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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.

father and childWhen you think of a typical paternity case, the chances are you imagine a mother going to court seeking to use the authority of (and threat of punishment from) the legal system to force a father to take responsibility as a parent. Not all paternity issues are like that. In some cases, the father is fighting not to avoid responsibility but to avoid losing his rights to (and relationship with) the child he had loved and raised as his own for her entire life. Regardless of which scenario is yours, it is vital to make sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland paternity attorney working on your side.

A case that originated in Anne Arundel County and recently went before the Court of Special Appeals involved such a “non-typical” situation. Samantha and John lived together for three years but never married. In September 2012, Samantha gave birth to a daughter. The daughter’s birth certificate listed John as the father, and the daughter shared the father’s last name. Both John and Samantha signed an official form, called an Affidavit of Parentage, on which they attested that John was the girl’s biological father.

Two years later, the couple split up. For a year, they shared a 50-50 split custody arrangement. Then, in the fall of 2015, the mother went back to court. This time, she contended that John was not the daughter’s biological father. (Samantha had engaged in a brief sexual relationship with another man around the time of the daughter’s conception.) The mother wanted the court to order a DNA test to confirm her suspicion that the other man was, in fact, the father. As part of her case, Samantha alleged that both men had already taken paternity tests, and those tests showed that the other man, rather than John, was the biological parent.

courtroomWithin the opinions of appellate courts made publicly available, there is a lot that can be learned, and not just by lawyers. One recent custody case decided by the Court of Special Appeals is such an example. The court’s opinion and the case’s outcome remind anyone of a couple of important truths when it comes to family law litigation:  one, that it is much easier to achieve success initially than it is to overturn an unfavorable ruling later, and, two, that it is always best to make every effort to participate in the litigation process at every step along the way. An experienced Maryland child custody attorney can help walk you through your rights and the means through which you can protect them throughout litigation.

The case was a prolonged and contentious one regarding the son of April and Andre. In late 2013, the father filed an action in Annapolis, seeking custody of the boy. At the time, according to the father, both he and the mother had been residents of Maryland for more than one year, and, to the best of his belief, the son lived with the mother. Along the way, though, April’s mother filed an action in Birmingham, Alabama, asking for custody or guardianship over the boy.

Eventually, the case came before the court in Maryland for a final hearing in late 2014. The mother did not attend. The court awarded the father sole custody. Three months later, he was back in court, seeking a contempt order because, despite the court’s 2014 custody order, the mother refused to turn over the child. The father expressed his belief that the mother or the maternal grandmother was hiding the boy.

grandparentsAn important emerging issue in Maryland and other states in recent years involves situations in which grandparents have gone to court to seek legal custody of their grandchildren. Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals faced a first-of-its-kind case:  a matter in which the courts had to adjudicate parental unfitness within the parameters of a third-party custody request case. While the Court of Appeals ruled against the grandparents in this instance, the case nevertheless provides useful guidance about third-party custody actions and reminds us of the importance of working with a knowledgeable Maryland grandparent rights lawyer who is up-to-date on all of the newest changes in the law.

The home situation for the child at the center of the case was a turbulent one. The parents, Natasha and Mark, married in 2006 and had a son in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, the parents were two-thirds of a three-member polyamorous relationship that also included another woman. The three also used illegal drugs. By 2013, the father allegedly became violent, and the mother obtained a restraining order. The father moved out, and the mother filed for divorce. A consent agreement that was part of the divorce litigation required both parents to undergo drug testing. The father passed all of his tests, but the mother tested positive for marijuana in 2014.

Later that year, the paternal grandparents filed a request with the court, seeking to intervene in the child custody case. They argued that the court was permitted to, and should, award them custody of the child. They contended that they had been closely involved in the child’s life since birth, both emotionally (including caring for the child while the parents used drugs) and financially (including providing money that the parents used to purchase the marital home). In light of the parents’ illegal drug use, the custody of the child should go to them, they argued.

figure with moneyMost areas of the law, including family law, are evolving and changing constantly, to one degree or another. Ensuring that you give yourself a good chance of success means working with a knowledgeable Maryland divorce attorney who is up-to-date on all of the new changes in the law. These changes can occur through a variety of means, whether it is a new ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals, a new law enacted by the legislature, or, as was the case in one couple’s military pension dispute, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively upturned several decades of Maryland caselaw.

The spouses in the case, Walter and Verdena, were married from 1972 to 2004. During the marriage, the husband served in the Army National Guard from 1985 to 1987. (He previously served before the marriage from 1969 to 1971.) During his four years in the National Guard, the husband suffered three injuries. The husband retired from the National Guard in 1998 and filed for retirement at that time.

The couple’s 2004 divorce judgment stated that the wife was to receive one-third of the marital portion of the husband’s military pension benefits. In 2009, though, the husband sought a re-evaluation of his disability status. The government increased the husband’s disability rating, which meant that he was entitled to receive 30 percent of his compensation as disability benefits, instead of the previous 10 percent.

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