Articles Posted in Separation Agreements

lab-1418866People 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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courthouse-1204573 (1)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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broken-heart-1166622Divorce 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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in-the-lab-2-1251077When 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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50-percent-1143660Under Maryland law, “marital property” is a term used to identify property that was acquired during the length of a marriage. In contemplation of divorce, spouses often seek to divide up marital property by virtue of a settlement agreement. Under Section 8-105 of the Maryland Family Code, courts have the power to enforce the provisions of such agreements. The statute provides that a settlement agreement that has been incorporated, but not merged into the final decree, may be enforced as a judgment or as an independent contract. It is important to understand how these legal rules can affect your divorce proceeding. For assistance and guidance on how to prepare and present your case, you are encouraged to contact a local Maryland divorce attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent divorce case, a Maryland court of special appeals was confronted with a dispute over the terms of a settlement agreement purporting to divide the couple’s pension and retirement benefits. Here, the couple got married in 1989 and separated in 2006. The wife filed a complaint for absolute divorce in 2008. In February 2009, the husband filed a counter-complaint for absolute divorce, custody and other relief. On July 30, 2009, the court issued a judgment of divorce, incorporating the parties’ agreements – resolving all remaining issues. As part of this judgment, the court referenced the parties’ agreement concerning all of the property issues related to this case, which included a division of the couple’s pension interests.

Approximately a month later, the military informed husband that he would be relieved of duty and afforded “retired pay” that would be calculated based upon a 60% disability rating. In January 2010, the trial court issued a Marital Property Consent Order, which identified the parties’ agreement regarding the division of marital property, namely that wife would be entitled to 50 percent of the marital property portion of husband’s monthly pension. Throughout a series of court proceedings, wife argued that husband was in contempt for failing to divide his military pension. Husband argued that he was now only receiving disability payments, which are not subject to division under federal law.

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Couples who file for divorce have an opportunity to prepare a settlement agreement that will address and resolve all issues arising out of their marriage. This means that they may divide up the blue-calculator-1-484198-mmarital property in a manner suitable to both parties. Once a court issues the final judgment of divorce, this agreement may be included in the record, and the judgment will contain its terms. Under Maryland law, spouses may identify and allocate “pension benefits” as part of the settlement agreement. Like many aspects of a divorce proceeding, this phase is governed by case law and statutory provisions. In order to adhere to these laws and protect your financial interests in divorce, it is imperative that you contact an experienced family law attorney from the Maryland area.

In a recent case, Pulliam v. Pulliam, the divorcing couple disputed whether their settlement agreement and consent judgment incorporated a voluntary Deferred Retirement Option Program (“DROP”). Here, the parties married in 2005 and filed for divorce five years later in 2010.  During the uncontested divorce hearing in 2012, the couple placed their settlement agreement on the record. Pertinent to this case, the agreement addressed the husband’s membership in the Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System (“LEOPS”).  Under the terms of the agreement, which purported to resolve all issues arising out of their marriage, the wife was entitled to one half of the “marital share” of the husband’s entire pension benefit.  In March 2012, the court entered a judgment of absolute divorce and included the parties’ agreement as part of the order.

In August 2013, the wife moved the court, seeking an Eligible Domestics Relation Order (“EDRO”) because the husband refused to sign the order.  Essentially, the wife was seeking to include the DROP benefits as part of the husband’s pension, of which she would be entitled to a share.  The husband opposed the motion, arguing that at the time of the divorce, he was not even eligible to participate in the DROP program.  The trial court concluded that the DROP benefits were to be considered retirement assets within the meaning of the EDRO.  The husband appealed.

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per-cent-1-1110305-mIn many divorce cases, a couple is able to reach an agreement concerning some of the key contentious issues, such as the division of marital property, alimony, child support, and the like. Of course, the parties are encouraged to find some middle ground on these fundamental matters, since it tends to save time, money, and unnecessary heartache. But even in cases where the parties initially agreed to a settlement that is incorporated in the divorce judgment, there is no guarantee that circumstances won’t arise in the future that will prompt one spouse to seek the court’s involvement. No matter how agreeable a family law case seems, the spouses are strongly encouraged to seek their own counsel, especially when children are involved. An experienced Maryland family law attorney can help protect your financial and logistical rights in a dissolution of marriage case at every step of the way.

In a recent Maryland case stemming from a divorce judgment granted in 2010, Baker v. Baker (Md. Ct. of Special App. 2015), the ex-husband sought to restrict his ex-wife’s entitlement to a “capital-loss carry-forward” resulting from activity in the couple’s jointly held investment accounts. During the original dissolution proceedings, the parties entered into a Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement (the “Agreement”), which was incorporated into the judgment of divorce. Among other items, the Agreement addressed matters of alimony, child custody and support, and the division of marital property. At issue in this case was one particular clause in the Agreement that allocated the couple’s investment accounts.

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to-sign-a-contract-3-1221952-mIn any divorce matter, it is important for each spouse to consult with his or her own attorney, who will seek to protect that person’s separate rights going forward. One of the most important documents that divorcing spouses often agree to is a marital settlement agreement or “MSA.” In many cases, the MSA will purport to resolve any number of issues, such as property division, alimony, child support, custody, and other matters. That agreement can be made part of the ultimate divorce judgment, depending on the circumstances and the parties’ wishes. At each step in the proceedings, there are many decisions to be made that could affect the outcome of a case. For this reason, parties are encouraged to secure their own family law attorney, who is experienced handling such cases in the state of Maryland.

In a recent case, the husband and wife had hired an attorney to handle an immigration matter. Some time later, the couple decided to divorce. They discussed separation and agreed to a variety of terms to be incorporated in a marital settlement agreement. In 2005, the wife asked that same attorney to handle memorializing the terms related to the division of marital property. The attorney drafted the document, the husband provided some revisions, and the parties signed the agreement on October 18, 2005. The document contained a clause titled “Independent Counsel,” wherein the husband acknowledged that he signed the agreement without his own attorney, freely and voluntarily.

Despite signing the agreement, the couple did not separate at that time. In 2007, the wife discovered that the husband was having a second extramarital affair, and they decided to prepare another settlement agreement to address issues not covered by the 2005 agreement. Based on their discussions, the wife asked the same attorney to draft another document. The husband was involved in reviewing the document and making certain changes. In 2008, the parties executed the final MSA, which also included an independent counsel provision. In 2009, the husband filed for divorce and simultaneously tried to allege that the 2005 and 2008 agreements were void and unenforceable and should be set aside. He claimed that they were entered into when the parties were still in a confidential relationship with the attorney who handled the previous immigration matter. Continue reading →

sign-here-59958-mMaryland separation agreements can waive the parties’ right to have the court assume jurisdiction over modifications to spousal support. Removing the court’s power to modify a separation agreement can prove problematic in the event that one of the parties regrets the terms of the original separation agreement.

In a 2010 case, a husband and wife were married for about 32 years before getting a divorce. They agreed through a separation agreement that the husband would pay permanent alimony of $4000 per month until he terminated his employment at which point the wife would continue to get 50% of his post-employment income.

The couple agreed to waive the right to have the agreement modified. In exchange for permanent alimony, the wife waived her interest in a particular property. They also agreed that the alimony provision of the agreement would be merged into the divorce decree. Continue reading →

agreement-signing-251732-mIn Maryland, courts scrutinize attacks to prenuptial agreements carefully. They interpret prenups as they would any other contract between two consenting adults. In a recent case, a twenty-six-year-old woman had married a father of three. In 1988 when they married, she was working in a daycare center for minimum wage. The man was a successful construction company owner, not yet divorced with $2 million in assets.

Once the man divorced his former wife, he told the woman he wouldn’t marry her unless she signed a prenuptial agreement that his attorney had prepared, waiving any interest in certain items of his property. She signed it four days before their wedding, though later on the pair disagreed about when he had given it to her.

The prenup stated that both parties had the opportunity to consult counsel. The agreement listed various property that the wife would not have any ownership interest in. However, the agreement didn’t mention certain items of property, such as the man’s IRA. Continue reading →

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