Articles Posted in Divorce

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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Under Maryland law, “marital property” is a term used to identify property that was acquired during the length of a marriage. In contemplation of divorce, spouses often seek to divide up marital property by virtue of a settlement agreement. Under Section 8-105 of the Maryland Family Code, courts have the power to enforce the provisions of such agreements. The statute provides that a settlement agreement that has been incorporated, but not merged into the final decree, may be enforced as a judgment or as an independent contract. It is important to understand how these legal rules can affect your divorce proceeding. For assistance and guidance on how to prepare and present your case, you are encouraged to contact a local Maryland divorce attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent divorce case, a Maryland court of special appeals was confronted with a dispute over the terms of a settlement agreement purporting to divide the couple’s pension and retirement benefits. Here, the couple got married in 1989 and separated in 2006. The wife filed a complaint for absolute divorce in 2008. In February 2009, the husband filed a counter-complaint for absolute divorce, custody and other relief. On July 30, 2009, the court issued a judgment of divorce, incorporating the parties’ agreements – resolving all remaining issues. As part of this judgment, the court referenced the parties’ agreement concerning all of the property issues related to this case, which included a division of the couple’s pension interests.

Approximately a month later, the military informed husband that he would be relieved of duty and afforded “retired pay” that would be calculated based upon a 60% disability rating. In January 2010, the trial court issued a Marital Property Consent Order, which identified the parties’ agreement regarding the division of marital property, namely that wife would be entitled to 50 percent of the marital property portion of husband’s monthly pension. Throughout a series of court proceedings, wife argued that husband was in contempt for failing to divide his military pension. Husband argued that he was now only receiving disability payments, which are not subject to division under federal law.

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As the nation awaits the United States Supreme Court’s imminent and historic decision on same sex marriage, other courts in the country are addressing issues of particular importance to same sex couples:  can they get divorced? Since states draft and enact their own laws governing marriage and divorce, the landscape throughout the country varies a great deal from place to place. A same sex couple who marries in a state where it is legal may find some difficulty obtaining a divorce from a state that does not recognize the union. Divorce laws serve to protect the parties’ rights throughout the process and going forward, once the couple separates. If you are considering a divorce, whether from a same sex marriage or not, it is vitally important that you contact a local Maryland divorce attorney who can guide you through the process while seeking to protect your financial and legal rights.

In a very recent divorce case, the highest state court in Texas ruled that the State Attorney General (“AG”) could not stop the divorce of a same sex, Texas couple who were married in Massachusetts. Essentially, the court held that the AG did not intervene in a “timely manner.” Here, the parties were married in 2004 in Massachusetts. However, several years later a Texas district court granted the couple’s divorce. The AG later attempted to intervene in the case and stop the divorce. In 2011, a court of appeals in Austin concluded that the attorney general’s office did not have standing to appeal the divorce between two state residents. On appeal, a majority of the highest state court agreed, avoiding the crux of the issue by pointing out that the decision was limited to whether or not the AG’s office’s effort to intervene was timely.

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