Call Modarres Law at (202) 780-9590 to speak directly to your attorneys – not their assistants, because we understand divorce and custody battles are a difficult time for every family. You want to be informed about your case every step of the way, and we are here to guide you through the complex and confusing legal process.
Divorce in Maryland
There are two different types of divorce in Maryland: Absolute Divorce and Limited Divorce and your case could be heard by a Circuit Judge or a Master (or “Magistrate” as they are now called). Read about Masters/Magistrates in Maryland Divorce HERE
An Absolute Divorce ends a marital relationship in Maryland completely. The grounds for petitioning for an absolute divorce include:
- Desertion for a period of 12 months,
- Cruelty of treatment towards one’s spouse or the minor child of the spouse, if there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation,
- Excessively Vicious Conduct towards one’s spouse or the minor child of the spouse, if there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation,
- Insanity where the insane spouse has been confined to a mental institution for three years prior to the filing of complaint for divorce,
- Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor in any court where the convicted spouse has been sentenced to serve at least 3 years in a penal institution and at the time of the filing for divorce has already served 12 months of the sentence, or
- One-year separation and no expectation of reconciliation.
- Mutual consent if there are no minor children between the parties, the parties submit a written settlement agreement to the court signed by both individuals that addresses alimony and distribution of property, and both parties appear at the divorce hearing.
A Limited Divorce grants a spouse the right to live separate from the other spouse, but does not end the legal marital relationship. Accordingly, spouses are NOT free to remarry upon the entry of a limited divorce. There are four grounds for a Limited Divorce in Maryland:
- Cruelty of treatment towards one’s spouse or the minor child of the spouse,
- Excessively Vicious Conduct towards one’s spouse or the minor child of the spouse,
- Desertion, or
- Separation of the parties for less than one year.
Whether certain property is classified as marital or non-marital often turns on small details that Modarres Law can help you navigate, call us at (202) 780-9590 to discuss your case directly with a Maryland divorce attorney right now. We aggressively represent both men and women in Maryland throughout the divorce process, from initial filings through final judgment.
In an action for an Absolute Divorce, the court has authority to make divide marital property between spouses. The court engages in a three step process to equitably divide the marital estate between the parties:
- Determining what property is marital property.
- Determining the value of each item of marital property.
- Dividing the value of the marital estate between the parties through one or more methods which may include making a monetary award, transferring an interest in retirement assets, transferring an interest in real property, or ordering the sale of real or personal property.
Marital property is defined as property acquired by either party during the marriage. Non-marital property is that property that was acquired prior to the marriage, by inheritance or gift from a third party, or property that is excluded by a valid agreement, such as a prenuptial agreement. Determining what is marital property becomes a contentious and complex issue, especially in cases where parties have combined non-marital property with marital property or have expended efforts during the marriage which cause an increase in value to a non-marital asset.
Under Maryland law, the court looks to these factors in determining distribution of property:
- The contribution, monetary and non-monetary, of each party to the well-being of the family.
- The value of all property interests of each party.
- The economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made.
- The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age of each party.
- The physical and mental condition of each party.
- How and when specific marital property was acquired.
- Any award of alimony or award of use and possession of personal or real property made by the court.
- Any other factor the court considers necessary or appropriate to arrive at equitable distribution.
Legal and Physical Custody
Legal custody determines which parent will make important decisions for the child(ren)on issues like non-emergency medical treatment, education and religious upbringing. Although there is no presumption that joint legal custody is most appropriate, courts are inclined to award joint legal custody where the evidence demonstrates that parties have the ability to communicate effectively and to reach shared decisions regarding their child or child(ren).
Joint Legal Custody: Where parties share joint legal custody both parents have an obligation to inform and discuss important issues with the other parent prior to taking any affirmative action. As well, both parents must agree on the course of action prior to it being initiated. For example, if one parent wants to place the child in psychological counseling, both parents will have to consent to such treatment before any provider will begin therapy.
Sole Legal Custody: Sole legal custody means that only one parent has sole decision making authority regarding important decisions in the child’s life. In a sole legal custody arrangement, the parent with legal custody is not required to consult with the other parent prior to making important decisions for their child.
Physical custody refers to where the child will physically be spending their time. Physical custody is often referred to as joint custody, shared custody, residential custody, primary custody, parenting time, parental access and visitation.
In determining which parent should be awarded sole physical custody or shared physical custody, the court looks at the “best interest of the child” which under Maryland law consists of various factors including:
- Fitness of the parents
- Character and reputation of the parents
- Willingness of each parent to share custody
- Relationship between the child and each parent
- Potential disruption of particular custody arrangement upon a child’s social and school life
- Geographic proximity of parents’ homes
- Desire of the natural parents and the terms of any agreements between them
- The likelihood of maintaining natural family relations
- The preference of a child when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to make rational judgments
- Opportunities affecting the future life of the child
- Age, health and gender of the child
- Suitability of the homes of the parents and whether a non-custodial parent will have adequate opportunities for visitation
- Length of time of any separation between a child and natural parent
- Effect of any prior voluntary abandonment of the child
- Demands of each parent’s employment
- Financial status of each parent
In Maryland, if the parents of a child are unmarried, the child is a child of the mother until paternity is established by the father. Once paternity is legally established by a father, the father may petition the court for rights to visitation and/or custody. It is important to note that once paternity is established, the court does not give preference to any parent because of their gender or the gender of the children. The court will always look to the best interest of the child.
Custody and child support orders are modifiable, and can be changed by filing for modification later upon a showing of a “material change in circumstances.” In other words, something major and substantial must have happened since the court entered the order which would require the court to modify the previous order. The material change in circumstances burden only applies to permanent orders and not “pendente lite” orders. Once a material change has been established, the court will again look to the best interest of the child in determining whether a modification is appropriate. Modarres Law can help guide you through what types of things can legally substantiate a material change in circumstances when filing for modifications of custody in Maryland. Call us at (202) 780-9590 today to speak directly to an attorney – not an assistant – about your case.
Maryland Child Support Guidelines are set forth in Maryland Code Family Law §12-204. Under Maryland law, both parents are responsible for providing financial support for their children. The Child Support Guidelines apply in cases where the family’s combined gross income is equal to or less than $180,000.00 per year. If the parents earn a combined gross income in excess of $180,000.00 per year, Maryland Guidelines do not apply and the court has discretion in setting the child support amount. In exercising its discretion the court will consider, among other things, the standard of living that the children enjoyed during the time the parties were living together or that had been established prior to the filing of an action for child support. The guideline child support amount is presumed to be correct, and will be ordered by the court unless the opposing party can present sufficient evidence as to why the guideline amount is inappropriate or not in the children’s best interest.
Maryland Child Support Guidelines are based on a mathematical formula. In order to calculate child support under the guidelines, you will need to have the following information:
- Gross monthly income of each of the parents,
- Amounts paid by either parent in child support for a child of another relationship or alimony to a previous spouse,
- Monthly costs for work related day care expenses, and
- Monthly costs for the provision of health insurance coverage for the children.
Maryland Code Family Law 12-204 provides a basic child support obligation depending on the number of children and the adjusted actual incomes of the parties. Adjusted actual income is gross income minus any existing child support or alimony obligations. In cases where one parent has the child in their care less than 128 overnights per year, the formula provides that each party pay a share of the basic child support, day care expenses, and costs for health insurance based on the proportion of their adjusted actual income to the total adjusted income of the parties. Where parents share physical custody, defined as when the child spends at least 128 overnights a year in the home of each parent, then each party’s share of the basic child support obligation is multiplied by the percentage of time the child spends in the home of the other parent. The parent owing the larger amount of the two resulting child support obligations pays the difference to the other parent. If either parent incurs work related child care expenses and/or costs for the provision of health insurance coverage for the child, then these costs are shared in proportion to the parties’ adjusted actual incomes.
Spousal Support / Alimony
In Maryland, there are three different types of spousal support or alimony:
Pendente Lite (temporary)
Pendente Lite alimony is an award of support made which awards a certain amount while the divorce case is pending. The goal of pendente lite spousal support is to maintain the status quo existing prior to the filing of the divorce action. In making a pendente lite spousal support award the court will consider only the financial need of the spouse requesting support and the ability of the other spouse to pay support.
Rehabilitative Support is an award of support providing a spouse with resources for a limited period of time sufficient to allow them to become self-supporting. In making such and award, the court will consider the following factors:
- Ability to become self-supporting
- Time for education or retraining to find employment
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Duration of the marriage
- Contributions, monetary and non-monetary, to well-being of the family
- Cause of breakdown of marriage
- Age of each party
- Physical and mental condition of each party
- Ability of a payor spouse to meet their own needs while paying alimony
- Any agreement between the parties
- Financial needs and resources of each party
- Any monetary award or use and possession order
- Financial obligations of the parties
- Right to receive retirement benefits
Permanent alimony is disfavored under Maryland Law and may only be awarded where the court finds that:
- Due to age, illness, infirmity, or disability, the party seeking spousal support cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting, or
- Even after the party seeking alimony will have made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected, the respective standards of living of the two parties will be unconscionably disparate.
Crawford Credits entitle a payor spouse to a contribution from the non-payor spouse for expenses like the mortgage, repairs, taxes, etc. Crawford Credits get their name from Crawford v. Crawford, 293 Md. 307 (1982), a case from the Court of Appeals of Maryland. Crawford Credits stem from a main tenant of real property law, which states that a co-owner of real property who pays for the expenses associated with the home is entitled to contributions from the other. An example would be if a husband moved out of the marital home and allowed his wife and children to live there, while he still paid all of the expenses of the marital home such as the mortgage, utilities, taxes, etc. The husband would be entitled to a Crawford credit.
Domestic Violence and Protective Orders vs. Peace Orders in Maryland
You can qualify for a Protective Order or a Peace Order, but not both. Your relationship to the abuser determines your eligibility for either order. Both provide protection from abuse that includes stay away and no contact orders, stopping harm and threats of harm. To qualify for a Protective Order, you must be either a:
- Spouse or former spouse of the abuser;
- Partner of the abuser, who has lived with the abuser for at least 90 days during the last year;
- Relative by blood, marriage, or adoption;
- Parent, stepparent, child, or stepchild of the abuser;
- Parent of the abuser’s child; or
- Persons who is related to a child or vulnerable adult who lives with the abuser
Protective Orders can also provide additional relief which includes custody orders, visitation orders, financial support, and use of the family home and/or vehicle.
By contrast, a Maryland Peace Order is available to a person needing protection from a:
- Person with whom there is no “special relationship,” as required by a Protective Order (see above)
- Significant other
For a Peace Order to issue, the abuser must be engaged in harassment, trespassing, maliciously destroying property, threatening imminent violence, or some other criminal activity.
Filing for a Peace Order or Protective Order in Maryland
During normal business hours, you can visit the District Court of Maryland closest to you. On weeknights after 5:30 p.m., weekends, or holidays, you can contact the District Court Commissioners, who will help you obtain an Interim Protective or Peace Order that grants you temporary protection. The attorneys at Modarres Law can help you secure a more permanent order of protection the following business day, contact us directly at (202) 780-9590 to discuss your options with an attorney – not an assistant.
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