Articles Posted in Equitable Distribution

A lot of people, when they hear the phrase “equitable” in connection with a divorce case, immediately think “50-50.” That’s not necessarily true. The law actually gives trial courts broad discretion in deciding what is (or is not) equitable, whether that means distributing assets and/or debt obligations evenly or ordering something different. Given the judge’s substantial discretionary power, it is vital to have a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer on your side, you that you can be confident that the judge has all the information necessary to accurately decide was is a just outcome.

As noted above, a division is not always 50-50. As an example, there’s this divorce-related case from Brookeville.

The spouses worked out a marital settlement agreement in early 2015 that said that the wife would receive the exclusive “use and possession” of the marital home for three years. After that 36-month period elapsed (or if the wife remarried earlier,) the agreement dictated that the home would be listed for sale.

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Americans’ attitudes toward pets have changed over the last several decades. Today, many pet owners call themselves “pet parents” and their pets “fur babies.” While these relationships have evolved, animal law has been slow to follow suit. This can present some unique challenges when a married couple who shares a pet (or pets) decides to divorce. As is true of many circumstances surrounding divorce, you have options for dealing with this challenge. To make sure you are protecting your interests — and the best interests of your pet — it is wise to consult with an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer about your situation.

One location where the law is evolving is neighboring D.C. In April of this year, the “Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act of 2022” took effect. That new law says that, when a couple goes through a divorce or a legal separation proceeding, the trial judge should consider the “best interests” of the “pet animals” when deciding which spouse gets the pets.

Here in Maryland, the law functions differently. Maryland law says that pets are personal property, essential the same as a car, a boat, or a sofa. The significance of that — in terms of a divorce — is that your pets (much like that hypothetical car, boat, or sofa) are subject to equitable distribution if you acquired them during your marriage. (If you brought them into your marriage, the law often will deem them your non-marital property and you will retain them after the divorce. The same is true for pets your spouse brought into the marriage.)

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In elementary school math class, students begin learning about the “order of operations.” This concept governs the sequence in which to complete various mathematical operations in pursuit of the correct solution. In divorce law, we have something similar. Maryland divorce law lays out a specific sequence of mathematical steps to use in calculating the marital and non-marital interests in a property. These computations — and the correct performance of them — can have a major impact on the outcome of your divorce. To make sure you are getting a fair judgment, you need to ensure the court has all the relevant facts. An experienced Maryland divorce lawyer often can provide essential assistance in doing that.

Just like how solving a math equation without following the order-of-operations rules will result in a wrong answer, doing the mathematical steps for calculating marital interest in the wrong order similarly will yield an errant result… one that’s subject to reversal on appeal.

The recent divorce of one Calvert County couple is a good example. J.S. and H.S. married in the summer of 2014. Five months earlier, the husband had purchased a six-bedroom home for $450,000, paying $160,000 down.

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One of the more painful experiences a spouse can endure is to devote years — or even decades — to a marriage only to discover that your spouse has not been as faithful to you as you’ve been to them. While heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating, your spouse’s infidelity won’t always have much of an impact on the outcome of your divorce… but sometimes it will affect that outcome in a major way. To determine your rights and options if your spouse has been cheating, you need to speak to a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer.

Maryland is one of the states that recognizes both no-fault divorce and at-fault divorce. One of the grounds for absolute divorce under Maryland law is adultery. Even in a case of a divorce on the ground of adultery, that affair may not “move the needle” much in terms of the financial aspects of the court’s judgment. So, if an adulterous spouse is someone who earns only minimal income with few economic opportunities and little chance of becoming self-supporting and the “innocent” spouse has substantial wealth and income, the adulterous spouse may still be entitled to alimony and/or a monetary award, even if the infidelity was the reasons for the marriage’s breakdown.

There’s one scenario, however, where a spouse’s extramarital affair(s) can have a huge impact on those financial elements of divorce, and that circumstance was illustrated in a recent divorce case originating here in Montgomery County.

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In a very recent case opinion announced by the Court of Special Appeals, the court wrote that “[s]ometimes one misstep early in a case can have repercussion for the rest of the case.” Those kinds of damaging missteps can include, among other things, failing to comply with all the pretrial deadlines the trial court sets. Whether it is managing deadlines, accumulating evidence, securing expert witnesses, or tending to any of the other essential “details” that go into a successful family law case, make sure you’ve retained the services of an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer to handle your matter.

These things may sound small, but a shortcoming — even just a single one — potentially can have massively harmful results, as a recent Montgomery County case demonstrates.

R.Z. and D.Z. were parents going through a child custody case. In any kind of civil case in Maryland, all parties will receive something called a “scheduling order.” This is an order that sets various dates and deadlines, like the trial date, pre-trial conference date, discovery deadlines, and so forth. One of the things generally included in these kinds of orders is the deadline for parties to designate their expert witnesses.

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People are waiting longer to get married. Statistics show that the average age of Maryland men marrying for the first time is roughly 30 and, for Maryland women, 29. That means that, whether you’re talking about a first marriage or a subsequent marriage, the odds are greater than ever that the spouses are entering the marriage with significant wealth. For many spouses-to-be, one important financial goal is to ensure that the assets they want to share are shared and the ones they want to keep separate stay separate. Proper planning is vital in this area because, as a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer will tell you, a failure to handle these assets properly could result in a non-marital asset unintentionally switching to marital status in the eyes of the law.

A recent Montgomery County divorce case shows this concept in action.

In terms of determining which assets were marital and which were non-marital, the spouses agreed about their home, the cars, and the checking accounts, but they did not agree about certain annuity accounts.

Family-owned businesses are a staple of the American commercial landscape. Many of these businesses are passed down across multiple generations. Sometimes, though, the family business in question is your spouse’s, not yours. When that happens and you’re divorcing, some or all of that business may be a marital asset subject to equitable distribution. Getting a truly just outcome in that scenario means getting a proper determination of both the business’s status (as marital) and its value. A skilled Maryland divorce lawyer can help go about obtaining that just and appropriate outcome.

A recent example of this kind of divorce case comes to us from Baltimore County. The husband’s parents were successful businesspeople, having run a seafood market and restaurant west of Baltimore since 1963.

The husband and wife married in 2004. In 2005, the husband (“Eric”) and his father (“Bill”) formed a corporation to operate the market and restaurant. Initially, Eric owned 25% of the shares and Bill owned 75%. In January 2006, Bill transferred his shares to Eric and Eric’s sister. That left Eric with 75% ownership and the sister with 25%.

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Marriages, especially those entered into by spouses with pre-established careers, can lead to complex divorces when they break down. These kinds of divorces arise when a spouse entered the marriage with substantial non-marital assets, but then also continued to grow their wealth during the course of the marriage. When a marriage like that ends in divorce, it is critical, in order to get everything you deserve, to obtain a judgment that accurately identifies what’s a marital asset and what’s non-marital. A skilled Maryland divorce lawyer can be essential to getting this done right.

The marriage of a businessman and a social worker from Montgomery County was an example of this kind of union. The marriage lasted just two years before irretrievably breaking down.

Much of the divorce litigation centered on the husband’s 401(k) plan. Before the pair wed, the husband worked for a very large bank and had a 401(k) through his employer. Shortly after he and the wife married, the husband rolled that 401(k) over into another account.

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In music and other popular media, there is the stereotype of the deceitful spouse who, during the pendency of the couple’s divorce, empties the couple’s bank accounts and absconds with the funds. That stereotype exists because that sort of malfeasance does happen sometimes. If it has happened to you, or if you have been wrongfully accused of engaging in this type of misconduct, you need a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer going to bat for you.

One Baltimore County couple had a $100,000 dispute of this type in their divorce case. The husband had withdrawn $100,000 from certain marital accounts. The wife said that the husband had impermissibly dissipated the funds, while the husband said that the withdrawals were related to the legal fees he’d amassed in the divorce litigation.

At the outset, it’s important to recognize a few things. One, in Maryland, dissipation of assets occurs when one spouse wastes, spends, or sells a marital asset for reasons not related to the marriage or to reduce the amount his/her spouse will get in the final divorce judgment’s property award.

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There are several factual scenarios that potentially can complicate your divorce. One of these is when you and your spouse separate (and remain that way) for decades before seeking a divorce. Another is when one spouse in a long-separated-but-not-divorced couple comes into significant wealth. These are but two examples among the many. Almost any divorce has its unique elements that can pose challenges, though, which is why it is well worth your time and effort to retain a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer to represent you in your case.

In the United States, late November is a special time to reflect and be thankful for the good things in our lives. Those sources of gratefulness could be everything from finding a new love to continued good health to… winning the lottery.

The joy that can come from “striking it rich” may be lessened, though, if you have an estranged spouse in your life. That was the scenario on the mind of one wife who wrote to the publication The Penny Hoarder recently. The wife left her husband in 1990, but the two never divorced, according to her letter. In recent months, the wife received information that her estranged husband may have won a large lottery prize, and her letter to the publication centered on her options for getting a portion of those lottery winnings.

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