Seeking Closure for Your Family
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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
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
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, for cases filed on or after October 1, 2023, include a 6-month separation, mutual consent, or irreconcilable differences.
For the separation grounds, traditionally the parties were required to live separate and apart in different residences during the separation period before they would be able to file paperwork with the court requesting an absolute divorce. As of October 1, 2023, the court is permitted to conclude that spouses lived separate and apart if they pursued “separate lives” for 6 months prior to filing an application for 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 have not been separated for more than 6 months (of, if the divorce matter was field with the court before October 1, 2023, 12-months).
Lastly, for divorce cases filed on or after October 1, 2023, the grounds for divorce may also include irreconcilable differences. Maryland’s General Assembly did not define this term. Thus, the definition will most likely come from Maryland’s court system over time. It is expected that “irreconcilable differences” will include situations where disagreements between spouses are so fundamental that the marriage can no longer be sustained. It is likely to be fact-specific to each marriage. If you are considering filing for a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you would be well served to make a list of the various disputes that you have had with your spouse and why you believe the marriage can no longer be sustained because of them.
For divorce cases filed before October 1, 2023, an absolute divorce can also be granted based on various "fault" factors. The following fault factors are no longer in place for cases filed on or after October 1, 2023. The two most common fault grounds for divorce were adultery or domestic violence. If one party alleged that their spouse committed adultery, then they had the right to file for an absolute divorce even if they did 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 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.
While fault grounds for divorce are no longer in place for cases filed on or after October 1, 2023, facts that would support claims of adultery, domestic violence (or other fault claims like desertion or constructive desertion) may nevertheless be factors in any award of alimony or marital property division.
For divorce cases filed on or after October 1, 2023, litigants no longer have the option of filing for a limited divorce. For cases filed before that date, this is still an option. Also, if you were previously granted a limited divorce, your court order remains effective unless and until an absolute divorce is awarded by the court in the future. In the past, limited divorces were primarily filed in circumstances where the parties did not otherwise qualify for an absolute divorce, but they needed the court’s intervention for issues such as alimony or custody or support of minor children. With a limited divorce, the parties remain married. They cannot re-marry. They maintain inheritance rights. One benefit of a limited divorce which no longer exists for newly filed cases is that a limited divorce allows for a continuation of health insurance coverage due to the fact that the parties remain married. In circumstances where one spouse is financially dependent on the other, with a limited divorce off the table, the financially dependent spouse will have a greater incentive to pursue an alimony claim to assist them in purchasing health insurance.