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Back in the 1990s, a famous politician once responded to a question under oath by noting that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” While that answer might be puzzling to some, the reality is that, in the law, sometimes outcomes hinge upon small phrases or even single words, and the very precise definition of those terms. The outcome of a Florida case not too long ago hinged upon what the definition of a “sale” was. Recently, here in Maryland, the outcome of one ex-wife’s case alleging her ex-husband violated the couple’s marital settlement agreement rested squarely upon two things:  whether a thing qualified as an “asset” and whether that asset had an established, non-speculative value. All of these very nuanced details had the potential to have major consequences, and they highlight why it is so important to have skilled Maryland divorce counsel on your side.money

The couple, R.G. and S.G., began divorce proceedings in 2012 after 25 years of marriage. Seven months after the wife filed her divorce petition, the husband had a dream. That dream was the origin of a groundbreaking invention – a flossing toothbrush. The husband consulted one of his former patients, a businessman, about the invention, but he did not consult a patent attorney right away. Allegedly, the husband was trying to avoid leaving a “trail” that could provide the wife with an opportunity to claim the invention as a marital asset.

The couple entered into a mediated marital settlement agreement on Nov. 18, 2013. Sixteen days later, the husband contacted a patent attorney. In late January 2014, the divorce became final. A week later, the husband filed a provisional patent application for his toothbrush invention. The following November, the wife brought the husband back into court, asserting that he violated the settlement agreement when he failed to disclose the idea for the invention. Specifically, the wife alleged that the husband violated the “Disclosure” paragraph, which required that each spouse disclose all of the assets in the litigation. An improper non-disclosure, according to the agreement, meant that the injured spouse would receive 50% of the value of the undisclosed asset.

digital filesWith modern technology comes modern problems. That can be true in divorce as in other legal areas. One aspect of this is the very contemporary issue of electronic/digital assets. Digital assets can be complicated, as one person’s electronic files may be housed on a computer, hard drive or other storage device that belongs to another. Because these digital files may be things like emails, photos or videos with high sentimental value, those that are potentially embarrassing or harmful, or digital documents with important personal or financial information, resolving the distribution of these assets in a divorce is very important. To make sure that all of your assets, both electronic and physical, are distributed properly, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case from Anne Arundel County was an example of this type of dispute. In the divorce, the husband agreed that he would return all of the wife’s computer files. This included the email archives from several email accounts.

The husband did not return all the files, however. The wife went back to court, this time seeking an order declaring the husband in contempt for his failure to deliver the files. The husband declared that he had deleted many of the files “in a fit of rage” a year before the spouses established the agreement for delivery of the emails. The wife then asked to review the husband’s hard drives. He asserted that the hard drives were damaged in his move out of the marital home and that he had thrown them away.

moving boxesWithout question, maintaining a vibrant relationship with your child can be challenging if your child resides most of the time with her other parent and you live thousands of miles away. If, however you get the opportunity to relocate closer to the child, you may desire to take that opportunity to have a larger role in the child’s life and spend more time with her. When experiencing a situation like this, you still have to go to court and secure a modification of visitation, which means you still have to demonstrate a sufficient change of circumstances to the judge. This is a substantial requirement that requires careful knowledge of the law. To make sure you get the change you need to enhance your relationship with your child, consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

The case of L.J. was one where the father was a U.S. Marine who found himself in that type of situation. He and his wife had a daughter in 2009 and divorced in 2012. When they divorced, the husband was on active duty, stationed in California. The wife lived and worked in Maryland. After the separation, the parents worked out a custody arrangement and a visitation schedule. The schedule gave the father 120 days per year until the child started school. After school began, the father received all but three weeks of summer break, in addition to spring break, Thanksgiving break and every other Christmas holiday.

Three years after the divorce, the father received a medical discharge from the military and returned to Maryland. His new home was roughly 30 minutes from the mother’s residence. Based upon this change, the father asked the court to modify the visitation schedule and allow each parent to have the daughter 50% of the time.

uneven scalesMaryland law recognizes two different types of alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is alimony that is paid (or received) for a fixed and finite period of time. Indefinite alimony is, as the name suggests, something that does not have a specified end date. While Maryland law generally disfavors indefinite alimony, there are certain situations in which indefinite alimony is proper. The key is to understand which type of alimony the facts of your case point toward. An experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you to determine which type of alimony you are entitled to.

Alimony was a key issue for one long-term married couple when they divorced, in the following case. Like many married couples, this pair had a wide disparity of incomes. The couple had married in 1989 and the wife filed for divorce in 2016. The wife was a self-employed fundraising consultant who made approximately $75,000 per year. The husband was a highly successful attorney who earned $474,000 at the time of the divorce. As part of her divorce action, the wife sought spousal support. The court, in issuing the divorce judgment, awarded the wife spousal support of $5,000 per month for nine years. The wife appealed this ruling and obtained a reversal.

The law in Maryland typically favors awards of spousal support that last for only a fixed, limited period of time. There are, however, two situations in which indefinite alimony is the proper outcome. One of these is if the recipient spouse cannot reasonably be expected to become self-supporting, whether due to age, illness or disability. The other is if, even after the recipient spouse has become as self-supporting as possible, the disparity between the spouses’ incomes is “unconscionably disparate.” The latter of these two circumstances was the successful argument for the wife in this case.

lacrosseEvery parent has her or his own specific notion of the experiences that she or he considers to be integral to her or his child’s formative years. This may include discipline-building activities like participating in team sports. It may mean cultural activities like music or dance. It could mean spiritual opportunities like church camp. While a parent might consider any one (or more) of these essential to a child’s development, the law sees them differently when it comes to paying for these activities and determining a parent’s child support obligation. As a non-custodial parent, one of the keys to maintaining a full and vibrant relationship with your child is making sure that you are not financially overburdened by paying a child support obligation greater than what the law really says it should be. By working with knowledgeable Maryland child support counsel, you can give yourself a better chance of achieving a fair outcome in accordance with what the law dictates.

One example of a dispute over extracurricular activities and child support was the divorce case of Elizabeth and Robert. The trial court judge awarded custody of the boys to the father. The court also ordered the mother to pay $840 per month in child support, as well as one-half of the boys’ medical expenses and “all agreed-upon extracurricular activities.”

After the conclusion of the case, the mother appealed, and she won that appeal. The problem with the lower court ruling was the way that the trial court went about setting the mother’s financial obligations. The appeals court was clear that, under Maryland law, a parent’s child support obligation should not factor in a child’s extracurricular activities as an additional form of mandatory support above and beyond the basic support obligation, even if those activities are desirable. The only way that a court can tack on these activities is if they are necessary for a child’s special needs, such as “advanced programming” for a gifted child or remedial tutoring for an academically challenged child.

Alitalia PlaneToday, people’s lives are more portable than ever. For most people, gone are the days when you would grow up, get married, and raise children in one area, coupled with a spouse doing the same. This new reality can be especially true for professionals working in specialized fields. The increase in the geographic portability of people’s lives and careers can play a major role when your spouse and you divorce, and child custody is an issue. Whether you are the parent seeking to relocate with the child, or you are the parent opposing relocation, you have certain rights under the law, so it is extremely important to have a knowledgeable Maryland child custody attorney on your side to protect your relationship with your child.

One recent case ruling from the Court of Special Appeals provided an example of how these trans-national child custody cases can play out. The father was a geophysicist, and the mother was a doctor licensed to practice medicine in Europe. They met in Germany but eventually moved to Texas. The couple separated after three years, and the Texas court, in the couple’s divorce, granted the mother “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the children, without regard to geographical location.” The court also gave the mother the right to hold the children’s passports.

At some point, one of the parents relocated to Montgomery County in Maryland because the mother filed an action to “enroll” the Texas order in Maryland, which would make the Texas decree enforceable in this state. Later, the mother asked the Montgomery County court to modify custody. She asserted that the children’s passports had expired, that she’d received an offer to practice medicine in Germany, that she intended to move there with the children, and that the children’s passports needed to be renewed.

drug testResolving family law disputes by agreement can often be a useful and beneficial means of arriving at an outcome. For some parents, resolution by agreement gives them a greater sense of control and makes the outcome more lasting. Even if you intend to try to resolve your family law dispute through agreement, it is worthwhile to have legal representation by an experienced Maryland child custody attorney. Your legal counsel can help make sure any agreement you sign adequately protects your relationship with your child, and they can also assist you if litigation is necessary at a future date.

When you decide to resolve your family law dispute through a mutual agreement, it is very important to understand exactly which rights the agreement does and does not give you. Here’s an example from a recent case. Russell and Marie were a couple who married in 2014 and had a son in late 2015. Sometime shortly after the child’s birth, the mother informed the father that, due to the father’s drug use, the mother was leaving the couple’s home in Maryland and moving in with her mother in Texas. She was also taking the child with her.

Shortly after that, the father went to court, requesting an order of custody and child support. He also asked the court to bar the mother from taking the child out of Maryland “until further order” of the court. The mother also asked the court for an order of custody, child support, and express permission to move the child to Houston.

moneyFor some divorcing couples, financial matters may be the key issues in dispute. These can include many things, such as the division of assets and alimony. Some cases may also involve a request that one spouse pay the other spouse’s attorney’s fees. When resolving these disputes, there are certain procedural requirements. If those requirements are not followed, you may be able to use that failure to get the trial court’s order reversed. Family law cases, just like other civil cases, can involve the use of technical legal arguments to achieve the outcome you need, which is why it is helpful to have a knowledgeable Maryland divorce attorney on your side.

One recent case that heavily involved financial issues was the divorce of Teresa and Ernest, who had been married for almost two decades when the divorce petition was filed. The wife sought an award of alimony and also sought, as part of the court’s order, that the husband pay her attorney’s fees.

The trial court, however, awarded the wife no alimony and no attorney’s fees. The wife appealed that ruling, and the appeals court sent the case back to the trial judge. In this couple’s circumstances, the wife was, at the time of the hearing, unemployed. Her only income was $1,952 in child support. Her monthly expenses exceeded $5,000 per month. The husband, on the other hand, had a gross income of more than $21,000 per month.

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.

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