A prolific writer, director and producer of Hollywood films and TV shows who died in 2006 is credited with originating a now-popular catchphrase that one should “never assume” because of the potential perils that await those that do. That good advice can apply to family law. There may be certain things that you think you know about Maryland family law. Sometimes, though, what you think you know is wrong. You are better off not assuming. Instead, consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney and get the knowledgeable answers you need.

One popular assumption relates to child support, That general assumptions says that, in cases where one parent has primary physical and sole legal custody of the children, either the other parent will be the one paying child support or neither parent will be paying child support.

That is not always the way thing really work, though, as a recent child support case from Montgomery County demonstrates. The father in the case was an executive vice president for a trade organization and, at the time of the divorce, made roughly $1.3 million per year, with a bonus of $250,000. The mother had spent much of the marriage as stay-at-home mom but was a certified teacher. She was making $50,000 per year in a teaching position at the time of the divorce.

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When you and your spouse divorce and you two share minor children, the issue of child support will probably be one of the most important items you’ll work through. It will also be one of the areas where it’s vital to have a skilled Maryland family law attorney by your side. Here in Maryland, as elsewhere, there are a set of statutory “guidelines” that steer the court’s process of determining the proper amount of child support that a supporting parent should pay. What follows here is a brief “Q and A” to give you some greater insight into the child support guidelines process.

Q. Is the use of the guidelines mandatory?

A. As a very recent child support case from Charles County noted, while the law does not require a judge to use the guidelines, it does strongly favor the use of the guidelines to calculate child support. There is something the law calls a “rebuttable presumption” in favor of following the guidelines, meaning that the law presumes that the guidelines-dictated amount is correct, but that the presumption can be defeated if you have enough evidence in your specific case to show that the guidelines shouldn’t be followed.

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Roughly 25 years ago, a popular musician had a successful song entitled “Ironic” that, in part, discussed life events that were really bad timing – like winning the lottery and dying the next day. Pop music aside, the reality is that, sometimes, major events in one’s life sometimes can have peculiar timing, such as receiving a large influx of wealth shortly after you divorce. This kind of scenario may find you fighting to keep all of your wealth, including keeping your ex-spouse from getting an upsized amount of alimony. When it comes to protecting your assets in a divorce, make sure you have a skilled Maryland divorce attorney by your side.

The divorce case of R.T. and M.T. was one of those situations. In the divorce, the couple agreed on many issues, but were far apart on alimony. The trial court ultimately ordered the husband to pay the wife $1,800 per month for 72 months as rehabilitative alimony.

A scant three days after the judge signed that order, the husband received a large year-end bonus from his employer in the amount of $73,195. As soon as she learned about the order, the wife went back to court seeking an order modifying alimony. The trial judge, however, denied the wife’s request to modify the alimony award and that denial was upheld on appeal.

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Any time you are going through a divorce is a good time to retain the services of an experienced Maryland family law attorney. However, if your divorce case involves facts or issues that are particularly complex or unique, then you have an especially high need for skillful legal representation, who will guide you through the process and keep that unusual element from harming you.

There are lots of ways a case can take a turn into the realm of the “unusual.” Take for example, this dispute from Anne Arundel County. The husband, T.K., and the wife, W.R., married in 2003. Thirteen years later, the wife died. Those facts weren’t unusual. What was unusual was that, at no point during those 13 years did the couple ever get a marriage license. The two of them signed a document they entitled a “Marriage Agreement” and they went through a marriage ceremony in an Annapolis Anglican church officiated by an ordained minister, but the marriage license was a step that was never completed.

This absence of a marriage license was eventually at the center of a legal dispute and forced the Maryland Court of Appeals to answer a critical question: is a marriage in which the spouse never obtained a license valid in Maryland?

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When you have to go to court in a divorce or child-related case, there are countless reasons why it pays to have quality legal representation from a skilled Maryland family law attorney. One of these comes up when something happens that causes you to question, “Can the judge really do that?”

If you have no counsel, you may be inclined simply to accept it, because the judge is the judge after all, and (you assume) can mostly do what he/she wants, right? On the other hand, an experienced attorney knows there are limits to a judge’s power in making his/her orders, knows when the judge has overstepped and knows what to do when that takes place.

Here’s an example of how it can happen. A recent case heard by the Court of Special Appeals pitted a father against a mother on the issue of child custody. The parents had engaged in “nearly continuous litigation” for almost a decade. After a five-day trial in 2018, the trial judge hearing the parents’ case ordered the parents to complete two mediation sessions before either could file any future motions for modification of custody.

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As anyone with children knows, the relationships you have with your children are about much more than just shared DNA. Just because a child you’re raising is not “yours” in the biological sense does not diminish the bond you share, the responsibility you feel for her well-being or the value that your care provides to her. Recognizing that, the law in Maryland allows people who are not biological parents to go to court and, if they have the right evidence, demonstrate that they are something that the law calls a “de facto” parent, which gives them an equal footing with that child’s other legal parents. If you are raising a child that is not biologically yours, you need the right Maryland family law attorney when it comes time to make those kinds of “de facto parent” arguments and protect your relationship in a court of law.

Some of Maryland’s earliest cases establishing de facto parenthood related to same-sex couples with children, especially those who were not married and where only one parent had a biological tie to the child. As the law has recognized, however, de facto parenthood extends to more than just families involving gay or lesbian parents.

Take, for example, this case from Prince George’s County. In the case, the two children were the biological offspring of D.D., the father, and E.N., the mother. The parents lived together until the father was imprisoned for drug crimes.

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Most people know that a parent who owes child support owes that obligation until the child turns 18 (or 19 if the child turned 18 while still in high school,) unless a court order terminates that obligation at some earlier point. Many families in which one parent owes an obligation of support may experience substantial life changes during those years and, sometimes, those changes may occur when the child is 17. In those situations, you may wonder, what can I do if I can’t get a court date before the child’s 18th birthday? Fortunately, the mere fact that your child turned 18 before your court hearing does not automatically deny you the right to get a modification that relates to the support you paid before the child turned 18. To make sure that you are approaching your case properly to get what you deserve, be sure you have obtained legal representation from a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.

A recent case that originated in Montgomery County offers an example of what a supporting parent can do. The parents, Y.B. and M.K., were married for two months when the wife filed for divorce. On Aug. 24, 2001, M.K. gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son. By the fall of 2018, the father had sole legal and physical custody of the son, and the mother paid child support.

In November 2018, the son began living outside the father’s home, staying with various friends. The mother, in turn, went to court in early 2019 to seek a modification of child custody and her child support obligation. However, the case did not come for a hearing right away and, in fact, when the son turned 18 in August 2019, the case was still pending.

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Divorce and divorce-related legal cases often involve deep-seated emotions. They are cases that intertwine the coldly legal and the intensely personal. Those truths can sometimes lead your ex-spouse to try to bring into your case things that, while perhaps important to him personally, are not important legally to resolution of the issue that brought you into court. When that happens, you need the skill and knowledge of an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side to help you get those irrelevant things excluded from your case and, when necessary, placed under court seal.

E.O. was a Prince George’s County wife who had that kind of problem in her case. In 2018, E.O. and her husband received a divorce. The court also adjudicated issues of child custody, visitation, child support and alimony.

After the court issued the judgment of divorce, the spouses filed several post-judgment motions. On several of those, the husband included photographic “support” as attachments to his filings. Those photographs displayed dried blood stains within the couple’s home. The husband’s argument was that this blood was proof that E.O. had attempted to perform an “at-home abortion,” that this pregnancy and abortion were proof of E.O.’s adultery.

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Each state has its own laws regarding child custody and those laws get minor updates periodically. Less frequently, though, a larger change takes place. Maryland, for example, now has a requirement that each set of parents must complete something called a parenting plan. What, you may wonder, is a parenting plan and how will it impact me and my child(ren)? For answers to those questions and more, and to make sure you end up with a parenting plan that fully protects — and fosters the continued growth of – your relationship with your children, retain a skilled Maryland family law attorney.

2020 is the first year that Maryland has required parenting plans in custody cases. According to the judiciary, a parenting plan specifically is considered to be “a written agreement describing how people, called parties, will care for and make decisions about their child(ren).” In other words, it is an agreement, mutually reached by the child’s parents, that lays out exactly how decision-making and other care-related responsibilities will be handled between the parents.

Many parents may think of this as an equivalent of a “custody agreement” and, therefore, may think it’s as simple as something like, “Joint legal custody, with the mother having primary physical custody and the father to have every other weekend, spring break and summer vacations,” or like “Joint legal custody and 50-50 physical custody, with each parent having the child for alternating two-week periods.”

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There are an absolutely enormous number of reasons why having a skilled family law attorney representing you is better than going it alone. You can probably think of a few… or maybe several. One of the ones that may not have occurred to you is when you have a sudden emergency that prevents you from attending your regularly scheduled court hearing. If you have no attorney and you no-show, the results can be disastrous, as a recent case from Montgomery County demonstrated. On the other hand, a skilled attorney who is representing you will know the best way to go about notifying the court of your emergency and taking other essential action on your behalf, such as requesting a continuance and a rescheduled future date for the hearing, thereby saving you from the disaster of having no one present to speak for you.

S.T. and M.L., the couple in the Montgomery County case, divorced in 2013. They agreed to a voluntary separation and property settlement agreement that dictated that the husband make several payments each month. After the husband allegedly failed to make certain required payments, the wife went back to court in 2018 seeking an order holding the husband in contempt.

In late December 2018, the spouses went before a magistrate and had a merits hearing. (To give you a little background about Maryland court procedure, certain cases go before a magistrate before a judge considers them. A magistrate will hear evidence and will file a “report” in which he/she makes findings of fact and also makes a recommendation to the judge.)

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