Articles Posted in Divorce

The marriage of two people is a joyous event. A couple that decides to marry is expressing hope for their future lives together. Despite their love and devotion for each other, spouses sometimes enter into a “prenuptial” or “ante-nuptial” agreement prior to their wedding day. Such agreements may include various terms, depending on the circumstances of the parties, but they typically set forth the distribution of certain assets in the event of a divorce. Entering into a prenuptial agreement may be considered a prudent course of action, especially if one party has a significant amount of wealth at the time of the marriage. To determine whether a prenuptial agreement is right for your circumstances, you are encouraged to consult with a Maryland family law lawyer as soon as possible.

Essentially, a prenuptial agreement is a contract. And while there are no specific Maryland laws that govern prenuptial agreements, the formation and enforceability of such a document is subject to general principles of contract law. For instance, the parties must mutually agree to the terms of the agreement, which should be in writing. If a couple with a prenuptial agreement seeks to divorce, courts are often called upon to determine the validity of the document. In so doing, courts will look at whether:  1) the agreement was fair and equitable; 2) the parties each gave a full, complete, and truthful disclosure of their assets prior to document signing; 3) each party entered into the agreement freely, voluntarily, and knowingly; and 4) each party sought independent legal advice prior to signing the agreement.

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According to statistics compiled by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, in 2014, people 50 years of age and older were two times as likely to get divorced as in 1990. And for people over the age of 65, the increase is even greater. A recent news article reports on this finding and the multiple suggested causes for this phenomenon. Interestingly enough, the law in Maryland was recently revised to make the path to divorce more streamlined and simpler to pursue. No matter the reason for this uptick, an increasing number of older Americans are seeking to divorce. The process can be messy and complicated – both emotionally and financially. To be sure you are adequately protecting your rights, as well as your family’s, it is important that you consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney as early in the process as possible.

The earlier version of the Maryland law required spouses to separate and live apart from each other for one year before they would be permitted to divorce. New legislation recently enacted does away with the one-year period, but only under certain circumstances. The new law eliminates the waiting period for couples who do not have minor children and who mutually agree to divorce and divide up their property. The law still requires parties with minor children to wait the year before allowing the divorce to go forward. Critics of the law oppose the ease with which couples may end a marriage, while supporters are in favor of the personal freedom to choose when it is time to dissolve the relationship.

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Child custody, visitation, and support are inter-related issues that arise within a typical divorce or separation proceeding. Courts are authorized to make determinations concerning legal and physical custody, the allotment of visitation time, and the amount of monthly child support (if any). In making these decisions, a court’s first and foremost priority is what scenario is in the best interests of the children. Every divorce case involving children presents a unique set of facts. For this reason, courts will determine the best interests of a child on a case-by-case basis. If you are considering a divorce, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can work to ensure that your family’s rights are protected.

A recent case in Pennsylvania (A.S. v. I.S.) is a good example of the complicated and unique nature of child custody and support cases. The Supreme Court in that State was asked to decide whether a stepparent may be obligated to pay child support for his former spouse’s biological children when he aggressively litigated for shared legal and physical custody of those children. In this case, I.S. gave birth to twins in 1998 in Serbia. She married A.S. in the United States seven years later. They separated in 2009 and agreed to share physical custody for a period of time. In 2010, A.S. (the stepfather) brought an action for divorce and filed a complaint for custody (upon learning that I.S. was planning to move to California with the children).

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Maryland is an equitable distribution state. This means that in divorce, property and debts acquired during the marriage are subject to “fair and equitable” division (subject to limited exceptions). The law does not guarantee that marital property will be divided equally. For the most part, marital property includes items such as bank accounts, businesses, homes, automobiles, stocks, jewelry, furniture, retirement plans, pensions, and other property acquired during the marriage. Interestingly enough, Maryland does not include the value of professional degrees or licenses earned during the marriage.

Based on this list, it should be clear that a couple’s marital property potentially could be worth a great deal at the end of a marriage. If you are considering separating from your spouse, it is important to preserve your interests in, and rights to, assets acquired during the marriage. One of the best ways to protect your legal and financial rights is to speak with an experienced Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible.

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People enter into contracts for a variety of purposes. In the family law realm, prospective spouses may choose to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement prior to the marriage, in order to identify the ownership of certain assets and debts (among other issues) going forward. At the other end of the spectrum, a divorcing couple may be able to agree on the significant items to be resolved during those proceedings and execute a voluntary separation and property settlement agreement. One of the essential elements of any valid contract or agreement is the mutual intent of the parties to be bound by the terms of the document. To be sure that your family law-related agreement will hold up in a court of law, you are encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced Maryland family lawyer as early as possible in the proceedings.

The potential enforceability of a contract can have a serious impact on the outcome of a family law matter. For example, at the forefront of a recent divorce case making national news was the enforceability of a contract entered into during the marriage of a recently divorced couple. In this unique situation, the couple faced fertility challenges, and they agreed to engage in in-vitro fertilization (“IVF”). As part of this process, the parties signed a Consent and Agreement (the “Agreement”) setting forth the terms of the process, as well as the disposition of any resulting embryos should the couple divorce. The IVF treatment produced embryos that were subsequently frozen for future use.

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Under Maryland law, both parents are responsible for the care, welfare, support, and education of their children until each child graduates high school or turns 19 years old, whichever occurs first. In fact, the pertinent statute provides that the “basic child support obligation shall be divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes.” Keep in mind that it does not matter whether the couple is married or not. If they have children together and decide to part ways, one or both parties will be obligated to pay monthly child support.

Most states take very seriously the responsibility to pay child support. In fact, many local agencies are empowered to enforce such court orders to ensure that the monies due are paid. If you are filing for separation or divorce from your spouse or partner, it is extremely important that you understand your legal rights when it comes to paying or receiving child support. You are encouraged to reach out to an experienced Maryland family law attorney as soon as possible in the proceedings.

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In most states throughout this country, including Maryland, when a couple seeks to divorce, they may agree to divide up marital property or otherwise be subject to the court’s division of any assets and debts accumulated during the marriage. A critical stage in every divorce case involves the identification and characterization of property subject to division. One hopes that the parties will be honest and disclose all marital assets. But in some cases, spouses may not be completely forthcoming and actually attempt to conceal certain assets. For these reasons alone, it is important that anyone considering a divorce take steps to protect their financial future. One way to do that is to consult with an experienced family law attorney who handles divorce and separation cases on a daily basis.

Under Maryland law, marital property is all the property that you or your spouse accumulated during the marriage, including your bank accounts, houses, cars, furniture, businesses, stocks, bonds, pensions, retirement plans, IRAs, and jewelry. While some states also include the value of professional licenses and degrees, Maryland does not. Some items that are not considered marital property, even though they were acquired during the marriage, are gifts from a third party, something inherited by one spouse alone, or something that the couple mutually agreed would remain separate property.

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Divorce is a very personal and trying time in a couple’s life together. There are many emotional, financial, and logistical issues to consider and resolve, such as the division of marital property, custody, and spousal support. And until recently, married couples that decided to separate were required by law to wait a year before filing for divorce. This provision served to delay a process that couples often hoped to resolve as efficiently as possible. But under this law, once the spouses lived separate and apart from each other, only then would the clock begin to tick. If for some reason the parties resumed living together, even for a few days, the clock would reset and further delay the divorce process.

Like most laws, there were exceptions. For example, spouses could circumvent the waiting period by alleging that one party or the other committed adultery or had been abusive. In some cases, couples were making false allegations simply so they could file for divorce without having to wait for the year to elapse. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, all of this has changed, due to the efforts of Senator Robert A. Zirkin in sponsoring legislation to help “Marylanders to move on with their lives.”

In an earlier blog post, we reported on Senator Zirkin’s Bill 472 (the foundation for the new law), describing it as a provision that would authorize a court to decree an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent under certain specified circumstances. Before the bill was passed, it underwent some revisions to address concerns by lawmakers that it did not afford enough protections against one spouse taking advantage of the other. The new, revised bill went into effect last week, easing the path for married couples to seek a divorce.

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The issue of paternity or “parentage” can play an important role in family law cases. Paternity essentially identifies a child’s parents in the eyes of the law. As in most states, Maryland law sets forth that the parents of a minor child are jointly and severally responsible for the child’s support, care, nurture, welfare, and education. In some family law cases, even in matters where the parties are married and seeking to divorce, there can be disputes over the paternity of a child. It is important to fully understand the financial and practical implications of parentage in any family court dispute. Before you pursue any legal action, you are strongly encouraged to seek the help of an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can work to protect your rights.

In a recent Maryland divorce case, the father contested the issue of legal parentage in an effort to avoid any obligations or rights with respect to the child at the center of the dispute. Here, the couple got married in 2008 and entered into an “in-vitro” fertilization (“IVF”) plan in 2010. The parties each signed the contracts and other documents necessary to implement the plan. A child was then conceived and born with the help of a donated egg and donated sperm. Shortly after the child was born, the couple separated, and the father contested legal paternity.

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When a couple chooses to divorce, there are many issues to address and resolve in order to move forward with their separate lives. Each family law case comes with a unique set of facts that can often dictate how the couple proceeds, to some extent. In an ideal case, the separating spouses will be able to come to an agreement on the most significant issues related to their marriage. And even when the parties do enter into a marital settlement agreement or some other consent agreement, one spouse or the other may attempt to challenge the terms down the road. In order to ensure that your separation or property settlement agreement complies with applicable Maryland law, you are encouraged to consult with a local, experienced family law attorney.

The importance of crafting and executing an enforceable agreement in any family-related matter cannot be overstated. In a recent case making national news, a divorced couple has been in court arguing over the fate of their frozen embryos. During their relatively short marriage, Dr. Mimi Lee and Stephen Findley chose to create five embryos upon learning that Dr. Lee had breast cancer. Two years ago, Findley filed for divorce and sought to have the embryos destroyed. Dr. Lee, 46, wants to implant the embryos, since she considers it her last chance to have a biological child.

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