Articles Posted in Separation Agreements

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.

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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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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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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