Articles Posted in Family Law Legislation

Back in February, this blog discussed a bill in the General Assembly that would create “no-fault” divorce in this state. That bill passed and, as WUSA reminded its audience today, Maryland’s new no-fault divorce law takes effect tomorrow, October 1. The new law represents an important shift in divorce law in this state. To find out how the new law potentially impacts your divorce, be sure to get the right information by speaking to an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer.

Historically, Maryland law has recognized two types of divorce: limited divorce and absolute divorce. Limited divorce was something that did not end the marriage and did not permit remarriage, but did legalize the spouses’ separation and provide for a court order of support.

Absolute divorce fully ended the marriage, permitted remarriage, and divided all property.

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Each state has its own laws regarding child custody and those laws get minor updates periodically. Less frequently, though, a larger change takes place. Maryland, for example, now has a requirement that each set of parents must complete something called a parenting plan. What, you may wonder, is a parenting plan and how will it impact me and my child(ren)? For answers to those questions and more, and to make sure you end up with a parenting plan that fully protects — and fosters the continued growth of – your relationship with your children, retain a skilled Maryland family law attorney.

2020 is the first year that Maryland has required parenting plans in custody cases. According to the judiciary, a parenting plan specifically is considered to be “a written agreement describing how people, called parties, will care for and make decisions about their child(ren).” In other words, it is an agreement, mutually reached by the child’s parents, that lays out exactly how decision-making and other care-related responsibilities will be handled between the parents.

Many parents may think of this as an equivalent of a “custody agreement” and, therefore, may think it’s as simple as something like, “Joint legal custody, with the mother having primary physical custody and the father to have every other weekend, spring break and summer vacations,” or like “Joint legal custody and 50-50 physical custody, with each parent having the child for alternating two-week periods.”

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Establishing paternity or “parentage” is fundamental to a child’s life for many reasons. For one, parents are legally responsible for the care and general welfare of their children, including financial support. Paternity becomes even more important in cases in which the alleged parents are divorced or have never been married. There are several ways in which parties may establish parentage under Maryland law. For instance, the parents may agree to sign an affidavit in support of paternity, a court may find that paternity has been established, or the father may undergo DNA testing. Virtually every aspect of family law is governed by the state code or established case law. In order to be sure your financial and legal rights are protected, you are encouraged to discuss your case with an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

A recent Maryland Court of Appeals case illustrates how complicated paternity cases can be, and how important it is to work out the legal aspects as early in a child’s life as possible. In Davis v. Wicomico County Bureau, “petitioner” signed an Affidavit of Parentage shortly after the birth of his twin sons in 2009. The local child support agency brought a complaint against petitioner, alleging that he was responsible for child support payments. Petitioner, however, asked for a paternity test, claiming that he was not the children’s parent. Both the trial court and the court of special appeals denied his request for a paternity test. The court of special appeals concluded that under Sections 5-1028 and 5-1038, petitioner was not entitled to a blood or genetic test.

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The length of a divorce process in Maryland often depends on many different factors. Some of the more common variables include the parties’ relationship and whether they are amicable toward each other, the amount of assets and debts to be allocated, and whether there were any children born in the marriage. These are but a few of the many issues that affect the duration of a divorce case. A fairly new law in Maryland was enacted just last year to make the process simpler and easier for couples that mutually agree to divorce.

Most couples hope that their case goes smoothly and efficiently, with as little strife as possible. Clearly, this saves everyone involved time, money, and emotional hardship. Equally important is an assurance that your legal and financial rights are protected throughout the process. An experienced family law attorney in Maryland would be able to explain the laws applicable to your case, navigate the legal process, and work to preserve your rights.

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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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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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A common complaint among couples going through a divorce proceeding is the length of time it often takes to resolve and obtain a judgment of absolute divorce. One of the most common causes of a drawn-out process is inherent in the nature of a divorce: the couple’s relationship has deteriorated and the parties typically do not agree on the key issues to be resolved. And in Maryland, current state law adds to this already difficult situation by requiring couples to live apart for a full year before even applying for a divorce (under certain circumstances). One way to help move the process along more quickly is to seek the assistance of an experienced Maryland family law attorney, someone who understands these challenges and can foster a smoother and more efficient process.

Another potential factor that could reduce the length of time that parties must wait to receive a divorce judgment concerns the recent efforts by a Maryland State Senator to add a new ground to the Family Code: mutual consent. Senator Robert Zirkin introduced a Bill (SB 472) on February 6, 2015, that would authorize a court to decree an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent under certain specified circumstances. The Bill would also authorize a court to merge or incorporate a settlement agreement into a divorce decree. And finally, the Bill would permit a court to modify or enforce a settlement agreement consistent with certain provisions of law.

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