Articles Posted in Marriage

Any time you are going through a divorce is a good time to retain the services of an experienced Maryland family law attorney. However, if your divorce case involves facts or issues that are particularly complex or unique, then you have an especially high need for skillful legal representation, who will guide you through the process and keep that unusual element from harming you.

There are lots of ways a case can take a turn into the realm of the “unusual.” Take for example, this dispute from Anne Arundel County. The husband, T.K., and the wife, W.R., married in 2003. Thirteen years later, the wife died. Those facts weren’t unusual. What was unusual was that, at no point during those 13 years did the couple ever get a marriage license. The two of them signed a document they entitled a “Marriage Agreement” and they went through a marriage ceremony in an Annapolis Anglican church officiated by an ordained minister, but the marriage license was a step that was never completed.

This absence of a marriage license was eventually at the center of a legal dispute and forced the Maryland Court of Appeals to answer a critical question: is a marriage in which the spouse never obtained a license valid in Maryland?

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Even in this country where many prize the “separation of church and state,” there are times where religion and secular law unavoidably intermingle. Marriage is often one of those. You and your spouse’s process of becoming one married couple is a civil legal one but, for many, it’s a religious one, as well. This, of course, can lead to other marriage-related overlaps between religious and secular law, and lead you to wonder… What happens to those agreements I made as part of my faith’s pre-marital processes or wedding ceremony – are they enforceable by the civil courts? As with any question you have about an agreement tied to your impending marriage, you should make sure you consult a knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney before going through with the agreement.

For example, in Islam, the groom makes a payment, called a mahr, to the bride at the time of their Islamic marriage ceremony. A mahr is mandatory for all Islamic marriages and the mahr must be specifically stated at the time of the couple’s marriage. The property included in a mahr can be many things, such as jewelry, furniture, a house, land or cash.

So, can the Maryland courts enforce the promises a husband made about a mahr in his Islamic marriage ceremony? That question recently made its way to the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland, where that court explained that some mahr promises are enforceable by Maryland civil courts and some are not.

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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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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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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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A spouse who seeks to initiate a divorce proceeding must properly serve the other party with notice in accordance with local state law. It is important to understand the methods of service that are deemed acceptable in your jurisdiction. Otherwise, you may not be entitled to the relief sought. Most states have a system of courts, each with the authority to hear and decide certain types of disputes. In Maryland, it is the circuit court that handles family law cases, such as divorce and child custody and support matters. Keep in mind that the rules for service of process vary depending on whether you are filing a case in a circuit court versus a district court (which handles other kinds of matters). If you are considering filing for divorce in Maryland, it is important that you contact an experienced family law attorney as early in the proceedings as possible.

Service of process has been defined as the way a defendant receives court papers and notice about a court case. There are a few legally acceptable and effective ways to serve one’s spouse with divorce papers. These methods include:   1) by certified mail, restricted delivery (requiring the defendant to sign for the papers), 2) through the use of a sheriff or constable (for a fee), and 3) by private process (which may be a family member, friend, or a private process server). In many states, including Maryland, if a party has difficulty locating the person to be served, he or she may file a motion with the court asking for permission to find another acceptable way to serve the documents.

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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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Each state in the country has the authority to enact laws governing marriage and divorce. These laws can vary a great deal, especially when it comes to the acceptable grounds for divorce. The Maryland Family Code identifies two types of divorce that couples may pursue:  absolute and limited. When seeking an absolute divorce, the couple must establish legal grounds for separation. State law provides the following acceptable scenarios:  a 12-month separation period, desertion, adultery, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, certain criminal convictions, and insanity.

According to the Maryland Courts’ website, the most commonly used ground for divorce is the 12-month separation. In order to satisfy the legal requirement, parties must live separately for 12 uninterrupted months. (In a recent blog post, we discussed a controversial Maryland case where there was some question as to whether the couple seeking a divorce maintained 12 uninterrupted months of separation.) In a limited divorce action, while courts have the authority to resolve significant family issues, this proceeding alone does not end the marriage. Generally, parties who file for a limited divorce do so in order to resolve certain issues, financial and otherwise, that cannot wait until the court grants an absolute divorce. Furthermore, a limited divorce may suit couples who do not qualify for an absolute divorce. Continue reading

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