If you have joint legal custody and the father has primary physical but delegates all care to his parents and is not involved with the children how hard would it be for the mother to get custody?

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The laws vary from state to state, can you narrow it down just a bit?  The first issue a judge would address is why the father was awarded primary physical custody in the first place? Secondly, what has changed in the mother's situation that would warrant the custodial order to be changed?
It is highly unlikely a judge would have minor children removed from a home they have become accustomed to, unless there was proof of neglect and/or abuse. Many fathers and mothers are not involved in their children's lives even when they are together as a family, therefore the issue of his alledged non-involvement might be considered irrelevant by the court.  Thank you for your replies! I apologize for the length of this, but this situation is so ridiculous that its hard to believe that something so awful could slip thru the cracks, so to speak and it takes a bit to explain it all.
This concerns the state of Maryland.
PAST BACKGROUND: The Mother did not intentionally relinquish custody, but was actually tricked into signing a document that she was told enrolled the oldest in School (but was actually custody documents he had his lawyer draw up and stapled to school documents and letterhead). She was told to sign them quickly and that "They are for school, don't read them, just sign them!" and being still fearfull of him, but never suspecting such a thing did as asked. Stupid, yes. Bad Mom, no.
When he didnt return the children after that summer visit (a couple of weeks), she was told "Those school papers were actually custody papers. Too bad for you." The papers came from the court that week, in fact they had been entered in and accepted as uncontested custody pending the Divorce.
Mom had to raise money - she was completely broke so this took months. Meanwhile, the Divorce hearing came and Mom still couldn't afford a lawyer, even though she was working 3 jobs to try. She tried representing herself, asked for a postponment, asked for a separate custody hearing, but Dad got everything he asked for (his Mother had hired him the meanest attorney in the county, literally).
A couple months later, Mom finally had enough for the $5000 retainer and hired a Lawyer who told her she couldn't get custody since she had (prevoiusly) been in counseling (and on antidepressants) for abuse (by his hand). This counseling and meds only lasted 6 months, started right after she left him and ended before the Divorce trial even came around. Her Doctor provided notarized notes (And offered to testify) that she was completely Healthy and well now and that the counseling had been BECAUSE of Abuse by the childrens FATHER. The 6 years worth of abuse is all well documented by numerous Police, Medical, and other records and photos. She also had a restraining order against the Father at one point after he tried to run her car off the road the week she left him. The Fathers Mother was claiming Mom was insane (using the counseling as "proof"), and got the Father, her Mother (yes, the kids Great Grandmother), and her Boyfriend to say the same. Moms Lawyer got scared.
The other reason the Lawyer gave for settling was that Mom had moved by then to a neighboring state (that was only 1 hour away, but a different state). So, there was never a trial, just lawyers settling out of court. Obviously, this should have gone before a Judge. Air tight, official documentation beats word of mouth stories no matter how many people are convinced to lie, right?
CURRENT:
Mom is involved with the children as much as she is "permitted" to be, she has them every weekend and all Summer (Per the later settlement). She now is a stay at home mom to 2 babies from her recent marriage.
Now the Father said THIS WEEKEND that he wants nothing to do with the Kids ("Im too busy and don't have time" - that's an ACTUAL quote.), but that HIS Mother wont LET him give the kids back. Yes, he used the word "Let". Hes very scared of her still (hes 28) as she abused him for years. He does WHATEVER she says. He even signs Moms child support check over to his mothers boyfriend in full as he demands it. And as such, his mother and her boyfriend have the children and are primary care givers on Weekdays. The Father comes and goes as he pleases, but is not involved with the kids.
There is a significant ammount of abuse & neglect going on as well. DSS became involved at one point after the Fathers Mother was found to be beating the children with a wooden spoon. They investigated, found it to be true, but that was "ok" because she promised to stop (that was actually written in the papers). I believe the actual beating has now stopped. The Kids had no winter coats (Mom bought some), holes in their shoes (Mom replaced them), clothes that don't fit (2 sizes too small - Mom bought some clothes), and the Father doesnt care about school problems and refuses to meet with Teachers after they send home notes that there are problems at School. He told them he didnt have time (Mom found the notes and went straight to the school, grades are dropping and the kids are getting into fights at school).
The Fathers Mother and her boyfriend fight constantly, they also both fight with the Father. The environment is extremely hostile. The children are upset about the fighting and indeference and continually ask everyone (family members) why cant they go live with Mom since her home is happy and shes always there for them.
HELP!!! Mom wanted to make sure she has a case before she seeks legal help. She just doesnt trust Lawyers much anymore. The children are suffering and the entire situation is insane. Would DSS even care at this time? Or, should she get another (better) Lawyer? Would they care? Is there legal grounds here? She thought there was plenty before, but the Lawyer didnt think so. Even with the abuse to the kids, abuse photos (what dad did to mom), police records, etc...
What in the world does a Mother do when her children are legally being held hostage in a war zone and no one seems to care?
Any advice is most appreciated. This family is suffering terribly because of this situation. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.  It's difficult to admit but unfortunately there are attorneys who do not adhere to the ethics of the profession and the professional rules of conduct that all attorneys are required to swear an oath to.
Documents that are considered legal that are signed under duress, intimidation and or fraudulent action are always subject to appeal, and why the mother's attorney did not use that is a mystery.
One option would be to contact a women's help center who can refer the mother to an attorney who would be more sympathetic with her situation and without question ethical.
Being in counseling and taking prescription medication is not something a judge would take into consideration unless there was an indication that the medication was being misused and/or the person were addicted to the point they could not function normally.
The father would be able to relinquish custodial rights to the mother through a fairly simple court procedure. Unless there were extreme mitigating circumstancaes a judge would certainly not void the action especially if since the mother has established a new family and is capable of supplying a stable home environment.
Since this website is not meant for personal communication please feel free to email me at macky83@juno.com if I can be of assistance.
ANSWER- NOT AN ATTORNEY
It sounds to me that it would benefit the children to have their own attorney through Social Services who would make recommendations to the presiding judge as to where the children should be placed. Someone unbiased who can look at both living situations and the court considers to have the children's best interests in mind might be a better route for you to regain custody of your kids given the circumstances you're describing. Good luck.
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