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Divorce and divorce-related legal cases often involve deep-seated emotions. They are cases that intertwine the coldly legal and the intensely personal. Those truths can sometimes lead your ex-spouse to try to bring into your case things that, while perhaps important to him personally, are not important legally to resolution of the issue that brought you into court. When that happens, you need the skill and knowledge of an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side to help you get those irrelevant things excluded from your case and, when necessary, placed under court seal.

E.O. was a Prince George’s County wife who had that kind of problem in her case. In 2018, E.O. and her husband received a divorce. The court also adjudicated issues of child custody, visitation, child support and alimony.

After the court issued the judgment of divorce, the spouses filed several post-judgment motions. On several of those, the husband included photographic “support” as attachments to his filings. Those photographs displayed dried blood stains within the couple’s home. The husband’s argument was that this blood was proof that E.O. had attempted to perform an “at-home abortion,” that this pregnancy and abortion were proof of E.O.’s adultery.

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Each state has its own laws regarding child custody and those laws get minor updates periodically. Less frequently, though, a larger change takes place. Maryland, for example, now has a requirement that each set of parents must complete something called a parenting plan. What, you may wonder, is a parenting plan and how will it impact me and my child(ren)? For answers to those questions and more, and to make sure you end up with a parenting plan that fully protects — and fosters the continued growth of – your relationship with your children, retain a skilled Maryland family law attorney.

2020 is the first year that Maryland has required parenting plans in custody cases. According to the judiciary, a parenting plan specifically is considered to be “a written agreement describing how people, called parties, will care for and make decisions about their child(ren).” In other words, it is an agreement, mutually reached by the child’s parents, that lays out exactly how decision-making and other care-related responsibilities will be handled between the parents.

Many parents may think of this as an equivalent of a “custody agreement” and, therefore, may think it’s as simple as something like, “Joint legal custody, with the mother having primary physical custody and the father to have every other weekend, spring break and summer vacations,” or like “Joint legal custody and 50-50 physical custody, with each parent having the child for alternating two-week periods.”

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There are an absolutely enormous number of reasons why having a skilled family law attorney representing you is better than going it alone. You can probably think of a few… or maybe several. One of the ones that may not have occurred to you is when you have a sudden emergency that prevents you from attending your regularly scheduled court hearing. If you have no attorney and you no-show, the results can be disastrous, as a recent case from Montgomery County demonstrated. On the other hand, a skilled attorney who is representing you will know the best way to go about notifying the court of your emergency and taking other essential action on your behalf, such as requesting a continuance and a rescheduled future date for the hearing, thereby saving you from the disaster of having no one present to speak for you.

S.T. and M.L., the couple in the Montgomery County case, divorced in 2013. They agreed to a voluntary separation and property settlement agreement that dictated that the husband make several payments each month. After the husband allegedly failed to make certain required payments, the wife went back to court in 2018 seeking an order holding the husband in contempt.

In late December 2018, the spouses went before a magistrate and had a merits hearing. (To give you a little background about Maryland court procedure, certain cases go before a magistrate before a judge considers them. A magistrate will hear evidence and will file a “report” in which he/she makes findings of fact and also makes a recommendation to the judge.)

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The scenario is a familiar one for a lot of people. You meet someone and fall in love. Your partner has issues, but you rationalize them away. “She’s not perfect, but who is?” or “He’s got his problems, but I can change him,” you might say. So you get married and have kids. Then the relationship breaks down and you are confronted by your spouse’s issues… be they alcohol, drugs, mental health, domestic abuse or something else. You’re also confronted by the fact that, at this point, your primary goal needs to be protecting your children. When that happens to you, make sure you’ve retained an experienced Maryland family law attorney to ensure that you’re doing everything properly to use the legal system for the maximum protection of your children.

C.W. was one of those parents with that kind of family law problem. He and his wife, T.T., had a child together shortly after they wed. After the marriage, the wife began displaying anger management issues. She also resumed contact with an ex-boyfriend who had a history of abusing heroin and abusing T.T.

After the marriage broke down, a custody battle ensued. During that custody case, the father wisely had an attorney the entire time. At the court hearing, the father’s attorney put on multiple witnesses, including T.T.’s former work supervisor. In that hearing, the husband was able to present evidence that the mother had moved seven times in the preceding five years, including West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Utah.

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Sometimes, people assume that all of the potential complications and challenges faced by long-term committed same-sex couples ended when the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015 that established marriage equality in all 50 states. That, of course, is far from always being true. If you’re a same-sex couple — especially if you’re a same-sex couple seeking a divorce –- there are still many potential hurdles that may be in your way. If you and your partner entered into a civil union and not a marriage, those hurdles can be even more numerous. However, with the help of an experienced Maryland family law attorney, you can get the divorce you need, whether yours was a civil union or marriage, and whether it happened in Maryland or out of state.

M.R. and S.S. were a gay couple who faced some of those exact hurdles in their divorce case recently. The men entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2003. They eventually moved to Montgomery County but, even after same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland in 2013, they never married.

By 2018, the relationship had broken down and S.S. filed for divorce in Montgomery County. S.S. sought as part of his divorce action, an award of alimony, an award of child support, property division (including a monetary award,) along with custody of the couple’s two children.

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If you are familiar with child support, then you know how important proof of the parents’ actual incomes is. That’s because, in most situations, the court will base the amount of support on the parents’ actual current incomes unless there is substantial proof (and a finding from the judge) that a parent is voluntarily avoiding working (or voluntarily avoiding earning what he’s capable of earning.) Those latter two scenarios are called “voluntary unemployment” and “voluntary underemployment,” respectively, and if you think that your child’s parent has engaged in either, it is essential to consult a skilled Maryland family law attorney so that he can assist you in getting a court order that sets support at a fair amount.

The law allows the court, if it finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, to “impute” income to that parent. Imputing income means that the court calculates child support based, not on the parents’ actual incomes, but on the voluntarily underemployed/unemployed parent’s imputed income and the other parent’s actual income. For example, consider a hypothetical couple where the father was an experienced attorney making $250,000 per year, and the mother was a pediatrician who, during the divorce, voluntarily left her $200,000-per-year practice to become a preschool teacher making $40,000 per year. In that case, the court might set support at the amount consistent with what the guidelines dictate for a supporting parent making $250,000 and the residential parent making $200,000 (or something close to it.)

Sometimes, though, a parent’s low ebb (in terms of income) is not voluntary but is completely beyond his control. When it happens that your ex-spouse experiences an uncontrolled low ebb in his income right around the time of your divorce, does that mean that you are just out of luck? As one recent case from Annapolis demonstrates, the answer clearly is “No, you’re not!”

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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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You’ve probably signed various contractual documents in your life, including employment agreements, leases and mortgages. When reviewing those contracts, you may have taken great care to check over every paragraph before you signed and you may have sought legal advice, as well. As you’re going through the divorce process, it is important to approach a marital settlement agreement or a consent amendment in much the same way. You should engage in just as much care and caution before signing one of those as you would with, say, a contract for purchase of a house, because the agreement is just as binding and potentially just as impactful (if not more so.) To make sure that the agreement you ultimately sign is one that is fair to you, there are certain steps you should take. Start with retaining and consulting a skilled Maryland family law attorney before you sign anything.

J.S. and N.E. was a couple embroiled in litigation over an agreement signed after their divorce was finalized. Neither spouse was happy with their divorce judgment so, a few days after the entry of the judgment, the husband contacted the wife about making some modifications. Additionally, the husband proposed that the two ex-spouses work out those changes “without their respective attorneys’ involvement.”

An offer like this often should give you pause. If your spouse is proposing to modify your divorce judgment and making a point to do that without any attorneys involved, there is a distinct possibility that he is making that proposal because he believes that excluding counsel will give him an advantage in the final outcome.

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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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COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, has disrupted many things about almost everyone’s lives. Instability and uncertainty are hard enough on adults, but they are even harder for children. If your children are the subjects of a visitation order by a judge, the current state of things may make maintaining the regular schedule that the court ordered tricky. Like the many other unplanned things in life that may upset a visitation schedule, this pandemic demands many things from you. One of those demands is to work together in a collaborative way with your child’s other parent and act in the best interest of your children. Also, just as is true in any other major unexpected event, always obtain advice from a knowledgeable Maryland child visitation attorney before you take unilateral action that is not in compliance with your court orders.

Business Insider recently looked at this exact issue of visitation and COVID-19. Many of the suggestions and recommendations made within that piece are effective ones. For one thing, use your common sense. If your ex has primary physical custody of the kids and you’ve just tested positive for COVID-19, don’t let the children come to your home for their regularly scheduled visit.

On the other hand, if you are the children’s primary residential parent, you should also make sure the decisions you make are rational ones. If your ex’s current spouse has the virus, or your ex currently lives in Italy, then that is a reason to delay visitation. On the other hand, if your ex’s coworker’s spouse recently traveled from Ireland (but has no symptoms and self-quarantined for 14 days after returning home,) that alone probably isn’t a valid justification for denying a court-ordered visit.

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