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.
In Maryland, it is possible for a couple who has created a separation agreement to abrogate (which means “to do away with”) that contract. They can do this explicitly by signing an additional document prior to their divorce mutually agreeing to eliminate the agreement. They can also accomplish this by their conduct. That can happen when the couple reconciles and resumes living together in a way that is not consistent with the terms of the agreement. (This doesn’t automatically nullify your separation agreement, but rather serves as key evidence of a mutual intent to do away with the agreement.)
On the flip side, if you reconcile but you both faithfully followed the terms of the agreement during your reconciliation, then the agreement may still be enforceable.
In this Anne Arundel couple’s case, the trial court concluded that an abrogation had occurred. The judge determined that reconciliation had taken place after the couple signed the agreement and, additionally, that the spouses never followed the terms of the agreement. The couple continued holding property and assets together, they purchased and held a camper jointly and they jointly spent the husband’s workers’ compensation benefits. They also “verbally agreed to ‘cancel’” the agreement.
Additionally, they engaged in marital relations, had a second child together (in 1998) and both participated significantly in raising the children. All of that was evidence that a reconciliation and an abrogation had taken place, according to the court.
Reconciliation and post-reconciliation conduct can wipe out a separation agreement
So, what is the answer to the question “my spouse and I signed a separation agreement, then reconciled, and now we’re getting divorced, so what happens to our agreement?” The answer is… it depends. A reconciliation may work to do away with the agreement, or it may not, depending on exactly how the agreement was written and precisely how spouses conducted themselves during the reconciliation.
In other words, whether you’re looking to enforce or block enforcement of the separation agreement you signed pre-reconciliation, you need someone on your side with the right legal knowledge and experience to provide the court with a persuasive, winning argument. Count on skilled Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi for that kind of effective legal representation. To learn more about how you can put the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.