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cashDistributing marital property can be one of the most complex elements of any divorce, especially one in which minor children are not involved. Sometimes, in order to achieve a genuinely equitable outcome, it may be necessary for a trial judge to order one spouse to make a monetary payment to the other. There are certain rules that govern monetary awards, though, and if they are not followed, the spouse ordered to pay may be entitled to get the order thrown out. All of these concepts and litigation strategies highlight how having an experienced Maryland property division attorney can provide a substantial benefit to you in your divorce case.

The divorce of Samuel and Joyce, a couple who separated after nearly 30 years of marriage, was an example of a monetary award case that ended in a successful appeal. In dividing the couple’s assets, the court concluded that, with all of the assets distributed, the husband owed the wife a monetary award of $54,000. A monetary award is something that may be ordered in some Maryland divorce cases when the distribution of assets between the spouses yields an outcome that is not entirely equitable. Requiring one spouse to pay the other a certain sum of money thereby “evens the scales” and achieves the equitable outcome required by the law.

In order to order a monetary award, the trial judge has to do several things and consider several factors. Maryland has created a three-step process to be used to determine if a monetary award is appropriate. First, the judge must divide assets into the categories of marital and non-marital. Second, the judge must assess the value of all of the assets that are determined to be marital. Third, the court must decide if dividing the assets “according to title” would be unfair to one spouse.

stopwatchThere is the saying that “timing is everything.” While timing may not be everything in your family law case, it certainly is an important thing and can be a “make or break” thing in some cases. Making sure that all of the necessary documents are filed within the required time period is one area in which an experienced family law attorney’s detailed knowledge of the law can pay dividends and allow you to avoid the traps that can defeat your case.

One example of a situation in which a failure to follow the timing rules impaired a litigant’s case was a child support modification request involving a father named Richard. Richard and Eleanor were a married couple with three children. When the couple divorced, the divorce judgment entered by a Prince George’s County judge in 2007 ordered the husband to pay child support for all three of the children.

Nine years later, the Office of Child Support Enforcement filed a request with the court to modify child support. The office explained to the court that the father had notified them that he was unemployed and that two of the three children had become legal adults. The case went before a magistrate. At the end of the hearing, the magistrate announced that he would be recommending that the court deny the request for a reduction. The father asked for reconsideration, but that was not successful. The magistrate subsequently completed a proposed order denying the modification. The father swiftly appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. A week after the father filed his appeal, the circuit court judge accepted the magistrate’s recommendation and entered an order denying the modification. The father took no further action.

Hardee HatIn your alimony case in Maryland, whether you are the potential supporting spouse or the potential recipient spouse, it is important to go into the process understanding what Maryland law says about alimony. Maryland used to view alimony as a means for allowing the recipient spouse to maintain the standard of living she enjoyed during the marriage (or something close to it). Today, the law views alimony as a means to assist the recipient spouse in becoming self-supporting. That change affects many things, including the range of circumstances in which a recipient spouse is entitled to indefinite alimony. For reliable advice about how these legal rules of alimony might affect your case, talk to an experienced Maryland alimony attorney.

As an example of this legal rule and how it affects an outcome, there was the recent case of Richard and Rebecca. Richard and Rebecca’s relationship was one that became extremely complicated, to say the least. The couple separated in 2015 after nine years of marriage. That separation came on the heels of the husband’s arrest for theft. In this situation, though, it wasn’t just any theft. Richard stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Civil War-era artifacts from the wife’s family.

After a hearing, the trial judge ordered the husband to pay child support and to pay the wife indefinite alimony. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial judge miscalculated child support and that the judge should have awarded the wife no alimony at all.

money bagWhen you are going through a divorce and working out the terms of a settlement agreement with your spouse, it is important to make sure that you fully negotiate everything to your satisfaction. Once the agreement is completed and incorporated into your divorce, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a court order making certain changes. If you seek certain types of relief from the judge based upon a claim of fraud, you may be required to prove a very specific type of fraud, as was demonstrated in one recent case from Anne Arundel County. All of these rules, requirements, and potential pitfalls serve as reminders of the importance of having representation from an experienced Maryland divorce attorney during every step of your case.

The couple in the Anne Arundel County case, Michael and Christa, separated in 2011 after 14 years of marriage. The next year, they worked out a marital settlement agreement. Resolving divorce-related issues via agreement as opposed to litigating every item can be a useful way to deal with aspects of your divorce. The agreement stated that it resolved all of the issues in the divorce, including child support, alimony, and the division of marital property.

The agreement required both spouses to “exchange all information relevant or helpful to the recalculation of the Maryland Child Support Guidelines . . . so that the reallocation of alimony and child support . . . can be conducted.” The husband made his disclosures required by the agreement, and they showed that, in one year, he earned $1.5 million, which was unusual because he typically earned between $250,000 and $300,000.

gavelWhen you are negotiating a separation agreement, it is important to “sweat the small stuff,” or more advisably, retain an experienced Maryland divorce attorney to “sweat the small stuff” for you. Each detail in your agreement is binding, and small differences can have large impacts down the road in terms of things like alimony payments, child support, or other financial outcomes. With an experienced attorney working for you, you can make a fully informed and knowledgeable decision before you sign off on that settlement agreement.

One recent case focusing on a settlement agreement was the alimony dispute between Jonathan and Andrea, who finalized their divorce in 2011. During the divorce process, the couple worked out a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. The agreement covered alimony and child support, among other things. The alimony provision in the agreement called for Jonathan to pay Andrea alimony for eight years (ending in December 2019). The alimony obligation could end earlier if any one of several events happened. Those included Jonathan’s death, Andrea’s death, Andrea’s remarriage, or Andrea’s cohabitation.

By the spring of 2016, Jonathan was back in court, seeking to have his alimony obligation terminated, along with reimbursement for some months of alimony that he’d already paid. Jonathan’s argument was that Andrea had been cohabitating with a man since August 2015, if not earlier. Based on the evidence the spouses presented, the trial judge concluded that Andrea was living with the man and that the two were in a long-term intimate relationship.

job applicationsIn Maryland, when a couple divorces, the law allows for an award of alimony to one spouse, but the law will also expect that spouse to do everything reasonable to make herself as self-supporting as possible. If that spouse isn’t making an effort to support herself, the courts are allowed to calculate alimony as if the spouse were earning an income. That can be true even if the supporting spouse earns a million dollars per year, and the recipient spouse has rarely ever made more than $20,000 annually. Thus, even if you make much more than your spouse, you may be able to argue voluntary impoverishment to reduce your alimony obligation. An experienced Maryland alimony attorney can help you navigate the process for litigating the issue of alimony and related matters like voluntary impoverishment.

A case in which a vast income disparity and voluntary impoverishment were issues was Charles and Pamela. The pair were married for roughly a decade and a half from the late 1990s until the 2010s. At the time of the couple’s divorce trial, Charles, who was the president of a successful auto dealership in Bethesda, was making $1.2 million per year. Pamela was not employed, having last worked as a pre-school teacher. During the marriage, she never made more than $29,000 annually and rarely more than $20,000.

At the trial’s conclusion, the Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ordered the husband to pay the wife almost $970,000, which the husband did in a timely fashion. The judge, however, rejected the wife’s request to award her permanent alimony. Instead, the court concluded that the wife had voluntarily impoverished herself by not working, imputed income to her in the amount of $20,000 per year, and ordered the husband to pay her $5,000 per month for 60 months.

familyIn a perfect world, there would be no need for court litigation to resolve child custody disputes. In the real world, however, family dynamics are often complicated, and multiple family members may think that they should be the one to care for a child. Sometimes, those claims for custody or visitation may come from non-parents. Generally, though, as a parent, the law gives you certain rights regarding your child, as long as there is no legal finding that you’re unfit. Experienced Maryland child custody counsel can help you protect your family and your rights, and defeat any challenges to your parental fitness.

One such complicated family situation involved a custody and visitation dispute between a child’s father and her great-grandmother. The case was a difficult example of the complicated events that can unfold when a primary caregiver parent passes away unexpectedly. Shakeera was a mother of five children who, along with her children, lived with her grandmother in North Carolina. Shortly after giving birth to the fifth child, Shakeera died suddenly. Tavahn, the father of the eldest four children, traveled from Maryland to North Carolina to attend Shakeera’s funeral and to take the children back to Maryland with him. He had a court order giving him custody of three of the children. Shakeera’s grandmother, Loretta, resisted, but eventually, with the help of law enforcement, Tavahn was able to take custody of the three children named in the order. The fourth child, J.S., was not mentioned in the court order, so the police didn’t allow the father to take that child from Loretta’s home.

Tavahn came back to Maryland and promptly asked a Baltimore judge to issue a custody order for J.S. Loretta contested the father’s request, arguing to the judge that she should have custody of J.S. or, at a minimum, court-ordered visitation with the child. The court gave the father custody. The great-grandmother received neither custody nor visitation.

calendarWhen you go through the legal process of getting a divorce, you almost certainly hope that the final resolution of your divorce case will provide a degree of closure. Sometimes, though, things change or things unfold in a way that you didn’t expect and your needs change. When that happens, the law provides an avenue for you to seek changes to things like alimony. Even when the court originally only gave you alimony for a specific, limited period of time, you may be able to get that changed to indefinite alimony. An experienced Maryland alimony attorney can guide you as you navigate the process of obtaining a modification of your alimony award.

The case in question was one in which the wife was able to obtain indefinite alimony through the modification process. A court in Talbot County granted the couple’s divorce in February 2014. At that time, the judge awarded the wife alimony in the amount of $750 per month, but only for a limited duration. Before the time period elapsed, the wife was back in court, asking for an increase in the amount of her monthly alimony and an extension of the duration of alimony. The wife argued that, during the course of the preceding months, her circumstances had changed. The trial judge accepted the wife’s arguments and modified her alimony. The judge did not increase the monthly amount but changed the award to indefinite alimony.

The husband appealed, but he lost. His argument, which did not win, was that the wife had not experienced a proper change in circumstances. In Maryland, you must have experienced a qualifying change in circumstances in order for a court even to consider granting you an increase in your alimony. There are various ways that you can establish that you have undergone the sort of changed circumstances recognized by Maryland law as allowing a modification. One way is to persuade the court that, without an increase in your alimony, a “harsh and inequitable” outcome would result.

DNARecently, this blog touched upon a case in which a mother filed a legal action in which she, in effect, tried to disestablish paternity, which would have ended a man’s parental rights to a daughter who had been legally his since birth. That, of course, is a less common type of situation. The more frequently occurring one involves a man who has been told that he’s the father, who signs documents acknowledging paternity, and who then, sometime after the child’s birth, comes to question (or sometimes even know conclusively) that he’s not the father. Whether you are a man who finds himself in this type of situation, or a mother who finds herself in a scenario in which the father is trying escape legal responsibility, you should make sure you have capable Maryland paternity lawyers on your side in any litigation. These are serious cases, and you should retain serious professionals to protect you and your family.

A very recent ruling from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals looks at how trial courts should handle cases in which a man is contending that, although he signed an Affidavit of Parentage, the legal system should throw out that affidavit and de-certify him as the legal father. The case involved Reginald, a college student at Salisbury University, who had sexual relations with Kasandra, a fellow Salisbury student, in July 2014. The pair returned to school in the fall and, by September, began dating and resumed their sexual relationship.

In January, Kasandra texted Reginald and told him that she was pregnant and that he was the father. She told him the baby was due in mid-June. Reginald concluded that he could be the father based upon the due date Kasandra provided. Kasandra gave birth to a daughter, but the girl arrived in mid-May, rather than mid-June. Despite this discrepancy, Reginald and Kasandra both signed an Affidavit of Parentage, stating that they were the biological parents. Reginald assumed that the baby had been conceived in September and had arrived early.

magnifying glassAs you go through the process of getting a divorce, there are several things to keep in mind. For one thing, it may be useful to resolve as many issues as possible directly between the spouses. However, if you do negotiate an agreement on alimony, property division, or other issues, it is important to understand that, just as with any other contract, details matter. To make sure that your agreement accurately reflects the deal you intended to forge with your ex-spouse, make sure that you have an experienced Maryland alimony lawyer on your side.

An example of the importance of details in an agreement was highlighted in the case of Michael and Nancy. The pair was a divorced couple locked in a legal battle regarding alimony. In 2010, when they divorced, they reached a court-mediated agreement regarding alimony. That agreement stated that the husband, an OB/GYN doctor who made nearly $290,000 per year, would pay the wife $5,500 per month for a period of six years.

In 2015, the wife returned to court, seeking to modify the terms of her alimony. During the marriage, the wife had earned a very small income and was also limited as a result of medical treatment related to her long-term cancer battle. At the time of the divorce, she was making $975 per month working for a non-profit music society. In her request for modification, the wife asserted that she had made concerted efforts to become self-supporting but had not been able to secure employment that would make her self-supporting. Based upon this, the wife asked the court to modify the alimony award to make the payments continue indefinitely.

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