher told her what happened or daycare provider, she'd be calling everybody she possibly could. She'd be calling the mother, she'd be calling the father, she'd be calling the grandparents. Did you hear - let me tell you what the principal said. Schools can't make you do anything now, because that's the way the system is. But certainly when they send a kid to the [C]risis [C]enter, it's major. It's major.
So we've got a mother not only taking drugs - and I find that she still takes them or she's still ready to take them. And she has no appreciation what they've done. I don't find any evidence that she feels terrible about doing all these sex things with her child in the house, because she blames it on her husband. She blames [M] on her husband. She blames the drugs on her husband. She blames the sex on her husband. She says this is a - everybody is making up these personalities. When [the couple's therapist] testified, who did everything she could to help [Petitioner] - she even said that she had personalities.
So I find that the mother is an unfit person to have custody of this little boy. There's no ifs, ands or buts. It's not even a close call. It is overwhelmingly strong and I don't even know if I mentioned everything. But I adopt everything that [Petitioner's] attorney, the grandparents['] attorney, and the [BIA] have said as well. And they all take that position, and the [BIA], who is independent here, makes that finding.
And I truly thin[k] [the Grandparents] are independent, too in finding that the parents are unfit. I value their opinion because they're older, they're wiser, they're stable. And I think they really if anything would lean towards their son or helping him out. But I think they were extremely objective because I think their total focus is on their grandson.

* * *

         In determining that exceptional circumstances also existed in this case, the hearing judge found that:

So I'm also going to find - because this case cries out for it as well - I know it's an or, but the Court of Appeals and [Court of] Special Appeals, I don't know, one day they ma[y] wake up and say it should be and. I find that there's extraordinary circumstances that exist here which are significantly detrimental to the child remaining in the custody of the mother and/or the father. And I've given all those reasons - the drugs, the sex, the craziness in the house, the different relationships, the lack of interest in the mother, the mother lying - all of those things are factors for both.
So once I find that - oh also, factors laid out by the Court in [Ross v. Hoffman, 280 Md. 172');">280 Md. 172, 372 A.2d 582 (1977)], exceptional circumstances, length of time the child has been away from the biological parents - well, the child is away whenever they were going to do some tripping. In fact, it was such a big deal, she wrote it on her calendar. They spent more time it seems to me on their sex and drugs and writing down stuff and going to [the couple's therapist] than they did on this little guy, [the Child].
So I've considered that. I've also considered the age of the child when the care was assumed by the third party, which was from the time of birth, basically. At least after mom went back to work after the first year. The possible emotional effect on the child in a change of custody - the Court has considered that. The period of time which elapsed before the parents sought to reclaim the child - the Court has considered that. The nature and strength of the ties between the child and the third party custodian - the Court has considered that. And I find they're extremely strong with the grandparents.
The intensity and genuineness of the parents' desire to have the child - I don't find that there's intensity and genuineness on the part of [Petitioner]. I really don't. It's sad because she's the mother. The stability and certainty as the child's future in the custody of the parents. Well, I think it's clear. He would continue with instability and he would certainly fail. He'd be in crisis. He'd be out of that public school system probably for good.
Let's look to the grandparents. So I find the exceptional circumstances exist.
* * *

         Upon determining that exceptional circumstances existed in this case, the hearing judge next considered the fitness of the Grandparents to have custody. The hearing judge found that:

With the grandparents, there's total stability. They've proven it over their life and they've proven it with their testimony. I find them to be sincere, genuine, rock-solid people, the kind of people that you want raising children.
I think they were outstanding grandparents, but now they're going to be asked to actually serve as parents. But it won't be the first time. Because the parents have relied on them to do a lot of the parenting things throughout this little boy's life. A lot of financial things … And the parents were just content to let them do that. I don't see any real pride there. You'd think at some point you'd say, dad and mom, you've done enough. Or we need to do more.
You've got the grandfather - and I find the grandparents will give this little boy the guidance he needs which he's not getting from his mother. They'll give him the time that he needs. They have the time now. And he needs time. Not only does he need time, he needs quiet time, which he won't get with his mother. Anything but - it's chaotic, it's bizarre, I'm sure it's loud. And he's just - as I said, he just happens to be there along with everybody else.
His problems would be addressed with his grandparents, which are severe problems. And we've already addressed how they've manifested themselves to date.
They'll also have - the parents will not have to use before and after care. That's a significant part. The more time this child spends with parents or grandparents and the less time he spends with other people watching him, the better. You can have the best before and after care program in the United States. It's not the same as a mom or a dad or a grandparent who actually is really attached to the children. I don't see any evidence that mom is either able to or willing to completely change her schedule. She said she changed it last week. I asked her what she's going to do in the future. She doesn't know.
Now financially, she may not be able to do that. But that's still a factor. That's ten hours a day. The[n] you add the time that when she gets home, she's got to fix dinner - if there [is] such a thing as a sit down dinner at that house - and feed the dogs, clean up, and change her clothes - maybe do some things on her own. Those all take time away from this little boy. He's neglected. There's no doubt about it.
The grandparents have also added the religion to his life, which is not a must, but it's another piece of structure in his life which he likes. And they're raising him and he'll learn good values and good morals in a Christian church. I'm not saying it's a must. It's not a necessary. It's not a major factor.
But it shows another time that they spend with him and they do that with him every Sunday. And he likes it and I find that can only be helpful to him.
The [grand]parents don't smoke dope, the [grand]parents don't have all these crazy things. They have time for this little guy. They're well educated people. They know what it takes to be a productive, happy, respectful young man. They're dealing with some really bizarre things right now with this little boy acting up when he gets up. I suspect they know that there's probably more of that down the road. I think they have the wherewithal to deal with it, either professionally or with themselves. They know what values are. They know what morals are. They know what goals are. They know how important it is to sit down with him and not just say do homework, but to teach him about things. The grandfather has nice little things that he does with him. He likes to build things. The grandfather is a pretty talented guy with an engineering background. Those are all wonderful things for this little boy to learn.
The [grand]mother is a former math teacher - I thought the way she handled that situation with [the Child] was exactly how a mother should handle it or a well-intentioned and a hands-on grandmother. I think they will give him - they will have the patience and understanding to deal with him as opposed to bringing in two grandparents from Mississippi that never met him and say, well, they're the grandparents, they can take care of him. They know him better than the mother does. They know this little boy better than the father does. And they're honest. And they're willing to keep the parents in this little boy's life. They know it is important - at least until they prove that their parental rights should be terminated - and we're not there yet - and this case should have been a CINA case from the start. But unless their parental rights get terminated they'll keep the mom and dad in their lives and do the best they can.
They are, I find, very fit and proper people to have custody. We've got to look for purposes of the three judge panel, tick off some factors on [Montgomery County Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Sanders, 38 Md.App. 406, 381 A.2d 1154 (1977)], but the fitness - certainly they're both very fit to have custody. Now, their age is up there. It is. But there's no indication that they have any illness and they don't have any illnesses to deal with.
One thing I was really impressed with, the [grand]mother said, we're caretakers, and they talked about the relative up in New Jersey, how they made that commitment every second week or third week of the month.
* * *
What I'm saying is these people will do what it takes to do for this little boy. And if the little boy does fail, it won't be because he's with his grandparents.
The character reputation of the grandparents I think is top drawer. The desire of the grandparents to have custody is clearly there. I find that they really want to have custody by default because they know that's his only hope. The preference of the child - I don't consider that at age six. Opportunities for the future - he's got unlimited opportunities with his grandparents, financially, educationally, medically, emotionally - all of the things that a child needs to be successful, to be happy, to be healthy, to have friends - they'll make sure he gets on the right teams or clubs or activities. They'll find his interests. They'll expose him to a lot of different things that little boys need to be exposed to. And they'll make the right selection. They'll give him the right guidance. They'll do all the things that a good mom and good dad should do.
The age and health of the child - well, fortunately, he's not 16. He's not uncontrollable physically. He's still easy to manipulate and you can use a lot of psychological warfare on him, even though he's got some problems. He's still a little boy and you can trick him, which is a good thing.
They'll teach him respect for others, they'll teach him how to act at school and deal with other people, all the things that they know, because they know from experience. Unfortunately, the mother and father don't have that now. And it might be the drugs. Maybe they will. I think dad wants to. Who knows with mom, because she lied so much, who knows?
The residence of the [grand]parents - they've got a big house, nice house, more than [the Child] needs. I mean, a little boy, you can put him on the floor in the den. But he's got his own little room, he has his own little things. He can build things, he has a nice quiet place to do his homework. Where in the lord's name does he do his homework [at the marital home]? Is there any homework? I don't know. In the first grade, you don't get much, but you will later on, and there is some.
So under [Sanders] they fit all the categories. As I said, he's six. And maybe mom and dad later on will improve. Dad has made some great steps in it. And I keep coming back to - hey, [Petitioner's] kind of blasé about the whole situation. It's really interesting. And she turned on the very people that have been such a rock solid financial benefit and such a great resource for their son. I mean, they didn't ask for money. They did all of these things because they love their little grandson. And the thanks she gives them is well, I think, you know, well they don't use the right car seat. I mean, come on. Let's find something we can attribute blame to,
So if she had custody - [Petitioner] - I think the grandparents would be out of the picture. There's no doubt about it. And I think there would be a fight over visitation with the father. And that would be one of the worst things that could happen to this little guy. He needs those people. Thank [G]od for grandparents in this case. And believe me, I lean heavily towards parents. I know the grandparents do, too. In the order of things, that's who should be raising these guys. But fortunately, you folks are there.

* * *

         The hearing judge subsequently awarded physical custody of the Child to the Grandparents. The hearing judge granted visitation to Petitioner on every other weekend from Saturday at 9:00 a.m. to Sunday at 7:00 p.m., with no overnights, but every other Sunday of the visitation weekends, Petitioner's visitation hours were modified to 12:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. so the Child could continue to attend church services with his Grandparents. The hearing judge also stated he would not order drug counseling for either Father or Petitioner, finding that if the parties "want to keep smoking dope and taking hallucinatory drugs and having as many sex partners as you can - well, great. That's your life. But we're not going to let it impact on this little guy. If you want to break the law, you break the law."

         On September 30, 2014, the hearing judge entered an interim order granting sole legal and physical custody of the Child to the Grandparents, with both parents retaining the right to visitation. The interim order also required Father to pay child support in the amount of $500 per month directly to the Grandparents, and stated a hearing would be set before a magistrate to determine Petitioner's child support obligations. On October 7, 2014, the Grandparents filed an Emergency Motion to Modify and Limit Petitioner's Access to the Child, requesting the circuit court modify the Interim Order to grant the Grandparents discretion in determining the frequency and duration of Petitioner's access to the Child. The circuit court held an emergency hearing regarding the Grandparents' Motion on October 17, 2014, and on October 28, 2014 issued a Second Interim Order granting the Grandparents' Emergency Motion and modified Petitioner's rights to visitation. On December 16, 2014, the circuit court entered a Final Order in the custody case that, inter alia, outlined the visitation schedule for the Child during holidays and summer break, and apportioned the payment owed to the BIA between Petitioner and Father. The Order also stated that "this Court has considered the issues adjudicated, the claims brought, the need to defend against those claims, and the financial status of the parties." Also on December 16, 2014, a notice was sent to the parties scheduling a hearing regarding child support for March 11, 2014.

         II. Child Support Proceedings

         On December 30, 2014, the Grandparents filed a Motion for Child Support in the circuit court seeking child support from both Petitioner and Father to cover the care of the Child, including "extraordinary medical expenses" that ranged between $1, 400 and $2, 000 per month for the Child's psychiatric care. On February 26, 2015, Petitioner filed a Response in Opposition to the Grandparents' Motion for Child Support. A hearing was held on March 11, 2015, where a magistrate considered whether child support should be paid by Petitioner and Father to the Grandparents for the care of the Child.[35] On March 24, 2015, the magistrate issued his findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding child support. The magistrate acknowledged that an order titled "Final Order" had been entered by the trial court on December 16, 2014, but concluded that, because the order did not address child support, it could not be a final disposition of the case pursuant to both Maryland Rule 2-602[36] and our decision in Rohrbeck v. Rohrbeck, 318 Md. 28, 566 A.2d 767 (1989).[37]

          The magistrate also rendered the following findings of fact and conclusions of law in recommending that both Petitioner and Father pay child support to the Grandparents:

So, now having decided that child support to be paid by [Petitioner and Father] were properly before me on March 11th, the questions to be answered are as follows. What is the appropriate amount of child support? Two, how is that amount of child support to be determined? And three, when do the child support payments begin? Now, with regard to determining what the appropriate amount of child support is, I first just want to note that under the law, and we all know this, each parent has a legal obligation to financially support their children. Section 5-203 of the Family Law Article specifically provides that the parents of a minor child are jointly and sever[ally] responsible for the child's support and care, nurture, welfare, and education. Then, in section 10-203 of the Family Law Article, it states a parent may not willfully fail to provide for the support of his or her minor child.
And, these two statutory provisions that I've noted are supported by the Court of Appeals in the [Drummond v. State to Use of Drummond, 350 Md. 502, 714 A.2d 163 (1998)] case … [where] the Court of Appeals stated, the duty of parents to provide for the maintenance of their children is a principle of natural law, an obligation laid on them, not only by nature itself, but by their own proper act in bringing them into the world, by begetting them. Therefore, they have entered into a voluntary obligation to endeavor as far as in them lies that the life which they have bestowed shall be supported and preserved. So, there's no question that [Petitioner and Father] are obligated under the law to financially support [the Child].
Now, with regard to the amount of child support, the question in my mind was how was child support to be determined when the child has been placed in the custody of a third party and not with one of the biological parents? First, I note that Family Law Article section 12-202, which all the attorneys are familiar with, which is the Maryland Child Support Guidelines, provides that quote in any proceeding to establish or modify child support, the court shall use the Child Support Guidelines. I could not find any case law, and none was presented to me, establishing whether the guidelines must be used in a case with facts such as the facts which are presented to me here. However, there is case law which established that when a child is placed in the custody of a government agency, the parents are still obligated to pay child support, and the amount to be paid is to be established using the Maryland Child Support Guidelines.
In a 1993 case, the Court of Special Appeals in [In Re Joshua W., 94 Md.App. 486, 617 A.2d 1154 (1993)] noted that the General Assembly intended that the Child Support Guidelines be used in all child support cases, including those like the one in [Joshua] involving government-financed child care when the child has not been placed in the custody of either of the biological parents. The Court of Special Appeals in [Joshua] noted that the Child Support Guidelines were most often used when one biological parent or the other had physical custody. Dispute [sic] this emphasis on custodial and noncustodial parents, and sole and shared physical custody in the guidelines, there is nothing in the statute or its legislative history to suggest that the General Assembly intended that Child Support Guidelines only be applied to the usual child support cases. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that the guidelines were to be used in all cases when child support was at issue. And then, just recently, I guess nine years ago now, the Court of Special Appeals decision was followed by the Court of Appeals in [In re Katherine C., 390 Md. 554, 890 A.2d 295 (2006)]. So, I'm required to use the guidelines.
The next question is when does the amount of child support begin for the parents? Now, with regard to modification cases, it's clear under Family Law Article 12-104, [38] and basically it states that it has been shown that there has been a modification of circumstances that are material. And then, the statute clearly states that the amount of the new child support can only begin from the date of filing. With regard to an initial filing or initial request for child support, as would be the case with regard to [Petitioner], the [Grandparents] argued that the court has the authority to make a child support award prior to the date of the first pleading. And again, the first pleading in this case seeking child support was December the 30th, 2014.
I was not able to find any case law or statutory authority to support the [Grandparents'] position with regard to starting child support prior to the date of the filing requesting the child support. I note that under [Family Law Article] section 12-101(a)(3), it states that for any other pleading that requests child support, the court may award child support for a period from the filing of the pleading that requests child support. I could not find any cases directly on point with this, but there is statements made in appellate decisions, such as in [Krikstan v. Krikstan, 90 Md.App. 462, 601 A.2d 1127 (1992)], says it is within the discretion of the chancellor to determine whether to make the award retroactive to the time of filing. And, I think that statement suggests that we are not to go prior to the date of the filing. And, I think the language in [Family Law §]12-101(a)(3) also supports that child support may be awarded from the filing of the pleading.
Then, there was an argument made by counsel that if it was determined that the guidelines would be the appropriate manner in which to determine the amount of child support to be paid by the parties, that I deviate from those guidelines. The attorneys know, this is well-stated or well-known, that the amount of child support called for under the guidelines is presumed to be correct. The presumption can be rebutted by evidence that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. And then, if I am to deviate from the guidelines, I have to state what the amount called for under the guidelines would be, and then also how the deviation benefits the children.
So, those are the conclusions of law that I'm finding in this case.
* * *

         The magistrate then assessed Petitioner's and Father's income and determined Petitioner's annual income from her employment at Direct Energy was $37, 605.24 and her actual monthly income was $3, 134. The magistrate determined that Father was unemployed, having previously worked at Geotech until he was laid off, and he received $1, 820 per month in unemployment benefits. The magistrate took judicial notice that Father was under a separate child support order in the amount of $475 per month for another child. The magistrate also acknowledged that the Child had been under the care of both a psychiatrist and psychologist since 2014, and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"), [39] an anxiety disorder, and operational defiant disorder ("ODD").[40] The magistrate concluded - based on the psychiatrist's testimony at the March 11 hearing - that the Child would need long-term psychiatric and psychotherapeutic care. The magistrate acknowledged that the Child was covered, at no additional cost, under the Grandparents family health insurance plan, but that the Grandparents paid out-of-pocket for the Child to see both the psychiatrist and psychologist outside of the Grandparents' insurance plan in the amount of $1, 312.50 per month.

Based on these factual findings, the magistrate concluded that:
I believe that the Maryland Guidelines are required to be used in this case. I believe that the child support to be ordered can only be from the date of filing for the child support by the [Grandparents] on December the 30th, 2014, with regard to the amount to be paid by [Petitioner] and with regard to the modification of the amount previously ordered to be paid by [Father]. Using the guidelines and the facts that I found based upon the evidence, the amount of child support called for under the guidelines would be $1, 467 per month by [Petitioner], and $629 per month by [Father]. I'm handing out now to the attorneys the child support worksheet which I used.
Now, I considered a deviation from the guidelines. The only evidence that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate is that the guidelines call for a significant amount from both [Petitioner's] monthly adjusted actual income and [Father's] monthly adjusted actual income. The amount called for under the guidelines would be 47 percent of [Petitioner and Father's] monthly adjusted income, and that is significant. But I note that to deviate from the guidelines would mean that the cost for providing for [the Child] would fall to the [Grandparents] who have no legal obligation to financially support [the Child], and I will not do this.

* * *

         The magistrate subsequently entered his recommendation that Petitioner be obligated to pay child support to the Grandparents in the amount of $1, 467 per month, with arrearages in the amount of $4, 401. The magistrate recommended the arrearages be repaid at a rate of $25 per month until paid in full. In regard to Father, the magistrate recommended that the interim order be modified to reflect that Father pay child support to the Grandparents in the amount of $629 per month, with arrearages in the amount of $3, 387. Similarly as to Petitioner, the magistrate recommended the arrearages be repaid at a rate of $25 per month until repaid in full. The magistrate also recommended that Father provide the Grandparents with information about his attempts to locate full-time employment every 60 days, commencing on the 60th day from the entry of the magistrate's order until he finds full-time employment.

         On April 4, 2015, Petitioner filed Exceptions to the Magistrate's Recommendations Concerning Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law challenging: (1) the magistrate's finding that the Final Order entered on December 16, 2014 was not a final judgment and considering the merits of the Grandparents' Motion for Child Support; (2) the magistrate's finding of "extraordinary medical expenses" in light of the fact the Grandparents had an insurance plan that covered the psychological and psychiatric care for the Child and no explanation was provided for why the Child was seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist that were not covered under the Grandparents insurance plan; (3) the magistrate's determination that the Grandparents were similarly situated to a guardian appointed by a government agency and that they were under no legal obligation to support the Child; and (4) the magistrate's determination that Petitioner should pay $1, 467 per month or 47 percent of her monthly income in excess of federal and state mandates. On May 26, 2015, the circuit court denied Petitioner's Exceptions and granted the Grandparents' Motion for Child Support in accordance with the magistrate's recommendations.

         On June 19, 2015, Petitioner filed a timely Notice of Appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. On December 7, 2016, in a reported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals held, inter alia, that: (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it granted the Grandparents' motion for permissive intervention; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding Petitioner was unfit; (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it found that exceptional circumstances existed in the case at bar; and (4) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in awarding child support to the Grandparents.[41] See Burak v. Burak, et al., 231 Md.App. 242, 150 A.3d 360 (2016).

          On March 3, 2017, we granted Petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari to address the following questions:

(1) May grandparents intervene in a custody dispute between parents to seek custody of their grandchild before there has been an adjudication of the unfitness of the custodial parents?
(2) May the "exceptional circumstances" test set forth by this Court in Ross v. Hoffman, 280 Md. 172');">280 Md. 172, [372 A.2d 582] (1977), be used to take custody away from a biological parent with whom the child has lived for his entire life?
(3) May a parent be required to pay child support to grandparents and, if so, may child support be awarded without consideration of the financial resources of the grandparents?


         We have held that, regardless of whether a party seeks to intervene as of right or permissively, the decision to allow a party to intervene "is dependent upon the individual circumstances of each case and rests in the sound discretion of the trial court, which, unless abused, will not be disturbed on appellate review." Md. Radiological Soc., Inc. v. Health Services Cost Review Comm'n, 285 Md 383, 388, 402 A.2d 907, 910 (1979) (quoting NAACP v. New York, 413 U.S. 345, 365-66, 93 S.Ct. 2591');">93 S.Ct. 2591, [2606-03] (1973)).

         In In re Yve S., 373 Md. 551, 819 A.2d 1030 (2003), we established that there are three distinct aspects to our review in child custody disputes. We held that

When the appellate court scrutinizes factual findings, the clearly erroneous standard of [Maryland Rule 8-131(a)] applies. [Second], if it appears that the [hearing court] erred as to matters of law, further proceedings in the trial court will ordinarily be required unless the error is determined to be harmless. Finally, when the appellate court views the ultimate conclusion of the [hearing court] founded upon sound legal principles and based upon factual findings that are not clearly erroneous, the [hearing court's] decision should be disturbed only if there has been a clear abuse of discretion.

Id. at 586, 819 A.2d at 1051 (citations omitted). We also concluded that

[I]t is within the sound discretion of the [hearing court] to award custody according to the exigencies of each case, and as our decisions indicate, a reviewing court may interfere with such a determination only on a clear showing of abuse of that discretion. Such broad discretion is vested in the [hearing court] because only he [or she] sees the witnesses and the parties, hears the testimony, and has the opportunity to speak with the child; he [or she] is in a far better position than is an appellate court, which has only a cold record before it, to weigh the evidence and determine what disposition will best promote the welfare of the minor.

Id. at 585-86, 819 A.2d at 1051 (citations ...

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