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DIVORCE, ANNULMENT, MEDIATION & GENERAL QUESTIONS
*How long does the divorce take? The short answer is that a divorce is generally not a quick process. In Maryland, the quickest ground is mutual consent which can be utilized by parties that have no minor children and have entered into a settlement agreement regarding all property, finances and other matters related to their divorce. As soon as a settlement agreement is signed, people can obtain a divorce within weeks under the mutual consent grounds. All other divorces (e.g., ones involving children or is contested) will take longer and will be granted no earlier than 12 months since separation. In Maryland, if the parties proceed on the one year separation ground, then the divorce will be finalized at least one year after the date of separation. In D.C., the parties must have mutually and voluntarily separated for at least 6 months. Many factors determine timing in all cases, including whether the parties settle the case, the number and complexity of issues involved, and the schedule of events issued by the court.
*What is the difference between limited and absolute divorce? A limited divorce is similar to a legal separation where the court can decide on custody and financial support. However, the court will not decide upon property issues with a limited divorce. An absolute divorce is granted once the grounds for divorce have been met (e.g., the separation period has been met) at which point all of the issues, including property, can be resolved by the final divorce. When the absolute divorce grounds are "ripe", pleadings can be amended to request the final divorce. After the absolute divorce has been finalized by the court, the parties are free to remarry.
*What are the other divorce grounds in Maryland other than the 12 month separation? The grounds for absolute divorce are adultery, desertion that has continued for 12 months without interruption, cruelty of treatment towards spouse or a minor child of the complaining spouse, excessively vicious conduct towards the spouse or a minor child of the complaining spouse, conviction of a felony or misdemeanor if the defendant has been sentenced to serve at least 3 years and insanity resulting in at least 3 years confinement in a mental institution or similar institution. As set forth in the first question, mutual consent is a new ground for divorce - only parties that have no minor children and have entered into a settlement agreement can get a divorce based on mutual consent. Mutual consent divorces are scheduled roughly six weeks from filing.
*I hear about "irreconcilable differences" with all the Hollywood divorces - does Maryland or D.C. have that? No. Maryland's absolute divorce grounds are limited to 12 month continuous separation, adultery, desertion, cruelty of treatment, excessively vicious conduct, conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, and insanity. In D.C., the parties must have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart without sexual relations for at least 6 months or lived separate and apart without sexual relations for 12 months.
*Is a single act of violence grounds for divorce in Maryland? A single act is not considered cruelty unless the offending person intended to cause serious bodily harm.
*In what situations would the court grant an annulment? An annulment is a court order where the marriage is deemed as voidable or was never valid (void abinitio). Marriages void from the onset include if the parties are blood-related, one spouse remained married to another person (bigamy), or one party lacked mental capacity to enter into marriage. A voidable marriage is one where a party was forced into the marriage (duress) or by fraud, if the parties were not of legal age when married, or a party temporarily lacked the capacity to enter into marriage at that time. Courts grant annulments on a limited basis and the party must prove to the court one of the above.
*Will I have to go through a trial to get divorced (or to resolve a custody case)? When the case is initiated in court, the court will set out a schedule of events, which may include a trial date. If the parties cannot reach a decision through negotiations, mediation and/or other forms of alternative dispute resolution by the trial date, then the court will proceed with trial.
*Can I go to mediation without an attorney? You certainly can, but getting advice about your rights will help make the mediation session as productive as possible. Mediators do not represent either party and do not provide legal advice to the parties.
*Since the divorce, things have changed, what do I do now? In some cases, parties can seek a modification of alimony, child support or custody. Set up a meeting with Ms. Malik to determine whether your case amounts to a material change in circumstances warranting a change. If so, you will need to file a modification with the court. Just like any family law case, a modification can also be settled outside of court through negotiations or mediation or through a trial.
*How does the court calculate alimony? There is no calculator for alimony, rather the court takes many factors into consideration in determining the amount and length of alimony. Among the factors considered are the ages of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the financial need and resources of the parties, the time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain an education or training to find suitable employment and the circumstances the contributed to the estrangement of the parties. A complete list of the Maryland alimony factors can be found at Maryland Fam. Law 11-106(b).
*When does alimony begin? Only after divorce? Alimony can begin only after the party seeking alimony has asked for it in his or her pleadings. The amount of alimony established can be made retroactive to the date of that filing.
*Can I receive alimony for the rest of my life? Or, will I have to pay alimony for the rest of my life?The court may award rehabilitative alimony or indefinite alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is usually awarded for a specific number of years. Rehabilitative alimony is usually awarded to allow a spouse to get educated or retrained and become self-supporting. In Maryland, indefinite alimony will be awarded in long-term marriages where there may be a disparity in the post-divorce standards of living of the spouses. It will usually terminate upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the recipient spouse. Indefinite alimony can be modified or terminated by the court.
*Do I get all of the property titled in my name only? Not necessarily. If it was acquired during the marriage and not inquired by inheritance or gift from a third party, it is considered marital property.
*What is Marital Property? (a) Real property held as tenants by the entirety, unless excluded by valid agreement. (b) Any property acquired by 1 or both parties during marriage, and does not include any property (1) acquired before the marriage, (2) acquired by inheritance or gift from a third party, (3) excluded by valid agreement, or (4) directly traceable to any of these sources.
*What is marital debt? A "marital debt" is a debt which is directly traceable to the acquisition of marital property.
*I want to stay in the home after the divorce, even though it is marital property. Is that possible? In Maryland, a spouse with custody of a minor child of the parties can be awarded use and possession of a family home, car, furniture, furnishings and home appliances. The court considers the best interests of the child, the interests of each party in continued use of the property and the hardship, if any, on the party whose interest would be infringed. Use and possession is limited to 3 years after divorce. The court can allocate financial responsibilities over property including the mortgage or rent, indebtedness related to property, maintenance and other expenses of property.
*Can my 401(k) or pension be divided? Yes, as to the portion of it acquired during the marriage.
CUSTODY & CHILD SUPPORT
*Can you tell me how much child support I will have to pay or receive? Child support can be calculated by the Maryland Child Support Calculator in cases where the parents' joint, gross annual income is less than $180,000. Check out the online calculator for an estimate only: Maryland or Washington D.C. In cases with joint income greater than $180,000, the court retains discretion in determining child support.
*Will my wife (or mother of my child(ren)) automatically get the children? No. The courts primary consideration in determining custody of children is what is in their best interest. This standard is gender neutral. Some of the factors considered in determining what is in the best interest of the children includes the fitness of the parents, desire of the parents, potential of maintaining natural family relations and prior voluntary abandonment or surrender.
*What is legal custody and can I have legal custody if I don't have physical custody? Legal custody is the decision-making authority that one or both parents have regarding issues related to the child's health, education, religion and general well-being. Even if one parent is the primary physical custodian, the other parent can still be a joint legal custodian.
*What is considered joint physical custody? If each parent has at least 128 overnights with the child, then the parties are considered joint physical custodians. If a parent has less than 128 overnights with the child, he or she is considered to have visitation or access with the child. The number of overnights a parent has with the child affects the child support amount.
*If my ex purposely quits his or her job, will I lose child support payments too? In cases where a party is found by the court to have left his or her job to avoid child support payments, then that is considered voluntary impoverishment. In such cases, the court will determine what he or she use to earn before for purposes of calculating child support. Even if the person remains unemployed, child support would need to then be paid.
This website and blog are designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. You should contact an attorney to discuss your particular legal situation.