Articles Posted in Division of Property

Lawyers, of course, keep up with new rulings from the courts all the time to make certain they are up-to-date on the law in the areas where they practice. That’s important because, when you are working with the right Maryland divorce attorney, you have the benefit of a legal advocate who possesses a thorough, complete, and up-to-date knowledge of the law in this state.

Many court rulings, however, also have information that can be really useful for most anyone facing a particular circumstance, like going through a divorce. Take, as an example, this divorce case from Baltimore.

The wife filed for divorce in 2019 after 17 years of marriage. Each spouse accused the other of financial misconduct.

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One of the things that makes divorce different than many other legal matters is something fundamental to many marriages. For lots of people, marriage (and, by extension, divorce) is a place where the secular and the sacred meet… where man’s laws intersect with God’s laws. Whatever your religion teaches about marriage and/or divorce, it is vitally important, if you are going through a divorce in Maryland, to understand how the civil laws of Maryland will view your situation. To get the answers about these kinds of issues, as well all the other issues your divorce case presents, look to an experienced Maryland family law attorney, who can offer you customized advice based on your specific situation.

Last year, this blog discussed a case involving two Islamic couples divorcing in Maryland. Both that case and a much newer divorce case recently decided by the Court of Special Appeals are illustrative of the problems that can arise for these couples in terms of interpreting the agreements they made during their religious marriage.

If you are someone going through a Maryland divorce after having gone through an Islamic marriage process (or some other religious marriage process with similar procedures), the most important thing to understand is not how your religion views those marital processes, but how the Maryland courts will see them.

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A comedic TV commercial series features disgruntled car buyers hiding their identities behind masks and disguises. They are mortified because they found out, only after they made their purchase, that they ended up “paying too much” for their used car. There’s a little bit of a legal lesson in this, which is: be absolutely certain before you sign a contract on the bottom line because, once you do, it is generally very difficult to avoid the promises you made in that document. That’s true of a marital settlement agreement, as well, which is why you definitely should consult an experienced Maryland divorce attorney before signing one of those documents.

K.J. was a spouse whose divorce case was a clear example of “post-execution regret.” In 2011, with his marriage broken down, he signed a marital settlement agreement with his wife. One of the terms in that contract, “Paragraph 20,” stated that the husband would pay the wife 1/3 of any settlement or judgment he received from a personal injury lawsuit that was pending at the time of the divorce.

The injury case in question was not your ordinary case, though. It was a lawsuit arising from injuries the husband suffered in the Beirut barracks bombings of 1983, the defendant was the government of Iran, and the claim for damages was extremely large.

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Most contested divorces are fact-intensive. They revolve around who did or didn’t do something, when a spouse purchased an asset (and what assets were used to make that purchase,) the amount of money a spouse did or did not earn, and so forth. However, issues of law can also impact your divorce case, and a substantial change in the law can significantly influence how your divorce case is litigated. That’s one of the many places where having an experienced and diligent Maryland divorce attorney can benefit you, as your legal advocate will be up on the new laws and what you’ll need to succeed.

One of the bigger changes in Maryland law in 2020 was not something specific to divorce law. Maryland’s highest court, in a ruling related to a personal injury case about lead paint exposure, announced that Maryland was adopting a new standard for deciding whether or not expert testimony is admissible. That standard, called the Daubert standard (based upon the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals) lays out several criteria a judge should use to decide whether an expert’s evidence should be admitted or excluded.

At this point, you may find yourself thinking, what does this have to do with my divorce case? Aren’t experts usually just a part of criminal cases, malpractice cases and personal injury lawsuits?

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In a divorce where there are no minor children, possibly the biggest single thing that you’ll need to address is the marital home. One spouse may desire to stay in the home, but that can be challenging if the home isn’t paid off. Certainly, you don’t want to be liable for a mortgage loan securing a home that the court distributed to your ex-spouse. These things point out an important fact: in a divorce, it’s not just getting the assets you deserve, it also about escaping liabilities that you shouldn’t have. When it comes to doing these things, a skilled Maryland divorce attorney can help you protect yourself.

The courts, as we can see in a recent divorce case from Howard County, have substantial discretion in customizing an order dividing up a divorcing couple’s property and debts. The judge is free to award the marital home to one spouse but also to command that spouse, if the house is not paid off, to refinance or otherwise remove the other spouse’s name from the mortgage loan on the property.

So, what happens if s/he gets the house but then doesn’t refinance it? Typically, the court will, within its order, provide specific instructions about the refinancing. The order will give her a deadline by which s/he has to get your name off the loan, and will state what happens if s/he doesn’t act or doesn’t get the task completed by the deadline.

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Finding out well after you’re divorced that your ex-spouse hid substantial marital wealth and assets during the divorce process is undeniably frustrating and infuriating. It is, however, also potentially the basis for legal action. Depending on the details of your divorce (such as whether you created a marital settlement agreement) and the kind of financial malfeasance in which your ex-spouse engaged, you may possibly be able to reopen your divorce or, alternately, you may be able to seek recovery based upon your spouse’s breach of your marital settlement agreement. To learn more about your options, speak to an experienced Maryland divorce attorney right away.

A recent case from Baltimore County offers a view into what a spouse can sometimes do in that kind of situation. In this case, the CEO of a candy equipment supplier and his wife divorced in 2006. A dozen years later, the wife asked the judge to vacate that 2006 divorce judgment.

The husband, according to the wife, had engaged in fraud, concealing certain marital assets during the negotiation of the couple’s property settlement agreement. That fraud, according to the wife, had the effect of altering those negotiations and the outcome of the agreement.

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One goal for divorce is to create closure and free up both spouses to move on with their separate lives. Sometimes, that means certain things financially like selling the marital home. If you think that the proposed sale is improper, whether because the sale price is too low, the broker commission is too high or something else, you have certain legal options you can take. However, it is important to be forewarned: simply because you file the proper paperwork objecting to the proposed sale, that does not automatically mean that the trial judge must hold a hearing before ruling on your objection, as one husband learned recently.

Whether you are the spouse supporting a proposed sale of the marital home or opposing it, it pays to have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

Y.A. and N.A. were couple going through a divorce where selling the marital home was an issue. The judge handling their divorce case ordered the couple to split everything related to the sale 50-50. Each spouse would pay half the costs and fees of the sale, and each spouse would receive half the proceeds after the sale was finished.

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.)

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.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.

The question in this case was, what is an asset? When does a thing become an asset, and even if it was an asset, was the husband’s non-disclosure a violation of the agreement? The husband argued that the idea for the invention was not an asset and had no value as of the date that the spouses signed the settlement agreement.

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