Divorce Attorney in Annapolis, Maryland
If you suddenly find yourself in a situation where your marriage is ending, you probably feel overwhelmed with emotion and frightened by the prospect of facing the legal process. What will happen with the children? What happens to the marital home? Who pays for it? When will it be sold? What about child support? Alimony?
A separation agreement is a legal contract between you and your spouse that resolves some, or preferably all, of the legal issues between you. The benefit of a separation agreement is that it enables you to proceed with an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce minimizes the time that you would have to spend in the court system and, consequently, would save you a significant amount of money over a trial. Of course, it takes two to reach an agreement. It may seem unimaginable that a marriage riddled with discord could be resolved with a mutual agreement, but the overwhelming majority of divorce cases settle, rather than go to trial. In fact, the court goes out of its way to encourage settlements, by providing facilitators at scheduling conferences, ordering mediation, and setting a pre-trial (settlement) conference before your trial date.
I have negotiated many separation agreements in all situations. The issues to be resolved include the following:
- Terms of separation
- Child custody
- Child visitation
- Child support
- Use and possession of the marital home
- Sale or transfer of marital home
- Sale of transfer of rental property or other real property
- Retirement benefits and other accounts
- Valuation and disposition of business
- Health insurance for spouse and/or children
- Life insurance
- Personal property, including family use property for the benefit of minor children
As you can imagine, if you were to litigate all of these issues, it is unlikely that a judge would be able to devote a significant amount of time to each of these items. Probably this would result in a property division, child access schedule, etc., that both you and your spouse find inconvenient, or even unfair. If appropriate, I encourage you to reach out to your spouse, through counsel, so that both of you can have some control over the outcome.
Despite your best efforts, you may be unable to reach an agreement with your spouse. I will work with you to prepare your case for trial. This includes issuing discovery items to your spouse, such as written interrogatories, a request for production of documents, and requests for admissions. Also, it is possible to schedule a deposition of your spouse or other witnesses, where the deponent is required to answer questions verbally under oath. Although this is more expensive than written interrogatories, it is helpful in pinpointing specific issues in that depositions allow for follow-up questions, whereas interrogatories are static.
In preparing for your trial, I will use modern technology to put assemble a game plan that is concise and on point for the court. Litigation is always the last resort, but we will be prepared to put on the best case possible for you.
Grounds for an Absolute Divorce
When most people consider getting a “divorce” in Maryland, they are referring to an absolute divorce. With an absolute divorce, the parties are no longer married. They are free to re-marry. They do not have inheritance rights. In order to get an absolute divorce, though, there must be a legal basis in which to file for the divorce in court. This is called having “grounds” for a divorce. Maryland provides both no fault and fault grounds for divorce which are described below.
An absolute divorce can be granted on no fault grounds which include a 12-month separation or by mutual consent. For the separation grounds, the parties must reside in different residences for a full year without sexual relations before they would be able to file paperwork with the court requesting an absolute divorce. For mutual consent grounds of divorce, the parties need not be separated, but they must have a written agreement resolving all issues relating to alimony, child custody, child support, and marital property division. If the parties have a written agreement, and if neither spouse is asking for the agreement to be set aside, then a complaint for absolute divorce can be filed in court even if the parties are living together or have been separated for less than 12 months. For more information about the no fault divorce process, please review my blog.
An absolute divorce can also be granted based on various “fault” factors. The two most common fault grounds for divorce are adultery or domestic violence. If one party is alleging that their spouse has committed adultery, then they can file for an absolute divorce even if they do not have a no fault basis for an absolute divorce. If this is proven in court, and if the aggrieved spouse has not condoned or forgiven the adultery, then the court can award an absolute divorce. With regard to domestic violence, if a party can prove that their spouse has engaged in cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct towards the party or children, then the court can award an absolute divorce for this reason. Obviously, such a request is incredibly serious and should be discussed in detail with counsel, as there may be measure that can be taken right away, such as requesting a protective order, to ensure the safety of the parties and children.
Maryland provides for other fault grounds for divorce, such as desertion, conviction of certain crimes, and insanity. The desertion grounds for divorce applies if one party leaves the marriage without justification or consent and with the intent of ending the marriage, and this desertion must continue uninterrupted for 12 months before this becomes a grounds for an absolute divorce. If, on the other hand, the one spouse is treated with such cruelty that the spouse needs to leave the marital home preserve their safety, dignity, and self-respect, then a divorce can be claim based on constructive desertion as a separation of 12 months. Since the desertion and constructive desertion grounds for divorce both require a 12 month separation, their utility is somewhat limited because, after 12 months, the parties would be eligible for a no fault divorce anyway. However, the facts that led to the claims of desertion or constructive desertion may be factors in any award of alimony or marital property division, so it is often important to allege these grounds as well as the no fault grounds in a complaint for absolute divorce.
Finally, for the fault grounds of a criminal conviction and insanity, these grounds require incarceration for 3 years and confinement in a mental health institution for 3 years respectively. Inasmuch as these requirements exceed the 12 month period for a no fault divorce based on separation, these grounds for divorce are rarely sought in court.
In some circumstances, the parties may require court services without having grounds for an absolute divorce, or they may not want an absolute divorce. Examples include disputes relating to the custody or support of minor children, one spouse’s need for alimony, or identifying marital property. With a limited divorce, the parties remain married. They cannot re-marry. They maintain inheritance rights. Similar to an absolute divorce, the parties must have certain grounds before they can file a complaint for a limited divorce with the court.
Grounds for a limited divorce include a separation of the parties for less than 12 months. Like with an absolute divorce, this requires the parties to live in separate residences without sexual relations. If the separation occurred as a result of desertion or constructive desertion, then the aggrieved spouse can file for a limited divorce based on those circumstances.
If the parties have not separated, a limited divorce may still be requested if they can prove that their spouse as engaged in cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct towards them or the children. Since this can also provide a basis for an absolute divorce, this party may choose whether he or she wants to pursue an absolute divorce or limited divorce for this reason. As mentioned regarding this grounds for an absolute divorce, if such conduct is going on in a marriage, then options are available for immediate relief, such as a protective order.