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Many of us are likely familiar with the stereotype: a marriage is irretrievably in breakdown and one spouse, sensing the end, decides to go out, drain the marital accounts and either blow that money or else hide it. This is something called “dissipation of assets” and it is potentially very harmful to the spouse on the other end. When that happens, you need to know how to respond, which is one reason (among many) why you need experienced Maryland family law counsel on your side as you prepare for, and then go through, the divorce process.

Dissipation of assets is defined as “where one spouse uses marital property for his or her own benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time where the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.” So, if one spouse depletes marital assets during the marriage’s final decline (or during the divorce action) and uses those proceeds on things that benefit only him/her individually and not the marital unit, then that is dissipation.

In a case where your spouse has squandered, or absconded with, marital funds, there is a multi-step process in court that must take place. First, you must give the court enough evidence for the judge to find that you’ve established the basic elements of dissipation as defined by Maryland law. (This is called establishing a “prima facie case.”) Once you’ve demonstrated that to the court, then the burden shifts to your spouse, who must show that he/she didn’t dissipate the funds but spent them on a legitimate marital purpose. (For example, if you withdrew substantial sums from the marital checking account but did so to pay the mortgage payment on the marital home and the rent on your one-bedroom apartment after your spouse asked you to move out, then those expenses are valid and are not dissipation.)

In cases of divorce where businesses are among the spouses’ marital property, the issues can be very intricate. A value must be established for the business (just as it must be for every other marital asset), and this often requires the services of an accounting and business valuation expert. In order to achieve your fullest and fairest outcome in your divorce, it may often be worth your while to retain your own expert witness to perform a valuation of the business. Whether it is expert witness evidence, document evidence or testimony, when it comes to amassing and presenting the evidence you need for a fair result in your divorce case, be sure to reach out to a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.

L.H. and K.K.’s divorce was a case that centered around asset division and a business as a marital asset. The pair married in the fall of 1997. They separated 15 years later and their divorce became final in 2016. With regard to the division of assets, the court concluded that a tree service company owned by the wife was a marital asset. The court ordered that the wife keep the business, but that the husband should receive a monetary award for his portion of the marital asset.

In order to make an equitable division and set a proper amount for the award to the husband, the court needed to know the business’s worth. The husband retained an expert to assess the value of the business. (The wife hired an accountant to serve as her expert, as well.)

When you reach a settlement agreement to resolve outstanding issues in your divorce, you likely hope that this agreement will bring about closure. Sometimes, however, that doesn’t happen. Whether it is a spouse’s refusal to follow the terms of the agreement or complications that arise after life events intervene, there may be many reasons why new disagreements emerge between you and your ex-spouse. When that happens, you may need to go back to court to protect your rights. To best protect yourself, be sure you have an experienced Maryland divorce attorney on your side.

Like many people, J.D. and P.M. purchased some real estate while they were married. One of the properties they purchased was a 4-bedroom, 3-bath home in Bowie. In 2004, the couple separated. The husband continued living in the Bowie home while the wife moved into an apartment in Silver Spring.

Eventually, the pair worked out a marital agreement and that agreement was included in the couple’s 2013 divorce judgment. In the agreement, both spouses acknowledged that the husband would take sole ownership of the Bowie residence, and that he would be solely responsible for making the mortgage payments, as well as all insurance and taxes.

Going to court in a family law case can be a very stressful time for many parents and spouses, even when things go the way you expect them to. Now imagine going to court where the judge addresses an issue and makes a ruling that you totally did not expect and for which you were completely unprepared. That would probably be exponentially more stressful. Would you know what you could, or should, do in that situation? Circumstances like this, which do happen in real life, are examples of why it pays to have representation from an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case illustrating this scenario was the custody dispute between M.M. and J.S. For the first few months after the couple divorced, the parents temporarily shared joint physical and legal custody. The father lived in Maryland. The mother lived out of state and was pregnant. The day before the couple’s three-day custody hearing was to begin, the wife’s lawyer informed the court that the wife was experiencing pregnancy complications and could not travel from Illinois to Maryland until after the new baby’s birth, which was still six weeks away.

The wife provided that information as part of an emergency request for postponement of the custody hearing. The judge held a hearing on the postponement request and ultimately postponed the custody hearing. The judge, however, also modified custody, giving the father temporary sole custody. The wife appealed that custody modification and she won. She won because the trial judge’s action violated her constitutional rights.

As a parent in a custody case, there are several hurdles you have to clear. Obviously, the first one is achieving success in the trial court. Once you’ve done that, though, you may still have some hurdles ahead of you. The other parent may decide to appeal the ruling. If you find yourself in the role of the “Appellee” (which means that you were successful in the trial court and are asking the appeals court to affirm what the trial judge ordered) it is important to understand that there can be multiple ways to get the outcome you need, which is a ruling of “Affirmed.” To get the representation you need to get that positive result, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

As an example of how this legal process can play out, there’s the case of K.M. and C.D. The two were the parents of two children, a son and a daughter, the younger of whom was born in December 2010. In 2013, the father, who had never been married to the mother, filed for custody. The mother appeared in the case and counterclaimed for custody.

One of the issues in this couple’s case was the mother’s alleged lack of stability, including a history of mental health problems and substance abuse. In her arguments, the mother asserted that she was in treatment for anxiety and depression, that she had begun refraining from drinking, that she had acquired a proper home for overnight visits and that she’d been gainfully employed for more than 12 months.

Settlement agreements can be very helpful tools in resolving some or all of the outstanding issues in your Maryland divorce case. Settlement agreements can help you reduce the time and money spent on litigation, as well as potentially reduce lingering hostility with your spouse that can accompany prolonged litigation. One of the keys to achieving a successful result through an agreement of this nature, though, is making sure that you understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, and that those terms really do meet your needs. To make sure that you are getting the outcome that best helps your family, whether through litigation or settlement, be sure you have a skilled Maryland family law attorney on your side.

The divorce of J.M. and L.M. was a case that represents an example of a settlement agreement scenario gone wrong, at least from the husband’s perspective. The pair had one child, a daughter, in 2010. In October 2016, the wife filed for divorce. The couple reached a mutual agreement on child support and child custody. The agreement stated that the pair would share joint custody and also laid out the exact amount of child support the father would owe each month.

After the court entered the judgment that finalized the couple’s divorce, the father sought to have the judgment thrown out. Specifically, he complained that the amount of child support that he was now obligated to pay was not “legally correct” and represented an upward deviation of some 565%.

A lot of parents may struggle with communication with their child’s other parent in the aftermath of the end of the parents’ relationship. It is always of paramount importance to make every possible effort to work together collaboratively with your child’s other parent when it comes to matters regarding the child. First and foremost, you should do that because it is generally what’s best for the child. Additionally, though, you should try to work with the other parent because if you go to court and tell the judge that absolutely cannot co-parent with the other parent, the judge is going to award one of you sole legal and physical custody–and it may not be you. For thoughtful advice about how to pursue your child custody case, be sure to talk to an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

As an example that illustrates the above point, there was the recent case of J.W. and A.J. The pair had a son together, born in April 2015. The parents were never married. Shortly after the boy turned two, the father asked a Baltimore judge to award him sole legal and physical custody of the child. The mother filed her own court papers, indicating that the child had resided with her his whole life and asking the judge to award her sole legal and physical custody. Just a few days later, the judge entered a temporary order that gave each parent joint legal and physical custody of the child, with exchanges to take place at a Baltimore police station.

Many parents, after a relationship’s end, struggle with high acrimony between them. These parents’ case was a somewhat extreme, however. Each parent took the witness stand in court and testified in the custody hearing that he/she could not communication or co-parent with the other in an effective way. At the hearing’s end, the judge considered the testimony of the father, the mother and the mother’s two witnesses and determined that the mother offered a more stable home environment and, as a result, should receive sole legal and physical custody.

Almost any divorce is a stressful event, especially if children are involved. You, as a spouse and a parent, work hard to achieve an outcome in your case that you believe is workable for you and your family. But what do you do when you discover in the weeks and months after the judgment was entered that your ex-spouse is not cooperating with you and does not intend to do what the judge ordered? That’s just one of many reasons why you need a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney beside you every step of the way. Your skilled counsel can help you achieve a divorce resolution that is fair and functional and then, if necessary, help you fight in the aftermath of the divorce to obtain the proper enforcement of what the judge ordered.

One example of a couple that did not achieve resolution after the entry of the divorce judgment was the case of Z.M. and M.M. The pair married in the summer of 2014. One month later, they welcomed a daughter. 13 months after that, the wife filed for divorce. The mother received primary physical custody of the child, but the court gave both parents joint legal custody.

The court gave the mother tie-breaking authority. Maryland law allows judges to award one parent the authority to make a final decision in the event that the parents are hopelessly deadlocked in terms of resolving an important decision-making issue regarding the child. The law also allows the courts to put conditions on the exercise of that tie-breaking authority. In Z.M. and M.M.’s case, the court demanded that the mother only use her tie-breaker power after she had made a good faith effort to inform the father and engage in a decision-making dialogue with him (except in emergency cases).

If you are involved in a custody dispute, there will be several steps to the legal process. One of these may involve a custody evaluation. It is important to understand exactly what a custody evaluation does, and does not, mean for your case. Even if the determinations made by the custody evaluator are not favorable to your position, you should not give up hope, as Maryland law makes it clear that the judge in your case will be the one to decide the dispute and the judge is not bound to follow the recommendations made by a custody evaluator. Whether or not your case has a custody evaluation, your case should have a skilled Maryland family law attorney on your side advocating for your interests.

One case involving a custody evaluation was the dispute between C.O. and L.N.O. The pair was initially involved in a very long-distance relationship. When they married in 1997, he lived in Maryland and she lived in Vietnam. The wife moved to Ellicott City in 1998 and the couple resided there for 18 years, until their separation.

After litigation, the trial judge awarded primary physical custody to the father, and gave the mother visitation on every other weekend. The mother appealed this ruling, arguing that the trial judge’s custody arrangement improperly went against the sort of custody split that the custody evaluator had recommended.

For some grandparents, their relationship with their grandchildren may involve weekly Sunday visits or perhaps longer get-togethers over holidays and vacations. For others, though, their relationship may place them in a situation in which they need to assume legal custody of a grandchild. If you find yourself in that circumstance, it is important to recognize that there are certain legal procedural “hoops” you must pass through and you must make sure that you get it all right in order to get the outcome your family needs. To make sure your case has everything that the court is looking for in order to award you custody, retain the services of a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney.

Here’s one example from Baltimore: J.M. and H.M. were the maternal grandparents of a girl named Mary. The couple’s daughter, R.E., was the mother. A man, J.R., who believed he was the father at the time of Mary’s birth in 2009, signed an affidavit of parentage. The girl’s birth certificate named J.R. as the father. The grandparents, however, came to believe that another man, M.S., was the biological father of the girl, as R.E. had allegedly told M.S. that he was the father. R.E. never married either man.

All of these details came to matter a great deal when Mary’s mother died at the young of 41 in the summer of 2015. With Mary’s single mother now deceased, the maternal grandparents went to court to seek third-party custody of the girl. The legal action named both J.R. and M.S. (A subsequent DNA test revealed that M.S., not J.R., was the girl’s biological father.)

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