In many walks of life, it is said that “timing is everything.” In the law, timing isn’t everything, but it definitely can be a crucial thing. Get your timing wrong in carrying out some procedural step in your case and that incorrect timing may have disastrous consequences. This is just another one (among the countless) reasons why, when your divorce is going through the legal process, you need a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer from beginning to end.
As a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when your timing is not correct, there’s this recent divorce case that originated in Prince George’s County. The couple litigated their divorce in 2020 and, on Jan. 7, 2021, the judge granted an absolute divorce. The divorce judgment also covered the marital home (ordering the wife to transfer her interest to the husband,) child custody, and child support.
The judgment did not, however, say how much child support the wife was required to pay the husband each month.
On Feb. 5, the wife filed a notice of appeal challenging the trial judge’s order, 29 days after the court’s judgment of absolute divorce. (Maryland’s rules say that you have 30 days from the entry of the trial court’s judgment to submit your notice of appeal.)
Six days after the wife filed her notice of appeal, the trial judge issued a follow-up order, setting the amount of child support at $747 per month. The wife, again dissatisfied with the outcome, filed a motion for reconsideration with the trial court. Her timing on this action actually was good. Maryland law gives you 10 days to ask a trial court to reconsider its judgment through the filing of a “motion to alter or amend judgment.” The wife filed her motion within six days. The trial judge, however, denied that motion.
That motion was the last procedural step the wife took. When the case based upon the wife’s Feb. 5 notice of appeal came before the court, it went nowhere. The appeals court did not even consider the merits of her arguments. Why? Her notice of appeal was premature. Because the trial judge did not set the specific amount of child support the wife owed each month until Feb. 11, the trial court’s January action was not a “final judgment.” By appealing a judgment was not yet final, the wife filed a premature notice of appeal which, under Maryland’s rules, “generally has no force or effect.” That meant the appeals court was obliged to dismiss the wife’s appeal.
Be aware that, while the central issue in this appeal was child support, the concepts that torpedoed this wife’s appeal could come into play and do similar harm to other family cases. Say that your judge has ordered you to pay your spouse a monetary award as part of the divorce, but did not say how much. If you appeal before the amount is decided, you may set yourself up to fall into the same premature appeal trap that ensnared this wife. Much the same is true if you are contesting alimony in your divorce and the judge issues an order declaring that you owe alimony, but not setting the exact amount of alimony until a subsequent order.
Whether yours is a case involving property distribution, alimony, child issues, or all of the above, you need a powerful advocate representing your side. Count on the knowledgeable and diligent Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to help you throughout the process. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.