Articles Posted in Separation Agreements

When you decide to enter into a prenuptial agreement or a marital settlement agreement, there are several critical phases. There’s the phase where you and the other party negotiate the terms of the agreement, and you work to ensure that all the terms adequately protect your interests. There’s also the phase where you and the other party execute the agreement, and you work to ensure that the document you sign matches the bargain you struck during the negotiation phase. Finally, there may be a phase where you have to litigate to enforce the agreement and get the benefit of the contract you signed. At each of these phases, your chances of getting the fairest possible outcome can be enhanced by having legal representation from an experienced Maryland spousal support (alimony) lawyer.

That’s because, at any phase, things can go astray from what you wanted… and executed.

For example, there’s the alimony case of X.L. and H.L., a couple who, in March 2016, worked out a prenuptial agreement. In that document, both spouses agreed to waive the right to receive alimony in the event of separation or divorce. They married one month later.

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For many couples, separation agreements are very useful tools. If you go that route, it’s important to make sure that your separation agreement is sufficiently detailed in all areas. For example, with alimony, it’s not enough to say “how much” and “for how long,” but also to address things like “when may the supporting spouse seek modification?” An experienced Maryland divorce lawyer can help you with negotiating and executing an agreement that is fair, complete, and clear.

Of course, even once you’ve done that, there may be pitfalls. For example, what happens if your spouse, who owes you alimony, experiences a non-permanent downturn in his income? Often, a temporary dip in income is not enough to lead to a reduction in your alimony but it depends on the exact wording of your separation agreement. A knowledgeable legal advocate can be essential in protecting your right to receive alimony.

Take, for example, the alimony case of C.T., a successful anesthesiologist, and his wife, R.L. They separated in 2015 and, three years later, worked out a separation agreement. That document called for the husband to pay alimony of $6,000 per month for 47 months, and then pay a lesser sum for the next 88 months.

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For many Marylanders going through a divorce, resolving issues through a separation agreement may seem like a good idea and, indeed, it very often is. It is not enough, though, simply to create an agreement; you need to be sure the agreement you get is the right agreement for you, and you need to be sure you are positioned to receive the benefits of the terms you negotiated. To do all of these things, you need an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer by your side every step of the way.

Cases from the courts in this state clearly highlight how, even after you’ve negotiated and executed a good agreement, your work may not yet be done. Take a look at this real-life divorce dispute from Baltimore County. The husband, an equine veterinarian, and the wife, a horseback riding instructor/polo coach, owned a farm in Freeland. When the horse-loving couple divorced, they executed a “Separation and Property Settlement Agreement,” which established several terms to which the spouses agreed.

Concerning the distribution of the farm they jointly owned, the contract set out four possible options, in order: (1) the wife buys out the husband, (2) if the wife declines, the husband could buy out the wife’s interest, (3) if both spouses decline, then the property could be sold by a real estate agent, or (4) the farm would be sold via a judicial sale.

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There are countless ways that an experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you in your divorce case, whether your case is straightforward or complex. If your situation is “unconventional,” it may require an especially in-depth and nuanced understanding of the law in order to get you to a positive outcome. A skilled attorney can give your unconventional circumstance the legal knowledge and insight it needs.

J.L. and L.L. were an Anne Arundel County couple whose marriage “was, by all accounts, rather unconventional,” according to the Court of Special Appeals. They married in 1988, but separated a few years later. They worked out a separation agreement in the summer of 1995. However, sometime after signing that document, the pair would resume living together and would continue living and working together on an on-again-off-again basis for several more years.

The wife eventually filed for divorce in 2015. In her divorce filing, the wife asked the judge to enforce the settlement agreement the spouses created in 1995. The husband asked the judge to throw out the separation agreement, arguing that the couple had reconciled after their initial separation and that their reconciliation rendered the agreement unenforceable.

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The days and weeks that immediately follow the breakup of your marriage can be an incredibly trying time. You may feel hurt, confused, angry, frightened, overwhelmed, betrayed and a host of other emotions. You’ve experienced a great trauma, and like anyone living through that kind of pain, you may not be at your best in terms of decision-making. That includes making decisions like signing a marital settlement agreement. This is just one reason among the many why it pays to have a skilled Maryland divorce attorney on your side. You can trust your attorney to handle your legal affairs while you concentrate on managing your life.

Even if you’ve not heeded that advice, have made a bad decision by signing a bad settlement agreement without consulting an attorney, and later come to conclude that were taken advantage of, you still may have options. As one recent case illustrated, depending on just how extremely one-sided your marital settlement agreement was, you may be able to get it invalidated as ‘unconscionable’ under Maryland law.

In the recent case, the husband, G., and the wife, J., were married for six years when they separated in early 2015. Only a few days after the pair parted ways, the husband gave the wife a proposed marital settlement agreement, which the husband’s attorney had drafted. The agreement gave the husband the marital home, two rental properties, two cars, two motorcycles and all of the retirement accounts. The wife got a one-time payment of $7,000. Additionally, the agreement stated that the wife forever waived her right ever to pursue an alimony claim, either rehabilitative or permanent.

In many marital relationships, the spouses share much in common. They may share not only common interests, but also similar degrees of intellect and/or education. However, not all marriages work this way. Some may, in fact, have significant disparities of intellect, education or earning capacity.

A large disparity can matter a great deal if that marriage ends in divorce. It can be important because the disparity may open the door for the dependent spouse to argue successfully that his spouse used her position of dominance to create a marital settlement agreement that was the product of fraud. What this should tell you is that, even if you got your spouse’s signature on the “dotted line” of a settlement agreement, you may not be finished litigating those issues, which is one more reason why you need experienced Maryland family law counsel on your side.

How does this type of fraud argument work? A recent case originating in Montgomery County is a good example. K.P. and W.P. were spouses who separated in 2012. In September 2016, the wife’s lawyer drafted a “comprehensive settlement agreement resolving all issues arising out of the marriage.” The wife signed it in the lawyer’s office. She then allegedly asked the husband to meet her at a bank later that same day.

When you reach a settlement agreement to resolve outstanding issues in your divorce, you likely hope that this agreement will bring about closure. Sometimes, however, that doesn’t happen. Whether it is a spouse’s refusal to follow the terms of the agreement or complications that arise after life events intervene, there may be many reasons why new disagreements emerge between you and your ex-spouse. When that happens, you may need to go back to court to protect your rights. To best protect yourself, be sure you have an experienced Maryland divorce attorney on your side.

Like many people, J.D. and P.M. purchased some real estate while they were married. One of the properties they purchased was a 4-bedroom, 3-bath home in Bowie. In 2004, the couple separated. The husband continued living in the Bowie home while the wife moved into an apartment in Silver Spring.

Eventually, the pair worked out a marital agreement and that agreement was included in the couple’s 2013 divorce judgment. In the agreement, both spouses acknowledged that the husband would take sole ownership of the Bowie residence, and that he would be solely responsible for making the mortgage payments, as well as all insurance and taxes.

A lot of people understand that before you sign any legal document it is important to read it and to attempt to understand it to the best of your abilities. People may often proceed with caution before signing a contract to buy a car or a home, to take out a loan or to start a new job. However, the agreements to which you assent in family law are often just as legally binding, so it is advisable to proceed with just as much care. To be sure you are protected, retain legal representation from a knowledgeable Maryland divorce attorney.

As an example of the importance of knowing what you’re signing, there’s the case of T.C. and W.C. According to the wife, very early one November morning (roughly 5:30 a.m.), the husband woke her to discuss putting together the agreement governing the division of their property for their upcoming divorce. The couple took out a writing instrument and a piece of paper and allegedly set to work. According to the wife, the couple created a “his” and a “hers” column. The husband’s column included, among other tangible assets, an entry for “$150,000.” The wife asserted that this was a sum that the husband had earned from previous employment and that its entry was included to signify that the husband could keep those funds.

The husband argued something very different. He contended that the “$150,000” entry was meant to signify that the couple was agreeing that the wife would pay the husband a lump sum marital award of $150,000 in lieu of the husband’s receipt of alimony. The husband also alleged that the discussion took place at around 8:30 a.m., not 5:30.

When you are going through a divorce and working out the terms of a settlement agreement with your spouse, it is important to make sure that you fully negotiate everything to your satisfaction. Once the agreement is completed and incorporated into your divorce, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a court order making certain changes. If you seek certain types of relief from the judge based upon a claim of fraud, you may be required to prove a very specific type of fraud, as was demonstrated in one recent case from Anne Arundel County. All of these rules, requirements, and potential pitfalls serve as reminders of the importance of having representation from an experienced Maryland divorce attorney during every step of your case.

The couple in the Anne Arundel County case, Michael and Christa, separated in 2011 after 14 years of marriage. The next year, they worked out a marital settlement agreement. Resolving divorce-related issues via agreement as opposed to litigating every item can be a useful way to deal with aspects of your divorce. The agreement stated that it resolved all of the issues in the divorce, including child support, alimony, and the division of marital property.

The agreement required both spouses to “exchange all information relevant or helpful to the recalculation of the Maryland Child Support Guidelines . . . so that the reallocation of alimony and child support . . . can be conducted.” The husband made his disclosures required by the agreement, and they showed that, in one year, he earned $1.5 million, which was unusual because he typically earned between $250,000 and $300,000.

When you are negotiating a separation agreement, it is important to “sweat the small stuff,” or more advisably, retain an experienced Maryland divorce attorney to “sweat the small stuff” for you. Each detail in your agreement is binding, and small differences can have large impacts down the road in terms of things like alimony payments, child support, or other financial outcomes. With an experienced attorney working for you, you can make a fully informed and knowledgeable decision before you sign off on that settlement agreement.

One recent case focusing on a settlement agreement was the alimony dispute between Jonathan and Andrea, who finalized their divorce in 2011. During the divorce process, the couple worked out a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. The agreement covered alimony and child support, among other things. The alimony provision in the agreement called for Jonathan to pay Andrea alimony for eight years (ending in December 2019). The alimony obligation could end earlier if any one of several events happened. Those included Jonathan’s death, Andrea’s death, Andrea’s remarriage, or Andrea’s cohabitation.

By the spring of 2016, Jonathan was back in court, seeking to have his alimony obligation terminated, along with reimbursement for some months of alimony that he’d already paid. Jonathan’s argument was that Andrea had been cohabitating with a man since August 2015, if not earlier. Based on the evidence the spouses presented, the trial judge concluded that Andrea was living with the man and that the two were in a long-term intimate relationship.

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